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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bush & Blair 1-31-2003Bush and Blair at the White House, 1-31-2003 (White House photo)
The secret memo

British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with President Bush on January 31, 2003 and had joint press availability that afternoon. The resulting message was one aimed more directly at the United Nations than just at Saddam Hussein or the public at large. Naturally, it was supposed to be assumed that Iraq had the weapons. This is a crucial point because if that is an actual fact, the demand that Saddam Hussein do some kind of visible laying down of the weapons makes sense. If none of the "proscribed" weapons exist, this demand is nonsensical.

It was nonsensical and three years later in February 2006 a secret memo suggesting the war leaders knew this at the time was revealed in the British press. More on that below the fold...

Of course the rhetoric that day was laden with post-9/11 imagery of a resolute Bush whose "vision shifted dramatically after September the 11th" because he realized "the stakes." That's important because it allows Bush to associate Saddam with a threat that is becoming uncontrolled. "The doctrine of containment just doesn't hold any water," Bush said.

But the real punch here is delivered against the United Nations. President Bush proclaims, "I'm the guy who went to the UN," as if it was a trip to the dentist his mommy made him do. The press did press a bit on the concept of a "second" U.N. Security Council resolution to follow UNSCR 1441. Presumably, the only acceptable content to Bush and Blair of such a resolution would have been to define as war the "serious consequences" issued in 1441 for the "breach" that Iraq supposedly had committed. A second resolution would be "welcome," but only if it authorized what the president was planning to do anyway. They already had decided that, "1441 gives us the authority to move without any second resolution." (As it turned out, no such rubber stamp could be obtained. This is a HUGE deal with respect to the legality of the war. More on this below the fold and in later posts.)

So there was not to be more time for process. Bush and Blair agreed, "a matter of weeks, not months" is what was left. There would be no "games," as Blair put it. Colin Powell would go to New York and deliver an airtight case against Iraq. Iraq had only two choices left, one impossible: produce weapons that they truthfully stated in their official declaration did not exist, or be "disarmed by force." The rest is history.

Was the really important thing on Bush's & Blair's minds the disposal of the weapons inspection process, which could derail the war? Listen to the excerpts, and tell me what you think. Then below the fold read about the "secret memo." Listen HERE, 2-1/2-minute AUDIO FILE:



Maine U.S. Senator uses her little shovel to dig for waste, fraud, and abuse

With some fine spade work begun by Gerald at Turn Maine Blue, Senator Collins's reputation as Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is getting some well-deserved detailed scrutiny. Thanks to Gerald for the link-back to the piece I posted a few weeks ago on the double standard held by Collins concerning Iraq corruption in the U.S./CPA versus in the U.N. Oil-for-Food program.

Lately there has been enough noise from blue quarters (and I'd like to think places like Maine Owl) that the senator's staff has had to chime in, singing the praises of the boss: "The assertion that Collins has been anything but a leader on oversight issues related to Iraq and federal contracting is absolutely false. Collins' leadership in exposing waste, fraud and abuse in federal contracting and in asking tough questions is well known."

Here's what Gerald is doing:

About those other hearings: what Collins did investigate
by: Gerald - Wed Jan 30, 2008 at 11:45 AM EST
...what were some of these "dozens of hearings" that were held. And our government still being somewhat transparent (despite the efforts of Dick Cheney), I found myself at the website for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which has this handy page listing all of them.
He goes on to discuss investigations of SARS preparedness, vacant government property, and Pentagon travel. These are all areas where the taxpayer is being fleeced, to be sure. But by comparison to losses in Iraq clearly under Collins's less-than-watchful eye, an effort of power projection now approaching $1 trillion in cost to taxpayers (not to mention the human toll), they are pocket change.

I have many questions about the nature of this beast. Is it fair to conclude that Collins is a piker in a swamp of corruption that's been SOP in the Republican Congress? Makes me wonder, Is she is allowed to look at certain things, but not the elephants in the room? Is her role to be an operative in the radical system of what John Dean calls "conservatives without conscience," or is she merely being "managed" by those power brokers?
Coverage very good in local media including MPBN and Bangor Daily News


January 25, 2008 program: "Home Heating Oil Crisis"


The Bangor Daily News told these similar kinds of stories in an article a few weeks ago:

Residents are forced to make difficult choices to keep their homes heated
By BDN Staff - Saturday, January 12, 2008 - Bangor Daily News

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Dahr Jamail demolishes Bush


Democracy Now! 1/29/2008

This is President Bush in the State of the Union speech on Iraq, with Hillary Clinton in wild applause:
President Bush: The Iraqis launched a surge of their own.

In the fall of 2006, Sunni tribal leaders grew tired of al Qaeda's brutality and started a popular uprising called the Anbar Awakening. Over the past year, similar movements have spread across the country.

Today, the grassroots surge includes more than 80,000 Iraqi citizens who are fighting the terrorists.

The government in Baghdad has stepped forward as well, adding more than 100,000 new Iraqi soldiers and police during the past year.

While the enemy is still dangerous and more work remains, the American and Iraqi surges have achieved results few of us could have imagined just one year ago. ... (APPLAUSE)
Here is the counterpoint from Democracy Now! on Tuesday:
DAHR JAMAIL: Well, the surge and what is very interesting too, is not only do we have a US surge according to Mr. Bush, we have an Iraqi surge, two Iraqi surges actually. The first of which he mentioned in his talk last night, the concerned citizens or the awakening groups. It is really interesting that the same time last year as Mr. Bush was happily doing during his speech, comparing where were we last year to this year, well last year, these same people, these concerned local citizens according to the US military were called Al Qaeda or insurgents or terrorists. And now that there are 80,000 of them on US payroll, they?re concerned citizens and they?re an Iraqi surge. These same people, as we look at the situation on the ground, this is causing a deepening of the political divisions in the country. US backed President Nouri Al-Maliki has been vehemently opposed to this concerned citizens group backed by the US military in Iraq. These people, most of which are former resistance fighters, because they are now a threat to the Iraqi government forces. So that is causing huge problems on the ground in Iraq today. If we look at the situation the military recently announced within the last month that there was a sevenfold increase in the use of air power last year. So these are some of the reasons why right now there are fewer US troops dying but in reality, they?re paying off resistance fighters to stand down.
Lovely. The "surge" really "succeeded" by putting the old enemy on the payroll, and 60,000 other Iraqis in prison, while U.S. warplanes rain terror from above.
On blogging in Maine, with your host and WERU's Amy Browne...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Economic "stimulus" too little too late for less-monied classes

You didn't expect the current proposals for economic help to Americans of lesser wealth to go very far, did you? No, of course not. The White House and the House Democrats agreed last week on sending some spending money to people. The Senate has a slightly stingier proposal. The argument goes that the more people run money through the big-box stores, the lesser will be the recession. I suppose that is true, if only in the short-term sense that the pattern of filling homes with Chinese crap can continue for a few more months.

The president in his State of the Union message last night was keen on getting an economic package through, but, you guessed it, he had protecting his policy of asking squat from his elite constituency in mind:
Some in Washington argue that letting tax relief expire is not a tax increase. Try explaining that to 116 million American taxpayers who will see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800. Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm. I am pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders. (LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE)

Most Americans think their taxes are high enough. With all the other pressures on their finances, American families should not have to worry about the federal government taking a bigger bite out of their paychecks. There is only one way to eliminate this uncertainty: Make the tax relief permanent.
I thought Greg Palast had a good take on this, comparing what Bush & Congress propose for the poor versus the per person numbers elite constituencies can expect:

One Bush Left Behind
by Greg Palast - email, Jan. 29, 2008
Here's your question, class:

In his State of the Union, the President asked Congress for $300 million for poor kids in the inner city. As there are, officially, 15 million children in America living in poverty, how much is that per child? Correct! $20.

Here's your second question. The President also demanded that Congress extend his tax cuts. The cost: $4.3 trillion over ten years. The big recipients are millionaires. And the number of millionaires happens, not coincidentally, to equal the number of poor kids, roughly 15 million of them. OK class: what is the cost of the tax cut per millionaire? That?s right, Richie, $287,000 apiece.

Mr. Bush said, "In neighborhoods across our country, there are boys and girls with dreams. And a decent education is their only hope of achieving them."

So how much educational dreaming will $20 buy?
  • George Bush's alma mater, Phillips Andover Academy, tells us their annual tuition is $37,200. The $20 "Pell Grant for Kids," as the White House calls it, will buy a poor kid about 35 minutes of this educational dream. So they'll have to wake up quickly.
  • $20 won?t cover the cost of the final book in the Harry Potter series.
If you can't buy a book nor pay tuition with a sawbuck, what exactly can a poor kid buy with $20 in urban America? The Palast Investigative Team donned baseball caps and big pants and discovered we could obtain what local citizens call a "rock" of crack cocaine. For $20, we were guaranteed we could fulfill any kid's dream for at least 15 minutes.

Now we could see the incontrovertible logic in what appeared to be quixotic ravings by the President about free trade with Colombia, Pell Grant for Kids and the surge in Iraq. In Iraq, General Petraeus tells us we must continue to feed in troops for another ten years. There is no way the military can recruit these freedom fighters unless our lower income youth are high, hooked and desperate. Don't say, 'crack vials,' they're, 'Democracy Rocks'!

The plan would have been clearer if Mr. Bush had kept in his speech the line from his original draft which read, "I have ordered 30,000 additional troops to Iraq this year ? and I am proud to say my military-age kids are not among them."

Of course, there's an effective alternative to Mr. Bush?s plan ? which won't cost a penny more. Simply turn it upside down. Let's give each millionaire in America a $20 bill, and every poor child $287,000.

And, there?s an added benefit to this alternative. Had we turned Mr. Bush and his plan upside down, he could have spoken to Congress from his heart.
I just love the way Mr. Bush uses "average of $1800." Sure, if you average pocket change tax cuts over 100 million poor and lower-middle income people and huge cuts for 15 million millionaires, sure, you're likely to come up with an average of $1800!

Here in Maine, there has been a two-month-long series of the horrors of the economic crisis. Fuel oil has become un-affordable for lots and lots of people. The Bangor Daily News gets much credit for reporting these stories:

Residents organize fuel aid
By Dawn Gagnon - Monday, January 14, 2008 - Bangor Daily News
BANGOR, Maine - When push comes to shove, Mainers take matters into their own hands.

That's how the Sunny Corner Fuel Assistance program was born.

