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This is the archive for February 2008

Friday, February 29, 2008

Ohh nooooooooooo!
Sluggo says, "STAGFLATION!!"

Mr. Bill: "What's it gonna cost me?"

Sluggo: "An arm and a leg, Mr. Bill!"

You know the rest. This bit from the seventies is perfect, because the seventies are back. Here is a story that was out Wednesday:

'Stagflation' may be on the way
By JEANNINE AVERSA - Wed. Feb. 27, 2008
WASHINGTON (AP)-- It's a toxic economic mix the nation hasn't seen in three decades: Prices are speeding upward even as the economy loses steam. Economists call the disease "stagflation," and they're worried that it might be coming back.

Already, paychecks aren't stretching as far and jobs are harder to find, threatening to set off a vicious cycle that could make things worse.
The economy nearly stalled in the final three months of last year and is nearly flat now. That's the "stagnation" part of the ailment. Typically, that slowdown should slow inflation as well -- the second part of the diagnosis -- but prices are still marching higher.
Then come the denials. To Bush and his money guy Bernanke, what they say has nothing to do with what is quacking like a duck:

Bernanke Doesn't See Return of '70s Woes
By JEANNINE AVERSA ? 1 day ago
WASHINGTON (AP) ? Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress Thursday that the nation isn't "anywhere near" the dangerous stagflation situation of the 1970s.

With the economy slowing and inflation rising, fears have grown that the country could be headed for the dreaded twin evils of stagnant growth and rising prices known as "stagflation."

"I don't anticipate stagflation," Bernanke told the Senate Banking Committee. "I don't think we're anywhere near the situation that prevailed in the 1970s."

"I do expect inflation to come down," he added. "If it doesn't, we will have to react to it."

High energy prices and rising inflation do complicate the Fed's job of trying to keep the economy growing and inflation contained, Bernanke acknowledged.
Let's see, oil found $103.50 today, and the dollar is is freefall, sinking as low as E1.5229. Indeed, this is energy-driven stagflation. Welcome back to the seventies. Bernanke and the overlords are shaking in their boots and the only reason they argue in public it isn't true is for market psychology. But it won't work. Everybody is beginning to figure out the truth.
Forgotten U.S.-sponsored aggression

Haiti Solidarity

Four years ago today, democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was removed forcibly from his residence in Port-au-Prince by U.S. Marines and taken to Africa.

Democracy Now! on March 1, 2004 reported the events in an interview with U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, who had spoken with Aristide on the phone:
AMY GOODMAN: Did President Aristide say whether or not he resigned?

MAXINE WATERS: He did not resign. He said he was forced out, that the coup was completed.

AMY GOODMAN: So again to summarize, Congressmember Maxine Waters, you have just gotten off the phone with President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who said he believes he is in the Central African Republic.

MAXINE WATERS: That?s right, with French speaking officers, he?s surrounded by them and he?s in this place called the Palace of the Renaissance and he was forced to go there. They took him there.
It's very difficult to find independent, objective news about what has happened in Haiti since. But THIS SEARCH is a good starting point. You'll learn about the attack on, and imprisonment and exile of Father Gerard Jean Juste and his relief operation, the soccer-game massacre, the rigged election of 2006 where the people of Haiti more-or-less foiled the U.S.-Canada-France-Brazil-designed plan to bury Aristide's Lavalas Party, and a thousand other stories that are reported only in the most bigoted way, if at all, in most American media.

Today is the Third International Day in Solidarity with the People of Haiti. We demand
  • End the US/UN Occupation
  • Free the political prisoners
  • No more killings and sexual abuse of the poor by UN troops, police and paramilitaries under police control
  • President Aristide must be free to return to Haiti
  • No more "disappearances"
  • Launch an independent inquiry into the February 29, 2004 coup and forced removal of President Aristide
  • Perpetrators of the coup and massacres of the poor must be brought to justice

This is yet another blot on U.S. foreign policy. It's a deep, historical wound. Hardly anyone in the U.S. knows or cares.
Leap Day morning romp

Tree Sparrow?
Lots of these around the feeder and in the trees

I think the two-toned bill clinches it that this is a Tree Sparrow. Range and behavior makes sense. But I have a little doubt because the breast looks a little bit too streaked. Really the only other possibility is Song Sparrow. Maybe a more expert birder could weigh in. ...
5 hours, 48 minutes, 46 8/100 seconds

That's how much longer a "tropical" year is (on average in this epoch) than 365 solar days. (A solar day is measured from the point the sun crosses the meridian from one day to the next, as opposed to a sidereal day, which is measured by the time a distant star would require to pass through the same complete cycle.)

The calendar in a non-leap year does not account for this. So, let's see, if we add a 24-hour day every four years, 6 hours per year... Hey! That's gonna be pretty close! But it is too much--the calendar will measure 11 minutes, 13 92/100 seconds too many every four years.

This is not a real big deal, unless you're worried about centuries, which you probably should worry about if you want your calendar stable. So, in 400 years, the calendar with a leap day every 4th year would be 1123 minutes, 12 seconds too long. Taking out three leap days every 400 years just about does the trick. This removal of a leap day is done at the end of every century, except those divisible by four. (We had a leap day in 2000.)

The calendar ends up losing only 48 minutes every 400 years. Not too shabby.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Blue & white intensity in winter wonderland
Rules of evidence in 2006 law were written for kangaroos

The New York Times covers today the amazing saga of Col. Morris D. Davis, former chief prosecutor for the Guant?namo Bay Military Commissions. Maine Owl has posts HERE and HERE describing the circumstances under which Morris resigned from his post last October, and the subsequent and likely related resignation of Pentagon general counsel William Haynes.

Former Prosecutor to Testify for Detainee
Col. Morris D. Davis, once chief prosecutor at Guant?namo Bay, Cuba, and still with the Air Force, is now a chief critic.
By WILLIAM GLABERSON - Published: February 28, 2008
Until four months ago, Col. Morris D. Davis was the chief prosecutor at Guant?namo Bay and the most colorful champion of the Bush administration?s military commission system. He once said sympathy for detainees was nauseating and compared putting them on trial to dragging ?Dracula out into the sunlight.?

Then in October he had a dispute with his boss, a general. Ever since, he has been one of those critics who will not go away: a former top insider, with broad shoulders and a well-pressed uniform, willing to turn on the system he helped run.

Still in the military, he has irritated the administration, saying in articles and interviews that Pentagon officials interfered with prosecutors, exerted political pressure and approved the use of evidence obtained by torture.

Now, Colonel Davis has taken his most provocative step, completing his transformation from Guant?namo?s chief prosecutor to its new chief critic. He has agreed to testify at Guant?namo on behalf of one of the detainees, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden.

Colonel Davis, a career military lawyer nearing retirement at 49, said that he would never argue that Mr. Hamdan was innocent, but that he was ready to try to put the commission system itself on trial by questioning its fairness. He said that there "is a potential for rigged outcomes" and that he had "significant doubts about whether it will deliver full, fair and open hearings."
Wow. This is the kind of person that gives me hope that the ideals of my country are real, and not just throwaway lines for President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and their minions. Here is a military officer once stationed deep inside the process who believed even those he thought were the most dangerous anti-U.S. "combatants" in the world deserved a fair trial, one that was really fair and could lead to acquittal. When it became evident that others above him felt that the proceedings rightfully could be conducted as show trials with pre-determined verdicts of guilt, he chafed and resigned. Now he is a witness against the process!

Below the fold I am including some subsections on rules of evidence from the Military Commissions Act of 2006 under which these trials are being conducted. No decent American should think very highly of this. No matter how much Bush tries to scare us, how can we reconcile our consciences to this separate "justice" system so un-American at its core? It allows arbitrary use of faulty evidence & exclusion from view of secret evidence by official fiat (though it's claimed not to be secret). In fact it's shameful that Congress would cower before Bush's fear-mongering to hand so much power to people conducting such an obviously flawed process.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Supporting Obama, sympathetic with Nader

I can't disagree with much of what Ralph Nader says. I agree with him about "political bigotry" from liberals ridiculing his campaign rather than tending to facets of their own that cause left-liberal votes to peel off. I think Atrios, Josh Marshall, and many others just fall into pit of blind nonsense where Nader is concerned.

Take this truculent column by Reed Hundt, carried somewhere in the vast TPM site. Hundt says Nader "doesn't deserve attention." What a stupid position if what you're concerned about is Nader peeling votes off the Democrat. Hundt writes Nader "has no credibility on issues." To who?

