Friday, May 29, 2009

Torturing Democracy

Excerpt #1 from the award-winning 2008 documentary Torturing Democracy

In all the recent debate over torture, many of our Beltway pundits and politicians have twisted themselves into verbal contortions to avoid using the word at all. During his speech to the conservative American Enterprise Institute last week -- immediately on the heels of President Obama's address at the National Archives -- former Vice President Dick Cheney used the euphemism "enhanced interrogation" a full dozen times. Smothering the reality of torture in euphemism of course has a political value, enabling its defenders to diminish the horror and possible illegality. It also gives partisans the opening they need to divert our attention by turning the future of the prison at Guantanamo Bay into a "wedge issue," as noted on the front page of Sunday's New York Times.

Bill Moyers and Michael Winsip - Everyone Should See 'Torturing Democracy.

Read full article here.

Read another on the problems the documentary has faced in getting aired here.

See more excerpts from the documentary below...

More on full documentary here.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blood & Oil In the Niger Delta

Nigerian actress Lola Toluwase during the shooting of the movie "Covenant of the Ancestors", in the creeks of Sagbama near Yenagoa in the volatile Niger Delta region of Nigeria, August 2006. The film is about the restiveness caused by the politics of oil in the Niger Delta and how young people have been caught up in conflict through the formation of militant groups., Courtesy Reuters.

On May 13, the Nigerian military launched an assault on villages in that nation’s oil-rich Niger Delta. Hundreds of civilians are feared killed in the attack. According to Amnesty International, a celebration in the delta village of Oporoza was attacked. An eyewitness told the organization: “I heard the sound of aircraft; I saw two military helicopters, shooting at the houses, at the palace, shooting at us. We had to run for safety into the forest. In the bush, I heard adults crying, so many mothers could not find their children; everybody ran for their life.”

The above quote is from an article by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!. Since May 21, Goodman's radio show has been following events in the Niger Delta, where the Nigerian army--to protect foreign energy interests--has moved violently against militant insurgencies demanding a greater share of the lucrative oil wealth. Hundreds have been killed, and thousands displaced in the recent military operation. Militants have responded by blowing up an important oil pipeline and threatening to do the same to others. In the midst of all this, Shell Oil is on the verge of having its day in court to answer for its alleged role in the 1995 execution of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. But the happenings in the Niger Delta aren't new, as its impoverished inhabitants living in destitution and poverty have been trying to tell the world of their troubles for decades. The land they have long lived on has been called an ecological catastrophe that approaches a monstrosity, as the ground, water and skies are polluted for oil production. The life expectancy in the Delta has dropped to the 40s and even the rain is toxic. What is occurring now may be finally catching the world's attention, but it has been long in the making.

More on this expanding conflict after the fold...

Massive Casualties Feared in Nigerian Military Attack on Niger Delta Villages

The Nigerian military has been accused of killing hundreds, maybe thousands, of civilians in the oil-rich Niger Delta. The military offensive began eight days ago but has received little international attention. We go to Nigeria to speak with Denzil Amagbe Kentebe of the Ijaw National Congress. We’re also joined by Sandy Cioffi, director of the new documentary Sweet Crude about the Niger Delta. The village of Oporoza, where much of the film was shot, has just been burned down.

Read full article here.

Shell on Trial: Landmark Trial Set to Begin Over Shell’s Role in 1995 Execution of Nigerian Human Rights Activist Ken Saro-Wiwa

A landmark trial against oil giant Royal Dutch Shell’s alleged involvement in human rights violations in the Niger Delta begins this Wednesday in a federal court in New York. Fourteen years after the widely condemned execution of the acclaimed Nigerian writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, the court will hear allegations that Shell was complicit in his torture and execution.

Read full article here.

Sweet Crude

Sweet Crude is the story of Nigeria’s Niger Delta – a story that’s never been captured in a feature-length film. Beginning with the filmmaker’s initial trip to document the building of a library in a remote village, Sweet Crude is a journey of multilayered revelation and ever-deepening questions. It’s about survival, corruption, greed and armed resistance. It’s about one place in one moment, with themes that echo many places throughout history. Sweet Crude shows the humanity behind the statistics, events and highly sensationalized media portrayal of the region. Set against a stunning backdrop of Niger Delta footage, the film gives voice to the region’s complex mix

Learn more about the documentary here. Take action on what is currently happening here.

Pollution in the Niger Delta

CORP WATCH- NIGERIA: Niger Delta bears brunt after 50 years of oil spills


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Story of Stuff

Narrated by Anne Leonard, The Story of Stuff examines how our consumerist addiction is directly tied to the environmental degradation of our planet. After all, how is all this STUFF produced and where does all this STUFF go when we're done with it? Even when we try to be environmental, some of the STUFF needed to do so just creates more STUFF.

More about The Story of Stuff here.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Waltzing Matilda

And the old men march slowly, all bones stiff and sore,
They're tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask meself the same question.

The passage above is from Eric Bogle's 1971 Waltizing Matilda, in which a maimed Australian veteran recounts the horrors of a battle in WWI that left him both physically and mentally wounded for life. As he ponders on the seeming futility of it all at the twilight of his life, he both mourns his own loss and expresses disdain for the glorification of warfare. As we in the U.S. come upon another Memorial Day, Bogle's lament from almost four decades past echoes with resonance.

More after the fold...

Memorial Day has become one of those sacrosanct holidays, where it is considered in good form to mourn and celebrate the dead of wars past. From televsion to public ceremonies, there will be depictions of heroic soldiers who served and those who fell in the line of duty. And virtues like "freedom" and "honor" will fill the air. But beneath the pride and the sadness, what will be missing from this Memorial Day--as is so often the case--is any serious examination on why such a holiday exists in the first place.