The Rev. Gerald Oleson of Bangor said the fund arose in mid-December from a conversation with Amy Cooper, also of Bangor, about the hardships many area families are facing with regard to keeping warm this winter...
  • A family of three from Seal Harbor.
  • A mother and daughter from Bangor. Though the mom works, she had not been paid for two months.
  • A single mother in Orrington with two children. Her ex-husband is behind on child support payments.
  • A Hampden mother of two going through a difficult divorce.
  • A single man from Bangor who lost his job the week before Christmas.
  • An elderly Milo woman who had been carrying an electric heater around to keep warm.
  • A Corinna man with six children and no oil.
But guess what? Extra fuel assistance is not going to be part of the economic "package" passed by the U.S. House just over one hour ago.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Dictator follows to the great beyond a million Indonesians, his own citizens that he killed with U.S.-backed violence

Here is a contrast in evils. In the last post, I pointed how President George W. Bush in his January 28, 2003 State of the Union message described how he knew evil when he saw it. Well, how about this case? Suharto, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for 32 years from 1966 to 1998, filled mass graves at a rate of perhaps threefold that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Is that evil?

Judge for yourself. A full examination of Suharto's horrors broadcast on Democracy Now! today, along with plenty of specific detail on how the U.S. supported the massacres both politically and through provision of weapons. I'll just refer readers to that. Make up your own mind.

But I do want to re-post a piece I did for the old blog on September 30, 2005--the 30th anniversary of events that led to Suharto acquiring power and that were portrayed in a pretty good 1982 Mel Gibson film, The Year of Living Dangerously. It was one of the better pieces I did there over the years, if I don't say so myself. Here then, is a reprise of that post:

Bush January 28, 2003 State of the Union; obsequious response from NPR; Saddam as "evil"

Going back to this and listening again to the Iraq section, I have found it absolutely chilling. It was an open declaration of war against Iraq, and included the biggest of all the implicitly-stated weapons of mass destruction big lies, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

For those of you who believed at some time in your lives that America was a righteous nation founded on the rule of law and are willing to subject yourselves to what now sounds like horror beyond belief, please listen to President Bush on January 28, 2003 in this 13-minute State of the Union excerpt in an AUDIO FILE, HERE:



These are the big applause lines that, to the cheers of the assembled Chambers, tear down the post-World-War-II edifice of international behavior embodied in the U.N. Charter:
President Bush: Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained.

Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.

We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes. (massive applause)

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?

If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option. (massive applause)
The supporting material Bush delivered contained a litany of WMD threats. I have dealt with them in other postings in this series and will continue to do so, especially in discussion of Powell's February 5 fiasco. Already, however, the January 28, 2003 discourse portends Powell's actions that will firmly establish in the media mind the validity of the Iraq WMD "case."

After the speech, in the sound file I recorded, was some of the "analysis" presented by National Public Radio (NPR). This is very indicative of how all mainstream media carried the ball for the Administration and utterly failed to include critical analysis that I have been showing time and time again with these postings was available at the time. HERE is an excerpt of NPR coverage in a 2-1/2 minute AUDIO FILE:


Sunday, January 27, 2008

U.S. political bias for military blank checks


University of California Television Conversations with History program, March 7, 2007, posted July 29, 2007: host Harry Kreisler interviews Chalmers Johnson on his new book, Nemesis.

Thanks to KayinMaine and Gerald for comments under "Clinton the hawk" a couple of posts back. Gerald wrote something I find quite interesting and profound:
Gerald: Once the AUMF was approved, unless a large coalition of Dem's stood firm and said, "No new money to continue the occupation, only new funds to bring the troops home safely" (which is what Allen has repeatedly supported), the GOP simply said the Dem's weren't "supporting the troops in the field." It didn't matter if I and others said that the best way to support them was to pull them the f'out of harms way - the media doesn't visit my house. [emphasis added]
I think the key moment is the approval of the "AUMF" -- Authorization to Use Military Force. There is extreme pressure and extremely strong bias in the U.S. political system for our legislative branch to sign away to the executive its Constitutional check on application of military force. (In Section 8 of Article I, Congress has the power "To declare war" and "To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.") 9/11 has enhanced this bias in ways rarely seen throughout U.S. history. Very few in Congress have seen fit to resist.

This deserves a lot of discussion that I will engage from time to time because I think it is at the root of why a peace candidate like Dennis Kucinich miserably fails politically and peace movements have a very difficult time sustaining traction, even though many Americans are skeptical and troubled by our military adventures. It also explains why the sky is the limit on the war budget.

To begin, I offer the "Conversations with History" interview featuring Chalmers Johnson that you may watch in the embedded video above. Johnson is pessimistic:
Chalmers Johnson: The political system has failed us, and it couldn't be fixed. It's very hard to imagine any president, in either party, that could stand up to the military-industrial complex, or the CIA, or whatever. We have effective Constitutional procedures for dealing with an unsatisfactory president. We can impeach him. One who lies the country into war, who violates the law on secrecy and the 4th Amendment right to privacy....

Last November [2006], the public in an inchoate manner, not well informed, [with a] a press that is failing us daily, universities that do nothing except promote each other, ... We elect the opposition party. On virtually the day they come to power, the leader of the opposition party says "impeachment is off the table." If impeachment is off the table, then maybe democracy is off the table.
If we are interested in addressing the militarism on which our country is basing its power both in terms of active wars and the spread of weaponry and promotion of use of force by client states, especially Israel, we must examine and expose the roots of this political failure. Discussion/ideas welcome...
Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal
Browsing through the scatter below the feeder

I've been trying to get a good songbird photo since Friday. Finally caught Mr. Cardinal. Where's the missus? They were both around a couple days ago, but they tend not to sit still for pictures.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Singapore rice noodles

Singapore rice noodles
Use plenty of curry powder

This is a favorite dish when eating out at the Oriental Jade or Noodles & Company on Wilson Street in Brewer. So, we tried to replicate it tonight. Not too bad. Noodles and Company does it better with fuller flavor. But this wasn't bad for a first try.

According to one recipe, this curried noodle dish supposedly is not found in Singapore itself. Maybe my SE Asian readers can chime in and explain...
Powell in Davos

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell previewed his infamous February 5, 2003 U.N. Security Council presentation on Iraq before the elite international finance community at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 26, 2003.

His big message was "trust." We all know where he put that.

One fascinating aspect of Powell's February 5 presentation is that it did not contain the same language about alleged Iraqi attempts to import uranium from the African nation of Niger that President Bush used in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003. This claim has been proven fraudulent and its absence from Powell?s February 5 remarks is what is truly interesting.

Later, in the spring of 2005, the so-called Silberman-Robb Commission report, for the most part a White House whitewash of political use of intelligence in the run-up to the war, tells of how "CIA officers sent urgent e-mails and cables describing grave doubts" about the charges former Secretary of State Colin Powell was to make before the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, but that former CIA director Tenet "relayed no such concerns to Powell." Obviously, someone knew Powell was about to tell some giant boners to the world, and at least a few of the most egregious items ended up being deleted from Powell's speech, even though they were not deleted from the president's message on January 28, two days after Powell spoke in Davos.

However, let?s not completely let Powell off the hook for the uranium fraud. He was willing to pimp the Iraq threat, including a nuclear threat, before a somewhat reluctant audience in Davos. The transcript of his remarks contains the following quote:
Powell: Why is Iraq still trying to procure uranium and the special equipment needed to transform it into material for nuclear weapons? These questions are not academic. They are not trivial. They are questions of life and death, and they must be answered.
Powell will then go on to discuss Iraq's "revived nuclear program" and effort to enrich uranium in some detail on February 5, alluding to magnets and the famous aluminum tubes to prove his case. It is now clear that these tubes and magnets were useless for uranium enrichment, and the entire case Powell presented is now widely known to be a fraud.
Hillary was biggest U.S. cheerleader for bombardment, Summer 2006

I just want to give an equal platform here for Hillary Clinton to display her core militarism. This is a clip from Democracy Now!, July 18, 2006, during the thick of the Israeli destruction of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure:

See here for Democracy Now! page and links to media for full program)

Senator Clinton's website contains this statement of July 13, 2006, which does not even pretend to rationalize a general attack on infrastructure in Lebanon. But, by July 17, 2006, she is seen at a big pro-Israel rally in New York City demonstrating "solidarity and support" for Israel and evidently her core belief in death and domination by bombardment as a "necessary" step in sending a "message" "to all who seek death and domination." She said,
We will support her efforts to send a message to Hamas, Hezbollah, to the Syrians, to the Iraniains, to all who seek death and domination instead of life and freedom that we will not permit this to happen and we will take whatever steps are necessary.
In the 2-minute video above, trimmed out of the longer report on Democracy Now!, you just see what was happening to people in Lebanon two summers ago: civilians bombed by the dozens at a time, city blocks taken out, bridges and roadways destroyed--then Hillary Clinton giving this message. Judge her level of hawkishness for yourself.

Obama on Gaza blockade: "we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this"

This is a hell of a post. Obama has written a letter to Ambassador Khalilzad:

MyDD :: Obama has to crawl before he can run
Dear Ambassador Khalilzad,

I understand that today the UN Security Council met regarding the situation in Gaza, and that a resolution or statement could be forthcoming from the Council in short order.

I urge you to ensure that the Security Council issue no statement and pass no resolution on this matter that does not fully condenm the rocket assault Hamas has been conducting on civilians in southern Israel...

All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families. However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this... Israel has the right to respond while seeking to minimize any impact on civilians.

The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks... If it cannot bring itself to make these common sense points, I urge you to ensure that it does not speak at all.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama
United States Senator
The post includes a lot of good analysis and concludes that being servile to the Israel lobby will not work for him: "Obama's effort to get into this game is futile. Perhaps it would be more beneficial for him to speak as a pro-civil and pro-human rights liberal Democrat."

Friday, January 25, 2008

West wind

Weather vane at Veazie Salmon Club
Weather vane on roof of Salmon Club lodge (Maine Owl photo)

Sunny, dry, cold, and quiet today. The wind actually was very light, so the walk down to the Salmon Club was not too bad, even though the temp. was a nippy -10C. There is talk of another false spring by the middle of next week.
MCLU's Shenna BellowsShenna Bellows: Tireless fighter for civil liberties
The full August 30, 2007 interview I did with Maine Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Shenna Bellows for WERU Community Radio is downloadable from peacecast.us HERE. That link will provide a great deal of supporting information as well.

An interesting part of the federal snooping case (Hepting v. AT & T) that would be squelched if Congress grants immunity to the telecommunications companies is a complaint from Maine concerning Verizon phone records. A complete explanation of the Maine portion of the case from an interview I did with Shenna Bellows, along with a recent update from a good January 22 report on Maine Public Broadcasting, are in this 9-1/2-minute AUDIO FILE. LISTEN HERE:



The MPBN piece reports very interesting written statements from Republican Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, along with a pleasantly contrasting one from Democratic First District Representative Tom Allen.

Collins, according to a statement read by MPBN's Barbara Cariddi, "supports the immunity provision." Cariddi quotes Collins:
"As a matter of fundamental fairness, companies that relied in good faith on the legal assurances of the Attorney General should not now be subjected to lawsuits based on the assistance they provide to our nation's intelligence efforts." The bill, "strikes the right balance of civil liberties and security."
The Portland Press Herald ran an article with approximately the same statement, adding that Collins feels that "right balance" includes "protecting Americans' civil liberties while not impeding the ability of our intelligence community to monitor the communications of foreign terrorists overseas."