In my metal ears, Nader speaks consistently, directly, and positively to issues of peace, human rights, corporate power, consumer protection, etc., etc., etc. What does Hundt think about all this? That we should let the corporation agenda of overlord authoritarianism just own the Democrat? And we should vote for the Democrat simply because she is not the Republican. Hundt's is a debased, hopeless, conscienceless, top-down, non-participatory politics. Why should a Nader (or Kucinich, or Gravel, for that matter) not continue to challenge the front runners all the way? I'll stand for Obama, but I'll never stop challenging him. We'll find out if Obama is serious about participation, or if he is just a tool. Nader being there on the ballot and in the game will do nothing but help.

Let's take a look at some of what Nader is saying.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Judicial nominee once was deemed so provocative even the Democrats blocked him, to return to Cardassia

Via Atrios, TPM Muckraker reports HERE that a Pentagon press release says Pentagon general counsel William Haynes is "returning to private life next month."

This follows a recent expos? in The Nation magazine, "Gitmo Trials Rigged," which carried on-the-record statements by Colonel Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor for Guantanamo's military commissions.

Davis said he resigned last fall because Haynes had been placed above him in the chain of command for the military commissions process. Haynes had told Davis that, "We can't have acquittals, we've got to have convictions," in the Terror War trials. This contradicted assurances given by President Bush that during the process, "they will be presumed innocent."

Monday, February 25, 2008

I just don't understand this at all. They have plenty of tools for surveillance with a warrant. Why does the House even need to pass a bill? He can't veto them not doing anything.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hot topic: States and energy independence

Governor John Baldacci (D-ME): Savvy politics, good comments

In parts not in the clips above of the session at the National Governor's Association conference in Washington D.C. this weekend, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman admits that the ratio of people who know anything about energy to those who talk about it is low, one to a million maybe. True. And Friedman has written a "green energy" tract for the Times magazine within the last year. On his hiatus from his column, I think he's working on a book on the subject? I missed the beginning of this so I did not catch the reasons the governors might have found Friedman worthy of the expert's seat.

But as "green" as Friedman positions himself, he turns out to be a "flat"-out promoter of coal and nuclear--reinforced by big-nuke-builder General Electric Corporation Chairman & CEO Jeffrey Immelt.
Friedman: (with big arm gesture and deadpan expression): Between now and when we get to that clean fuel future, ... there's only two ways to fill it in a cleaner way--that is, some kind of cleaner coal, and nuclear. At scale, I don't see any other way.
It's not that Friedman's points are all wet, it's just that the creativity of his thinking is very limited. He is clearly correct that direct-conversion solar energy does not presently supply much of the input to the world energy grids. But why is the only solution a crash course into getting new nukes up, as Immelt obviously dearly would like to see?

And what of "clean" coal? I thought our governor, John Baldacci, took the right tack.
Governor Baldacci: It's just that for the life of me, this industry, in nuclear, and in coal, and I have supported clean-coal technologies, have had opportunities to come forward with next-generation products. And sometimes it gets very frustrating because we've been left at the gate, and there's so many other opportunities. ...

But I just think there's so many opportunities, ... we've been held at the gate too long by the older technologies.
Thank you, Governor Baldacci. Now the governors need to be talking to a truly creative thinker with plenty of technical punch, Arjun Makhijani, Founder and President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Tacoma Park, Maryland. His book on a "Carbon-free, nuclear-free" roadmap is HERE. And I have a very good podcast up HERE, where Dr. Makhijani disembowels the case for nuclear power.

With creative thinkers who really know energy like Arjun Makhijani around, why should the governors bother with Friedman?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

But, the delete key from history has been pressed

Iraq oil theft protest
Not on teevee

We had a nice meeting today at the Eastern Maine Labor Council in Brewer with a few peace people. A couple of folks associated with labor were there. We showed THIS Democracy Now! interview with Iraqi union leaders. It was a good event and a very appropriate discussion for the size of the group. But the smallish turnout suggests an uphill struggle in mounting any sort of effective education program on the imperial basis for the war in Iraq.

Same holds true for international protests called for today, the 1st anniversary of presentation of the Iraq Oil Law, called a "robbery" by the union leaders in that Democracy Now! program. Here is the ONE decent report on yesterday's U.S. Labor Against the War press conference I was able to find:

Kicking it Down K Street: Rolling Out the (Oil)
In a town awash in irony, this particular example of it couldn't have been more striking
Written by Mike Ferner - Saturday, 23 February 2008
Yesterday, in Washington, D.C., former Marine Corps Sergeant and Iraq War vet, Adam Kokesh, kick-rolled a 55-gallon oil drum lettered "Hands Off Iraqi Oil" across K Street, an avenue that has become synonymous with the power of corporate lobbyists.

Kokesh, former Army National Guard Sergeant Geoff Millard, and former Army Private Marc Trainer, in the center of a knot of demonstrators, took turns kicking the barrel up 16th Street towards Lafayette Park, adjoining the White House, for a protest sponsored by U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), and Oil Change International.

The protest and an earlier news conference at the Institute for Policy Studies was called to bring public attention to the Oil Law passed by the Iraqi Cabinet one year ago and now waiting approval by Parliament.

Citing a letter USLAW sent yesterday to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and George Bush, Gene Bruskin, co-convener of USLAW, said that under Paul Bremer, the man Bush put in charge of running Iraq right after the invasion, the Hussein administration laws were wiped off the books, except for Law 150 and Law 151 which prohibit Iraqi workers from organizing unions in the public sector, some two-thirds of the nation's economy. For there to be freedom in Iraq, "Bruskin said, "Working people have to have representation. And not just on labor contracts but on social policy."

He pledged the continuing support of USLAW, whose member organizations represent some three million U.S. workers, to Iraqi oil workers and their union, the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions.

Kokesh, who said his time in Iraq taught him that "we are making enemies faster than we can kill them," called the U.S. presence in Iraq a military and an economic occupation, and that they are "inherently tied."
Excellent. And HERE is a link where you may find USLAW's page for the Action and another link to that open letter, which I will reproduced below the fold.

The sad thing, though, is the list of media covering the event. Truth seeking is not part of the corporate agenda when the event is aimed at revealing the real reasons for the permanent occupation of Iraq.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Artful snow
"February 23 marks the one-year anniversary of the Cabinet?s passage of the Iraq Oil Law. The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions has called for an International Day of Action on Feb 22-23. People around the world will hold actions on these days in solidarity with the people of Iraq to say NO to the oil law and NO to foreign contracts under the occupation." ~ U.S. Labor Against the War

We will be joining the worldwide protests against expropriation of Iraq's oil and associated attack on workers' livelihoods by multinational oil companies with a program at the Worker Center in Brewer, Maine.

Iraq Oil Report has a fantastic resource up today on the protests with dozens of links, and I have included a few links below referencing my own past postings. Here is the program for tomorrow:

Workers and the War in Iraq
Saturday February 23, 2008 at the Worker Center
20 Ivers Street, Brewer; 10am-Noon

I. Introductions 5 minutes
Participants Share ideas and questions about connections between US workers and Iraq workers 10 minutes

II. Video from Democracy Now!, 30 minutes
"Founder of Iraq Oil Workers Union Rejects U.S.-Backed Oil Law as 'Robbery'":
This video features interviews with Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Federation of Oil Unions, and Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, president of the Electrical Utility Workers Union in Iraq.

III. Discussion of issues raised in video and US Labor Against the War
60 minutes

IV. Sharing ideas about ways to continue to raise US worker concerns 15 minutes

Helpful information:

U.S. Labor Against the War
Democracy Now! (segment to be shown)

The writer David Bacon, found at the same website as "The Price of Occupation", is particularly good

There is much background information and many references on the Iraq Oil Law at my own posts HERE and HERE.
The always-excellent Rodger Payne provides a valuable link for evaluating claims based on material from alleged Iraqi archives; please see comments in THIS Maine Owl post

Update: New material from the owner of Your Planet is Doomed, cited here, is posted under "Dodgy dossier" a load of crap. Furthermore, I have changed the category to "5 years of war," where I have decided to keep all the Iraq war history posts.

That post a few days back on the "dodgy dossier" attracted a fascinating comment. It was from one Roy Robison who it turns out is author of THIS book: Both In One Trench: Saddam's Secret Terror Documents. According to the author, "secret terror documents" in fact do show Saddam did "support al Qaeda and the Taliban."

To be fair to Robison, and certainly I want to be fair to anyone who takes the time to place a reasonable comment [Update: That particular comment I now considered spam] in this blog, I have not read his material yet. But I have read two other authors claiming these connections: Laurie Mylroie and Stephen Hayes. So, at first, I replied rather sharply to the idea that the fabled 9/11 Commission was wrong when it published its famous conclusion: there existed no "operational relationship" between Saddam and al Qaeda.

