Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Whacked Out

After stumbling across this story yesterday, one could be forgiven for grasping at a glimmer of that hope which according to reliable sources springs eternal.

So, he's going to "cut and run" after all. The coke and Jack Daniels didn't destroy so many brain cells as to render him permanently disabled. There's room for optimism.


The other shoe drops when you read Seymour Hersh's article in this week's New Yorker: "Up in the Air". It reveals that our Beloved Leader, like an earlier King George (number three), is a hopeless lunatic.

George III at least had an excuse. Medical experts today believe that when he ran naked through the hallways of Windsor Castle at night, or angrily raved incomprehensible gibberish for hours on end, he was exhibiting mental manifestations of a physical problem, a chemical imbalance, possibly porphyria.

But our George's malady is strictly mental and spiritual. He has become convinced that, like Moses and Muhammed before him, he is God's delegated representative on earth, chosen by the almighty to deliver democracy, town meetings, Diebold, and Wal-Mart to the heathen savages of Iraq.

He's completely whacked out.

Seymour Hersh writes, "Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that 'God put me here' to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that 'he’s the man,' the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reëlection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose."

And how, precisely, does he plan to accompish this divine purpose? Not with infantry; we've already noted that he plans to pull the troops out next year. Hersh reveals he plans to replace them with air power.

Remember Vietnam, 1969-1974? As Mark Twain said, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes."

"Within the military, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease," Hersh says, after laying out the main outlines of the plan (do yourself a favor and read the whole thing). "For one thing, Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis eventually will be responsible for target selection. 'Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame someone else?' another senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon asked. 'Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of Al Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?'"

I'd only add to what the senior military planner asked, remember what a resounding success "Vietnamization" and the Vietnam air war of the early 70's were?

But wait! There's more!

It seems that now, as documented by the references in this article at Billmon's Whiskey Bar, that U.S. forces in Iraq have begun using "The Salvadoran Option," i.e., using Iraqi death squads to target suspected insurgents and various other troublemakers. Most of the members of these squads are Shia, so it should come as no surprise that their victims are primarily Sunni.

The random shooting of civilians by uniformed Iraqis we've been seeing on TV might be part of the work of these "Salvadorized" units.

So there it is -- "Vienamization" and "Salvadorization," and after you strip away the euphemisms, the kinds of crimes that were committed by Hitler and Josef Stalin. It seems we're determined, under the leadership of a certifiable lunatic (just like Hitler -- just like Stalin) to go down that path.

May I be forgiven for being pessemistic, and for believing that things will only get worse?

Or can we go home now?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Jazeera Bizarra

The revelation that President Bush planned to bomb the headquarters of the al-Jazeera news service in Doha, Qatar is producing potentially disastrous consequences for the administration as well as for British PM Tony Blair’s government.

The story was first published in the British tabloid The Daily Mirror on November 22. The paper claimed to possess a five-page Downing Street (U.K. Government top-secret) memo detailing conversations between Bush and Blair at a summit in Washington in April of 2004.

Bush, unhappy with al-Jazeera’s reporting of the American attack on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, insisted the U.S. should bomb the TV station’s headquarters. Blair talked him out of it, citing a potential worldwide backlash of disastrous proportions.

When asked about the story at his daily press briefing of November 23, White House Spokesnebbish Scott McClellan replied, “We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response.”

The same day the Mirror ran the front-page story, however, it was ordered by U.K.’s Attorney General Lord Goldsmith not to publish any further details from the memo, whose existence was undisputed by the government. Goldsmith threatened the publishers with criminal prosecution for violating the Official Secrets Act if they persisted.

The newspaper had informed the government it planned to run the original story 24 hours in advance of its appearance.

On November 24, a British civil servant, David Keogh, and an ex-employee of former Labour MP and anti-war activist Tony Clarke, Leo O’Connor, were charged under the Official Secrets Act with leaking a copy of the memo to the Mirror. Subsequently, Clarke returned the memo to the government, without explaining how he came into possession of it.

The following day Waddah Khanfar, al-Jazeera’s general manager, announced he would soon fly to London to deliver a letter to Blair demanding a meeting and an explanation of the memo’s contents.