Representative Allen, who is running a campaign to unseat Collins, has a very different view. Cariddi reported that Allen,
opposes the retroactive immunity provision, because in his words, "neither the government nor large telecommunications corporations are above the law."
Good, Tom. This is not about "striking balance." It's about officials and corporations violating black-letter law, then expecting absolution from Congress. They think they get to do anything they want to whoever they want just by uttering the magic words "national security." The arguments about why Collins (along with Democratic collaborators like Harry Reid and Jay Rockefeller) is dishonest and Tom Allen is right fill Glenn Greenwald's blog nearly every day, like in his piece today.

Finally, I want to give Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe credit for asking Snowe and Collins in a letter to oppose immunity because it would hamper the Maine PUC's investigation into Verizon. Makes me glad I made the right decision back in 1992 to support Steve's first campaign for Legislature.

Here's why a state AG can be a lot worse. Consider Rhode Island. Below the fold is more on telco immunity from Rhode Island today.

ACLU: Lynch caves in to feds on phone privacy
Friday, January 25, 2008 - By Bruce Landis - Journal Staff Writer

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Walls: Gaza 1/23/08; Berlin 1989Walls down: Gaza 1/23/08 (top) and Berlin 1989
U.S. and Israel boycotting U.N. 6th Special session of the Human Rights Council on human rights violations emanating from Israeli military incursions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the recent ones in occupied Gaza and West Bank town of Nablus, Geneva, 23-24 January 2008

Under a devastating blockade by Israel, the people of Gaza managed to break through the barrier that had prevented entry into Egypt. Of course, it's hard to find a major U.S. source where the news is told in anything but a grudging manner. That San Francisco Chronicle blog has a little digest from sources like Agence France Presse and The Toronto Star.

This has just posted to the New York Times. It's basically just factual with good photos. It concludes with a good quote characterizing Gaza and its future relationship with Egypt: "Mubarak can?t put Gazans back into the same prison. The situation has changed. The pressure on Gaza from Israel has to be lifted."

Meanwhile, a resolution from the Human Rights Council citing "grave violations of the human and humanitarian rights of the Palestinian civilians therein, exacerbat[ing] the severe humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory" has been presented to the U.N. General Assembly.

Additionally, the resolution states bluntly how Israel's behavior undercuts recent diplomatic attempts by President Bush: Israel's violations, "undermine international efforts, including the Annapolis Conference and the Paris Donors? Conference for the Palestinian State, aimed at invigorating the peace process and establishing a viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent Palestinian State by the end of 2008."

Sounds about right. But the U.S. and Israel, of course, will hear none of this. They have boycotted the session and the Human Rights Council in general, and they therefore have boycotted the entire sentiment of this resolution out of history. Itzhak Levanon, Israel's ambassador to the U.N. office in Geneva, called the session a "circus."

The Flashpoints program on Pacifica's KPFA last night had an excellent full-hour program on the Gaza situation. It featured Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada and author of One Country, Mohammed Omer, Special correspondent in Rafah and human rights activist Mark Turner.
Ali Abunimah:What we saw today deserves to be noted as a tremendous display of people power.
But it will not in the United States. There is no sensibility in the U.S. recognizing Gaza as a prison for a million and half people who must suffer any insult Israel chooses to issue. These are just terrorists firing makeshift rockets for no particular reason. Therefore, no "Berlin Wall" moment possibly could be involved.

The text of the Human Rights Council resolution is below the fold...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Condoleezza Rice January 2003
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Rice issued false causus belli against Iraq

H.T. to Gerald at Turn Maine Blue for THIS LINK. The Center for Public Integrity has developed a searchable database called "False Pretenses". They say that, "Following 9/11, President Bush and seven top officials of his administration waged a carefully orchestrated campaign of misinformation about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq." Then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is assigned a score of 56 of 935 administration "false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

The whole database is a nice companion for Five years ago in war....

This day's menu of blatant lies and intentional, purposeful mischaracterizations came from Rice in the form of a New York Times column entitled "Why We Know Iraq is Lying". I'm just amazed how Rice has over the years been the go-to person whenever a media splash of serviceable excrement is needed.

The Rice quotes: "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile," and "It did not warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information based on old reporting. There was no new threat information, and it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States," and, during the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon in 2006, "What we're seeing here, in a sense, is the growing -- the birth pangs of a new Middle East," are enshrined in the Hall of Infamy.

Almost from the beginning I have been wondering, how does she keep her job? Maybe I've answered my own question. She is an extremely smart, able writer and mouthpiece who serves the White House at key moments an outrageous episode is occurring or is discovered from the past and someone who sounds good is needed to wave it away.

So, what did Rice say was the reason we were able to "know" Iraq was lying? Well, the simple assertion that Iraq does possess the weapons is taken as axiomatic. The rest of the logic then falls right out: Unlike other countries that in the past gave up certain kinds of weapons, "Iraq has a high-level political commitment to maintain and conceal its weapons."

Therefore, Rice wrote, "instead of full cooperation and transparency, Iraq has filed a false declaration to the United Nations that amounts to a 12,200-page lie." Of course, because Iraq turned out not to possess the weapons, it's declaration was instead true.

Rice was wrong. But worse, plenty of information from wide open sources AT THE TIME made her epistemological assertion "know" the real lie. Here is the best source summarizing contemporaneous knowledge of Iraq's weapons programs: Claims and evaluations of Iraq's proscribed weapons. Let's just take one specific item, Iraq's then alleged possession of stockpiles of VX nerve agent.

Portland Freedom Trail marker text for Abyssinian churchClick for marker text for Abyssinian Church
Abyssinian Church in Portland: after six years living in Portland and walking past it many times, I never knew the history of this building

My father-in-law became very interested in a recent project to trace, permanently mark, and commemorate the 19th-century anti-slavery movement in Maine. So, while down visiting last August, we walked the markers starting at Franklin and Commercial and snapping photos along the way. This old, decaying building is on Newbury Street, pretty near some trendy eateries:

Abyssinian Church, Portland. Maine
Abyssinian Church, Portland. Maine, 1828 (Maine Owl photo)

From the walking tour brochure (pdf):
Abyssinian Church/Meetinghouse located at 73-75 Newbury Street served as the major hub of the Underground Railroad in Maine and became the social center for Portland?s African American community. Reuben Ruby, the foremost African American antislavery activist and Underground Railroad conductor in Portland, purchased the land for the church and the funds for the building came from the black community. When it was built in 1829, it became the first black congregation in Maine. In 1841, the pace of the anti-slavery movement increased in Maine with the arrival of Reverend Amos N. Freeman who became the first full-time minister of the church. He served for ten years and became the most well-known African American in the State. He was an inspirational leader who promoted education ? serving as principal of the school sponsored by the Abyssinian - employment, temperance, and offered many fugitive slaves refuge at both the church and his home. The Abyssinian was one of the few buildings to survive the Great Fire of 1866 as a result of firefighter William Wilberforce Ruby, son of Reuben Ruby, wetting it down. The church is currently the third oldest African American church still standing in the United States and in the process of being restored. [emphasis added]
Wow.

I also definitely recommend the MPBN Maine Experience program's segment on Maine's role in the slave trade and the Underground Railroad:
Slavery is not usually associated with Maine. But the state played a role in both perpetuating this terrible institution and fighting it. This complicated tale describes the conflict between commerce and morality as it played out in mid-19th century Maine.
When public broadcasting decides to do something well, they certainly come up with some great stuff.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Audio: Doug Allen analyzes the uses today by those in power of the memory of Dr. King

The image of Dr. Martin Luther King this time of year has become a handy one for those in power--a backdrop for photo ops. This post and accompanying audio file studies how President Bush and other persons with power present King for publicity but ignore the bulk of his legacy.

Last year I produced a piece for WERU Community Radio featuring Professor Doug Allen (see the previous post) where he discusses on January 14, 2007 the typical uses of King and why these fail to lead us to challenge and overcome oppressive power through non-violence--where King himself would want us to go. In the elite, non-threatening adaptation of King that President Bush produces, admirable notions of "promise," "justice," and "opportunity" are associated with America. But there is a disconnect. To Mr. Bush, there is no sense of struggle, only charity, associated with terms like "compassion," "volunteerism," "kindness," and "loving your neighbor." In previous years, Bush has mentioned "helping," "lifting spirits," and "lifting your soul" as well on this occasion.

Here is the rendition of the pattern produced by the White House team this year:

President Bush Visits Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library
Washington, D.C.- January 21,2008 - 9:42 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for having us. Listen, Laura and I are thrilled to be with you. Proud to be with the Mayor and Councilman Jack Evans. We appreciate very much the Serve D.C. that is working to inspire volunteerism, and I want to thank this beautiful library for hosting us.

I just got a couple of comments I want to say. First of all, Martin Luther King Day means two things to me. One is the opportunity to renew our deep desire for America to be a land of promise for everybody, a land of justice, and a land of opportunity. It's also an opportunity to serve our fellow citizens. They say Martin Luther King Day is not a day off, it should be a day on. And so today Laura and I witnessed acts of compassion as citizens were here in the library volunteering their time, and that's what's happening all across America today.

But a day on should be not just one day. It really ought to be every day. And our fellow citizens have got to understand that by loving a neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself, by reaching out to someone who hurts, by just simply living a life of kindness and compassion, you can make America a better place and fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King.

Martin Luther King is a towering figure in the history of our country. And it is fitting that we honor his service and his courage and his vision. And today we're witnessing people doing just that by volunteering their time.

So we're honored to be with you. We're proud to be with you on this important national holiday. Mr. Mayor, thank you for coming. Jack, glad you're here. Appreciate you all taking time out of your day to visit with us.

Thank you.
Sadly, the president misses nearly 100% of the teaching and methods of Martin Luther King. For more, please listen to the approximately 21-minute audio file.

But U Maine Professor Doug Allen does his best
Senator Susan Collins too busy to stay and listen


Doug has been a consistent media presence in January, year after year, around here to deliver the full measure of the history and teachings of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King. This year was no different, as is pretty well reported here by the Bangor Daily News:

Monday, January 21, 2008

"Surge" is nowhere

Juan Cole recommended a good column in the Sunday Washington Post:

Surge to Nowhere
Don't buy the hawks' hype. The war may be off the front pages, but Iraq is broken beyond repair, and we still own it.
By Andrew J. Bacevich - Sunday, January 20, 2008
As the fifth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom nears, the fabulists are again trying to weave their own version of the war. The latest myth is that the "surge" is working. ...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bowen, Collins, and Allen appear on January 18 broadcast:


View 1/2-hour program (Maine Watch with Jenifer Rooks)

Collins and Bowen business breakfast show at Husson College, Bangor, January 3:


Listen to 1-hour audio-only program (Maine Public Radio, Speaking in Maine series)

Review
Oversight of post-invasion Iraq has become something of a Maine Public Broadcasting cause du jour. They easily were convinced to follow the lead of Senator Susan Collins during her PR tour earlier this month with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen. I'll keep this fairly short today because I have a major post on the double standard of Senator Collins with respect to her silence on post-invasion U.S. corruption versus the hysterics of her Governmental Affairs Committee/ Investigations Subcommittee (led by Senator Norm Coleman) on comparatively smaller corruption in the old U.N. Oil-for-Food program. I refer readers to that for a lot more analysis.