My skepticism is reinforced by the voluminous hard evidence to the contrary expertly cataloged over the years by the incomparable Rodger Payne. The author most indictable on the "Saddam & al Qaeda" bandwagon has been Mylroie. Just peruse Rodger's posts and you'll see much of what Mylroie has written to be baseless.

Furthermore, the link Rodger provides does a pretty good job on Robison himself, to which he responds in comments, and to which there are counter-comments. So, I'll repeat, I like to be fair and not pass judgment on this fellow's rightist-friendly work before I read it. Just because wingnuttia likes to pick up these Saddam-as-al-Qaeda stories and run off half-cocked singing them like they're some kind of war canticle doesn't mean it's not worth studying the material. This is not saying that do I in any way buy what Robison says.

The link Rodger provided draws a general picture about Iraqi documents "captured" after the invasion that you won't see in wingnuttia:

After a 2005 conviction by a jury was overturned, federal judge now says GOP operative cannot be "proven" to have ill intent against voters in phone blocking scheme

N.H. judge judge acquits Tobin
By Judy Harrison - Friday, February 22, 2008 - Bangor Daily News
A federal judge in Concord, N.H., Thursday acquitted former GOP operative James Tobin, 47, of Bangor of charges that he conspired to jam the 2002 get-out-the-vote phone banks run by New Hampshire Democrats and a firefighters union. ...

The judge ruled that to find Tobin guilty, a jury would have had to conclude that his intent in having the repeated hang-up phone calls made was "to harass or invoke adverse reactions in the called parties." ...
I think this is the first time I've ever posted on this story. It's unusual because it's so rare that Republicans are ever caught for their vote-suppression programs. In fact, even in this case, the suspects were not found guilty of the more serious charge of "conspiring to deprive New Hampshire residents of their right to vote."

A novel interpretation of a law intended to punish Vietnam-era protesters was instead the basis of the convictions. Now, the judge has foreclosed that avenue of holding these operatives responsible.

Two other operatives were convicted in the case, and a third plead guilty, but may be off the hook too. The place to go for very comprehensive rundown of all these dirty dealings and the efforts to prosecute them is Talking Points Memo, using THIS LINK.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Over by half past midnight
22:51 edge brightens
Coming out of totality

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

22:38 really total
Really total
22:01 Edge of totality
Edge of totality
O'Reilly says he does NOT "want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama." I'm relieved. I was almost sure he did want to. Not quite safe though, because he still could find "evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels."
Oh fer cute!

Itty bitty squirrel
Another one who's hard to catch

This little fellow has been darting around the feeder off and on since early January. Today the big squirrels finally managed to knock the thing off the post. It's a happy day for the little guy because he can't reach when it's up where it's supposed to be.
Gul Dukat from Star Trek Deep Space Nine
Gul Dukat from Star Trek Deep Space Nine (Update: Or is it Pentagon general counsel William Haynes?)
The Nation:
Gitmo Trials Rigged

About the time that Congress in its wisdom and with the support of many Democrats, passed the odious Military Commissions Act of 2006, I posted on the nature of the U.S. justice system for Terror War prisoners. Consumers of the teevee science fiction program Star Trek Deep Space Nine will get my reference--it is "Cardassian" justice, in other words no justice at all.

(See below for list of Democratic Senators voting "yea" on final passage, September 28, 2006.)

For the uninitiated, here is a review of what this means:
  1. You are denied knowledge of what you are accused of until your trial.
  2. You can never know who your accusers are--for "security" reasons
  3. Trials are a show for the public, to explain how the guilt was determined, not to find a verdict.
  4. The verdict is always predetermined- guilty.
  5. The duty of your Consort is get you to valiantly accept the charges and execution.
The follow passage reported today by Ross Tuttle in The Nation and broadcast this morning on Democracy Now! seals forever the shame of the mentality behind Gitmo/Cardassian non-justice:
When asked if he thought the men at Guant?namo could receive a fair trial, Davis provided the following account of an August 2005 meeting he had with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes--the man who now oversees the tribunal process for the Defense Department. "[Haynes] said these trials will be the Nuremberg of our time," recalled Davis, referring to the Nazi tribunals in 1945, considered the model of procedural rights in the prosecution of war crimes. In response, Davis said he noted that at Nuremberg there had been some acquittals, something that had lent great credibility to the proceedings.

"I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process," Davis continued. "At which point, [Haynes's] eyes got wide and he said, 'Wait a minute, we can't have acquittals. If we've been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can't have acquittals, we've got to have convictions.'"

Davis submitted his resignation on October 4, 2007, just hours after he was informed that Haynes had been put above him in the commissions' chain of command. "Everyone has opinions," Davis says. "But when he was put above me, his opinions became orders." [emphasis added]
The thing that gives me hope here is that Davis resigned.

Let me recommend my interview with our own Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, during which we really air out and analyze this false statement President Bush explicitly has made: "they will be presumed innocent".

Meanwhile, here is a list of senate Democrats who voted for the MCA in 2006. (Nearly every Republican, save Chafee who's now out also voted for it.) If you have a senator on this list or one that's a Republican, drop 'em a line and remind 'em of what they did and that they may want to try to correct it:

Carper, Johnson, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Lieberman, Menendez, Nelson (FL), Nelson (NE), Pryor, Rockefeller, Salazar, Stabenow

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

He's perceived as a traitor in important quarters of the right

It could be immigration. Some months ago, McCain's wee bit more humane stance at a point in the past almost sank him for good last summer. Maybe he was seen as too soft on Terror War detainees, though he recently has flopped hard right on that one. At times whiffs of slightly more decent positions McCain may have held at one time or another on Law of the Sea, tax cuts, abortion, and gay rights are all wingnuttia-unfriendly. This post from The Carpetbagger Report traces McCain-style unprincipled pandering/flopping on many of these things.

But what really sticks in the craw of certain reactionaries like former Republican U.S. Congressman Robert Dornan can be found at the fascinating website, Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain. It boils down to they think McCain was a traitor. (See their YouTube below the fold)
Somewhere in the Bible belt...

Faith rules supreme (h/t to Crooks and Liars)

Below the fold is the text and photo from an email message the "church member" who "keeps up" with the campaign may have used to "inform" the others. A well-meaning family member had sent this to me in order to alert me about Obama.

So, is this what the campaign could look like in the Fall of 2008? Has politics become so debased that Jeffersonian "informed citizenry" is impossible? What say you, dear readers?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Story of driver's travails, $3000 cab rides, and lakes of sewage metaphors for Iraq's destruction during five years of brutal, relentless occupation

The Independent (U.K.) correspondent Patrick Cockburn has a lot to say about the truth of Iraq that we did not hear in the President's State of the Union message, and that we do not read in the Pentagon press releases published in the New York Times under the Michael Gordon byline.

This, which has made the rounds of the papers and wires the last couple of days, is an example of news about the "improving" situation typically we are fed:

UN hints at Iraq refugee returns
BBC Feb 16 2008 - Limited numbers of refugees have already returned
The UN's top refugee official has hinted that security in Iraq may soon have improved enough for some of the 4m Iraqi refugees to begin returning home.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, told the BBC the UNHCR and Iraqi government were planning an assessment of conditions.

Some 2m Iraqis have fled abroad, while another 2m are displaced inside Iraq.

In December, the UNHCR said the situation in Iraq was "not yet conducive to large-scale return".
Cockburn has some insight about what "returning" means in two different pieces:

But we've known this since September 2002

The September 2002 document former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush relied upon to frighten the begeesus out of the publics in both America and the U.K. about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction was "wrong", according to it's principle creator. The Independent (U.K.) reports,

'Dodgy dossier' was 'wrong', its author says
By Ian Griggs and Brian Brady - Sunday, 17 February 2008
The government official who wrote the first draft of the "dodgy dossier" that helped propel Britain into war in Iraq today admits, "We were wrong."

John Williams, a former Foreign Office aide, said last night that publication of his document would expose how members of Tony Blair's team were locked in a mindset that made military action inevitable.

On Wednesday, ministers will hit a deadline for publishing the 2002 document, after years of resistance.

The Williams draft was written in September 2002, only days after Mr Blair, then Prime Minister, announced that the Government would publish a dossier of intelligence showing that Saddam Hussein threatened the world with his weapons.
Of course, the admission, damning as it is, carefully avoids contradicting the findings of the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr. David Kelly. Some may recall the events of late spring and early summer 2003 following a BBC report on May 29 of that year alleging that, "Intelligence sources were unhappy about the prominence given to the claim that Iraq could launch biological or chemical weapons in 45 minutes," and charging the Blair government with "sexing up" British intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war. Leaks behind these reports were traced to Dr. Kelly, who evidently took his own life on July 17, 2003.