“People should know the facts about it,” Khanfar said. “It is not a matter that can be brushed away or dealt with in very vague statements.”

By November 25, Labour MP’s in Parliament began demanding that the government publish the entire memo. Ex-Defence Minister Peter Kilfoyle’s remarks were typical: “This is not about national security,” he said, “It’s about political embarrassment."

However, on November 26, Blair’s government announced that the document will be kept secret.

Details of all these stories are available at The Daily Mirror's site.

The Mirror is one of the world's great newspapers, although not generally recognized as such. It's one of those cheap, sensational, vulgar British tabloids that people love to hate. Besides the daily page three titty shot and overheated movie and football news, it features some top-notch reporting and serious, comprehensive world coverage.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Today we'll celebrate by eating turkey, canned cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes, in exactly the same way as the Pilgrims did with the Indians on this same day in Massachusetts so many years ago.

I have a great deal to be thankful for in my personal life as a result of good luck and several fortuitous decisions made at key points during my sixty-year meandering interval on this planet.

My country, my society, and my tribe, however, have little to celebrate today. Our vaunted prosperity has become a curse and a liability; our freedom has borne bitter fruit. Freedom entails the freedom to choose badly, and we have.

Prosperity and freedom carry awesome and frightening responsibilities. Maybe someday, we'll either learn how to handle them, or lose them altogether.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Six Degrees

Everybody’s played “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” right? OK, let’s play “Six Degrees from the Reality of the Iraq War.”

Our way of life, which VP Cheney says is “non-negotiable,” requires slightly more than 20 million barrels of oil a day, or something in excess of a billion barrels every 50 days. We produce slightly less than six million barrels a day, and domestic production has been declining since the U.S. production peak in 1970. The rest is imported; do the math. In addition, two-thirds of the world’s remaining oil is in the Middle East. That’s one degree.

At the conclusion of Gulf War I in 1991, neocon planners realized we had to either change our way of living and seek alternatives to petroleum, or control the supply of the substance to which we are addicted. They chose the latter course, and set forth their plans here and here. Military presence in the Gulf region – a petroleum-securing “Fort Apache,” if you will, was conceived as the answer. That’s two degrees.

After 9/11, Bush and the neocons saw their opening and moved to implement the PNAC plan linked above. They realized, however, that American voters would reject a war predicated on a naked power-and-resources grab, so they cooked up fairy tales about weapons of mass destruction, mushroom clouds, and the Iraqi Stalinist dictator’s supposed ties to the al-Qaida terrorists who attacked New York and Washington. That’s three degrees.

At the beginning, some people realized what the war was about, and the slogan ”No Blood for Oil”was heard frequently. However, Americans mostly swallowed the administration’s fairy tales, and at the outset public approval of the war was about 75-25. As the war progressed, however, and went badly, and then worse than badly, and eventually the public turned against it. We began to see things like people driving gigantic Suburban Attack Vehicles sporting “War is NOT the Answer” bumper stickers. Unfortunately, for them, war IS the answer. And that’s four degrees.

With support for the war unraveling, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, et. al. have commenced lying about the lies they told to take us into Iraq. Bush is now rewriting the history of his documented pre-war lies by accusing war critics of rewriting history, and that’s five degrees.

Suddenly, everyone who’s not drinking the Kool-Aid has realized the U.S. must leave Iraq as soon as possible, since the war has become a lose-lose situation (we lose, they lose). A conservative Democratic congressman, John Murtha, makes an impassioned speech pleading the case for a total American pullout from Iraq at the first practicable opportunity. The word “oil,” however, does not appear once anywhere in this speech.

That’s six degrees.

And you may ask yourself
Where is that beautiful house?

And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?

And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?

And you may ask yourself
Am I right? ...am I wrong?

And you may tell yourself
My god!...what have I done?

--The Talking Heads: “Once in a Lifetime”

I would humbly submit that the only solution to addiction is to stop. Anything else is nuts.