No one in either the Maine Watch program or the radio broadcast mentions the Oil-for-Food investigations so the audience never gets the chance to evaluate the measures by which the politicians decide corruption is worthy of hysterics, or silence.

Fortunately, Representative Tom Allen (Maine, 1st District) was interviewed in the Maine Watch program. Otherwise, there would have been no mention of the fact that the Republican Congress dropped the oversight ball in the post-invasion period. And now, Collins acts like the savings of "$53 million" in taxpayer money through Bowen's efforts is some kind of feather in her cap. Tom Allen does mention the $9 billion of Iraq's money that simply went missing. Those numbers make Bowen look like a piker and Collins ridiculous--Bowen never really pursued the bigger sums. But there is no further analysis.

I do agree with Tom that for the most part, Bowen has done his job. It's Congress that has not. The investigations into Bowen's office are said to be the result of the typical "disgruntled former employee." Quite a bit of air time is spent discussing those charges, and the mysterious attempt by "unknown" House Republicans to ax Bowen a little over a year ago. This intrigue may make for good Post headlines, but it hardly helps us understand that the entire U.S. presence in Iraq has been run like a criminal enterprise.

One telling moment in the Bowen interview is where he describes how his Iraqi counterpart had to leave Iraq running for his life. The pre-invasion notion that Iraq was run by "bad men," as President Bush was fond of pointing out, seems to have been eclipsed by the wave of crime America swept in.

My criticism of Rooks is that she really had not done any homework that could have given her a fuller picture of how the U.S. acquired control of Iraq's finances in 2003 and how the U.S.-run CPA handled them, giving her a basis for some better questions. For example, she could have asked, "Senator Collins, why did the Bush Administration from the beginning of the occupation insist on 9- and 10-figure, no-bid, cost plus contracts for Halliburton and Bectel? Why did Congress fail to insist on accountability since 2003? Why was the international oversight committee that was to have been established by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1483 blocked by the U.S.?"

I guess I can't blame her too much. There has been reporting on this in the New York Times and Washington Post, for example, but you would really have had to be paying attention in order to assemble the story. But isn't that what research is for?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Peace & Justice Center King Day event 1-19-2003

"Non-violence involves resistance"


Local news coverage

Sunday January 19, 2003 was a key day for Bangor's anti-war movement. Our annual Martin Luther King celebration took place at the old campus of Bangor Theological Seminary. Channel 5 was there and produced an excellent report for the 11 o'clock news. This coverage is included the video you see above. King's deep message of active resistance to war and violence is conveyed by Professor Doug Allen in the report. That kind of anti-war sentiment in public discourse was and remains extremely rare in America. So this was a good, hopeful day.

The day bristled with news. A large demonstration had taken place in Washington, DC the previous day. Our Center sent a contingent, some of whom were interviewed. The ch. 5 report was marred by a focus on some minor arrests, however. Also, a major area employer, Great Northern Paper in Millinocket, recently had gone belly-up and was of significant concern. In the world arena, war drums were being beaten hard with the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq facing super-hyped attention after the meaningless discovery of some empty shells. Meanwhile, Rumsfeld spoke on the Sunday teevee shows of an exile deal for Saddam Hussein. Everyone should have realized right there that "disarmament" was irrelevant and that the U.S. design was to take control of Iraq and its oil. All came together in this five-minute news report.
Leftovers

Leftovers 1-19-2008
Good food week

Massaman curry, chana masala, chicken chow mein, tortellini stew... No need for cooking tonight.
It's possible to learn truth from managed news, but only if you can analyze the frame

Have you heard what has been happening in Gaza and the West Bank all this week? Didn't think so. Little has shown up in the regular media since President Bush left a trail of violence in the wake of his visit. Finally, today, there is a specific story in the Bangor Daily News, though suggestions about what has been going on previously have appeared, usually buried deep inside stories about Bush's magnificence as a peacemaker.

The online version of this AP release, partially published by the BDN, contains some horrifying photos the BDN did not use (see above left). The text describes an absolutely desperate scene--one killed, 46 civilians wounded in a Friday attack on a the skeleton of a civic building previously bombed, the border sealed, food and fuel cut off.

Okay. Let's presume a reader is just finding out about all this. There ought to be some explanation about why Israel is taking such devastating measures against all of the population of Gaza, right? Well, that's easy--these week-long pitched attacks and killings to go along with months of punishing blockade are a "response" to rockets. Here's how the BDN ran it:

Israel shuts Gaza crossings, bombs Hamas
By IBRAHIM BARZAK
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) ? Israel sought to put an end to a surge in rocket attacks from Gaza, sending its air force Friday against a symbol of Hamas power in the heart of Gaza City and simultaneously choking off shipments of fuel and food across its border with the strip.

An Israeli warplane attacked the downtown offices of the Palestinian Interior Ministry, flattening one wing of the empty building, killing a woman at a wedding party next door and wounding at least 46 other civilians, some of them children playing soccer in the street, hospital staff and witnesses said.

"It was more like an earthquake ... smoke covered the area for a few minutes, we didn't know what was hit at first," said resident Yehia Rabbah.

The attack was the first on a ministry building since Hamas seized control of Gaza last June. An Israeli military commentator said it was meant to send a message to the violent Islamic group that further rocket attacks could cause the conflict to spiral.

The building, in a residential neighborhood flanked by the apartments of well-to-do residents, had been empty since it was severely damaged in a July 2006 airstrike. But even though it was unoccupied, it was seen as a symbol of Hamas authority.

In a parallel move, Israel sealed all border crossings with the Gaza Strip on Friday, cutting the flow of vital supplies in an attempt to pressure Hamas to halt the rocket fire. But the attacks continued, with 16 rockets falling in southern Israel, including one that damaged a day care center in the town of Sderot. Children were inside the building at the time, but no one was hurt, the prime minister's office said.

Violence has grown since Tuesday, when an Israeli ground and air offensive against rocket squads claimed the lives of 19 Palestinians, including the militant son of a prominent Hamas leader. By Friday night, the Gaza death toll stood at 34, including at least 10 civilians.
Right there is the end of what the BDN published. The story goes on:
It's that simple"


"I did not raise my hand to protect private companies."

Ron Paul has reached at least one U.S. soldier who has served in Iraq. I consider it extremely brave what the fellow in this video has done: He demolishes a meaningless jingoistic platitude, "honor", from a Republican debate by telling it like it is in Iraq. He speaks of war profiteering and deep bitterness over the scores being made by contractors while his job was to be the guy with the target painted on his body.

The huge leap he succeeds in making here, one that seems impossible for most Americans, is that Iraqis who fight the U.S. are not "terrorists" but patriots fighting an invader, no less than what we would do ourselves if faced with a foreign occupation army.

Iraq is a horrible example of 21st-century neocolonialism where a country is dismantled and a population is broken so that an avaricious world power can fulfill its perceived strategic goals. Ron Paul may be doing a better job of injecting this truth into the public and even the military consciousness than the left peace movement has done for five years.

Update: Winter Patriot has a good, long post up hitting the problem of confusing "publicity with reality" in U.S. newspeak. This prevents anyone "official" here from suggesting there might be an indigenous, secular, patriotic resistance to occupation in Iraq. Even the "better" Democrats, like Wexler, are deeply infected.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Beautiful afternoon w/January thaw

Veazie Salmon Club 1-18-08
Puddles from rainstorm at Salmon Club

Where's chickadee?
Where's chickadee?

We had a foot of snow on Monday, ending the week-long false spring. Today we had a fast-moving storm that turned out to be mostly rain. It left an absolutely gorgeous afternoon in its wake. I hear arctic cold is not far behind, however.

Can you find four chickadees in the photo?
In ABC News interview with Terry Moran, Bush almost desperate for Saudi help


A Daily Show, January 17, 2008

The part of this Daily Show piece that shows President Bush's plaintive wail for more oil from the Saudi king in a media interview is about 2 1/4 minutes in. America apparently is great at spreading weapons and violence, but its Achilles heel is evident in the president's voice.

But you know what? I'm going to give Bush credit here for actually caring about the very serious issue of high oil prices that land mostly on top of the heads of the poor. Unfortunately, it's a bit pathetic and it's not very likely the Saudis could help much if they wanted to.

See this post yesterday for Bush's "stunning admission" on peak oil.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bush thinks attack on Iraq not for sure? Downing Street documents make this a lie

On January 17, 2003 there was probably some hope somewhere in my body that Bush would not go into Iraq. But I saw the craziness building, media dominated by war drums, and pure propaganda passing as news. I suppose I was buoyed slightly watching Brian Becker from the ANSWER coalition talk about that weekend's protest on the PBS News Hour (carefully "balanced," of course):
MARGARET WARNER: Brian Becker, why are you and your fellow demonstrators so opposed to this prospective war?

BRIAN BECKER: Well, hundreds of thousands of people will be in the streets tomorrow trying to preempt the preemptive war. The people of this country are skeptical; they're apprehensive about the consequences of the war. And frankly many millions of people believe the government is not telling the truth. They do not believe that Iraq poses a grave and imminent danger to the United States, that in fact this is a pretext designed to carry out an unstated but preplanned war policy with other goals in mind and it is not about disarmament; it's about the reconquest of this oil rich region. That's why people are saying it is not enough to send our sons and daughters to shed their blood or to kill others for the interest of big oil.
But deep inside I knew the war was inevitable, as the Downing Street Memos later would confirm.

It was about this time that sometimes the question was asked of the president, Ari Fleischer, or other officials about whether or not the president had decided for sure that there would be a war.

I can't seem to find it in the White House transcripts, but this news story from Voice of America (dated 1/16/03) circulated five years ago today:
Saudis are tapped? "Stunning admission" from president

For some years we've been use to hearing a news story that says (roughly) that there is demand pressure/rising price in the oil markets and the Saudis can swing into play and just open the valves wider to pump more oil. That story may be over, and the president has suggested just that.

Because he seems genuinely to understand that high oil prices are hurting the domestic economy, President Bush in the Middle East this week asked for more oil:

Un-qualified Reagan genuflect


With the Reno Gazette editorial board on Monday January 14

Via Matt Stoller, here is a transcription:
Obama: I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what's different are the times. I do think that for example the 1980 was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.
It's the notion of "excesses of the 1960s and 1970s" that is troubling. Obama evidently recognizes approvingly "change" that, for example, rolled back policies that ensured civil rights, prevented old people from dying because they couldn't pay the doctor bill, gave workers health and safety in the workplace, and protected the environment from unbridled corporate "dynamism." (All policies strengthened during the 60s and 70s but attacked during the Reagan era)

There is nary a peep from Obama critiquing Reaganaut policy--for example "excesses" of the national security state, Pentagon budget, nuclear industries, proxy wars, or financial shenanigans leading to the S & L crisis. This just speaks volumes to me that an Obama Administration would repudiate none of these "excesses"--which stubbornly have remained features of our country for three decades.