On September 28, 2002, President Bush in his radio address to the nation swung some heavy weights in the direction of Congress, including inflammatory false statements, in order to gain authority to wage war, which Congress did in fact give:
President Bush (Sep. 28, 2002): The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.
In early 2004, the Hutton Inquiry concluded,
The 45 minutes claim was based on a report which was received by the SIS from a source which that Service regarded as reliable. Therefore, whether or not at some time in the future the report on which the 45 minutes claim was based is shown to be unreliable, the allegation reported by Mr Gilligan on 29 May 2003 that the Government probably knew that the 45 minutes claim was wrong before the Government decided to put it in the dossier was an allegation which was unfounded.
Will additional evidence contradicting Hutton become available following Williams's admission? Williams's draft version of the dossier was not available to Hutton at the time of the inquiry. But, "The Government has yet to decide whether to publish the draft dossier, in line with an information tribunal judgment last month," according to The Independent story.

Of course we have known the dodgy dossier was false since Alan Simpson, MP, Chair of Labour Against the War and Dr. Glen Rangwala Lecturer in politics at Cambridge University, UK published the Counter Dossier in late September 2002: "There is no case for a war on Iraq. It has not threatened to attack the US or Europe. It is not connected to al-Qa'ida. There is no evidence that it has new weapons of mass destruction, or that it possesses the means of delivering them."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

From Every Village Green
What makes war protest "worth it"?

We up here did not organize around the February 15th weekend (5th anniversary of mass protest). But I read this interesting Kos diary describing some of the weekend activities around Moratorium Day #6. I just want to recognize here those actions and vigils.

Our big anti-war action will kick off March 15th with Actions statewide. Bangor will have a Chain of Concern at the Paul Bunyan statue, plus a series of other events over the week that follows. These activities, along with the STATEWIDE activities throughout Maine are POSTED HERE at the new version of the From Every Village Green website. Click on the graphic below for a full program of anti-war events in the Bangor area that week and beyond:

Bangor anti-war Actions March15th on...

Clicking above takes you to From Every Village Green and links to all sorts of local actions around Maine. Below the fold are some comments about the motivation for working hard to stop this war, in many ways the same motivations that existed in February and March 2003.

This has been the first edition of What Gerald said.

(Apologies to Atrios)
Great story today!

Check it out:

Maine's netroots community growing
Political bloggers will likely become more vocal as the Senate race between Collins and Allen heats up. BY JONATHAN E. KAPLAN, Washington D.C. Correspondent - February 17, 2008
Several Maine political activists are harnessing the power of the Internet to reshape the state's political landscape...
According to Kaplan, your host at Maine Owl was "ahead" of his time! Thank you, Mr. Kaplan.

I also like the way Kaplan ends his article with my diplomatic comments, what I really believe: "'Blogging has a lot of room for growth in the state [of Maine]. I now think our entire state politics would be enhanced with progressive and conservative bloggers,' Olson said. 'That's what's going to enhance our understanding of each other.'"

It always throws me a bit when an interviewer suggests I'm one of the early bloggers, and still one of the few political/activist bloggers in Maine.

Of course someone like Daily Kos's Bill in Portland have a much bigger following than this humble effort, due in no small part to Bill's persistent cultivation of the gigantic Kos audience. My best diary over there attracted a whopping 35 comments (though they were excellent comments), while Bill gets 400 to 500 with his superb "Cheers and Jeers" columns.

I suppose I should cultivate more over there myself. As Gerald has mentioned to me, it would help if I used proper titles and keywords when posting too.

Anyway, to all readers getting here through the Maine Sunday Telegram, WELCOME! I will try to keep it lively for you with my political observations, anti-war movement news, research, and comments, plus my photography, science, food, and recreational postings. WELCOME, WELCOME WELCOME!!!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thai noodle night

Thai noodle night
Traditional meal for us

The really important thing is to not overcook the rice noodles before they go in with the tofu (you can also use chicken) and mushrooms. The scallions go in after the noodles. The rice noodles must be able to absorb quite a bit of liquid after assembly.

Of course, you can't do this at all without the little cans of curry paste you find at the Asian market.
Squirrel for Pink
This one is for Pink!
I got to know the blog "Once Upon a Time" about a year ago. Here's the link to it, which I'll keep in clear text because I like the subdomain name:

It's something of an anguished affair, but the writing is stellar. He's got up stuff on Democratic superdelegates, the scary privatization of FBI thought police known as the "Infraguard" program, and what I really appreciate about Silber, the absolute moral bankruptcy of war (including a lot about diversion of the peace movement by Democratic Party politics).

What he has that I want especially to note is a ton on FISA. You'll have to go there and read, it's way too much even to summarize. I'll say just this: what almost everyone seems to have lost track of (except the excellent MSNBC commentator Jonathan Turley) is that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) "itself [created] a secret court whose very purpose is to circumvent the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The FISA court is no protection against illegitimate government intrusion at all.... we [currently] are fighting over whether to grant the executive branch and FISA still more untrammeled authority to disregard constitutional rights."

There is powerful stuff at

Friday, February 15, 2008

Biggest anti-war protest in world history

Clips from ultra-frigid, 500-person anti-war march & rally in Bangor, Maine, February 15, 2003 (Video courtesy Bill Phillips)

Almost ten total minutes of coverage from Ch. 5 and Ch. 2, Bangor, 11 pm reports on February 15, 2003; Be sure to watch through to the end for Ch. 2's "gas mask" story!

This all speaks for itself. Channel 5's reporter had it right: "The message of the Mainers, 'Stop the rush to war, join the 80% of the world's population that disagree with the president's war policy, and disarm Iraq through peaceful, multilateral policies.'"

GO TO THE LINK below for a page of stunning photos showing what a representative sample of that "80%" of the world's population looked like on that day:

11 million march against war

This was no failure by any means. Everything we said then about the prevarication of Colin Powell and the rest, and the consequences of the regime going ahead and ignoring us as they did do, sadly, has come true. But Bush did not get his "second resolution," Turkey could not allow the "northern attack." There is no taste today for attacking Iran as Cheney and company dearly wish to do. The American empire, while by no means crippled, took a necessary blow that day that resonates over the five years since. It is a cornerstone day of history that cannot be erased by the forces of revision.

In 2006, Noam Chomsky was asked, "Was the antiwar movement more successful in the '60s than it is today?
Chomsky: I think it's the other way around. The United States attacked Vietnam in 1962. It took years before any protest developed. Iraq is the first time in hundreds of years of European and American history that a war was massively protested before it was launched. There was huge protest in February 2003. It had never happened in the history of the West.
It is up to all of us who care about the future, and all the world's grandchildren, to hold close to the heart the spirit of February 15, 2003.
Baby thaw

Veazie Dam
Plenty of water

It's been a depressing week of weather. Except today, which was pretty nice, almost 4 C.

Wednesday about 10 cm of snow fell topped by about 4 or 5 cm of rain. This caused street flooding all over the place because all the storm drains were choked with ice and snow. What a mess! Of course, it froze, turning the driveway into a hockey rink.

Today featured a little melting, and it was nice enough to take a walk with the camera over by the Salmon Club.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI) condemns government "massacre"

While New York Times writer and Pentagon marionette Michael Gordon describes the case for a "pause" in U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq, a mutedly-reported major offensive is underway in Mosul.

Gordon writes he's being told the "momentum" the military thinks it has in Iraq demands a "pause" in any thought of withdrawals--that for now "securing Iraq" has won over the "stretched and stressed" effect of "constant deployments."

What winning seems to mean is not just the relentless churning of U.S. troops, as is all that is important to Gordon, but devastation of the the lives of the Iraqis. Gordon has nothing to say on their account.

The U.S. offensives, most recently in the major ethnically-mixed city of Mosul, ostensibly are for rooting out "al-Qaeda strongholds." It's almost throw-away reporting in this country. Even though an article in USA Today a few days ago suggested "challenges" for the US during the Mosul operation, it is running into trouble with leaks that "had come from within the ranks of the 300 Iraqi soldiers working with the Army on almost every mission." The collaborating Iraqis seem not to be so happy to see fellow Iraqis destroyed. The neighborhood under the cross hairs evidently was warned and emptied before it could be properly smashed.

How does all this pitched raiding look from the other side? I'll just run the AMSI press release:

The Raids Campaign in Mosul
Thursday, 14 February 2008
AMSI published a press release condemning the campaign of raids and searches carried out by the occupation and puppet government forces in Mosul City.