Since its inception the United States has fought a series of wars across the globe. Some were in greater conflicts not of our making, which we often look to with the fondest memories. Others however we either inserted ourselves into, or initiated, for reasons that are no more clear today than they were at the time. More than a few, we simply push into our collective amnesia, trying to forget seeming humiliations.

Yet under the theme of Memorial Day, all these wars, battles and invasions are celebrated as "just" and "moral." Even the dead of the Civil War are honored on both sides, as if it didn't really matter which side won in the end. Odd that on a day to remember the dead of war, we don't sit down and honestly ask ourselves if they died for something noble, or if many may have died for lies, plunder, jingoism or worse. Are all causes really just? And what of the other dead, those on the receiving end of our military machine who lay strewn across continents--from Panama to Vietnam--in the hundreds and millions? Where do they fit into our collective memoralizing?

Do we learn anything from our past? As I sit here typing this now, the U.S. is occupying Iraq, ramping up a war in Afghanistan, sending predator drones to attack villages in Pakistan, has a chain of military bases ringing the globe and is feeding our Pentagon-military-industrial-complex billions to mass produce new hideous weaponry to find new ways to cause carnage. Does any of our memories and honoring of the dead of wars past help us to make better decisions regarding the wars of the present and those that may come? Or do we take Memorial Day so seriously because we have decided to exist in a perpetual state of warfare that will continue to offer us up more and more dead?

As media critic Norman Solomon notes:

In the truncated media universe of Memorial Day, the act of remembering bypasses any history that indicates an American war was not inevitable and unavoidable. The populace is made to understand that God and nature must be death dealers. We are encouraged to extol those who bravely gave their lives and took the lives of others -- but not confront those, high in the U.S. government's executive and legislative branches, who cravenly gave their fervent blessings to gratuitous carnage.

For the rest of Solomon's article, The Silent Media Curse of Memorial Day, go here.

And view the documentary War Made Easy.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tough Love for Obama


Representative Donna Edwards provides a look into the Congressional Progressive Caucus and urges progressives to speak up and challenge the Obama presidency to deliver innovative and powerful legislation.

For moreNation videos check out their YouTube channel.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Talking Points for Weak & Spineless Dems

So yesterday all but 6 Senate Democrats joined with their Republican cohorts to deny President Obama funding to shut down the Guantánamo Bay detention center (Gitmo), which has been a scene of torture and called a violation of international law. That a Democratic majority in the Senate still can't realize they're in charge and vote to assure progressive measures by a Democratic President, just highlights the weak and spineless behavior we've become accustomed to under Sen. Harry Reid. But the argument put forth by those voting against funding was so asinine and preposterous, it can only be called pathetically stupid.

More after the fold...

The argument was first floated by Republican strategists during the Bush era, who asked where would the Gitmo "detainees" go if the base at Guantanamo Bay was closed? This was picked up most recently by Peter King (R-NY) who claimed something sinister would happen if suspected terrorists were brought close to Ground Zero. The Republican noise machine--led it seems by Dick Cheney who emerged from Mordor to do a recent medial blitz--continued to chime in, warning of the dire results of "releasing" Gitmo "detainees" in the U.S. And for this, Senate Democrats ran and caved, still fearful of being called weak on national security and unable to muster up talking points that a seven-year-old could draft.

Here are a few. Thank the next seve-year-old you see...

(1) Having a fair trial that does not disobey international law does not equal "releasing" Gitmo "detainees." It's not like the handcuffs are going to come off and they'll just be left to run into the American wilderness. No one is talking about setting up a "detainee" in a condo and giving him a government stipend to do research. They'd be in prison, not put under house arrest with an ankle band. And then, hopefully, they'd be able to get a trial to determine if they even belong there in the first place. As it stands, keeping them in limbo is not an answer.

(2) As John Stewart pointed out on the Daily Show, these guys aren't Warlocks. Are we really to believe that U.S. police, military and other security forces can't handle shackled and bound prisoners? They do this every day. Do these detainees have mutant powers or something? What is behind this ridiculous fear that these figures are so toxic, they can't set foot in the U.S. and be brought to trial? Who is going to bust them out, COBRA?

(3) A familiar GOP talking point picked up by some weak Democrats is that they fear the "detainees" will "radicalize" U.S. prisons. I think it's pretty safe to assume that any prisoners from Gitmo wouldn't be roaming about in general population. The U.S. has held everyone from Timothy McVeigh to the blind cleric Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, most often away from the rest of the inmates. Unless they have psychic powers of mind control, this is a red herring.

(4) Have the entire Senate watch MSNBC's Lock Up sometime. Be sure to include the scenes of inmates who talk about eating someone's brain and others who brag they can't wait to "get their knife wet." And these are all 100% American grown criminals. It ain't exactly Disneyland in there. If anything, the "detainees" should be kept out of general population for their *own* safety.

(5) Lastly, look up the term Prison Industrial Complex. Tell these GOP "lock em' all up" supporters suddenly turned "timid" about the effectiveness of maximum security facilities that when it comes to jailing people, the U.S. has the world beat--hands down. Prisons, along with weapons, may be about the last great export we have for the world. If we can't house them here, no one can.

An update-

As expected, spineless Dems caving in to right-wing talking points has only emboldened the GOP noise machine--who are launching a stinging offensive using every tool at their disposal. Senate Democrats meanwhile are in disarray--as tends to happen *every time* they do something weak and gutless. Good. They deserve the heat.
Secondly, President Obama has thankfully come out today and stated forcefully that he intends to shut down Gitmo and won't be deterred. Good for him. Good for him. Two things however, President Obama: (1) When you refuse to let your Justice Dept move forward on investigating torture and other acts that took place at Gitmo, you allow stupid right-wing talking points and Darth Cheney to run amok saying anything--because they know they won't be prosecuted; (2) When you block the release of photos and other evidence related to the abuses done under a previous administration, you deflate your own ethical high ground and then your own party will retreat at any given opportunity. Learn from these mistakes.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Unexceptional Americans

...torture has been routinely practiced from the early days of the conquest of the national territory, and continued to be used as the imperial ventures of the "infant empire" - as George Washington called the new republic - extended to the Philippines, Haiti, and elsewhere.... torture was the least of the many crimes of aggression, terror, subversion, and economic strangulation that have darkened U.S. history, much as in the case of other great powers

The quote above is from Noam Chomsky, who in a recent article discusses the amnesia that affects so much of U.S. history. Even as I joined in condemnation of the Bush regime in the past few years, I often found myself disturbed by notions that the misdeeds carried out under that administration were aberrations--horrific in great part because of their seeming uniqueness. For many, it was as if the past few centuries of ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples of North America, the brutal occupation of the Philippines, the violent overthrow of governments (from the Hawaiian monarchy to Mossadeq of Iran), the mayhem of bloodshed throughout Central and South America, a war in Southeast Asia that killed millions and more had been minor blips in our history. Yet for many of the people on the receiving end it has been the defining tragedy and tumultuous markers of their lives, societies and nations. The American view of itself as a nation that is always moral, always right and always just, is a theme of denial that runs deep in our psyche. Its what leads us to label ourselves the "indispensable nation" which the rest of the world cannot do without as they wait in hopes for us to be their eternal leader. And we feel wholly justified in ringing the globe with 737 military bases, yet balk at being called an Empire.

In the article below, Noam Chomsky deconstructs these myths of "American Exceptionalism" and asks us to take a better look at our history with more critical eyes.

Unexceptional Americans

May 19, 2009

The torture memos released by the White House elicited shock, indignation, and surprise. The shock and indignation are understandable. The surprise, less so.

For one thing, even without inquiry, it was reasonable to suppose that Guantanamo was a torture chamber. Why else send prisoners where they would be beyond the reach of the law -- a place, incidentally, that Washington is using in violation of a treaty forced on Cuba at the point of a gun? Security reasons were, of course, alleged, but they remain hard to take seriously. The same expectations held for the Bush administration's "black sites," or secret prisons, and for extraordinary rendition, and they were fulfilled.

More importantly, torture has been routinely practiced from the early days of the conquest of the national territory, and continued to be used as the imperial ventures of the "infant empire" -- as George Washington called the new republic -- extended to the Philippines, Haiti, and elsewhere. Keep in mind as well that torture was the least of the many crimes of aggression, terror, subversion, and economic strangulation that have darkened U.S. history, much as in the case of other great powers.

Accordingly, what's surprising is to see the reactions to the release of those Justice Department memos, even by some of the most eloquent and forthright critics of Bush malfeasance: Paul Krugman, for example, writing that we used to be "a nation of moral ideals" and never before Bush "have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for." To say the least, that common view reflects a rather slanted version of American history.

full article here.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Malcolm X 2009- What If... ?

I always look at our contemporary world and wonder what if...that fateful day in Feb. of 1965 had never happened? What if...Malcolm was still alive today? How would the 1960s icon have existed in our times? I tend to call it, WWMD--What Would Malcolm Do? Here's a random sample...

And we will know him then for what he was and is—a prince—our own black shining prince!—who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so. --the late Ossie Davis, Eulogy for Malcolm X, 1965.

Today is the birthday of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, known to most of the world as Malcolm X, who had he lived would have been 84. The fiery activist achieved something akin to sainthood upon his tragic death on Feb. 21st 1965, and saw a revival of his presence especially within the Hip Hop cultural and political “Golden Age” of the late 1980s to early 1990s, culminating in the Spike Lee biopic bearing his name. There are still streets which memorialize him, along with grassroots organizations that seek to carry on his legacy and his movement. But gone today are the Malcolm X buttons, clothing and assorted paraphernalia that defined half a decade of black cultural expression, and influenced members of my generation. Last time I saw someone wearing an X cap, it was on an undocumented Mexican immigrant worker who had gotten it from a free clothing store—which seemed, oddly enough, fitting.

Still, on his birth and death Malcolm X and his politics tend to come alive again. And each year around this time I ponder on his life and relive some of his speeches. Whenever I do so, I always look at our contemporary world and wonder what if...that fateful day in Feb. of 1965 had never happened? What if...Malcolm was still alive today? How would the 1960s icon have existed in our times? I tend to call it, WWMD--What Would Malcolm Do? Here's a random sample rehashed from two years past, with some new additions...

· What would Malcolm make of Hip Hop? Would he find art and expression and politics in it, or condemn it as detrimental and debilitating to black America?

· What would Malcolm make of the “new black conservatism” found in the likes of Bill Cosby? Would a former street hustler still believe the lowest among us could yet be redeemed?

· How would Malcolm’s preaching of “self-determination” co-exist in the black era of “prosperity preachers” and ideologies of “pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps?” Would he blame the poverty of the poor on their own shortcomings, or the system behind it?

· What would Malcolm make of the moral majority and religious right in America? What would he make of gay marriage or gay rights?

· Would Malcolm ever step on the set of FOX News?

· How would 82 year-old Muslim Malcolm have reacted when cameras and microphones were thrust in his face to demand an explanation on where he stood on Islamic radicalism?

· What would Malcolm have said of the Iraq War, Abu Gharib and the continued occupation?

· After September 11th would Malcolm have been caught up in the large sweeps, surveillance and imprisonment that affected thousands of Muslims in the U.S.? Would an 82 year-old man have been placed in an orange jump suit in Guantanomo?

· Would Malcolm have attended the Million Man March? Would he have spoken? How would he get along with his former protégé, Minister Louis Farrakhan? The Nation of Islam?

· Would Malcolm have cheered on all those (mostly) white kids at the Battle of Seattle and spoken out forcefully about neoliberalism, unfair trade and the global political economy?

· How would Malcolm have felt to watch the implosion of Somalia, the genocide of Rwanda or the devastation of the Democratic Republic of Congo?

· Would Malcolm speak out about Darfur and before that the conflict in South Sudan?

· How vocal would Malcolm be about the AIDS epidemic?

· What would Malcolm have made about the present state of Africa and its marginalization in global affairs? Would he be out fighting for debt cancellation and condemning the IMF and World Bank? Or would Malcolm just have taken up Bono’s invitation to attend Live 8 and put on a ONE band?

· When supermodel Iman asked Malcolm to smear some paint on his face and pose in an ad declaring, I AM AFRICAN to fight AIDS, what would have been his reply?

· Would Malcolm think The Boondocks or Dave Chappelle was “revolutionary?”

· Would Malcolm sill have a U.S. postage stamp in his honor?

· Would Malcolm still have lived in the U.S., or would he have by now been forced to flee to Cuba?

· Would he have marketed his own brand of baseball caps, buttons and t-shirts bearing his likeness, and sued anyone for unlawfully using the patented trademark of his Bill Gates funded corporation Malcolm Inc.?

· Would Malcolm have voted and support Barack Obama? Or would Obama as a presidential candidate have been forced to denounce him?

· Would Malcolm criticize Obama when he disagreed with his policies? And if so, would Obama's black supporters denounce him angrily as a "hater?"

· Would Malcolm be in the streets protesting the escalating U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

· What would Malcolm think of the likes of Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and the rise of leftist leaders in Central and South America?

· What would Malcolm make of the gentrification of his beloved Harlem?

· Would Malcolm get to be interviewed often on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! ?

· Would we be treated to weekly or monthly articles in progressive dailies penned by Malcolm, speaking on his thoughts of the day?

· Would Malcolm ever get to appear on Oprah?

Just some thoughts that run through my head is all. Can’t say I know many of the answers. But they are interesting to ponder while I listen to The Ballot or the Bullet and try to reflect on if Malcolm's ideologies were meant only for his era, or whether they would have fit--and evolved--in our own. At any rate, once again, Happy birthday Malcolm.

Take all the action that's going on this earth right now that he's [the white world] involved in--tell me where he's winning. Nowhere.

Why some rice farmers--some rice farmers...ran him out of Korea. Yes, they ran him out of Korea. Rice eaters with nothing but gym shoes, and a rifle, and a bowl of rice took him and his tanks and his napalm, and all that other action he's supposed to have and ran him across the Yalu. Why? 'Cause the day that he can win on the ground has passed. Up in French Indo-China those little peasants, rice growers took on the might of the French army and ran all the Frenchmen -- you remember Dien Bien Phu. No.

The same thing happened in Algeria, in Africa--they didn't have anything but a rifle. The French had all these highly mechanized instruments of warfare, but they put some guerilla action on, and a--and a--and a white man can't fight a guerilla warfare. Guerilla action takes heart, takes nerve, and he doesn't have that. He's brave when he's got tanks. He's brave when he's got planes. He's brave when he's got bombs. He's brave when he's got a whole lot of company along with him, but you take that little man from Africa and Asia, turn him loose in the woods with a blade, with a blade--that's all he needs, all he needs is a blade--and when the sun comes down--goes down...and it's dark, it's even-steven!

---El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Malcolm X, on the end of western imperialism and empire in his 1964 speech The Ballot or the Bullet.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Powerful Quote of the Day

Citizens in a state of permanent war are bombarded with the insidious militarized language of power, fear and strength that mask an increasingly brittle reality. The corporations behind the doctrine of permanent war-who have corrupted Leon Trotsky's doctrine of permanent revolution-must keep us afraid. Fear stops us from objecting to government spending on a bloated military. Fear means we will not ask unpleasant questions of those in power. Fear means that we will be willing to give up our rights and liberties for security. Fear keeps us penned in like domesticated animals.

Wow. You think that's something, you should read the rest of Chris Hedges article The Disease of Permanent War.

A related video link below...


Friday, May 15, 2009

Loose Change ?

No, that title has nothing to do with debunked conspiracy theories that should have been retired five years ago. Rather it's my description for this bizarre week that has pitted groups like the ACLU against the Obama administration. Change we can believe in has become nuanced, and much more loosely defined. A glance at the blogosphere also indicates those united in support last Nov. 4th are now finding themselves in dispute, as many are forced to react to moves by the new president that don't exactly gibe with the campaign trail. The more extreme of his detractors accuse him of betraying his promises. His more extreme defenders put words like "pragmatic" on lofty pedestals. And many struggle to figure out where they stand on events that certainly require addressing.

More after the fold...

Monday The Obama administration threatened to cut off intelligence-sharing if British courts reveal the details of how the Bush administration tortured British-Ethiopian resident Binyam Mohamed.

Tuesday Gen. Stanley McChyrstal was promoted to top military official in Afghanistan, even after his known involvement in some of the worst abuses of the Bush era, including the Pat-Tillman cover-up.

Wednesday In a reversal, President Obama indicated he would seek to conceal photos showing widespread detainee torture and abuse--all in the face of recent court rulings in favor of their disclosure.

Friday Backtracking on previous criticism of military tribunals, President Obama released a statement indicating he would keep the system intact with slight modifications in order to try Guantanamo detainees.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hiding Our Abuse

Today President Obama declared he would seek to block the court-ordered release of photos showing U.S. troops abusing prisoners. As the AP reports, it is an abrupt reversal of his earlier position. What was Obama's reasoning for going seemingly "Bushian" about the release of these photos? President Obama states his decision to keep the world in the dark about the photos was done out of concern they would "further inflame anti-American opinion," endangering U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Seriously? That's the best you got? With all due respect Mr. President, you've got things a bit backwards. And here, let me tell you why...

More after the fold...

First off, anti-American sentiment in the world is quite inflamed already. Despite the fact that our corporate news media can spend hours on end talking about dumb comments by young beauty queens or give 24-hour coverage to the troubled celebrity du jour, media outside our country keep the rest of the globe very informed. Television stations like Al-Jazeera, while mocked and demonized in the U.S., actually offer very informative and hard-hitting journalism that detail in full the damages our imperial adventures have wrought in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. No new photos are going to do any more damage than what they are allowed to see streaming through their television sets or in their newspapers, which turn out to be much more truthful about the brutality of war than our own.

Second, forget photos--real life victims of torture and abuse have returned home to tell their stories in ways that pictures can't begin to capture. These are people's family members, and they have recounted in full--through interviews and articles--what they have been through. Again, I know our news media barely pays attention to such things, but their stories are well known in the neighborhoods, cities and countries they come from.

Third, contrary to Orientalist stereotypes the Muslim world is not made up of emotional hot-headed fanatics. Regular people live there--the type who will *naturally* become incensed at photos of torture and abuse. Will some use it to rally hatred and stir up violence? Sure. Just like we do, or have we forgotten the destruction wreaked on Fallujah by U.S. troops after some American contractors were killed and their bodies strung up by vengeful Iraqis? Fact is, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed and thousands of Afghans still dying in their fractured and occupied countries, anger should have long led to the majority of the population rising up in rebellion against every American in sight. Yet peoples in these regions have not done so en masse. So there's no reason to assert that allowing them to see some terrible photos will cause them to act out on their anger any more than they have for the past eight years.

Fourth, most people in the Middle East were paying close attention to Nov. 2008. They are aware there is a new figure in the White House. And they are rational enough to discern actions taken under a previous administration from the current one. Showing the photos would probably go a long way in allowing many in the region to further acknowledge differences between these two administrations, and not blame the current one for the acts of the past. Showing these photos would allow the new administration to demonstrate that they acknowledge wrongs done by their predecessors and the hurt they have inflicted. Most victims first and foremost want those who wronged them to admit their guilt and be open about it. This won't solve everything, but it's a good first step. Hiding it away is not.

Fifth, however bad these photos are, trust that our imaginations are much, much worse. Not releasing the photos only causes endless speculation about what they could possibly contain. Eventually, somehow, these photos will come out--they always do. In the meantime however, you're allowing us to entertain our darkest sadistic nightmares. And you may find in the end that rumors are a greater threat than the truth.

Sixth, you really want to not incite hatred against American troops Mr. President? Well here's something for starters--stop sending unmanned aerial drones to bomb villages to kill one "suspected militant" and accept civilian casualties in such operations as collateral damage. Stop the massive bombing of population centers and then spinning off propaganda to blame it on "extremists." Stop this ill-informed idea that you can spread democracy at the edge of a knife and a missile as you ramp up a surge in Afghanistan and now intend to expand this bizarre crusade into Pakistan. Thought about shaving off some of that ridiculously over-sized and over-priced U.S. embassy casting an imperial shadow in the center in Iraq? How about listening to polls by the Iraqi and Afghan people who want an end to occupation now? How about stopping this boogey-man hunt for "terrorists" that to many in the region just wreak of subversive attempts to gain oil and gas fields?

There are 1001 things Mr. President you can do to lessen the harm faced by U.S. troops--key among them getting them the heck out of where they aren't wanted. But going along with a cover up of past U.S. misdeeds isn't one of them. Because it seems the only ones who are being shielded from seeing the truth here aren't peoples in foreign lands, but those right here who are kept blissfully ignorant about what is carried out in their names across the world. Perhaps this is just a political tactic of some nuance that escapes me--and the photos will eventually come out through some panel commission or act of the courts. But it would go a long way in improving our image in the world if you took a stand to shed more light and decided to drop alot less bombs. Change the rest of the world we can believe in? Try again.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Talk Like An Empire's assumed that American civilian and military leaders can issue pronunciamentos about what other countries must do; publicly demand various actions of ruling groups; opt for specific leaders, and then, when they disappoint, attempt to replace them; and use what was once called "foreign aid," now taxpayer dollars largely funneled through the Pentagon, to bribe those who are hard to convince.

The above quote is by Tom Engelhardt, who in a recent article at dares to challenge the notion (in the minds of many Americans) that the United States has the right to make demands on other nations. As long as it serves our national interest, other nations should sell their oil cheaply, elect figures we find palatable and take steps to curb dangerous elements in their population. It's as if the entire world's business is to make sure we're comfortable. Yet while this type of thinking is so normalized that many politicians and pundits take it as common sense, the question remains, in the waning era of American power, is it really useful to continue talking like an empire?

More of Tom Englehardt's article after the fold...

Washington's Imperial Attitude: We Talk About Countries Like We Own Them

By Tom Engelhardt,

May 9, 2009.

It's the norm for U.S. civilian and military leaders to talk about what other countries "must do" -- but it's a radical and dangerous mindset.

A front-page New York Times headline last week put the matter politely indeed: "In Pakistan, U.S. Courts Leader of Opposition." And nobody thought it was strange at all.

In fact, it's the sort of thing you can read just about any time when it comes to American policy in Pakistan or, for that matter, Afghanistan. It's just the norm on a planet on which it's assumed that American civilian and military leaders can issue pronunciamentos about what other countries must do; publicly demand various actions of ruling groups; opt for specific leaders, and then, when they disappoint, attempt to replace them; and use what was once called "foreign aid," now taxpayer dollars largely funneled through the Pentagon, to bribe those who are hard to convince.

Last week as well, in a prime-time news conference, President Obama said of Pakistan: "We want to respect their sovereignty, but we also recognize that we have huge strategic interests, huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don't end up having a nuclear-armed militant state."

To the extent that this statement was commented on, it was praised here for its restraint and good sense. Yet, thought about a moment, what the president actually said went something like this: When it comes to U.S. respect for Pakistan's sovereignty, this country has more important fish to fry. A look at the historical record indicates that Washington has, in fact, been frying those "fish" for at least the last four decades without particular regard for Pakistani sensibilities.

In a week in which the presidents of both Pakistan and Afghanistan have, like two satraps, dutifully trekked to the U.S. capital to be called on the carpet by Obama and his national security team, Washington officials have been issuing one shrill statement after another about what U.S. media reports regularly term the "dire situation" in Pakistan.

Of course, to put this in perspective, we now live in a thoroughly ramped-up atmosphere in which "American national security" -- defined to include just about anything unsettling that occurs anywhere on Earth -- is the eternal preoccupation of a vast national security bureaucracy. Its bread and butter increasingly seems to be worst-case scenarios (perfect for our 24/7 media to pounce on) in which something truly catastrophic is always about to happen to us, and every "situation" is a "crisis." In the hothouse atmosphere of Washington, the result can be a feeding frenzy in which doomsday scenarios pour out. Though we don't recognize it as such, this is a kind of everyday extremism.

Full article here.


Friday, May 8, 2009

The Lies of War

An injured Afghan child at the hospital in Farah province.

This past Monday and Tuesday U.S. air strikes struck at "suspected militants" in the western province of Afghanistan. When the smoke cleared, perhaps over 130 Afghan civilians lay dead. What followed next were a series of denials by the Pentagon and a bizarre cover-up that ended in an eventual admission by U.S. officials by week's end. As the Obama administration moves along with plans for a "surge" in the region, this nexus of so-called "collateral damage" and military propaganda may be an ominous vision of what's to come for the people of Afghanistan and the American public.

On Monday and Tuesday, in the Western province of Farah in Afghanistan, following a U.S. air strike, some 130 or more people--civilian men, women and children--lay dead. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an apology for the bombing, but the U.S. maintained only 15 civilians were killed in the aerial bombardment. After the governor of the region however began speaking of "tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies," the U.S. changed it's position--somewhat. The official Pentagon line became that the high death toll was carried out by the Taliban, staged in a way to frame the U.S. Late Wednesday it was being claimed that Marine special operations forces believed the Afghan civilians were "killed by grenades hurled by Taliban militants, who then loaded some of the bodies into a vehicle and drove them around the village, claiming the dead were victims of an American air strike." U.S. officials even managed to find evidence that a senior Taliban commander was said to order the grenade attack.

This bizarre claim, which would have been the first for the Taliban, went over like a lead brick in Afghanistan and much of the Middle East. Local villagers, and some decent foreign reporters, began to ask how Taliban guns and grenades could flatten houses and kill so many. And the International Red Cross reported on the devastation the bombings caused.

By Thursday, the Pentagon' version of events began to show cracks. And an official admitted to the New York Times that initial claims of a Taliban massacre was “thinly sourced.” In the meantime, thousands of Afghans have marched in the capital to protest the U.S. air strikes, the continuing occupation and the propped up government in Kabul. Afghan security forces of the emerging democratic state shot at the protesters, And the anger, along with continued denials by the U.S. government, is only growing. Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues undaunted with its plans to place 21,000 more troops on the ground and is seeking support to ramp up its war effort.

This scenario where Americans burn down villages to save them, and then blame civilian casualties on vicious enemy propaganda, is not a new tactic. Replace Afghanistan for Vietnam and Taliban for Vietcong, and it's 1968 all over again. Then, like now, even in the face of such horrors, the Pentagon war machine and the administration that authorizes it, continue along with their notions of expanding the fight which can only be won with more blood, treasure, "regrettable collateral damage" and firm moral resolve.

And we know how well that ended...

More on the lies of war below:

After U.S. Strikes, Afghans Describe 'Tractor Trailers Full of Pieces of Human Bodies'

By Jeremy Scahill, Rebel Reports. May 7, 2009.

Rage spreads in Afghanistan after a U.S. bombing kills some 130 people; Meanwhile the Pentagon spins a cover-up and Obama readies more troops.

Full story here.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hooray for Evolution!

Anthropologist Alice Roberts studies forensic model of early European who would have lived some 35,000 years ago

A picture, or sculpture, is worth a thousand words. I can imagine that this face created by British forensic scientist Richard Neave of a man or woman who lived in the ancient forests of Romania more than 35,000 years ago, is giving those holding onto ideas of white racial superiority a fit. The face was pieced together using fossilised fragments of a skull and jawbone found in a cave seven years ago, and was made for the BBC2 series The Incredible Human Journey. As the long growing consensus among most who study hominid evolution is that modern humans arose in Africa some 60,000 years ago and spread out across the globe, this early European was given facial charateristics to more accurately depict this migration.

Read full article here.

More after the fold...

And be sure to support the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) in their attempt to preserve the teaching of evolution in public schools.

In a related story,

Meet the ancestors: DNA study pinpoints Namibia as home to the world's most ancient race

May 2009

Scientists have long known that humans originated in Africa, but now a groundbreaking DNA study has revealed our 'Garden of Eden' is likely to be on the South African-Namibian border.

For it is the San people (pictured above), hunter-gatherers in this area for thousands of years, who researchers now believe are the oldest human population on Earth.

They are descended from the earliest human ancestors from which all other groups of Africans stem and, in turn, to the people who left the continent to populate other corners of the planet.

Full article here.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Remembering the Church Committee

On December 22, 1974, The New York Times published a lengthy article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh detailing CIA operations both at home and abroad. Dubbed the "family jewels", these operations included assassination attempts against foreign leaders, the subversion of foreign governments and domestic spying on anti-war activists and other U.S. citizens. Coming on the heels of Watergate, these revelations shocked an American public who demanded a further accounting. Between 1975-1976 a U.S. Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID) conducted investigations into the CIA and FBI's activities. The Church Committee, as it became known, brought to light everything from plots to poison Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, the surveillance of John Lennon , JFK's plans to employ the mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro, the further exposure of COINTELPRO and more. Recognizing the potential for unscrupulous politicians and a power drunk executive branch to abuse intelligence gathering in the search for nebulous enemies, The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) were recommended by the Church Committee and eventually put in place.

In our current times, with revelations of torture tactics, domestic spying, black sites and extraordinary rendition, and continuing debates in Congress and the White House over whether we need to "look forward" rather than hold people accountable for illegal activities, perhaps some "looking back" to the Church Committee is warranted.

More after the fold:

The CIA's Family Jewels -George Washington University's National Security Archives.

The Church Committe and FISA -Bill Moyer's Journal, October 26, 2007.

Flashback: A Look Back at the Church Committee’s Investigation into CIA, FBI Misuse of Power -Democracy Now, April 24, 2009.


Monday, May 4, 2009

The Other 100 Days

Much ado and fanfare has been made of Obama's first 100 days, with news specials and much analysis. But there's been hardly a blip about the 100 days of the so-called "opposition party." The last 100 days of the GOP have been at times more entertaining and spectacular than anything that has come out of the Obama White House. The lunacy at CPAC. Rush Limbaugh as the leader of the Republican Party. The bizarre figurehead who thinks he's the self-declared "Hip Hop" leader of the party. Bobby Jindal's dismal rebuttal speech. Sarah Palin, who won't ever go away. GOP Governors who won't take federal money to help their constituents. Never-ending obstructionism. Texas governor Rick Perry threatening secession. Teabag Protests. Arlen Specter. And that's for starters! These past 100 days for the Republicans have been an interesting reality show. Get your popcorn and tune in for what the next 100 might bring.

William Rivers Pitt at Truthout examines this chaotic dance in full after the fold...

The Other 100 Days

Sunday 03 May 2009

by: William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t Columnist

I will not speak with disrespect of the Republican Party. I always speak with respect of the past.- Woodrow Wilson

President Obama marked the 100th day of his term with a prime time press conference on Wednesday night, during which he highlighted a few key accomplishments while reminding the American people that he has quite a lot of crazy crap to deal with. A swine flu outbreak tickling the pandemic edge, an economy still hemorrhaging jobs and money, a ballooning deficit, bad banks, a new eruption of violence in Iraq, an ongoing war in Afghanistan, a looming war and a shaky government in Pakistan, and a bunch of very strange people waving tea bags and yelling about Lord only knows what, because they sure didn't. I got this, Obama seemed to be saying, but damn.

The "100 Days" benchmark is a relic from the first trimester of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal reform push, and is for the most part a meaningless milestone used primarily by news media types to fill air time and column inches. Still, the Obama administration can lay claim to a series of important victories, with more still to come if he keeps the wind at his back. The poll numbers are universally positive, and the American people seem willing so far to be patient and give the process time to play out.

For the Republican Party, however, the last 100 days have been something out of a Roger Corman flick: blood on the walls, body parts everywhere, lots of screaming and no plot to speak of. The last 30 months have brought a litany of disasters for the GOP - electoral wipeouts in '06 and '08, a poisoned party "brand," mass voter defections to the Democrats, the total repudiation of their whole ideological slate, and an ex-president about as popular as the mumps - culminating with a run of incidents since the inauguration so unutterably bad as to beggar likeness.

Rest of article here.


Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day

Police attack workers at the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, 1886.

Today is May Day. In most of the world, it's a universal holiday, where people in different countries recognize and celebrate the importance of workers and their rights. It's one of the glimmers of transnational solidarity in a world where labor is usually pitted against itself. However if you didn't know about May Day don't be surprised. The United States doesn't celebrate it, choosing instead to focus on our own "labor day" in September--which helps to effectively cut us off from the global labor movement. This nationalistic view may explain much of our xenophobic fears of poor people from other lands (who are themselves being exploited by the same corporations that tend to exploit us) taking "our jobs." It's ironic however that we don't celebrate May Day here, when in fact its origins lie in our history--where workers fought and died for basic principles we all take for granted today, like the eight-hour workday. In an era of labor exploitation and billion dollar bank bailouts, even as we stand in the midst of the global meltdown of rapacious unchecked capitalism, perhaps revisiting this buried part of our national psyche might give some perspective:

More after the fold...

The following is taken from Eric Chase's article The Brief Origins of May Day which can be read in its entirety here.

In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Jack London's The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860's, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn't until the late 1880's that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.

At this time, socialism was a new and attractive idea to working people, many of whom were drawn to its ideology of working class control over the production and distribution of all goods and services. Workers had seen first-hand that Capitalism benefited only their bosses, trading workers' lives for profit. Thousands of men, women and children were dying needlessly every year in the workplace, with life expectancy as low as their early twenties in some industries, and little hope but death of rising out of their destitution. Socialism offered another option.

A variety of socialist organizations sprung up throughout the later half of the 19th century, ranging from political parties to choir groups. In fact, many socialists were elected into governmental office by their constituency. But again, many of these socialists were ham-strung by the political process which was so evidently controlled by big business and the bi-partisan political machine. Tens of thousands of socialists broke ranks from their parties, rebuffed the entire political process, which was seen as nothing more than protection for the wealthy, and created anarchist groups throughout the country. Literally thousands of working people embraced the ideals of anarchism, which sought to put an end to all hierarchical structures (including government), emphasized worker controlled industry, and valued direct action over the bureaucratic political process. It is inaccurate to say that labor unions were "taken over" by anarchists and socialists, but rather anarchists and socialist made up the labor unions.

At its national convention in Chicago, held in 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor), proclaimed that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labor from and after May 1, 1886." The following year, the FOTLU, backed by many Knights of Labor locals, reiterated their proclamation stating that it would be supported by strikes and demonstrations. At first, most radicals and anarchists regarded this demand as too reformist, failing to strike "at the root of the evil." A year before the Haymarket Massacre, Samuel Fielden pointed out in the anarchist newspaper, The Alarm, that "whether a man works eight hours a day or ten hours a day, he is still a slave."

Despite the misgivings of many of the anarchists, an estimated quarter million workers in the Chicago area became directly involved in the crusade to implement the eight hour work day, including the Trades and Labor Assembly, the Socialistic Labor Party and local Knights of Labor. As more and more of the workforce mobilized against the employers, these radicals conceded to fight for the 8-hour day, realizing that "the tide of opinion and determination of most wage-workers was set in this direction." With the involvement of the anarchists, there seemed to be an infusion of greater issues than the 8-hour day. There grew a sense of a greater social revolution beyond the more immediate gains of shortened hours, but a drastic change in the economic structure of capitalism.

In a proclamation printed just before May 1, 1886, one publisher appealed to working people with this plea:

Workingmen to Arms!
War to the Palace, Peace to the Cottage, and Death to LUXURIOUS IDLENESS.
The wage system is the only cause of the World's misery. It is supported by the rich classes, and to destroy it, they must be either made to work or DIE.
One pound of DYNAMITE is better than a bushel of BALLOTS!
MAKE YOUR DEMAND FOR EIGHT HOURS with weapons in your hands to meet the capitalistic bloodhounds, police, and militia in proper manner.

Not surprisingly the entire city was prepared for mass bloodshed, reminiscent of the railroad strike a decade earlier when police and soldiers gunned down hundreds of striking workers. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public's eye. With their fiery speeches and revolutionary ideology of direct action, anarchists and anarchism became respected and embraced by the working people and despised by the capitalists.

The names of many - Albert Parsons, Johann Most, August Spies and Louis Lingg - became household words in Chicago and throughout the country. Parades, bands and tens of thousands of demonstrators in the streets exemplified the workers' strength and unity, yet didn't become violent as the newspapers and authorities predicted.

More and more workers continued to walk off their jobs until the numbers swelled to nearly 100,000, yet peace prevailed. It was not until two days later, May 3, 1886, that violence broke out at the McCormick Reaper Works between police and strikers.

For six months, armed Pinkerton agents and the police harassed and beat locked-out steelworkers as they picketed. Most of these workers belonged to the "anarchist-dominated" Metal Workers' Union. During a speech near the McCormick plant, some two hundred demonstrators joined the steelworkers on the picket line. Beatings with police clubs escalated into rock throwing by the strikers which the police responded to with gunfire. At least two strikers were killed and an unknown number were wounded.

Full of rage, a public meeting was called by some of the anarchists for the following day in Haymarket Square to discuss the police brutality. Due to bad weather and short notice, only about 3000 of the tens of thousands of people showed up from the day before. This affair included families with children and the mayor of Chicago himself. Later, the mayor would testify that the crowd remained calm and orderly and that speaker August Spies made "no suggestion... for immediate use of force or violence toward any person..."

As the speech wound down, two detectives rushed to the main body of police, reporting that a speaker was using inflammatory language, inciting the police to march on the speakers' wagon. As the police began to disperse the already thinning crowd, a bomb was thrown into the police ranks. No one knows who threw the bomb, but speculations varied from blaming any one of the anarchists, to an agent provocateur working for the police.

Enraged, the police fired into the crowd. The exact number of civilians killed or wounded was never determined, but an estimated seven or eight civilians died, and up to forty were wounded. One officer died immediately and another seven died in the following weeks. Later evidence indicated that only one of the police deaths could be attributed to the bomb and that all the other police fatalities had or could have had been due to their own indiscriminate gun fire. Aside from the bomb thrower, who was never identified, it was the police, not the anarchists, who perpetrated the violence.

Eight anarchists - Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg - were arrested and convicted of murder, though only three were even present at Haymarket and those three were in full view of all when the bombing occurred. The jury in their trial was comprised of business leaders in a gross mockery of justice similar to the Sacco-Vanzetti case thirty years later, or the trials of AIM and Black Panther members in the seventies. The entire world watched as these eight organizers were convicted, not for their actions, of which all of were innocent, but for their political and social beliefs. On November 11, 1887, after many failed appeals, Parsons, Spies, Engel and Fisher were hung to death. Louis Lingg, in his final protest of the state's claim of authority and punishment, took his own life the night before with an explosive device in his mouth.

The remaining organizers, Fielden, Neebe and Schwab, were pardoned six years later by Governor Altgeld, who publicly lambasted the judge on a travesty of justice. Immediately after the Haymarket Massacre, big business and government conducted what some say was the very first "Red Scare" in this country. Spun by mainstream media, anarchism became synonymous with bomb throwing and socialism became un-American. The common image of an anarchist became a bearded, eastern European immigrant with a bomb in one hand and a dagger in the other.

Today we see tens of thousands of activists embracing the ideals of the Haymarket Martyrs and those who established May Day as an International Workers' Day. Ironically, May Day is an official holiday in 66 countries and unofficially celebrated in many more, but rarely is it recognized in this country where it began.