Perhaps the culinary workers will have some regrets about endorsing a guy who approves of Reagan--a president that made a career of union busting.
More evidence raises questions about Pentagon narrative

According to the now-ubiquitous Pentagon-approved story of Iraq these last few months, everything is going swimmingly with violence "down" and people returning to their homes to lead a normal life. A piece yesterday in the Bangor Daily News follows this narrative.

But here's some additional evidence to consider, as reported at the site run by Dahr Jamail:

Awoken to a New Danger
Inter Press Service - By Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail
BAGHDAD, Jan 14 (IPS) - The newly formed 'Awakening' forces set up by the U.S. military are bringing new conflict among people.

For months now the U.S. military has been actively building what it calls 'Awakening' forces and "concerned local citizens" in an effort to reduce attacks on occupation forces.

Members of the forces, which comprise primarily former resistance fighters and tribal groups, are paid 300 dollars monthly. There are at present about 80,000 recruits to these groups. The U.S. military plans to cap the number at 85,000.

According to the U.S. military, 82 percent of the members are Sunni.

The forces, which are opposed by the Iraqi government led by U.S.-appointed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, are also being strongly criticised by Sunni residents in Baghdad and other cities.

"The armed groups called 'Awakening' are now the only powerful players in many Sunni areas in Baghdad, and so they show their power the way others did," Qussay al-Tai'i, a lawyer from Saydiya town southwest of Baghdad told IPS. "It seems that violence has become routine procedure for American soldiers, Iraqi security men and now the so-called Awakening fighters."

Witnesses from the area who have recently fled to Baghdad told IPS that more than 200 residents have been arrested by Awakening fighters supported by the al-Muthanna battalion of the Iraqi army.

"They came and arrested my 14 and 17-year-old sons," said Hajja Um Ahmed. "I told them my sons are only schoolboys who did nothing wrong, but they pushed me away."

Saydiya residents are worried that some of the detainees will be executed as others were in Fallujah and other areas where 'Awakening' fighters have taken over.

"They will kill them in cold blood and throw their bodies in garbage dumps," the terrified father of a 35-year-old detainee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. "They told my son when they took him that they would cut off his head, and it seems that they meant it."

"They have spread their spies all over the area and threatened us with arrest if we ever talk about this to the press," a merchant who did not give his name told IPS. "You too must be careful because they really hate journalists."

The Sunni religious group, The Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), has condemned the detentions, and says the occupation forces and the current government are responsible for the safety of the detained.

"We draw the world's attention to the new wave of detentions and executions by this new toy of the occupation," Sheikh Hatam Ali of the AMS told IPS in Baghdad. "Thousands of Iraqis are being detained, tortured and executed while the U.S. occupation and its illegitimate so-called Iraqi government tell the world lies about reconciliation and justice among Iraqis." U.S. military units apparently did not interfere with raids conducted by the Iraqi army and the 'Awakening' fighters in Saydiya. The raids have added to the large numbers of people detained.

In November 2007, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that around 60,000 people were currently detained in Iraq. "They are still waiting for their problem to be solved, and the Iraqi government does not seem willing to solve it," Luqman Mohammad, a journalist and human rights activist in Baghdad told IPS. "This country needs a comprehensive solution by the whole international community."

'Awakening' forces have been widely criticised for corruption and for brutal tactics. Many speak of them as "gangs", "criminals", "dogs of the Americans", and "thieves." But the Bush administration, and many media outlets in the west, credit the 'Awakening' forces with bringing stability to volatile areas.
What?! SIXTY THOUSAND people detained? "Awakening" enforcers ruling through violence? If this is the kind of "success" the U.S. military has achieved this year by funding and arming these former-enemy militias, why did the U.S. bother to remove Saddam Hussein? It seems they have adopted both Saddam's personnel and methods for enforcement in Iraq.
"Liberal", "Fascism" labels run amok


Jonah Goldberg, A Daily Show January 16, 2008

I don't consider myself to be capable of writing about early-20th century history, just don't know enough. I try not to go on here about any subject in which I'm not conversant. Goldberg evidently has none of those reservations. It looks to me like somebody wanted another book linking "liberal" to an inflammatory term in the way previous screeds from wingnuttia have done so with "treason" and "terrorism." The resulting book gets pimped with the author going around like some kind of fucking expert. Thanks to Stewart for throwing a bit of a wrench into the works, as shown above.

I'll depend on David Neiwert to address the particulars in Goldberg's horrendous book. He's posted a series of illuminating reviews here, here, and here.

This is the bottom line:
Neiwert: Goldberg, who has no credentials beyond the right-wing nepotism that has enabled his career as a pundit, has drawn a kind of history in absurdly broad and comically wrongheaded strokes. It is not just history done badly, or mere revisionism. It?s a caricature of reality, like something from a comic-book alternative universe: Bizarro history.
Go ahead and criticize me for not actually having read Goldberg before posting this. I have a stack of more important things to read.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

BDN Profile of Navy officer from local area tells an incomplete story

A front-page story in the Bangor Daily News today describes the work of a 50-year-old captain in the US Navy who grew up on Mount Desert Island and serves as a reconstruction adviser for the city of Fallujah in Iraq:

Bangor: Navy officer from Maine helping Iraq city rebuild
By Toni-Lynn Robbins - Wednesday, January 16, 2008 - Bangor Daily News
BANGOR - ...

McLaughlin, 50, deployed to Iraq in June with an embedded provincial reconstruction team, where he serves as the governance and public works adviser for the city of Fallujah. He works directly with Iraqis to help rebuild the city?s business sector and promote economic development.

On Tuesday, he attended a council meeting during which the panel discussed improving the quality of life for the residents of Fallujah ? initiatives that include improving water and sewer systems, trash removal and the availability of electricity, McLaughlin said in a satellite interview. The council?s drive to improve city infrastructure destroyed by war and violence is encouraging, McLaughlin said, as is the group?s increased focus on rebuilding rather than simply security.

"It has been an interesting change," McLaughlin said about the council meetings. "They have literally gone from three-hour meetings where 70 percent of the time Americans were doing the talking [about security issues], whereas today they were just discussing quality of life and we spoke for maybe five minutes."

...

McLaughlin said he no longer wears heavy body armor while attending the city council meetings, and he often has luncheons with the mayor and chief of police to discuss security and rebuilding. Losing the body armor is a large step in the right direction, he said, especially since the first four council chairmen were assassinated.

In the historically violent city just 43 miles west of Baghdad, even the recent assassination of Pakistan?s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto did not seem to have a large effect on the population, McLaughlin said.

"Their country has had a violent past. They haven?t reacted to world events as we might have heard in the U.S.," he said. "Those kinds of events haven?t affected them quite like you would imagine."

...

"Those normal, economic incentives for growth that we take for granted in the U.S. are taking hold pretty quickly here," he said. "I found that Iraqis, like others worldwide, have the incentive to work and do well and want the economic prosperity to take back their country."
Here I will not disparage anything Captain McLaughlin is doing. And, I support every decent effort to rebuild Fallujah, even if I do believe there could be a better vehicle for Iraq reconstruction than the US military. However it's done, Iraq certainly needs clean water, sewers, electricity, and all of its infrastructure repaired.

But there are two aspects of this article I find very troubling.
It's a boondoggle to be sure, but the Democratic candidates agree American troops must "protect" it

Gerald at Turn Maine Blue has a good post up recounting how lack of Congressional oversight of the construction of the massive US embassy in Iraq has led to terrible mismanagement, corrupt contracting, and shoddy construction. Guess who has been for many years now either chair of or ranking member of a key senate committee charged with oversight of all manner of government contracts? Why, US Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, of course!

Gerald's essential point is that, "The situation in Iraq couldn't be more f'd up, and now we expect our diplomats to live and work in a situation like this. Why do I have the feeling that this is just the tip of the iceberg."

Yes, but I want to take a slightly different tack.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Let's propose that Amendment!

Via Atrios and over to Lawyers, Guns and Money, is a Huckabee doozy from a campaign speech in Warren, Michigan:
Huckabee:I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.
View the video from Scarborough's show here:



Farley, naturally, cannot say exactly what Huckabee means, "it's a bit unclear to me what amending the Constitution to 'God's standards' would require..."

I don't know either. But it strikes me that we should not decry Huckabee for being a nut job. Let's take him seriously and try to figure out just exactly how we would make the US Constitution friendly for the Christian God. Then we can have a debate with a real proposal for changing the essential basis of America on the table.

It's a teachable moment. People would have to consider these changes and figure out what they would mean, and whether or not we should support them. My first swipe at a proposed amendment is below...

Preciousness from Rumsfeld

Of course, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld set records for mendacity in the war run-up. His way with words... Well, I found the following utterly amazing January 15, 2003 quote from Rumsfeld reported in a Pentagon press release:
Rumsfeld: "The choice between war and peace will not be made in Washington, or indeed in New York," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today. "It will be made in Baghdad, and the decision is facing the Iraqi regime."

The fact that the inspectors have not yet come up with new evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program could itself be evidence of Iraq's noncooperation, Rumsfeld said during a Pentagon news conference.

He said the Iraqi government has designed weapon programs with denial and deception in mind. The programs can continue even as inspections progress. He stated the burden of proof is on Iraq to prove it is disarming and to show U.N. inspectors where the weapons are.

"It is not the responsibility of U.N. inspectors to find the weapons," he said. "It is not their duty nor do they have the ability to find weapons of mass destruction hidden in a vast country."
Doesn't that make your head spin? They're not finding anything, so that's how we know the weapons are there. I remember this clearly now, it became a typical reporting angle.

Never a peep was made by a mainstream reporter when President Bush, Rumsfeld, and others rang the "disarm" bell, sometimes 30, 40, or 50 times each day. The idea that Iraq was not laying down any weapons because they didn't have any never crossed the American reporters' minds.

Actually, I think this is a point where the Administration is beginning to get really worried that there is just nothing. Old empty chemical rounds will become big news items. The urgency of getting the inspectors out and the war started increased with each day no WMD were found. If Blix and ElBaradei had started to verify too much of the truth, the opportunity to take Iraq may have slipped through Bush's fingers.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Post columnist on Collins/Bowen PR gig

Collins Watch picked up [ht] a very interesting short item in Washington Post political columnist Al Kamen's entry for Friday January 11:
Kamen: Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen Jr., whose own office is under investigation by the FBI and three other entities for waste and mismanagement, raised a few eyebrows last week when he showed up in Maine with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and told the state's leading paper she was the "most consistent and effective supporter of our oversight in Iraq." ...
First, I hadn't realized that Bowen's operation itself is under investigation. I located Robin Wright's Post story describing the probe from a month ago:

Newspaper supports hearings

I'm a few days late in posting on this. After Downing Street calls the Bangor Daily News January 9 editorial, Cheney Impeachment, the "first major newspaper to editorialize in favor of impeaching Cheney."