AMSI carried those forces joined this campaign fully responsible for the consequences of such violations reflecting negative impact on the lives of Iraqi citizens.

Press Release
12 February 2007, Tuesday, Mosul City witness raids and searches campaign carried out by the occupation and puppet government forces in al Wahdah and al Mithak regions imposing curfew to prevent entrance. Eyewitnesses said the residents of the city witnessed during the raids and searches campaign the barbarism and brutality where American occupation forces deliberately removed them from their homes into the streets and entered homes alone destroying everything while the government forces, a Peshmarga forces surrounded the area for protection.

This campaign comes after the initial operations carried out by these forces in each of the areas of Dumez, Palestine and Sumer.

These campaigns come at a time when the city took relief aid after disaster that befell the city by the incident of Zanjeli and others. The occupation and the government apparently moving to destruct which is intended to eliminate areas that rejected occupation and suspicious projects.

The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI) condemns the military campaign on the city of Mosul and carries the occupation and the current government fully responsible for the consequences of such violations reflecting negatively on the lives of Iraqi citizens.

AMSI Press Department
6 Safer 1428 / 12 February 2008
Obviously, the translation is rough. I get the gist of it. You can judge for yourself what it means.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Local NPR station's flagship news program Maine Things Considered exhibits low reporting standards on Collins smear of Rep. Tom Allen and the peace movement

National Public Radio and its Maine affiliate have a long and on occasion deserved reputation for excellent, fact-based reporting with a human touch. They certainly have the ability to cover a story in depth and with scrupulous fairness. That is, until pro-war messages Republican officials wish to transmit without excessive scrutiny are involved.

The example from the past I would bring up is the Charlotte Renner Albright interview of the late Caspar Weinberger, first broadcast in June 2004 and rebroadcast upon his death in 2006. I wrote HERE that the Weinberger interview contained "highly controversial, unabashed pro-war views about the invasion and occupation of Iraq" that were presented without that "balance" for which public broadcasting is supposed to be known.

Now, we have on display a four-minute report during the February 12 edition of Maine Things Considered where reporter A. J. Higgins "investigates" the vile attack ad against U.S. Senate challenger, Rep. Tom Allen, that incumbent Senator Susan Collins has approved. I heard this yesterday and prepared to drop everything and write a long post about it. But Gerald at Turn Maine Blue has done the work!

I've gone ahead and clipped out the radio report by Higgins, LISTEN TO AUDIO HERE:

Gerald writes,

How not to write a news story
by: Gerald - Tue Feb 12, 2008 at 23:35 EST
There was a time when journalists actually did some research when writing a story, but those days seem long gone - perhaps they never were. Today, what stands in place for reporting is asking each side of an issue what they have to say, and then calling it a day.

This Maine Public Radio report by A. J. Higgins about the recent ad from Susan Collins in which she attacks Tom Allen and is one such example. ...

Without ever talking to either Collins or Allen, one would think that a reporter would first view the ad several times with a critical eye, looking for statements of facts to check for veracity, and also inuendo implied through context. Mr. Higgins certainly watched it at least once, for he describes the beginning for his radio listeners, noting the "controversial" Petraeus ad, a screen shot of Tom Allen on the website, and then this:
The video then disolves into flag burnings, war demonstrators, and a woman with bloody hands confronting Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
What Higgins fails to note, and this is very important, is that NONE of these images has ANY association with It is hard to know when and where the image of the flag burning took place, for example, and the woman pictured confronting Condi Rice is Desiree Anita Ali-Fairooz from Group CodePink. (The confrontation took place on 24 October of last year, at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.)
I believe that there is so little attempt to analyze the obvious non sequiturs because NPR/MPBN actually believe themselves the smear of the peace movement contained in this ad, that is in fact worse than the smear against Tom Allen. They sure didn't talk to us. When the peace activists in this state are covered, they are always treated like they are a little unhinged, and always are carefully "balanced" with some kind of military representative. Militarism on the other hand, is allowed to run rampant while its proponents can say anything without scrutiny.

Gerald concludes that in public radio and A. J. Higgins, the Collins campaign has found a "friendly" voice they can count on. Absolutely.
It would be and WAS a huge headline if an Iranian president were to have talked like this

Maybe I'm just naive. This Article from the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) seems to me to be black-letter international law:

Article 33
No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Pillage is prohibited.

Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.
So then, here is the kind of thinking that is prevalent in Israel's government and military, with respect to a feeling that Isreal "is not taking strong enough action to stop the Kassams" [rocket firings from Gaza]:

Sheetrit: Wipe Out a Neighborhood [interview, Feb. 10, 2008]
Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) was explicit about what should be done: The heads of Hamas must pay the price. Hamas doesn't understand any other language; the problem is we are talking to them in English instead of in Arabic. They only understand [the language of force]. The situation at present doesn't make sense; every other country faced with rockets on its citizens would go in and destroy the area. We should warn the [Arabs in Gaza] in advance, give them a day's notice, and then wipe out a neighborhood. We should also hit their leaders, regardless of who or what they are.
The fact is that this is about a lot more than frayed nerves and occasional injuries in Sderot, a community within Israel that does suffer from the ongoing conflict. The proportions are just staggering to me when I look at real information rather than the pro-Israel propaganda bath we usually get.

Gaza has been declared an "enemy entity" (with the blessing of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) and subjected to denial of the importing of basic needs including medicine, severely limiting of exports, cutting of fuel and electric supplies , and closing of borders preventing the movement of people to and from Gaza, including those in need of urgent medical care.

Maybe the parties now involved, Israel and Hamas could talk about a cease fire? No way, according to Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal, "I would kidnap [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniye, I would kidnap or kill the other leaders, I would bomb neighborhoods, etc... We did it in Lebanon in 2006; we wiped out a whole neighborhood, the Dachya, including tall buildings, sometimes with people in it, and - what can you do? It worked! We have had nearly two years of quiet from Lebanon since then."

Normally, we take these kind of genocidal threats seriously, except where Israel is concerned. As long as Israelis look upon the Palestinians as some sort of dog race requiring wiping out, no mutual human understanding from either side will be possible.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Patriot Act protest; in many ways, it's worse today

On the steps of the Bangor Public Library, February 12, 2003; Phil Worden: "At least in the Salem witch trials, the witch was put on trial."

Oh, what we did not know on that day five years ago. It would be almost three years before James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times would publish their initial story revealing the Bush Administration programs of massive warrantless surveillance.

Five years to the day after this protest, the United States Senate in its wisdom has passed a retroactive free pass to telecom corporations who were willing to go along with official lawbreaking:

U.S. Senate passes bill to expand government's spying powers
By Eric Lichtblau
WASHINGTON: After more than a year of heated political wrangling, the Senate handed the White House a major victory Tuesday by voting to broaden the government's spy powers after giving legal protection to phone companies that cooperated in President George W. Bush's warrantless eavesdropping program.

The Senate rejected a series of amendments that would have restricted the government's surveillance powers and eliminated immunity for the phone carriers, and it voted in convincing fashion ? 69 to 29 ? to end debate and bring the issue to a final vote. That vote on the overall bill was an almost identical 68 to 29.
Senator Chris Dodd's filibuster finally gave out.

Greenwald says in THIS anguished post,
From Frank Church and the bipartisan oversight protections of the post-Watergate abuses in the mid-1970s to Jay Rockefeller, Dick Cheney, legalized warrantless eavesdropping and retroactive telecom amnesty in 2008 -- that vivid collapse into the sewer illustrates as potently as anything could what has happened to this country over the last eight years.
Greenwald, of course, has all of the tortured details, suggesting Lichtblau ought to just have a macro key for, "Senate handed the White House a major victory."

On other matters discussed by Phil Worden that day, the Supreme Court Hamdi versus Rumsfeld case would turn out about 1 1/2 years later to be something of a victory for due process afforded to Terror War prisoners, at least giving them a right to council and some sort of hearing. (Decision HERE, pdf) But see below, it's almost like none of us could even have imagined the sweeping Military Commissions Act that would come 3 1/2 years later, now wrapping the notion of a "fair trial" around on its own neck.

Being a U.S. citizen arrested on U.S. soild, Padilla ended up kicked from the military brig into the real court system just before the Supreme Court was about to embarrass the Administration. Just about three weeks ago, 5 1/2 years after his arrest, he finally was sentenced to 17 years. That sentence would have to be considered "light" by terror case standards. Why not death for this broken man? Let's just say Padilla faced some less-than-human treatment by his captors.

The other big detainee case, Hamden, and the subsequent Military Commissions Act of 2006 granting from Congress all sorts of horrendous powers and immunities to Bush was not discussed by us on this day five years ago. I have a couple of posts and an interview with my Maine Civil Liberties Union hero, Shenna Bellows, that covers much of that ground. You can find these HERE and HERE.