Incidentally, we need to get out of Iraq right now.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bird Flu: Weapon of Mass Deception

Using the threat of a bird flu pandemic in the same way he used the bogus threat of Iraqi WMD’s in the runup to the Iraq War, President Bush is hoping to intimidate Congress into passing legislation that would grant blanket immunity from liability to pharmaceutical companies.

Such liability protection would extend to all instances of catastrophic health effects arising from the use of vaccines and other medications. This comes as the pharmaceutical industry faces the possibility of class-action lawsuits, similar to those brought against tobacco companies, stemming from the inclusion of the additive Thimerosal in vaccines routinely used to inoculate children against common childhood diseases.

Thimerosal contains mercury, and has been implicated by many scientists and doctors, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, in the explosive increase in the incidence of autism in recent years

"At this moment there is no pandemic influenza in the United States or the world. But if history is our guide, there's reason to be concerned," Bush said in a speech at the National Institutes of Health on November 1. In the same speech he said the government must approve liability protection for those who manufacture vaccines.

Pharmaceuticals legislation currently under consideration by Congress which would confer blanket liability protection on drug manufacturers include S. 1783, The Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act, and a similar bill in the House, H.R. 3970.

The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), a watchdog consumer advocacy group, has called the pending legislation “an end-run by Pharma's friends in Congress to take away the civil rights of the American people."

Avian flu outbreaks have occurred in Asia among people who live and work in close proximity to poultry. However, the disease in its present form cannot be transmitted from one human to another. The need for a bird flu vaccine to be developed under emergency conditions is questionable.

In addition, pharmaceutical companies already enjoy extensive protection against liability. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 protects drug companies and doctors from almost all lawsuits, and there are only a handful of vaccine injury lawsuits pending in civil courts.

However, the possibility of class action suits arising from the use of Thimerosal has the big pharmaceutical firms worried enough to push for the current legislation. . The U.S. Department of Education has documented the rate of increase in the incidence of autism between 1992 and 2000 as 435 percent.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Kamikaze Kids

Murtha is trying to do conservatives a favor, but the Republican wingnuts in Congress are too dumb to realize it.

The old guy is perceptive enough to realize that by continuing to beat a dead horse in Iraq, and continuing to pile up ever more ominous defecits, the present government is cutting its own throat and creating what very well might be a pre-revolutionary situation.

Murtha correctly perceives that the government's present course, in its recklessness and disregard for consequences, is undermining the rule of the political establishment, the corporate business establishment, and the military establishment.

It's obvious if you read his speech of November 17 that what most concerns him is that "The American public is way ahead of us," and "Our defecit is growing out of control."

Murtha realizes that the twin spectres of massive public disaffection from the war and hostility toward the government that got us into it, combined with the certainty of fiscal insolvency and collapse, are conspiring to create an atmosphere bordering on anarchy in this country.

That doesn't mean a revolution is sure to happen, but it does mean that a situation is brewing in which anything could happen. It means loss of control.

John Murtha is a conservative, a militarist, and no enemy of big corporations. He's not some kind of liberal, pacifist weenie. He sees this country's ruling elites behaving foolishly and endangering themselves, and his concern is for the viability of the established powers.

So go for it, Republicans. Just keep on doing what you're doing. Your psychopathic fear and rage masquerading as political philosophy tells the world who you are, even if you don't have a clue.

You're the best friends a committed revolutionary ever had.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Great Raitt---Right, Right!

(Bonnie Raitt at the Paramount Theater, Seattle, November 12, 2005)
By Dian Hassel

Bonnie Raitt gave a high-energy, musically tight, musiculturally diverse and artistically precise performance at The Paramount in Seattle last Saturday night. She was so immediately engaging that I forgot my usual routine, listing the performance catalog in my moleskine notebook. Her band includes those who have been with her for a good piece of time: George Marinelli on guitar, Jon Cleary on keyboards, Hutch Hutchinson on bass and Ricky Fataar on percussion. The opening act, Maia Sharp also provided backup vocals and saxophone on three or four songs, maybe more.

They opened with a New Orleans song, dedicated to and mostly performed by Cleary, who hails from the Big Easy---rats, can’t remember the name of the song. Then they went into God Was in the Water That Day---both songs recorded before the Katrina disaster.

Other songs included (not in order): Nick of Time (dedicated to her deceased parents),
Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About, Gnawin’ On It (for “Scott,” lucky Scott), an early early song of hers that is honky-tonk bluesy with many words including “roadmap,” Women Be Wise. She performed all of the Maia Sharp songs that are on Bonnie’s new CD, Souls Alike. Raitt is a generous lead performer---not only bringing her opening act on four or five times and singing all of Sharp’s songs that are on the CD---she also stands sideways when others in her band have solos---however, she looks GREAT playing sideways, so it’s win-win for everyone on stage, and, I might add, everyone in the audience.

At one point, playing sideways, she squatted and pointed her guitar like a good weapon and rose up easily while still playing, no hand up or anything---so how many 50-somethings can do that?? She celebrated her 56th birthday last week and told the crowd that her band and crew came out in their boxer shorts with a cake---each guy had a letter on his boxers spelling out POLES ALIKE. Later, when a crew member handed her a guitar, she quipped, “Which letter were you?”

Her only political comments were aimed at Governator Arnold and were brief. As is the norm at a Raitt concert, many pro-environmental groups were there, handing out and selling stuff. The house was sold out and ecstatic about the show---many standing ovations and two encores---the first encore she did a ballad by Sharp, and THE SONG I WAS THERE TO HEAR, I Can’t Make You Love Me---Cleary perfectly made the introduction his own, not an easy feat following the incredible Bruce Hornsby keyboard intro on the recorded version of this anthem. The last encore was a tribute song to a recently deceased bluesman (again, sorry I forgot to write it down) and regaled the late Robert Palmer by singing Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News.

Maia Sharp is a cosmic force in the making. She opened the evening with an hour-long set, 11 songs---Maia on guitar, with a bass player and a drummer, both excellent. The sidemen’s instrumentals were lyrical. At one point, she sat at the keyboard and started a song---all of a sudden, you hear a slide guitar and yes, Bonnie strolls onto stage with her ax, no intro, and plays and sings back-up for Maia. Just as nonchalantly, she strolls off.

Bonnie, in addition to her pro-environmental advocacy, has championed the effort to get royalties for some of the now-elderly blues folks who were the foundation of a big part of what we call “rock” now. Raitt played for 1-½ hours. It seemed like fifteen minutes. Watching Bonnie on stage, she is clearly physically impacted by the music. Some of it lifts her up, some of it clearly devastates her. Ditto, the audience.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Giving Up/Giving In

Kurt Vonnegut has given up. He has relinquished all hope for the future of the United States, if it can even be said to have a future. In his eighties now, he's certain that life on earth will not long survive him. He's decided the human race is no damn good.

And he's in good company. Einstein, Gandhi, and Mark Twain all reached similar conclusions before they died.

"Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?" Einstein asked himself in 1949, just a few years before his death. He answered the question with great difficulty.

"I have admitted my mistake," Gandhi grumbled bitterly in 1948, shortly before his assassination. "I thought our struggle was based on non-violence, whereas in reality it was no more than passive resistance, which essentially is a weapon of the weak."

Twain's take on the human condition was even bleaker. In 1898 when he was 63, he wrote "The Mysterious Stranger," a long short story whose premise is that the world and mankind were created by Satan rather than God.

"Strange, indeed," says the Devil to the lone human to whom he has revealed himself, "that you should not have suspected that your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction! Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane -- like all dreams: a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short..."

In our own time Twain's cynicism seems prescient. If there is a God behind creation, why are there nuclear weapons, people burning one another with white phosphorus, and the apparent likelihood of environmental destruction snuffing out all life in his or her or its world? What kind of a God would make such a world?

Vonnegut has enthusiastically joined the chorus of cynical and pessemistic curmudgeons with his new book, A Man Without A Country. It's a book only because it consists of a few (135) printed pages between two hard covers; it's more accurately a very loosely connected melange of short essays, random thoughts, and aphorisms, guaranteed to leave any reader who's not a masochist depressed, angry, and forlorn.

On the subject of the oncoming energy catastrophe and the related topic of environmental destruction, Vonnegut is even gloomier that that Jeremiah of future energy shock, James Kunstler. "You want to talk about irresistible whoopee?" he asks in his characteristic high tone. "A booby trap."

"Fossil fuels, so easily set alight! Yes, and we are presently touching off narly the very last whiffs and drops and chunks of them. All lights are about to go out. No more electricity. All forms of transportation are about to stop, and the planet earth will soon have a crust of skulls and bones and dead machinery.

"And nobody can do a thing about it. It's too late in the game.

"Don't spoil the party, but here's the truth: We have squandered our planet's resources, including air and water, as though there were no tomorrow, and now there isn't going to be one."

Describing Americans as "proud, grinning, jut-jawed, pitiless war lovers with appallingly powerful weaponry," Vonnegut concludes, "So I am a man without a country...


"...I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts us absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many lifeless bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas."

I can't disagree with any of Vonnegut's conclusions, but I have problems with his attitude toward them. If it's true that there's no hope for America, and that planet earth has only a few days left, I'd rather enjoy what little sunshine remains and run up the bear flag to show I'm a patriotic Californian than give way to despair.

The problem is, people who are hopeless are also generally mean and depressed. I don't know whether Vonnegut is mean, but I know I would be if I gave up, gave in, and surrendered to hopelessness.

Anyway, Vonnegut, Twain, Gandhi, and Dr. Einstein notwithstanding, there are still a few people of advanced age and great knowledge who hold out at least some guarded hope for the future. Two that I know of are the old socialist and historian Howard Zinn, who claims that "The abolition of war is not to be dismissed as utopian," and the indefatigable crusader Doris Haddock, who still maintains, even in the face of an imperialistic and repressive neocon regime, that the real Americans "are resolved to help each other. We are resolved to represent love in the world and to follow our national dream."

In a way I find Kurt Vonnegut's pessemism and cynicism strange. If God smites atheists, he, she, or it would certainly not have omitted smiting one like Vonnegut who has been courting the undertaker, chain smoking unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes for 70 years. Something like Providence, if not a deity, seems to be keeping this octogenarian curmudgeon around for the fulfillment of some mysterious and wonderful purpose, of which he is thus far uninformed.

When he finds out what it is he'll cop a new attitude.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Directions Home

President Bush and all his crew are now caught in a tightening spiral. As the messy consequences of their reckless policies gather force and they are caught in the steel jaws of their exposed lies, their confused and frightened jefe lashes out with increasingly hysterical desperation and increasingly transparent new lies in a vain attempt to cover the old ones.

It's time for us to turn our attention away from this crippled and mortally wounded regime, because it's now obvious that the attempt to impose fascism on the United States has failed. Continuing to expend energy vilifying the fallen serves no purpose.

Instead We need to re-open the debate, not seriously contested for 70 years, concerning the essential nature of the kind of country we wish to have. This was exactly the purpose of President Jimmy Carter's op-ed piece which ran in the LA Times yesterday.

Unfortunately, Carter is a good-hearted person with limited vision, as evidenced by the ineptitude which characterized his administration. He would, of course, do away with the worst excesses of the current regime, but at the same time, would return us to the type of society and the kind of policies we had under Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan: imperialism without fascism and the rule of monopoly capitalism without dictatorship.

I'm hoping that public reaction to the bankrupt and vicious policies of the present failed regime will be extreme enough to lead us in a direction not envisioned by the well-intentioned but myopic Jimmy Carter, back to the approaches, objectives, and socialist programs of the New Deal, which gave us Social Security, the G.I. Bill of Rights, subsidized home mortgages, and later on, medicare. These measures, augmented today by a single-payer system of guaranteed health insurance, would for the first time in a long time bring the U.S. government into harmony with the main principle of the Declaration of Independence, that government exists for the benefit of the governed.

I'm also hoping that we will finally, belatedly, pay attention to the warning President Eisenhower prophetically included in his 1961 Farewell address, and work actively to do away with "the unwarranted influence...(of) the military-industrial complex." Militarism, combined with monopoly capitalism, was the foundation and prerequisite of our tragic fascist episode. But now the Iraq War has shown that we'll have to find methods other than imperialistic aggression to solve our energy dilemma, as well as our other global and hemispheric problems.

I say this not as a Democrat or a liberal, for I am neither, any more than I'm a communist or a socialist. I'm a revolutionary who tries to follow the teaching of Mohandas K. Gandhi, that is to say, a person for whom revolution begins with purification of the heart, and for whom politics is a spiritual discipline.

It's time for a real change, and that doesn't just mean a retreat to the Kennedy-Johnson days and the kinder, gentler imperialism, wars, and monopoly capitalism of a time when we had better drugs and better music.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Slough of Despond

Morale among U.S. military personnel in Iraq, especially reserve troops called up to active duty, has become so dangerously low that the commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve has expressed doubts about the Army’s ability to continue functioning.

Sinking morale parallels and is fueled by the drop-off in recruitment numbers for both the regular Army and the Army Reserve.

In an internal Pentagon memo, written last December but only leaked to the press and published in the Baltimore Sun in early November of this year, Lt. General James Helmly called the Army Reserve a “broken” force, and said the reserve has reached a point where it cannot fulfill its missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

About 40 percent of the active-duty troops in Iraq are reservists, some of whom have been forced to undergo two, three, or even four tours of duty, under the terms of the Rumsfeld Defense Department’s “stop-loss” policy.

Stop loss, the involuntary extension of active duty status of soldiers beyond their contractual obligation, has been called “a back-door draft” by Lieutenant Paul Rieckert, an Iraq veteran and Pentagon critic. Calling the policy “a band-aid solution,” Rieckert contends that “Stop Loss is destroying the very concept of our volunteer military, is terribly damaging to morale, and is yet another indication that the original plan for war was flawed.”

When asked 11 months ago whether the morale-destroying Stop Loss policy would continue, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said he has no plans to discontinue the practice because it's important to maintain "unit cohesion."

Writing recently on the New York Times op-ed page, columnist Bob Herbert described Stop Loss and multiple deployments as “a form of Russian roulette.”

One combat veteran known only as “hEkle” described the current level of morale as “pretty low.”

In an interview conducted by Socialistworker.org, hEkle said “While we were in Iraq, (morale) was pretty low. It depends on what camp or operating base you were at. If you are at a place where you didn’t go out on missions, but stayed on and provided support for others, morale was higher, because they weren’t seeing the shit. Battalions that were going out every day and doing missions--their morale was pretty low.

”You’re crammed into a 15-by-20-foot aluminum box with two other roommates--plus the heat, plus the miserable conditions, plus bad food for a whole year. You add it all up, and morale gets pretty low.”

Because of morale problems caused by Stop Loss and the Army’s rapidly diminishing recruitment rates, General Helmly says that under current procedures, and considering the inadequate numbers of recruits, his forces will be unable "to meet mission requirements associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan.

Helmly was especially critical of current Army use of financial incentives to attract and retain reservists on active duty, which the general says confuses "volunteers" with "mercenaries," and of the Defense Department’s practice of calling reservists to active duty at only a few days' notice.

For those reservists already on the ground in Iraq, redeployment and extension of active duty time sometimes comes with no notice at all. In his chronicle of his service in Iraq, “The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell” (Riverhead Books, 2005), combat veteran John Crawford describes how it felt to have his hitch unexpectedly extended, and the devastating effect it had on troops’ morale:

“’Sir, there are rumors of a follow-on mission. Is that true?’…

“’I’m working on that, men. I’ll get back to you.’”

“That was how it went. Vague answers and no one ever asked what we all were thinking. ‘Sir, are you fighting to get us a follow-on mission so that you and the rest of Headquarters Company can earn your combat infantry badges and you can get some leadership time in theater? Do you feel as though you missed the war and now you’re going to make up for it with our blood and sweat? Are you upset because we came over, did our jobs, and are ready to go home while you did paperwork?’

“No one asked, because we already knew the answer. It was as clear on his face as the disgust was on ours.”

Thursday, November 10, 2005

White Phosphorus

One of the reasons we went to war in Iraq was because of Saddam's use of chemical weapons against Iraqis. Now the United States appears to be guilty of the same crime.