I don't know if you'd consider the BDN "major." I suppose it is around here, even if it's a few steps below the Boston Globe in New England. But the editorial is very significant. It is a carefully worded piece that backs into the issue a little bit, though clearly it follows the lead of US Representative, Mike Michaud.

The BDN says hearings should be,
a dispassionate examination of the manner in which Mr. Cheney and this administration have stretched the executive branch to the point of distorting its constitutional definition would be enlightening, and could help rebalance the powers of the federal government.
I say good for Mike and good for the BDN. And don't forget, this is a Republican, pro-Susan-Collins newspaper.

I actually feel that both Michaud and this editorial have it right. It is hearings, now, that could make all the difference for the future of our country. They would finally take a step towards stopping Bush-Cheney impunity.

The following will appear later this month in the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine News & Views:

Impeachment hearings? Yes!
For several years now, many grassroots efforts with the goal of impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney have sprung up nationwide. The notion has always been controversial even within the peace movement and the political left. For example in 2004 peace-oriented presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich called impeachment a ?sideshow? and the ?politically dumbest thing, which anyone could ever and should ever do.?

Representative Kucinich in 2007 markedly changed his tune and filed a measure in the House of Representatives (known both as H. Res. 333 and H. Res. 799) that if passed would impeach Vice President Cheney for high crimes and misdemeanors. The next step in the process is to hold impeachment hearings. I wholeheartedly agree holding these hearings in Congress is an essential step if we want any chance of recovering our democratic governmental power usurped by Cheney and company since 2001.

At the urging of over 15,000 constituents who have signed impeachment petitions, Representative Mike Michaud in a letter to Chairman Conyers of the House Committee on the Judiciary wrote that, ?There is no doubt that at the very least this Administration has dangerously expanded the scope of executive authority and flaunted the constitutionally defined separation of powers,? and, ?Expansions and potential abuses of power by this Administration become precedents for future ones, which lead to further erosions of our constitutional rights.?

Here Representative Michaud strikes exactly the right tone, thank you. Whether or not Cheney ever can be convicted by the Senate and removed from office before 2009 is not the most important issue. Establishment of precedent is. Furthermore, the mere act of beginning hearings would throw ice on all of the illegal activities, like wiretapping, war and torture, that the Administration surely has in mind for its last year.

On February 17, 7:00 pm at the Peace Center, 170 Park Street, Bangor, there will be a President's Day showing of and discussion about the excellent Bill Moyers program featuring Republican legal expert Bruce Fein and journalist John Nichols forcefully making the case for impeachment. Now is the time to keep up the pressure.
January 14, 2003: Bush sound bite hammers Iraq on non-existent weapons

A seemingly intractable aspect of the weapons of mass destruction ruse is that to this day the media image of pre-occupation Iraq remains one of "deception." Here on January 14, 2003 President Bush in response to a question from a reporter during press availability with then Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski issues the following accusations in an almost child-like tone:
Q The weapons inspectors say they need until March, maybe six months, maybe a year. Is this what you had in mind when you went to the U.N. back in September?

PRESIDENT BUSH: What I have in mind for Saddam Hussein is to disarm. The United Nations spoke with one voice. We said, we expect Saddam Hussein, for the sake of peace, to disarm. That's the question: Is Saddam Hussein disarming? He's been given 11 years to disarm. And so the world came together and we have given him one last chance to disarm. So far, I haven't seen any evidence that he is disarming.

Time is running out on Saddam Hussein. He must disarm. I'm sick and tired of games and deception. And that's my view of timetables.

Thank you all very much.

END 11:38 A.M. EST
Whatever else was true about the Iraqi regime, it was not deceiving anyone when it declared in December 2002 that it did not possess weapons of mass destruction. The president's own hand-picked inspectors very clearly reported as much.

So if President Bush rang the "disarm" bell and refused to allow weapons inspectors any sort of "timetable" in January of 2003, what does he say about those inspections now? According to him in 2008, inspection did not even happen.

As recently as January 2, 2008 in an interview with reporters from Yediot Ahronot, President Bush explained his "decision" to invade and occupy Iraq.
Q Mr. President, you just mentioned Iraq. Can you clarify to us whether there was any Israeli involvement in your decision to invade Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: No, not at all. None whatsoever. My decision was based upon U.S. intelligence, based upon the desire to provide security for our peoples and others. It was based upon my willingness to work with the international community on this issue. Remember, if you look back at the history, there was a unanimous vote in the Security Council: disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. And when he defied, when he refused to allow the inspectors in, when he made a statement by his actions that he didn't really care what the international community said, that I decided to make sure words meant something.
Of course this fits neatly into years now of repeated inaccuracy in the president's view of the history of the run-up to war. No one seems to be holding him responsible.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

This was unbelievably good!

Homemade pizza
Homemade

The big advantage to homemade pizza is that you get to control the crust. Most restaurant pizza crust, well, usually isn't great. And crust is why frozen pizza is, well, terrible. Homemade is the way to go!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Dead of winter?

Friday garden blogging 1/11/08
January thaw evident

Okay, I didn't clean it up very well last fall. That broccoli never did produce. But the fence brings back great memories of snap peas. Today is just about as far away in time from snap peas as we get during the year.

There was a big thaw this week with two straight days up over 10C. The thaw is supposed to continue into Sunday, with winter back Monday. Will we have a series of false springs, like we did in 2006?
Evidently the Republican candidates would bomb, bomb, bomb Iran

Greenwald has an incredible array of the reactionary jingoism. The speedboat incident was well-tailored for the South Carolina primary debate.

Fred Thompson took the cake with this applause line, "...one more step, you know, and they would have been introduced to those virgins they're looking forward to seeing."

The incident also worked for President Bush, as while in Kuwait he warned Iran of "serious consequences" if it did attack US warships in the Strait of Hormuz. The AFP story linked plays up the "weekend face-off" as if these speedboats were some kind of military threat.

Apparently Vice Admiral Cosgriff of the US Navy is the only American official, candidate, or commentator who has a level head:
Admiral Cosgriff: Neither anti-ship missiles nor torpedoes, and I wouldn't characterize the posture of the US 5th Fleet as afraid of these ships or these three US ships afraid of these small boats. Our ships were making a normal transit of the Strait of Hormuz. They followed the procedures they've been trained to follow to increase their own readiness in the face of events like this, and as the Iranian behavior continued during this interaction, our ships stepped through there, increased readiness, the pace. And I didn't get the sense from the reports I was receiving that there was a sense of being afraid of these five boats.
Of course he does not explain why a fleet of large, heavily-armed American ships need to lurk near the coast of Iran. And it's just a wee bit suspicious that this media event happens just as President Bush went on the teevee in Israel promising to defend against an Iranian strike.

Democracy Now! says that the US position on the incident has started to "unravel."

Update: Juan Cole posted "US Video of Iran Speedboats Doctored; Iranians Charge Fabrication"
Poland and Czech Republic uniting and growing balls, if slowly, after Iraq bamboozle

Poland and Czech Republic Team Up in Missile Defense Talks With U.S.
By JUDY DEMPSEY - New York Times - Published: Jan. 11, 2008
BERLIN ? The governments of Poland and the Czech Republic agreed Thursday to coordinate their negotiations with the United States over its request to place elements of an antiballistic missile shield in those countries.

The change of strategy was aimed at giving the two countries more bargaining power in talks next week in Washington and at easing tensions with Russia, Polish officials said.
There seems to be resentment and skepticism building in the two countries about the Bush Administration pressure to move obviously useless yet highly provocative missiles into their territories.

Down in the article, the source of the bitterness seems apparent:
But Poland sent thousands of soldiers to Iraq and hundreds more to Afghanistan, expecting in return some reward in the form of contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq, or funds to upgrade its armed forces. But the United States provided little in the way of financial assistance and expected Poland to foot the heavy bill for sending its troops to Iraq, Polish Defense Ministry officials in previous administrations have complained.
So the prolonged Polish deployment in Iraq, not yet wound down despite huge public disapproval, has not brought the accelerated "economic activities, investment activities in Poland" then Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski figured would come when he met President Bush in the White House during the pre-war run-up.
Was at Husson College January 3

Maine Public Radio will carry the speech that was referenced here, in the Maine Owl post concerning the double standard US Senator Susan Collins has displayed with respect to corruption in the UN-Iraq Oil-for-Food program versus that of the US occupation.

For Maine listeners (and for those connecting to their live stream), it'll be on at 1pm today.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Former Maine governor thinks we need unity, but unity is broke. No wonder they talk about Bloomberg.
What's the meaning of "violence is down"?

Here's how well the "surge"--the whole bloody occupation, actually--is working:

US launches massive Iraq air raid
BBC - Thursday, 10 January 2008
US bombers and fighter jets have dropped 40,000lb (18,144kg) of bombs on suspected al-Qaeda targets on the edge of Baghdad in a 10-minute air strike.

The attack on the Arab Jabour district, said to be a safe haven for al-Qaeda in Iraq, was part of the wider Operation Phantom Phoenix launched on Tuesday.

Nine US soldiers have been killed since the start of the operation.

It comes as a World Health Organization survey says 151,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 invasion.
Somehow I doubt this neighborhood was some sort of terrorist enclave. Sure, plenty of U.S. enemies there, but that's not the same thing. If they are our enemies, we made them that way.

For a reason why Iraqis might become enemies of the U.S., one needs only absorb the fact of the measure of bombing taken against them. Just think how Americans reacted to 9/11. An equivalent pattern would be for Iraq now to invade New York and declare certain neighborhoods "Zionist safe havens" and then bomb the hell out of them.

The Bush PR strategy has been remarkably effective. I'm sort of amazed. The major effect has been a whole lot of people have stopped caring about what's going on in Iraq. They've heard "violence is down", so everything must be okay. The surge "worked."

Beyond the bogus syllogism that the "surge" has done it, nobody needs to ask WHY violence is down in some areas, or even if it really is down--horrific violence is occurring like the US aerial bombing of neighborhoods as described above, and the under-reported Turkish strikes in N Iraq.

There are answers to why there's an apparent drop: (1) Large swaths have been ethnically cleansed already; (2) The US has bought off and co-opted its enemies in western Iraq--almost signaling a return to
the days of the 80s when the US allied strongly with the chiefs of Saddam's forces--basically the guys who ran the place forever until the US invaded; and (3) The Sadrists have more or less stood down (see 1 above).

This piece tries to explain what a "decrease" in violence in Iraq actually has meant lately, and how the notion is used by the wingnut war crowd.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Will northern New England live to regret this?