That bastardization of the rule of law is coming home to roost as, just this week, ahead of an upcoming Supreme Court ruling on the stripping of habeas corpus rights from Terror War prisoners, the Pentagon has decided to conduct six death trials against "high profile" individuals now housed at the notorious Guantanamo Bay dungeon. In this News Hour piece yesterday, the general shown in the P.R. session and the government apologist struggle mightily to describe the Commissions as something other than a kangaroo court, as Shenna Bellows and I pretty thoroughly established.

If I have to take an honest look at what has followed our good day of protest five years ago, what we were really addressing has turned out to be much, much bigger than only the Patriot Act. Our response since has not grown accordingly to match. We are far too quiet. We have failed to grow our protest against the loss of our American Constitutional rights really at all. This blog and those interviews is what I have to show. Bush, or Collins, or Snowe can just say "terrorist" and the Democrats hide under their chairs. In fact, I saw Senator Harry Reid, the worst single enabler of Republican attack on peaceful protest, actually leaning and cowering under his lectern as I watched on C-SPAN. They think civil liberty is bad politics. I'm not sure I know the answer about how to turn that around.

Correction: I just noticed I had the Military Commissions Act in the wrong decade, should be 2006, not 1996.

Monday, February 11, 2008

IRAQ: More Bombing Creates New Enemies
By Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail

BAGHDAD, Feb 8 (IPS) - Now that the smoke has cleared and the rubble settled, residents of a group of bombed Iraqi villages see the raid as really a U.S. loss.

Many Iraqis view the attack Jan. 10 by bombers and F-16 jets on a cluster of villages in the Latifiya district south of Baghdad as overkill.

"The use of B1 bombers shows the terrible failure of the U.S. campaign in Iraq," Iraqi Major General Muhammad al-Azzawy, a military researcher in Baghdad, told IPS. "U.S. military and political tactics failed in this area, and that is why this massacre. This kind of bombing is usually used for much bigger targets than small villages full of civilians. This was savagery."

The attack on Juboor and neighbouring villages just south of Baghdad had begun a week earlier with heavy artillery and tank bombardment. The attack followed strong resistance from members of the mainly Sunni Muslim al-Juboor tribe against groups that residents described as sectarian death squads. ...
Read the rest HERE. Previous Maine Owl posts HERE and HERE.
Important Maine race

Excellent introduction video from 2008 senate candidate Tom Allen

Maine voters are rarely inclined to remove incumbent senators. U.S. Representative Tom Allen (D-1st District Maine), who is running to unseat Senator Susan Collins, offers the best chance we're going to have to get rid of this mendacious Republican.

She must be at least slightly worried. She has apparently approved a vile smear video that is indicative of the kind of dishonest campaign she will be running to save her seat. It's so grotesque that I'm only going to give you an indirect link. Follow through to this good comment HERE at Collins Watch for a link to view the smear.

Good Lord! That is a swiftboating/Rovian smear at its vile worst. Here's a response ad I'd like to see:

[stills of Tom speaking forcefully]

"While Representative Tom Allen was standing up to President Bush and voting against war in October 2002, Senator Collins ignored her constituents"

[cut to small clip of Collins repeating weapons of mass destruction myths]

[cut to interview clip w/a very sane, rational expert from the local peace movement]

"We asked her to look at the information contrary to what the Administration was saying, but she wasn't interested"

[cut to a slightly less-than flattering picture of Collins mixed with some brief, rapidly changing awful war scenes]

Narration: "Senator Susan Collins did not stand up to President Bush when it really counted. Now she wants to blame people who opposed the war for the disaster she helped create"

[cut to black screen with Collins's phone number in center in white]

"Call Senator Collins and tell her you want the Iraq war ended now."

Well, we'll probably never see this, but I sure do hope Tom will respond to the smear head on and forcefully!!

Update: Turn Maine Blue has more, asking, "Where will you be in 2018 Ms. Collins? Happy in retirement while others fight for your mistake?"

The response to the ad from Tom Allen is quoted at Turn Maine Blue,
Tom Allen believes that this campaign should be about ideas, substantive issues, and the future of our country. We are saddened that Sen. Collins has chosen to launch personal, negative attacks as characterized in this video. Such attacks and negativity are inappropriate for Maine.

Our support comes from thousands of individuals across the country - many of whom donated just $5 or $10 - who respect Tom's leadership on the war in Iraq. Tom Allen voted against the war in 2002 and has long stood for a responsible and safe way to bring our troops home.

We urge Senator Collins to rethink the strategy of attacking ordinary Americans for voicing their opinions on the most important issues of our time. Maine voters are expecting a lot from the candidates in this race, and Tom Allen looks forward to a substantive debate on the issues. Let's leave personal and partisan attacks out of it.
I think that the responses about small donations and the attack by Collins against "ordinary Americans voicing their opinions" are good ones. But I'd be careful about staking out too much of a "high road". Collins will have to be criticized if Tom is to win. If Tom boxes himself in too tightly, it will become difficult to point out how wrong Collins is on the "substantive issues" without facing a counter attack on the basis of "negativity."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Obama takes Maine

Maine caucus screen shot
Australia is on top!

I thought this was cool. We have a house guest tonight, a traveler from Melbourne, Australia. So where do you learn today's results first from a Google search on "Maine caucus"? Why the Melbourne Herald Sun, of course!

Obama appears to have a 58-41 margin among Maine Democrats, and takes 15 of 24 convention delegates.

These results are consistent with Bangor, where the enthusiasm for Obama was great, and the rooms were absolutely loaded with people at their very first caucus. In our room, a caucus of sixty Veazie Democrats showed up. According to Stan, our wise man with the institutional memory, the number today easily was a record for recent decades. (The turnout in 2004 was closer to thirty.) We split 2-1 for Obama. I ended up a state convention delegate for Obama. I know, I wrote in this blog that I wouldn't do that this year. But all of these new people hungry for participation, hungry to see the back of Bush and the Republicans just gave me a good kick.

The campaign speeches by Governor Baldacci endorsing Hillary Clinton, and Senator John Kerry endorsing Obama, were pretty forgettable. Though Kerry did play up the importance of the Obama movement, which I think is right on. But please, as little as possible let Kerry near crowds you want to stay excited.

I may be extremely critical of Obama's positions on many things. But the potential for righting many of the wrongs of the last few years is overwhelming, and only a social movement for justice that rises up strong will be able to do it. Obama seems like the pony to be riding there now.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

What the Republicans have left: pseudo-fascism; Edwards's answer from 2004

Mittens, February 2008 Cheney, September 2004

I just listened to an extended excerpt of Willard "Mitt" Romney's Republican presidential nomination bow-out speech on Friday's Democracy Now! podcast. He says he's "suspending his campaign" because,
ROMNEY: I?d make it easier for Senator Clinton or Obama to win. Frankly, in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror. ... And one of the things we believe in is that we cannot allow the next president of the United States to retreat in the face of evil extremism. [emphasis added]
In other words, voters, vote Republican or die.

With shameless hacks like Jonah Goldberg making hay by diluting the term "fascism" to a meaningless surrogate for liberalism, I run the risk of diluting the term myself. But I don't think so. Romney incites a dangerous form of politically cynical right-wing reaction that David Neiwert calls "pseudo-fascism." Conservatives may hate the notion, but pseudo-fascism "creates the ground conditions for the real thing to break out. Which is bad news for liberals and conservatives alike."

This is a chapter out of Dick Cheney's 2004 playbook, when in the old blog I asked about what I called "protofascism":
CHENEY (September 2004):'s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice. Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we?ll get hit again, that we?ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we?ll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind set if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts, and that we?re not really at war. I think that would be a terrible mistake for us.
It seems absurd today to think the Republicans could win the 2008 election on a straight appeal to fear and promise to keep us "safe" by making sure their offensive of bloodletting across the oil arc of South Asia continues for at least 100 years. But it worked like a charm in 2004. (see archive media below the fold)

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse
Hard to catch

I resorted to the lower-res still camera in the Canon Optura video camera with its 14x optical zoom to get this nice closeup. These little guys almost never sit still and smile for you.

Friday, February 08, 2008

White week

Snow in the neighborhood
Veazie neighborhood scene

This is just an ordinary scene at a neighbor's house. I liked the angle the fence comes in and the way everything is coated. Snow has been coming slow and continuous for several days now.
Terror alert!!