A documentary entitled "Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre," aired November eighth by RAI (Radio Audizioni Italiane), the Italian state broadcast service, focused on the U.S. military's use of white phosphorus against the civilian population of Fallujah in its November, 2004 attack on that city. It features photographs of victims whose flesh has been burned to the bone, but whose clothing is in many cases strangely intact.

The story first surfaced a year ago on the website "Islam Online," which reported that "US troops are reportedly using chemical weapons and poisonous gas in its large-scale offensive on the Iraqi resistance bastion of Fallujah, a grim reminder of Saddam Hussein's alleged gassing of the Kurds in 1988."

RAI used the Islamic site as an information and photo source for its documentary, which also features on-camera interviews with former U.S. soldiers. One of these, a veteran of the combat at Fallujah, testifies: "I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military jargon it's known as Willy Pete."

"Phosphorus burns bodies," the G.I. adds in his first-hand description. "In fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone ... I saw the burned bodies of women and children. Phosphorus explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 metres is done for."

For the past year, the military's USinfo website has maintained that phosphorus shells were "fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters."

However, Iraqi witnesses report that "a rain of fire" fell on the city and killed enemy fighters and civilians alike, many as they slept in their beds.

The documentary also provided evidence that U.S. forces in Fallujah used Mark 77 incendiary bombs against the city, a new and more potent form of napalm. Mark 77 is outlawed for use against non-military targets.

American media have been predictably AWOL on this story.

The United States military and its civilian commanders in the Bush administration now stand accused of the same sorts of crimes for which Gestapo and SS personnel and Japanese prison camp commandants were hanged at the close of World War II.

RAI 24 News (http://www.rainews24.rai.it/)
The (UK) Independent (http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article325757.ece)
Daily Kos (http://dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/11/9/174518/797)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

39 Months

Speaking in Panama yesterday, Bush asserted that "We do not torture."

So why has he threatened to veto a bill that bans something we don't do?

Huh. Logic was never one of the president's strong suits.

The torture policy didn't originate with Dubya, though. Colin Powell's former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, claims the policy came out of Cheney's office. Bush was merely dumb enough to defend it and assign lawyers like Gonzales and John Yoo to write up rationalizations for it.

U.S. policy on treatment of prisoners is now being dictated by Cheney, a lunatic whose crimes against humanity place him squarely among history's monsters. Take a good look at Cheney's face, and you'll see echoes of his predecessors: the imbecile fanaticism of Hitler; the frozen-hearted brutality of Josef Stalin; the glassy-eyed rage of Vlad the impaler.

The American public, to its credit, supports neither Cheney nor his torture policy (his approval rating is now 19 percent). We may be collectively dumb enough to be hoodwinked by right-wing propaganda, especially during those times when a 24-hour tidal wave of second-hand lies (as in the run-up to Iraq) from corporate media are its vehicle. But as a people, we're apparently just not ready for blatant fascism.

There are 39 months left in the Bush administration's second term. I don't see how they'll ever be able to complete it, but on the other hand, I don't see any workable means for getting rid of them.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Da da da, da da da da da da, THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!

Ever sat through one of those idiotic Hollywood movies where there's a good guy with a slightly mentally challenged sidekick and a bad guy and a helpless but very pretty girl and a bunch of barbarians or hoodlums and the bad guy goes nya haa haa and sets all the barbarians and/or hoodlums on the good guy who kills about half of them then kills the bad guy but his faithful sidekick usually a black guy gets tragically killed in this final confrontation boo hoo hoo but then the good guy gets the girl after defusing the bomb or winning the big game in the last .00000000002 second?

Of course you have. Who hasn't?

But just in case you haven't, or in any case, you owe it to yourself to check out

You'll never feel the same about poultrycide again.

Shaykh Yerbouti

Now it can be told!! During the runup to the Iraq war, the Cheney administration relied heavily on the testimony of a former al-Qaida operative named al-Libi.

Seem like a coincidence? No way, Buckwheat.

Bush, Cheney and others at the top of the Neo-Con food chain claimed that Iraq was providing al-Qaeda with training in chemical and biological weapons. These claims were based on statements provided by the known fabricator, al-Qaida senior military trainer Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The Washington Post reports that al-Libi formally retracted his claims in early 2004, and reports that "In fact, in January 2004 al-Libi recanted his claims, and in February 2004 the CIA withdrew all intelligence reports based on his information."

Can there be any doubt? Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Irv Lew "Scooter" Libby are the same person. Furthermore, we have learned from a highly-placed and very reliable carbon-based life form that neither person actually exists. Both al-Libi and Libby are aliases concocted by the nefarious and secretive Saudi double agent, Shaykh Yerbouti.

So there you have it, with apologies to Frank Zappa.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I'm Goin' Away to a World Unknown

...is Charlie Patton's take on walking "Down That Dirt Road."

Bob Dylan echoes the sentiment: "Yes, I'm walkin' down the highway/With my suitcase in my hand..." (from Freewheeling, 1963).

I'd change a couple things about Dylan's version, though. For one thing, I'd never try to walk any significant distance carrying a suitcase. That's a good way to cripple yourself. And I'd change his tag line to, "I feel just like I'm walkin' through some unknown land."

Or as Michael Moore put it, "Dude, Where's My Country?"

It's hard to recognize the dear old U.S.A. these days, no matter whether you're driving (or walking) down one of its excellently engineered highways or watching it unravel on the evening news.

And it's impossible to describe what's happened to us over the course of the last 50 years without using the word "fascist," but launching that incendiary monosyllable causes all kinds of trouble. It triggers images of Hitler and the piles of rotting bodies being bulldozed into mass graves at Dachau.

On top of that, the word is chronically misused by people who have no idea what they're talking about. That includes everyone from adolescents who respond with "God, you're such a fascist," to a parent who has forbidden marijuana consumption in the house, to that daily passenger on the political short bus, Jonah Goldberg (a devotee of newspeak if there ever was one).

Furthermore, we're not living under a fascist government (yet). Harry Reid could never have pulled off his brilliant hijacking of the Senate two days ago, for purposes of getting a bunch of deadbeats to cough up the goods, under a fascist dictatorship, any more than the thousands of kids who walked out of classes all over the country yesterday to protest the war could have gotten away with it if the neocons had squads of storm troopers they could mobilize.

But...is the current administration a fascist enterprise? Totally. Adamantly. Enthusiastically. And the Bush administration happens to be running things right now. Its allies, hirelings, goons, and media mouthpieces, while they don't have total control, are calling all the shots.

So yeah, the U.S. today is a fascist country.

I don't want to get embroiled in a definition of fascism here, especially when other people have already adequately done so. Seattle-based journalist David Neiwert has masterfully dealt with the subject at his blog Orcinus, in an article which draws at length on a noteworthy structural analysis of fascism produced recently by a little-known Canadian lawyer, Paul Bigio.

Bigio emphasizes the role played by monopoly capitalism in every country where fascism has arisen. Indeed, it's not outlandish to say that in modern times fascism grows out of hyper-concentrated monopoly capitalism as surely as a dandelion grows from its root. It's the inevitable political manifestation of a specific set of economic conditions.

But how much of this does a person have to understand in order to realize what's happening to the U.S. today? Probably not much. How much do these little tykes protesting the Iraq war in Minnesota yesterday know about monopoly capitalism or the relationship between modern political tyrannies and mass media?

It doesn't matter. They're smart enough to know when they're being lied to, and their instincts are healthy enough to tell them when they're being manipulated. How sad it is to realize that as they begin to get ground down by life's vicissitudes, they'll change, like the people of all the generations before them.

Since I retired, I don't miss the classroom, but I sure miss the kids. I think I'll take a long walk, and maybe get re-acquainted with some of them.

And if I do -- when I do -- I'll explain to them what's happening in terms they'll understand, the way we framed things back during Vietnam. At that time, the conventional wisdom was that the life of the country, its government, commerce, and culture, were no longer controlled by human agency.

"It's a machine," we told each other, "and it's out of control."

You don't have to recognize that it's an analogy to see the truth in it.