As a favor to capital, public utility regulatory bodies in Maine last week and just now in Vermont (reversing a December 21 stance) have acquiesced to a complex financial transaction that gives the capitalists controlling the giant Verizon telecom corporation and the pipsqueak FairPoint gifts to their shareholders. Vague promises for service upgrades have been made, but that's not what this deal is about.

The real story is laid out in Maine Owl HERE. Vermont has now climbed down and will approve the deal.

This is how the news has read the last few days:

FairPoint deal gets green light from state PUC
Friday, January 04, 2008 - AUGUSTA, Jan 04, 2008 (Bangor Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX)
Almost a year after it was first announced, FairPoint Communications' proposal to buy Verizon's northern New England telephone and Internet land lines was approved unanimously by Maine regulators late Thursday night.

At about 7:30 p.m., after nearly 10 hours of discussions, the Public Utilities Commission put forth a list of conditions necessary for its three members to approve the deal worth $2.7 billion.

One condition called for an additional reduction of FairPoint's debt by $100 million. The PUC suggested this money come from Verizon, but shortly after 9 p.m., Verizon rejected the condition.

FairPoint, however, offered a solution. It promised to evaluate its financial situation at the end of 2011, and if it has not met certain thresholds, it will reduce its debt by $150 million by the end of 2012 by selling off assets, issuing stock or reducing dividends.

"I think what they've proposed has a shot at achieving what we want it to achieve. I think the company has made a pretty good faith effort to meet the conditions that we want it to achieve," Rich Kania, a member of PUC's advisory staff, said in response to FairPoint's proposal.

"FP is a much better bet [than Verizon] in terms of providing value to consumers," Commissioner Vendean Vafiades said before the other commissioners concluded they would approve the deal.

A mild congratulatory applause erupted when the deliberations ceased at 9:30 p.m., but not everyone was happy.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communication Workers of America -- both representing Verizon workers -- has continued to oppose the deal, arguing that FairPoint would be left without the financial resources to meet its obligations to workers and stockholders and its promises to consumers.
Unions blast PUC approval of FairPoint deal
Wednesday, January 09, 2008; Posted: 12:48 AM
Jan 08, 2008 (Bangor Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX)
The PUC initially asked Verizon to reduce FairPoint's debt by $100 million by cutting the cost of the fees it will charge FairPoint for services rendered during the transition from Verizon to FairPoint. After Verizon refused to do this, the PUC adopted FairPoint's alternative proposal to pay down its debt by $150 million in 2012 if the company does not meet a certain debt ratio by the end of 2011.

"The commission had it right when it initially asked Verizon to cut FairPoint's fees by about $100 million. That would have been an upfront cash infusion taking pressure off FairPoint. Instead, the commission placed more pressure on FairPoint to cut its investment in capital, service quality or the labor force," Pete McLaughlin, business manager of IBEW Local 2327, said in a statement issued Friday. "Sadly, our commissioners made a compromise that falls far short of what telephone customers and the public need."
And look! From the first story quoted above, it appears that the federal wiretapping case and telco immunity provisions now meeting great interest in the Democratic Congress are coming full circle in this FairPoint-Verizon deal:
Aside from the debt reduction, the conditions included:
  • The current federal wiretapping case involving Verizon would continue and Verizon would continue to represent itself in the case. In that case, the federal government is trying to stop the PUC from forcing Verizon to divulge whether it provided customer call records to the government without a warrant.
  • A requirement for FairPoint to file with the PUC a privacy policy that articulates how the company will guarantee the privacy of its telephone customers, so as to prevent any future cases like the one involving Verizon.
Wow. At least some of the state public watchdogs are not complete pushovers for corporate-federal eavesdropping. Maybe there is a ray of hope. But I will be amazed if these great service promises ever come true. This is a mess for the public. I'll be watching carefully the quality of my DSL. Verizon is really pretty good up here. The downstream speed is a tad slower than the Road Runner cable system. But by upstream speed, cost, and every other service measure, DSL is better. Will it stay that way?

Update: The FCC approved the deal 3-2, with the Democratic commissioners voting against it:

FCC OKs Verizon-Fairpoint phone deal

By Dibya Sarkar - AP Business Writer / January 9, 2008
The commission's two Democrats, Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, voted against it.

Adelstein said "inexplicably, there are no special measures in this order to address the concerns about broadband deployment, wholesale service, or service quality for customers in these three states."
In other words, all of FairPoint's promises are hollow, nobody's going to make them do anything.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Aftermath

Ice storm damage
Five years later, trees still grotesquely twisted

The Bangor Daily News ran a pretty good retrospective over the weekend:
Tales of how emergency management personnel, utility company workers, radio announcers and ordinary neighbors responded after three days of freezing precipitation sent trees, power lines and poles crashing to the ground in glassy explosions are now the stuff of legend. More than 300,000 households, about half the state?s population, were left in the dark and cold, many for days on end. Six deaths were attributed to the storm, according to state figures.

Ten years later, those experiences have been seared into the state?s collective memory, and many lessons have been learned if there is ever a similar weather event, say officials.
Evidence of damage to trees ten years later still easily is found around the state. The photo was taken in 2003, more than five years after the storm, at the base of Bald Pate near Sebago Lake in western Maine.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Will the Democratic Congress give telcos, and Bush, immunity?

This issue will be back soon. Sen. Chris Dodd, now no longer a 2008 presidential candidate, will not be able to hold off Harry Reid and the immunity surge very much longer.

This is a great diary today at Daily Kos that explains everything:

Daily Kos: Telecom Immunity Gives Bush Immunity
If the telecoms do not actually need immunity at this time to address issues that presently do not exist, what is Bush's real motive for pushing retroactive immunity now? The answer lies in what may happen to Bush if the telecoms are not provided immunity now: The courts may review evidence showing that Bush acted illegally. Telecom immunity would provide grounds to dismiss the lawsuits to prevent the disclosure of this evidence. However, if the telecom immunity clause only provided immunity to telecoms, then Bush would not be protected from other forums --- like independent media, prosecutors and Congress --- that could investigate his domestic surveillance programs.

Coincidentally, the telecom immunity clause is structured to also provide retroactive immunity to Bush.
Click here for the Maine Owl thread on this topic: http://maineowl.net/blog/category/8/blogid/1
Helen Thomas asks the most important question

Helen Thomas 7-29-07
At the WERU Full-Circle Fair (Maine Owl photo)

Helen Thomas is my hero. She teaches humanity every day in the room where there is precious little of it. Five years ago on the first Monday of January she opened the White House press briefing with Ari Fleischer:

For Immediate Release - Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
January 6, 2003 - 12:35 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon and happy New Year to everybody. The President began his day with an intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI briefing. Then he had a series of policy briefings. And this afternoon, the President will look forward to a Cabinet meeting where the President will discuss with members of his Cabinet his agenda for the year. The President is going to focus on economic growth, making America a more compassionate country, and providing for the security of our nation abroad and on the homefront.

And with that, I'm more than happy to take your questions. Helen.

Q At the earlier briefing, Ari, you said that the President deplored the taking of innocent lives. Does that apply to all innocent lives in the world? And I have a follow-up.

MR. FLEISCHER: I refer specifically to a horrible terrorist attack on Tel Aviv that killed scores and wounded hundreds. And the President, as he said in his statement yesterday, deplores in the strongest terms the taking of those lives and the wounding of those people, innocents in Israel.

Q My follow-up is, why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the question is how to protect Americans, and our allies and friends --

Q They're not attacking you.

MR. FLEISCHER: -- from a country --

Q Have they laid the glove on you or on the United States, the Iraqis, in 11 years?

MR. FLEISCHER: I guess you have forgotten about the Americans who were killed in the first Gulf War as a result of Saddam Hussein's aggression then.

Q Is this revenge, 11 years of revenge?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I think you know very well that the President's position is that he wants to avert war, and that the President has asked the United Nations to go into Iraq to help with the purpose of averting war.

Q Would the President attack innocent Iraqi lives?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to make certain that he can defend our country, defend our interests, defend the region, and make certain that American lives are not lost.

Q And he thinks they are a threat to us?

MR. FLEISCHER: There is no question that the President thinks that Iraq is a threat to the United States.

Q The Iraqi people?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Iraqi people are represented by their government. If there was regime change, the Iraqi --

Q So they will be vulnerable?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, the President has made it very clear that he has not dispute with the people of Iraq. That's why the American policy remains a policy of regime change. There is no question the people of Iraq --

Q That's a decision for them to make, isn't it? It's their country.

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, if you think that the people of Iraq are in a position to dictate who their dictator is, I don't think that has been what history has shown.

Q I think many countries don't have -- people don't have the decision -- including us.
After that, Helen was shunned. There must be a penalty for putting the spokesman on the spot to explain the crimes the government was about to commit.

Thank you, Helen. You help us to see our rulers as they really are.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Republican US Senator in tough re-election bid escorts Iraq reconstruction inspector on PR tour last week, including Bangor appearance; but her inaction on US corruption during 2003 to 2005 (with deadly consequences) while at the same time hammering at the old UN Oil-for-Food program reveals deep hypocrisy

I did see the notice in the newspaper for a talk featuring Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen that took place Thursday morning at Husson College in Bangor. Darn, wish I'd gone as I'd loved to have stirred up a show that gingerly outlined a few comparatively smallish incidents of theft of taxpayer and Iraqi resources by US contractors that properly were prosecuted.

The fine Maine progressive/Democratic websites Collins Watch and Turn Maine Blue have noted the Collins/Bowen tour and this event. Gerald at Turn Maine Blue correctly terms Collin's PR effort with Bowen--successfully placing fluff in the Portland Press Herald--as "hypocrisy":

The Hypocrisy: Susan Collins and SIG Stuart Bowen in Maine
...not only did Collins not look into the mismanagement and malfeasance that has characterized the reconstruction efforts in Iraq, she refused to do so even after her colleagues requested her to...
Collins Watch and Turn Maine Blue have done a fine job of noting the disinterest Senator Collins has displayed regarding the deep corruption of the Bush Administration with respect to its looting of Iraq, before which any troubles with the Oil-for-Food program during Saddam Hussein's time pale by comparison.

For example, a September 2003 letter from Senator Frank Lautenberg to Senator Collins requesting that she fulfill her oversight duties, then as chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, regarding "Iraqi reconstruction contracts that were awarded through a closed or limited bidding process" fell on blind eyes. It's about time that someone points out this history and tries to get the mainstream media to respond with something other than fluff.

My opinion is that the history of this hypocrisy right up to the present day is much, much worse than even the pretty serious foregoing example suggests. Blame is not limited to Susan Collins and there is plenty of capitulation by Democrats, though some Democrats like Lautenberg, Sen. Byron Dorgan, and Rep. Henry Waxman are much, much better than any Republican with respect to Iraq corruption.

But Collins and her senate colleague, Republican Norm Coleman of Minnesota, are especially culpable because they established a striking double standard for Iraq corruption when they became lead inquisitors in a high-profile media show involving supposed improprieties at the UN regarding the Iraq Oil-for-Food program. As Collins herself suggests in the statement reproduced below, Oil-for-Food saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who suffered under the brutal sanctions enforced by stringent Clinton Administration policy during the 1990s.

So what I want to do is take all this another step and remind readers about the hysterical media episodes of "investigation" into Oil-for-Food, beginning early in 2004. This started a year after the toppling of Saddam Hussein and months after indications of corruption by the US-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority and its contractors were buried by Senator Collins. By mid-2004 Claudia Rosett on the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Jonathan Hunt of Fox News were weaving the Oil-for-Food story. Suddenly Collins's eyes opened wide.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Vegetable stew

Jan 5 08 vegetable stew
Dutch oven on stovetop

The new dutch oven is very versatile. Here it is used on the stovetop rather than in the oven. It's big advantages are excellent thermal contact with the stove element and high thermal mass.

Friday, January 04, 2008

January 3, 2003: Hooah!

Bush at Fort Hood Jan 3 2003
In costume at Fort Hood, Texas

Here I launch a new feature, Five years ago in war.... I intend to keep this "calendar -5" lookback running at least weekly for a good long while. I'll point out key events and quotes in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, the invasion itself, and the aftermath. More important, I will trace the local response, both my personal response and that of activists in our community who have worked beyond all limits to oppose the insanity in the first place, and then have tried to keep our anti-war profile up over time. It has not been an easy path.

We still have a war going on that since five years ago has ended and destroyed the lives of millions of the Iraqi people while burdening US troops with death, maiming, and long-term stress in ways none of the elite officials or journalists who dutifully carried the messages of war fever ever wanted to report. I cannot say for sure that if mainstream media had listened to us, taken us seriously, not dismissed the huge demonstrations, and better put out the truth about the weapons of mass destruction (known clearly even then), that the war could have been stopped.

What I do know, however, is that the overall effect of the media system is still positive PR for the war and the obfuscation of history. Rarely are Americans reminded how many dead, how many refugees, how much churning of lives our policies have caused. Military solutions still seem to be the only ones taken seriously by the American establishment. The mainline candidates and the rest of the politicians offer little beyond celebration of supposed military accomplishments that are in fact demonstrable disasters. They won't go near constructive critiques or, heaven forbid, unless you're Ron Paul, propose withdrawal of troops and recovery of the now-wasted massive resources the Pentagon consumes.

I'll pick up further discussion of the motivations for this feature later. For now, today's moment in history: a doozy in the annuls of banging the drums of war. Five years ago on the first Friday in January, President Bush visited friendly territory at Fort Hood, Texas, where he found an audience at once more than willing to be pumped up into a war frenzy and also serve as a prop in the image necessary to build public consent for the imperial project.

Under the authority of the "Almighty" Bush portrays the "enemy" as subhuman, ruthless killers requiring the cleansing only the most powerful military in history can do:

For Immediate Release - Office of the Press Secretary
January 3, 2003
President Rallies Troops at Fort Hood
Fort Hood, Texas
Now you're called again into action, to defend America and the cause of freedom in the first war of the 21st century. For this country, and for our friends around the world who love freedom like we do, the stakes are great. The terrorists have shown what they intend for us. And we're not going to forget.

We're not going to forget the fact that they kill without regard for the rules of war. They don't value innocent life like we do. In America, we say everybody is precious, everybody counts. Everybody is equal in the eyes of the Almighty.

That's not the way the enemy thinks. They don't value innocent life. They're nothing but a bunch of cold-blooded killers, and that's the way we're going to treat them. (Applause.)

AUDIENCE: Hooah!

THE PRESIDENT: They reach across oceans to target the innocent. They seek weapons of mass murder on a massive scale. The terrorists will not be stopped by mercy or by conscience. But they will be stopped.

AUDIENCE: Hooah!
January thaw? Not yet...

Penobscot River in fading light
Penobscot River in fading light

The very cold days we've had since the two New Year's snow storms (50 cm total) have not let up yet. But a thaw is on the horizon. One thing that is just noticeable, though, is the daylight is staying a wee bit later.
This just in from Mike Michaud, a letter written to Chairman John Conyers of the House Committee on the Judiciary (cross-posted at the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine website):
December 21, 2007

Chairman John Conyers
Committee on the Judiciary
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Conyers,

I write today to request that you include vigorous hearings into the abuses of power by this Administration and include impeachment hearings of Vice President Cheney in the Judiciary Committee schedule for the second session of the 110th Congress.

As you are aware, the House of Representatives voted on November 7th to send a resolution of impeachment of Vice President Cheney to the Judiciary Committee. I urge you to commence these proceedings. There is no doubt that at the very least this Administration has dangerously expanded the scope of executive authority and flaunted the constitutionally defined separation of powers.

Serious allegations have been raised against the Vice President regarding his role in mischaracterizing information that led to the invasion of Iraq, in similarly mischaracterizing information about Iran's nuclear program, the outing of a CIA agent as political retaliation, the abuse of detainees in contravention of the Geneva Conventions, and the illegal wiretapping of American citizens. As a recent poll indicates, 70% of the American public believes that the Vice President has abused his power.

This is not an attack on Vice President Cheney or any other member of this Administration. Impeachment investigations must not be about the man or his personal life; they must focus on whether the office of the Vice President has illegally expanded its power or abused the law. Expansions and potential abuses of power by this Administration become precedents for future ones, which lead to further erosions of our constitutional rights. That is why these investigations must be held with the utmost seriousness of purpose and must lay all the facts on the table. We do not know what the result of any investigation will be, but this is the only way to restore the faith of the American people in their government.

There must be no other purpose for these proceedings than to protect our Constitution and to hold individuals accountable if they have broken the law. Most importantly, we must act in a way that will heal the growing bitter divide within our country and end the disillusionment that many Americans feel toward their government.

Thank you for your consideration of this issue of such great importance. I look forward to working with you to strengthen our democracy and our nation.

Sincerely,
Michael H. Michaud
Member of Congress

After Downing Street picked up on Rep. Michaud's letter yesterday. They comment that "Michaud is not among the 25 cosponsors of Rep. Dennis Kucinich's H Res 333 (also known as H Res 799)". Call Rep. Michaud and urge him to add his name to the list of co-sponsors.

The text of the Resolution begins:

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Saudis and other exporters using more of their own oil

Oil export trend
Year-on-year change in world oil exports, which clearly have peaked ("World Oil Exports: A Comprehensive Projection", The Oil Drum, October 10, 2006)

With oil breaching $100 the last couple of days, it is a good time to analyze a key trend that soon will affect major oil importing countries like the USA in a big, big way. This trend is the falling net quantity of world oil available for export. Just as an example from this key October 2006 post at The Oil Drum, Mexico will no longer export oil after 2015. Mexico! That country currently supplies a significant chunk of US imports.

More recently, a page-one story appeared in the Wall Street Journal for December 12, 2007 that explained what the Saudis have...
"in the works are new seaports, an extended railroad system, a series of new industrial cities and a score of refineries, power stations and smelters." All of that building means that more oil will stay inside the Arab nation. For every 100 barrels of oil produced by Saudi Arabia, 22 are used there. That is up from 16 barrels just seven years ago.
Another story in the International Herald Tribune elaborates:

Oil-rich nations use more energy, cutting exports
By Clifford Krauss - Published: December 8, 2007
The economies of many big oil-exporting countries are growing so fast that their need for energy within their borders is crimping how much they can sell abroad, adding new strains to the global oil market.

Experts say the sharp growth, if it continues, means several of the world's most important suppliers may need to start importing oil within a decade to power all the new cars, houses and businesses they are buying and creating with their oil wealth.

Indonesia has already made this flip. By some projections, the same thing could happen within five years to Mexico, the No. 2 source of foreign oil for the United States, and soon after that to Iran, the world's fourth-largest exporter. In some cases, the governments of these countries subsidize gasoline heavily for their citizens, selling it for as little as 7 cents a gallon, a practice that industry experts say fosters wasteful habits.

"It is a very serious threat that a lot of major exporters that we count on today for international oil supply are no longer going to be net exporters any more in 5 to 10 years," said Amy Myers Jaffe, an oil analyst at Rice University.

Rising internal demand may offset 40 percent of the increase in Saudi oil production between now and 2010, while more than half the projected decline in Iranian exports will be caused by internal consumption, said a recent report by CIBC World Markets.
There is no issue I can imagine that impacts American security more than this situation. America at once consumes oil with an intensity three times that of any other country, yet it is highly dependent on resources that must be brought in from outside. Meanwhile, those countries that supply the oil desire to keep more of it for themselves for their own development.

Individual states are in an even more dangerous situation. Maine, for example, has zero oil resources yet has a high per capita rate of consumption.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Snow ridge
Spot the mailbox

My back seriously would be at risk this winter if we did not have this petrol-powered machine.
Plays on WLBZ, Bangor, local 11pm news

This story by CNN's Jim Boulden just ran on our local NBC affiliate. It's a pretty straight up explanation of the price run-up: demand exceeds supply. I did not hear the term "peak oil", however. But it does feature significant quotes from Matt Simmons, an important commentator on peak oil. The piece does a good job of analyzing possible economic harms from oil stress that are beginning to loom over us like a giant cloud on the future. Happy day!
Geological limits loom, create conditions for price march

The notion of "peak oil" almost certainly will gain some media coverage over the next few days. It's a widely misunderstood concept. I guess it's good that this arbitrary psychological benchmark will at least get some attention for peak oil and increase general awareness. Many world events better can be understood if the peaking issue is factored in because important actors respond to competition for energy-bearing resources.

A common error concerning peak oil is that it's taken to mean that the world will be "running out" of petrol sometime soon. In fact, the world has been running out of petrol since the first day it was put into use. It is a finite, depleting resource. But soon? No. It will not run out soon. In fact, just the opposite is true. Because the world is near production rate peak, there is more oil in the world than there ever has been in the 150-year history of the oil age. The problem is there is no current capacity to grow world production even more to meet ever-faster-growing demand from users.

Perhaps the smartest person blogging energy issues today is Jerome a Paris. For the last 2-1/2 years, Jerome has been on $100 watch. There is a remarkable series of posts at European Tribune and Daily Kos, all linked HERE. It's worth going through these, they reveal a lot about the dips and curves in what has eventually turned out to be a relentless price march. More hydrocarbon links always sit on the sidebar.... Additional comments below the fold....

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Carbon-free, nuclear-free?

Peacecast.us is the podcasting sister site for Maine Owl. Your host produced a program for WERU Community Radio featuring a talk at the University of Maine last November by Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, ieer.org. The program broadcast earlier today on WERU's Voices program. An essential drift of the program is that carbon emissions can be eliminated without resorting to a dangerous new episode of building nuclear power plants. Direct to podcast: link.

A December 20 press release from IEER details Dr. Makhijani's new book-length study of the US energy situation, available as a free download (pdf, 4.4MB). The entire press release is reproduced below the fold.