Clips from "Hijacking Catastrophe" (2004)

PBS News Hour, on 2/7/03, a Friday in early February and just two days after Colin Powell mocked up anthrax at the U.N.:
JOHN ASHCROFT: Recent reporting indicates an increased likelihood that al-Qaida may attempt to attack Americans in the United States and/or abroad, in or around the end of the Hajj, a Muslim religious period ending mid- February 2003. Recent intelligence reports suggest that al-Qaida leaders have emphasized planning for attacks on apartment buildings, hotels and other soft or lightly secured targets in the United States.

TOM RIDGE: As a result of the increase in the threat level, as a result of going from yellow to orange, "elevated" to "high," specific protective measures will be taken by all federal agencies both to reduce vulnerabilities and many of them actually will, we believe, serve as a deterrent. Increased security personnel at points of entry may in fact limit points of entry and exit; enhanced identification checks, restrictions to travel around federal facilities and airports, among the many augmented security measures that will be implemented.

Now, as the attorney general mentioned, for individual Americans, we ask you... we ask you to remain aware and remain alert. One of the thoughts that I would just simply share with you: It's probably not a bad idea to sit down and just arrange some kind of a contact plan, that if an event occurred, you want to make sure you can... the family wants to get in touch with one another.
PBS correspondent Eric Lichtblau then tells Ray Suarez, "No, not really," when asked, "Were the government officials involved in this briefing very specific about what people should be on the lookout for? What kind of attack do they want us to be worried about?"

A couple of days later, American families run for the closet to tape themselves in:

Duct tape sales rise amid terror fears
From Jeanne Meserve - CNN
Tuesday, February 11, 2003 Posted: 7:35 PM EST (0035 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Americans have apparently heeded the U.S. government's advice to prepare for terror attacks, emptying hardware store shelves of duct tape.

On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after U.S. Fire Administrator David Paulison described a list of useful items, stores in the greater Washington, D.C. area reported a surge in sales of plastic sheeting, duct tape, and other emergency items.

These items, Paulison said, can be helpful after a biological, chemical or radiological attack.

A Lowe's hardware store in Alexandria, Virginia, said every roll of duct tape has been sold. Another Alexandria Home Depot store reported sales of duct tape tripled overnight.

"Everything that was on that newscast, we are selling a lot of it," said Rich Pierce with a Home Depot in the D.C. area.
Damn, I missed my chance to invest in the home entombment boom.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Jarvis TynerThis is not Barack Obama
My vote is not necessarily for Obama's policies but for a social movement

It's time to stand up and be counted if you're a Democrat in Maine. Yes, I'm a registered Democrat and have had periods of actual participation in Party activities over the years. I put out for a couple years a newsletter for the Portland Democrats and served as City Committee chair for about a year. This year I've been estranged and suspicious of the Party (you can look up those posts on telecom immunity for past & future spying, for example, and I hold deep suspicion of Democratic lawmakers' approach to war.) This is not a declaration that the estrangement is over. But I've made up my mind for Obama and I will stand for him at the caucus on Sunday.

Why? Well, it happened today at a talk I went to record in Orono at the University. It was by Jarvis Tyner (pictured), executive vice-chair of the Communist Party USA, and former candidate for vice president of the U.S. Tyner made the case in favor of the social movement building behind Obama. How'd he put it? Well, I have the audio...

Former CP USA veep candidate on Obama, AUDIO HERE:

Jarvis Tyner: I hope to see Obama win... The reason people are attracted to him? He calls for the development of a multi-racial movement for social justice. ... He is a social revolutionist. He wants to change this country and take it to another level of greater democracy.
I'm sold not because I put any special weight on the CP, but because I do believe in social movement, as Tyner helped me understand. The Republicans are all about crushing the people, making them cower in fear. Obama is no leftist, but he is as opposite as can be to the Republicans on positive participation. I am highly critical of Obama's policies, and I will remain so in this blog. But a view towards social justice ain't too bad. For me on Sunday, it will be Obama.

Oh yes, Tyner is the brother of jazz great McCoy. Now there is a reason to heed his words!
Day of Shame project

I've been so heartened by the blogging threads that are recognizing and analyzing the history of how the Iraq invasion and occupation happened five years ago. I especially want to thank Vastleft at Corrente for assembling the Day of Shame project and including Maine Owl's Five years ago in war... with a highly complimentary "highly recommended."

What's the point of doing all this? I have a brief answer: This history must not flush down the memory hole. Media never connects its responsibility for elevating as "compelling" the case Powell presented with the disaster of Iraq that has followed, even though the case was known to be faulty at the time. Vastleft has a good rundown of examples of this HERE.

And, I have an even briefer answer for why this history should be traced from our perspective: For the children. People will grow up not knowing how this war happened, but just accepting it as a horrible continuing fact of their lives. If the postings I have put up and others, like Vastleft, have put up can help just a few people peel back the veneer and gain insight based on analysis of real documents and real reporting, it will have been worth it. Mainstream media will be little help for the most part. It's up to us.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Snow day

Beautiful snow
Prettiest snow this year sticks to everything

They did not close most of the schools, not that much white stuff. But except for this post, a day off blogging.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Who can say they are not lying now?

This is just a brief observation, a deep thought if this was Atrio's site. Everything we hear about Iraq and America's wars in general should be processed with everything we know about Powell in mind.

Some other five-year commemorations are HERE, HERE, and HERE. Jonathan Schwarz is wonderful and I'm especially impressed by the daily commemoration at Day of Shame.

Wow. Some bloggers are moved, and very moving to read today. This post by Driftglass especially got to me. You'll just have to go over there and read it...

"These tragic ghosts that cannot sleep, though poppies grow

In Colin?s fields."
Infamous red-letter day

February 5, 2003: "Secretary of State Powell, using a mock-up of anthrax during a Security Council presentation, believes weapons will be found." (Photo and caption, CBS News)

I've written extensively over at the old blog on the Iraq presentation former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell gave on February 5. I am placing a time line of selected highlights below the fold.

I do want to recommend THIS Democracy Now! program from just a few days ago too. It featured Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Drogin talking about his new book, Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War. Here's Drogin:
I think this is sort of the defining case of how we got led down the rabbit hole in Iraq. Curveball is the codename of an Iraqi?Rafiq Alwan is his name?who was a chemical engineer who defected to Germany, fled to Germany in 1999 and told the German intelligence authorities that Saddam?that he had helped mastermind a scheme to build biological weapons for Saddam Hussein. That information was never confirmed. It was never vetted. It was just sort of put out there and handed over to the Americans. ...

When you go back and you look at Colin Powell?s speech?we?re coming up to the fifth anniversary of it next month?and you go back and you read it now, and it?s entirely based on this document that the CIA put out a couple months earlier, this National Intelligence Estimate, it?s wrong on almost every single level. And that?s based on what the CIA gave him. So, you know, I don?t think it?to me, it?s not the issue of a couple of guys, it?s that this system was so utterly corrupt.

That's what the American people believed when they believed Powell. They believed in Curveball, who Powell said conveyed information that was "backed up by sources, solid sources." Powell went on, "These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence." These statements earn Powell a resting place in hell.

On a personal note, I recall the day well. I had textbook work going and I was in the Bat Cave punching stuff into the computer. It was entirely obvious that the whole thing was completely fitted up, as Robert Fisk and the media watch group FAIR reported on that day and shortly thereafter, Fisk likening the absurdity of the performance to something out of Beckett.

I spoke with a old friend from Minnesota that evening. As I recall we were not so stunned that Powell had spewed baloney, but that the media case was "open and shut," as FAIR put it, "a failure of skepticism." That failure was what was truly astonishing.

Washington and its messengers obviously wanted a war for the purpose of taking and controlling Iraq. But to this day you know what? That notion, that the war was about taking an oil-rich country by force, is still little examined in media and academic circles, unless you count the "far out" statements last fall by former head banker Alan Greenspan.

Below are some key stops on the time line from February 5, 2003 on. They are just a few highlights of a much larger story. Many of the references comes from archives of the old blog, Deep Blade, where lots of good information on this still exists. [The time line is now final.]

"24" Season One
...on the day of the California presidential primary

McClatchy reports:
Two civilians were injured in an IED explosion that targeted an American convoy in Palestine Street east Baghdad around 12:00 pm.

Three officers in the Iraqi army were killed by gunmen in three different neighborhoods ...
Juan Cole posts:
The Turkish air force bombed 70 targets
inside Iraq in Kurdistan, which they allege are bases for the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) guerrilla group. The PKK has killed scores of Turks in recent months, before retreating to safe haven in Iraq.

The US military on Monday mistakenly bombed a home in Iskandariya
south of Baghdad, killing 13 persons including women and a child, according to Iraq police. They blamed indirect and faulty communication with the local Awakening Council. There will be more outrage about this incident in Iraq than will be reported in the US press....
Meanwhile, the horse race sucks all of the air out of every other story.

If you don't get the pop culture reference, in the first season of Fox's reactionary-minded thrill show "24" had all of its secret dealings while the clock was ticking "between x am and y am on the day of the California presidential primary."

Monday, February 04, 2008

12th Annual Greater Bangor NAACP and University of Maine Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast

This rocks!!

Too bad Senator Susan Collins was too busy to stay for this during the MLK Day Breakfast at the University of Maine in Orono. Mike Michaud also was there, but did have time to listen. Maybe Senator Collins could visit here and review what she missed, though I can see why she in particular would have been made uncomfortable by this.

More information is posted HERE at See also THIS earlier Maine Owl post. I included a speech Doug gave in 2007 there. This one is even better.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Maine Republican goes to bat for warrantless snooping

There is an interesting story in the Bangor Daily News this weekend titled "Snowe: Keep telecom immunity in updated bill." Because it does not look like this posted online anywhere, I'm going to go ahead and reproduce it in its entirety below the fold.

There is nothing Snowe says that is particularly new to one who closely has been following the debate on telecom immunity for acts of warrantless surveillance. Surprise, surprise, Snowe is an ultra-hawk on this. Basically, Snowe (an Intelligence Committee member) is in favor of broad warrantless surveillance powers because, as she puts it,
At a time when al-Qaida lurks in the shadows, making no distinction between combatants and noncombatants, between our battlefields and our backyards, we as lawmakers must act with firm resolve to ensure that the intelligence community possesses the tools and legal authority needed to prevent future terrorist attacks on our soil.
And what of the telecom. companies cooperating in these supposed terror-prevention efforts? On the reasonableness of granting the companies immunity for black-letter violations of law at the behest of the radical authoritarian-statist officials in the Bush government conducting unconstitutional spying, Snowe said in a hearing last Monday,
If a telecom company was approached by government officials asking for help in warding off another terrorist attack, and those government officials produced a document stating that the president had authorized the activity and that that activity was legal, could we really say that the company acted unreasonably in complying with this request?
Well, yes. Granting them immunity for cooperating with officials who's requests subsume Constitutional rights in such as obvious way would remove a major protection of those rights for ordinary citizens.

Damnit! Why can't someone probe the notion these officials always use, that this expanded surveillance somehow "protects" the public from terrorism? They are more about maintaining consent for egregious policy than confronting terrorism. Free countries always will have certain kinds of vulnerability. Ramping up authoritarianism, an essential component of which is broad-based surveillance, is nearly useless in stemming terrorism. My feeling is it leads to a siege mentality that may one day increase the risk of terrorism.

As you can see, I find Snowe's position (Collins's is identical) on this to be totally without merit. I think it is time she (actually both of them) were asked some questions that draw out the truth of these surveillance programs. (See THIS recent post for a strong presentation thereof.) We need to get them both on the record explaining themselves about the true nature of these programs separate from the false rhetoric that the surveillance chiefly is for the purpose of ferreting out terrorists.

Here goes:

Dear Senator __fill in senator's name_,

I am a concerned citizen, critic of the policies of the United States government, and an activist to prevent further military adventurism and bloodshed conducted in my name as a result of the policies of my government. There are millions of people like me. I feel that the FISA revisions you advocate, which would grant telecom companies guilty of committing violations of black-letter law immunity from legal action, to be a direct threat to my ability to exercise free speech, to organize the millions of us who oppose you, and to petition you for redress of these grievances.

I ask you the following questions concerning your position on these policies,
  1. If it is known that surveillance is being conducted on a "terrorist," why is it unreasonable that a traditional, lawful, warrant be issued in an immediate or timely manner for such surveillance? (I believe that talk of "modernizing" the law is a red herring. The traditions the founders established in the Bill of Rights are as pertinent today in the age of the Internet as they were in the late 18th century.)
  2. Your statements suggest that either you do not understand or do not wish to discuss in public the scope of the surveillance in question. I believe that enough information has been revealed in public, for example on the MSNBC Countdown program and in major newspapers to support my contention that the snooping involved is not targeted upon foreign "terrorists," but rather upon the public as a whole. Therefore, I ask you, If you did understand that the surveillance involved "large net" capture of all domestic as well as international electronic communications, would you still support immunity if in a court of law that fact could be proven?
  3. The more troubling version of the previous question that I would prefer not to have to ask is, Do you support creations of broad-scale databases of peaceful people based on their communications and political beliefs that could be employed for authoritarian purposes in creating a climate of fear and squelching free speech? If not, what guarantees will be left that untrusted officials (like those in your party who are running the government) will not be able to create such enemies profiles without proper warrants containing Constitutionally supportable suspicion of actual illegal activity?
I suppose this is enough for now. You could re-write your letter to be a bit less confrontational. In fact I recommend that, as from experience I know both Snowe and Collins feel powerful enough in Maine that they can ignore any sort of issue they don't want to discuss with you or have in public at all. They will ignore you. So, how can questions like these become part of the public discourse? It's going to take persistent media work....

Below the fold is the full BDN story.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Baked beans 2-2-08
Excellent batch of baked beans tonight to go with our chicken. Wow, it was December the last time we (actually the missus) made 'em, when we were breaking in the Dutch oven.

Latest U.S.-led Iraq offensive said to be aimed at "al Qaeda" -- just like the big one last month

You tell me, Does this sound like an Iraq where "violence, is improving, and life is returning," as President Bush likes to present these days?

It's been three weeks now since the U.S. rained bombs on the Arab Jabour district, where Arabic-language reports suggested something other than a surgical cleansing of "al Qaeda" had been the result. According to these reports, the concept of pre-bomb warning by the Americans being some sort of absolution of responsibility for civilian destruction appears to have been a P.R. sham:

Arab Jabour aftermath
Saturday, January 12, 2008
An initial report from Al-Hayat says many innocent residents of Arab Jabour who didn't leave following a warning were killed in the bombing, and other innocent residents' homes and lands were destroyed, but on the other hand a local Awakening person said only terrorist hideouts were targeted. The reporter summarizes the state of the question as "murky"....
Many residents who escaped were unable to return to their homes, but some who did return affirmed the destruction of their homes and agricultural lands, while the American forces and the Iraqi government have released no report on the killed and wounded or on material damage.

Ayad al-Ubeidi, 35, a resident of Arab Jabour, said the American forces did not allow the families in the target area sufficient time to leave, and that led to the killing of many of them. He said the Americans distributed leaflets some hours before the attack, asking residents to leave their homes. However, Saif Salman, a member of the Arab Jabour Awakening, said the Americans asked the area residents to move to a secure area 10 days before the attack, but not all of them were able to do that.
These are heavy-handed, military "solutions" that are not properly reported to the American people. This allows President Bush, Senator McCain, and many other U.S. officials to describe an Iraq that is a pure fantasy. Sadly, they are lying, as should be no surprise to anyone familiar with how they got us into this in the first place.

Independent reporter Dahr Jamail is a lonely voice these days pointing out the realities. He can be heard on this excellent edition of the syndicated radio program, Counterspin, telling it like it is. The Jamail interview begins about 10 minutes into the 28-minute AUDIO FILE, PLAY IT HERE:

Is Mosul next on the hit list?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Feeder was busy this morning!

Downy Woodpecker

In addition to the downy woodpecker, I saw about six or eight chickadees, a blue jay, a northern cardinal, and a tufted titmouse.
"The primary job of any president is to protect us, not just those of us who own Internet and telephone companies, but all of us"

January 31, 2008: Special comment, "FISA and the telecoms"

It's so utterly false, I can't see how people in Congress who appear to shudder before Bush believe it. Why do they even take him seriously? If they spent less time shuddering and more time investigating what the Administration is really doing, then telling the public... My GOD, they (and we) should be OUTRAGED!

Here is the marching order on telcom immunity the President issued in the State of the Union message:
President Bush: Dedicated men and women in our government toil day and night to stop the terrorists from carrying out their plans. These good citizens are saving American lives, and everyone in this chamber owes them our thanks. And one of the most important tools we can give them is the ability to monitor terrorist communications. To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying and what they're planning. Last year, Congress passed legislation to help us do that. Unfortunately, Congress set the legislation to expire on February 1st. That means, if you don't act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger.

Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted. Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We've had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.
Congress passed a fifteen-day extension of the particularly egregious and misnamed "Protect America Act" this week after Bush's statement. Now, the senate leadership along with the Republicans are trying to muzzle debate on the long-term bill. It's so wrong, and so obviously unrelated to terrorism what they're doing. Olbermann does the best job of pointing this out that I've ever heard: