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This is the archive for May 2008

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Or is it Kiss does Rice? Anyone else find that as unreal as I do?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Late spring blooms

Lupines 5-30-2008
Lupines along the street today, starting their one month run

At Orono Bog
Rhodora, Orono Bog, 5-25-2008
May 25
Has anyone counted the times Cheney, Bush, Rice, McClellan, Fleisher, et. al. deceived the American people and its press sheep in the Iraq war run-up? Sure. The Center for Public Integrity came up with 935. Harry Shearer explains:

"935 lies will get you
a trillion dollars for war"

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

It's just prior to the Maine Democratic State Convention, so let's review the mainline Party position on Israel. This position is so reactionary that the slightest whiff of "evenhandedness" with respect to Israel and Palestine will be shot down in an instant. So it is good to have a firm grasp of what we are dealing with: unquestioning pro-Israel commitments the Party and its presumptive headline candidate endorse.

There usually is a minor scuffle when a few platform amendments are brought up to express evenhandedness and suggest that Israel may not always be the good guys in white hats to whom America must shovel boatloads of advanced weaponry and prodigious financial aid that ends up supporting settlement development. We'll see what happens with that, but usually the debate is squelched rather quickly.

Here is how Barack Obama's official website, delineates his extreme pro-Israel policies:
  • Ensure a Strong U.S.-Israel Partnership: Barack Obama strongly supports the U.S.-Israel relationship, believes that our first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel, America's strongest ally in the Middle East. Obama supports this closeness, stating that that the United States would never distance itself from Israel.
  • Support Israel's Right to Self Defense: During the July 2006 Lebanon war, Barack Obama stood up strongly for Israel's right to defend itself from Hezbollah raids and rocket attacks, cosponsoring a Senate resolution against Iran and Syria's involvement in the war, and insisting that Israel should not be pressured into a ceasefire that did not deal with the threat of Hezbollah missiles. He believes strongly in Israel's right to protect its citizens.
  • Support Foreign Assistance to Israel: Barack Obama has consistently supported foreign assistance to Israel. He defends and supports the annual foreign aid package that involves both military and economic assistance to Israel and has advocated increased foreign aid budgets to ensure that these funding priorities are met. He has called for continuing U.S. cooperation with Israel in the development of missile defense systems.
So, could Obama turn even further right on Israel? Well, he told an audience last week at a Boca Raton, Florida synagogue that his commitment to Israel's security was "unshakable", in addition to "incontrovertible", as described above. He even threw in what sounded like some of his famous denouncement, this time in the direction of former president Jimmy Carter. Lately Carter has been talking to Palestinians, in particular leaders of the hated elected Hamas government in Gaza. And uttering just yesterday the unspeakable truth that Israel possesses "150 or more" nuclear weapons itself.

It seems to me that no useful diplomacy Obama or anyone else could bring to bear will be possible until the U.S.-supported rouge Israeli arsenal is officially acknowledged and placed on the negotiating table.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Shiite Ayatollahs do not care for occupation security agreement

Juan Cole has this
covered thoroughly. It's hardly big news in America, where our sporting events (like the Indy 500 today) feature reverent celebrations of troops and endless war for freedom, complete with awesome jet flyovers. But the Shiite clerics are balking at the U.S. conception of "freedom" in the the long-term "military cooperation agreement within a framework of strategic friendship and cooperation" set to be signed between the U.S. and the Iraqi government in about two months.

If you do not read Juan Cole, it is hard to find the news. According to Cole, a report concerning a Thursday meeting of Sistani and Iraqi P.M. Nouri al-Maliki had Sistani reiterating that the agreement with "the U.S. occupiers" would happen over his dead body. Time magazine does have something substantive today about a
not-so-subtle warning by Sistani to Maliki and American leaders as they negotiate a long-term bilateral agreement that will spell out conditions for a U.S. presence in Iraq beyond next year, when the current U.N. mandate ends. A number of contentious issues, such as the presence of permanent U.S. military bases and the ability of U.S. forces to arrest and detain Iraqis, remain unresolved.
With all the solemn talk this Memorial Day weekend about the sacrifices made by U.S. troops for our "freedom," no one seems to be asking when this war is going to end and how the people of Iraq are ever going to be free of us.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Morality of the United States

It's so fucking exciting

My God, look at those little figures running...

I've posted before about the diabolical methods being used to incinerate whole blocks out of an area the size of south Chicago. Here you see the action, as the Apache helicopter pilot celebrates. I can't even begin to know what to say, except the U.S. must get out of Iraq.

Juan Cole thinks that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani may be forced to issue a fatwa blessing Iraqi Shiite militias to respond to the American attacks. Obviously it's complicated and some of these militias are bad actors. But come on, this kind of overwhelming force in their country against them? What should we expect in return?

Practically everybody in the world understands American taste for blood. They don't see the young men pulling these triggers the same heroic way we do. Personally, I don't blame the helicopter pilot. But I see how someone who is under these guns could. It's bad for them and bad for us. Everybody loses.

Lilac 5-23-2008
Lilac and green leaves

This is good. The $600 oil deliveries are a ways off.
Off-budget Iraq/Afghan occupation funding sweetened with vet benefits

Little-noticed provision supplies billions for military bases worldwide

This all just has me screaming inside. After that bizarre rejection last week by the U.S. House of Representatives of occupation funding with Republicans staging a childish yet effective protest, the U.S. Senate has replied by passing a Christmas tree absolutely loaded with lavish financing of imperial operations, said to be good for six months into the next administration.

The sad thing is that it's actually slightly difficult even to find the news. Stories on this senate passage do not come up on the front page of Google news. The San Francisco Chronicle story I linked above ran on page A6. Coverage in the Bangor Daily News also ran on page A6, topped by a head shot of General Petraeus and a lead AP story about his suggestions in Congressional testimony that it "may" be "likely" he could recommend "further troop reductions in Iraq," but he "won't promise more details until fall." At least that article correctly suggests this timing is aimed at the "heart of this year's presidential elections," as Bush hollered "victory" in a speech in North Carolina at the same time.

Below that in the BDN is another AP story about the war funding with this curious headline: "Senate deals Bush a defeat on Iraq war spending." Defeat? Well, that's because the Senate added GI Bill and Democratic domestic spending priorities to the bill that Bush didn't want. A bunch of Republicans peeled off from Bush, making the vote "stunning" and a demonstration of Bush's "diminished standing." Democrats for their part seem to think they are too clever: pass through the massive war budget without restrictions that few of them really oppose anyway (34 Democratic & Republican senators, including Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins half-heartedly voted yea on a failed amendment requiring a "timetable", though both from Maine switched on final passage) and include benefits for vets in order to show how much they care about the human costs of the war, while also getting hundreds of millions of dollars for roads, food safety, police, and the space shuttle. Certainly any defeat of Bush here had nothing to do with genuine anti-war sentiment.

Even over in liberal/progressive blog circles, there was great cheering over this supposed Bush rebuke. For example, a fill-in writer over at Eschaton called "Bush dealt defeat on Iraq bill" a "gratifying headline." Fine, nobody likes Bush, but I think he's willing to take the daggers as long as they come with all the war dollars he could ever desire for his last eight months.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the third and most gut-wrenchingly remarkable story on BDN page A6 today is this:

US strike on al-Qaida kills children
By KIM GAMEL - Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD (AP) - A U.S. helicopter strike north of Baghdad killed eight people in a vehicle, including at least two children, Iraqi officials said Thursday, insisting all the dead were civilians. The U.S. military said six were al-Qaida militants but acknowledged children were killed.

Adding to the confusion, Associated Press Television News footage showed the bodies of three children in blood-drenched clothes - the eldest appearing to be in his early teens - along with the bodies of five men, at the hospital in Beiji, where the dead were taken after Wednesday evening's strike.

Iraqi and U.S. officials each put the number of slain children at two. The reason for the discrepancies between the two accounts and the TV footage was not known.

It was the latest incident threatening to alienate Sunni Arabs, who have played a key role in the steep decline in violence over the past year by joining forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq. Beiji, an oil hub 155 miles north of Baghdad, lies in a largely Sunni Arab area.

The strike came as the U.S. was trying to ease Iraqi anger over the shooting of a copy of the Quran by an American sniper, who used Islam's holy book for target practice.
The war is going swimmingly. Just lovely. Especially lovely since an Iraqi police colonel says the strike was on a fleeing vehicle, shot in the back. I guess I give the BDN credit for running this at all because the Google search suggested not that many papers actually picked it up.

All this American disinterest in the devastating price the Iraqis are paying for U.S. imperial occupation will come to haunt us. The rest of the world detects our dismissal of self-determination along with our distinct taste for blood. There will be a point where wrapping all the consequences into a mythic pursuit of "al-Qaida" no longer works. We'll have a lot more enemies than just al-Qaida.

Let's take a look at what is actually in this bill.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Oil price inflation near 100% level, barrel price headed for $200

What does this mean? Click to find out...

Robert Hirsch: stern warning, $12 to $15 gas

A few years ago I used to post more on oil and oil prices. That was a time just after the Iraq invasion when a barrel cost less than $50 and very few people understood or had ever heard of "peak oil."

Despite the recent shocking run-up, few truly understand it today. The misconception is that volume of oil in the ground is the proper measure of oil supply adequacy. Nope. If you hear that there is lots of oil still left in the ground, that is true. But it is the global rate oil is able to be withdrawn for use that has hit a brick ceiling of about 85 million barrels per day, give or take a million, three years running now.

Witness the pathetic groveling of President Bush at the feet of the Saudi dictators last week. It's an interesting story of utter failure (a "snub" in the story at this link), but this time perhaps not the immediate fault of President Bush. In fact, I think Bush may be doing the right thing in the interest of relieving the immediate crisis. Trust me, I'll be pulling for him if his actions relieve some the cost burden. But in the long run, he is pathetic. Oil resources Saudi or otherwise simply cannot be marshaled for limitless increase in production of American gasoline and heating oil.

The Saudis do possibly have some extra capacity, but you have to read the buried lead in this USA Today story to get the real picture, "Saudi leaders said that there was inadequate refining capacity worldwide to process Saudi crude oil, which is heavy and difficult to turn into gas."

So the rub is that while Saudi may have some extra oil, it's not the kind the world wants for making gasoline. The subtext here is that even the Saudis are at full capacity in production of the most desirable crude grades.

Meanwhile, Bush is very tentative in reporting to the American people about the oil situation, aiming his remarks at providing good PR for the Saudis to the U.S. Christian audience Saturday (May 17) in his radio address:
PRESIDENT BUSH: On Friday we visited another of America's friends in the Middle East -- Saudi Arabia. I had a series of productive meetings with King Abdullah at his farm. We celebrated the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia. We reaffirmed our shared objectives of peace in the Holy Land, a secure and united Iraq and a sovereign, independent Lebanon that is free of outside interference. We talked about oil production and gasoline prices. We discussed the King's efforts to diversify his nation's economy, and the importance of political reform. And I thanked him for Saudi Arabia's strong commitment to fighting terror.
It's almost as if he thinks we can't handle/don't want to hear the truth about oil depletion. A day later in Egypt, the president had a more provocative message for a gathering of diplomats, where he makes a clear statement that oil "is limited" and will lead to economic trouble:
PRESIDENT BUSH: This is also a time to prepare for the economic changes ahead. Rising price of oil has brought great wealth to some in this region, but the supply of oil is limited, and nations like mine are aggressively developing alternatives to oil. Over time, as the world becomes less dependent on oil, nations in the Middle East will have to build more diverse and more dynamic economies.
Everyone knows that the second Bush term is an incredible disaster. He has no credibility left and faces massive hostility even when he wants to deal in diplomatic reality and operate on a genuine problem-solving basis. His penchant for force and war and the resentment that causes dominates the scene. If Bush's wars are in fact oil wars, they will in the long run achieve exactly the opposite if the strategic goal was to secure the Middle East fields.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sort of

Basically, again, what Gerald said. Seems this "forum" just was an opportunity for Senator Susan Collins to "tout" herself.

Sen. Collins touts bipartisan record
By Bill Trotter - Tuesday, May 20, 2008 - Bangor Daily News
BANGOR, Maine - When time came Monday morning to talk about the specifics of America?s policies overseas, Sen. Susan Collins started off on an issue she has mentioned before and is likely to mention again in the months leading up to the Senate election this fall: bipartisanship.

The Republican incumbent cited her work in 2004 on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee with Sen. Joe Lieberman, a former Democrat who became an independent in 2006, as an example of how bipartisanship can get things done. She and Lieberman, the committee's ranking minority member, had set about to implement reform recommended by the bipartisan Sept. 11 Commission.

"This [resulting] legislation brought about the most sweeping changes in our intelligence community in more than 50 years," Collins told approximately 65 people who gathered Monday morning at Bangor Public Library for the Bangor Foreign Policy Forum. "I strongly believe we need more of that approach in Washington."
Let's stop right there. The reality is that the so-called intelligence "reform" she "touts" is a rump bureaucracy permanently subordinate to Pentagon prerogatives. Collins may posture as creator of some great new post-9/11 security apparatus, but the truth is she was kept on a short leash by Rumsfeld and more powerful Congressional Pentagon operatives, like former House Armed Services Committee Chair Duncan Hunter. As some may recall, Collins's original work could not pass in December 2004 until the Pentagon was satisfied its turf was protected.

Later, the original Director of National Intelligence (DNI, the key position established by the legislation), Jon Negroponte, left the job for an ostensible downgrade to Deputy Secretary of State under Condoleezza Rice with "disappointment" expressed by Collins. The structure established by the Collins-Lieberman legislation left the DNI hampered by having "little control" over its own budget.

It's not hard to see that the 2004 legislation was little more than an annoyance for the Bush Administration, and they figured out how to fold it in, now under the hand of retired Admiral and national-security-contractor-friendly J. Michael McConnell, late of the "international consulting" firm, Booz Allen Hamilton. For example, Bush has crippled the Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board included in the law, again to the "disappointment" of Senators Collins and Lieberman. Is there a pattern here?

With a little work, it should be easy to demonstrate to Maine voters that Senator Susan Collins has not been able to use her power effectively. She has been a very subservient figure within the operations the Bush government conducts.

Monday, May 19, 2008

How Collins will play:


Trivial/disingenuous/straw-man attack

Nothing wrong with this...

Except it's not strong enough and doesn't say Collins helped start the war

This was the Tom Allen press release this morning:
Dear Eric,

We have high standards for Senators from Maine, and we have high standards when it comes to the campaigns that are run here too. That?s why we intend to have a healthy debate on the issues. I believe the people of Maine deserve a debate on the important issues facing Maine.

This race is already one of the most closely watched across the nation. And the level of interest by third party groups looms large.

By law, my campaign staff and I are prohibited from having any contact with these third party groups, so we cannot go to them directly with the request I am making of them publicly:

  • If you plan to attack Senator Collins ? don?t. That won?t help your cause and it has no place in the conversation I intend to have with the voters of Maine.
  • If you want to help bring change to Maine and America, stick to the issues and talk about my record and my plans to solve our problems.
  • If you plan to run advertisements in Maine about this race, do it positively and factually.

Our campaign has no place for the politics of personal destruction, and we will publicly denounce any negative radio or television advertisement by a third party mentioning my opponent by name or referencing her.

I believe there is too much at stake to allow this race to be undermined by third party groups using negative personal attacks on Susan Collins or me.

My sincere hope is that all third parties ? those who favor Susan Collins and those who favor me ? will limit their television and radio advertising to positive messages about their favorite candidate.

I respect Susan Collins, and I know she cares about Maine. But Susan Collins and I have fundamentally different views on the most important issues facing this country today -- on economic policy, on our policy in Iraq, on health care and on energy policy. I look forward to a vigorous debate on those and other issues that matter to the people of Maine.

Susan Collins and I see this world differently and in the last 12 years have made very different choices for Maine. The voters of Maine deserve an honest discussion about these differences, and about our competing visions for our country and our state. We cannot allow third party groups to poison this important debate.

I sincerely hope that Susan Collins will join us in a substantive conversation and agree with me that negative ads from third parties attacking either of us have no place in this debate. I hope that Susan Collins agrees to the rules we have adopted.

Thank you for all that you do. Remember, together we can change the direction of Maine and America.

I'm not against the notion that the campaign should be respectful. For example, the Collins ad attacking Tom Allen for being supported by that slimed the peace movement in the process is my definition of a dirty campaign that should be avoided. But with this declaration, Tom opens himself to charges of hypocrisy on any sort of sharp and direct criticism of Collin's record that he or anyone else might make. There will never be enough opening to deconstruct Collin's obfuscations of her role as a player in the Bush/Republican agenda. The campaign will rapidly devolve into trivialities about highly questionable small business ratings and voting record perfection. Collins will be free to perform mockery of Tom Allen in the manner suggested above, but Tom won't be able to touch her in any hard-hitting way on the war, like is done in the pretty strong anti-war ad above. This statement is a bad idea.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Fish casserole

Fish casserole
Yes, it's a Tweety Bird plate

That's fresh, local asparagus in there. It's our own recipe that is made with brown rice, veggies, and can be made with practically any flaky white fish (tilapia tonight). Some years ago this recipe was featured on the Wisconsin Public Radio Zorba Paster on Your Health program. It's not online anymore (not even in the wayback machine), but if anyone asks I'll post the audio and/or the recipe.
Scrubbing torture from the Gitmo trials

It's not working.

The Ongoing Collapse of the Gitmo Military Commissions
Betrayals, Backsliding and Boycotts
Anyone who has kept half an eye on the proceedings at the Military Commissions in Guant?namo -- the unique system of trials for "terror suspects" that was conceived in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by Vice President Dick Cheney and his close advisers -- will be aware that their progress has been faltering at best. After six and a half years, in which they have been ruled illegal by the Supreme Court, derailed by their own military judges, relentlessly savaged by their own military defense lawyers, and condemned as politically motivated by their own former chief prosecutor, they have only secured one contentious result: a plea bargain negotiated by the Australian David Hicks, who admitted to providing "material support for terrorism," and dropped his well-chronicled claims of torture and abuse by US forces, in order to secure his return to Australia to serve out the remainder of a meager nine-month sentence last March. ...

In the world of the Military Commissions, al-Qahtani's case was damaging for two specific reasons: firstly, because, although the other five men were tortured in CIA custody -- and the CIA has publicly acknowledged that KSM was subjected to the torture technique known as waterboarding (a horrendous form of controlled drowning) -- he and the others have been reinterrogated by "clean teams" of FBI agents, who have solicited confessions without resorting to torture, whereas al-Qahtani, according to his lawyers, has not.

Leaving aside for a moment the implausibility of somehow "purifying" confessions obtained through torture by using "clean teams" -- and what it reveals, unintentionally, about the "dirty teams" whose activities are purportedly being airbrushed from history -- the second reason for dropping charges against al-Qahtani only reinforces the legal netherworld in which the Commissions operate. According to their rules, the records of al-Qahtani?s interrogations, which took place in Guant?namo, could be produced as evidence of torture, whereas those of the "high-value detainees," interrogated by CIA teams in secret overseas prisons, can be overlooked, because, as Time put it, "Military courts overseeing Guant?namo have indicated they cannot compel evidence from US intelligence agencies."
Worthington is an essential writer on the Terror War trials, the tortuous path of which is very fully chronicled at his site, HERE.

Friday, May 16, 2008

In the front lawn

Creeping bluets
Creeping bluets

These are very popular to plant. But I didn't do it. The previous owners? Or did they just grow here? At any rate, I'm not gonna mow 'em for a while. I think there are many little things growing around here that are very beautiful.

White-crowned report: They're all gone. Some chipping sparrows are still around.
Dissidents within Commissions process give glimmer of hope for American justice

A friend of Maine Owl sends THIS LINK. I have always liked legal reporting by Dahlia Lithwick:

A Few Good Soldiers: More members of the military turn against the terror trials
By Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick
Posted Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Legal commentators have argued for years about whether there might ever be legitimate trials for the so-called "enemy combatants" we're holding at Guantanamo Bay.... Key actors are declining to play their part in a piece of theater designed to produce all convictions all the time. These refusals, affecting two trials this week, suggest that the whole apparatus?seven years and counting in the making?cannot ever be fixed. The trials are doomed, and they are doomed from the inside out.

Today we learned that the Pentagon has dropped charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani?the alleged 20th hijacker (or maybe the 21st or 22nd, since that title has gone to others before him). Along with five other "high value" detainees, al-Qahtani was facing capital charges at Guantanamo. The decision not to try him comes from the convening authority for the commissions, Susan Crawford. She didn't give an explanation for halting the prosecution, but, then, we don't really need one. As Phillip Carter notes elsewhere in Slate, it's been clear for a while that the evidence against al-Qahtani was torture (or near-torture) tainted, and prosecutors at Guantanamo had announced long ago that "what had been done to him would prevent him from ever being put on trial." In light of all that, you might wonder why he was one of the six trotted out for the big show trials in the first place....
There is a lot of additional coverage in Maine Owl blogs. For more in this blog, on the situation with the military commissions and the chafing of Col. Davis due to their injustice, please see HERE, HERE, and HERE. I also recommend my interviews with Maine Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Shenna Bellows, available HERE and HERE. THIS Shenna Bellows program too.

Update: First, I fixed a garbled sentence in the last paragraph. Also, in post 431, I noted the claims of fairness of the trials presented by Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann on February 11. It turns out that Hartmann was party to pretrial instructions that would have foreclosed the possibility of acquittal. How's that for justice? In the Slate piece, it is reported that Keith Allred, the military judge presiding over the Hamdan case, has rebuked Hartmann and removed him from the case:
Allred still isn't quite prepared to play his designated part. Last Friday, he disqualified Davis' old boss Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann from any further participation in Hamdan's prosecution. Hartmann has to back off, even though he is the tribunals' official legal adviser. In a written opinion, Allred took the general to task for attempting to direct Davis "to use evidence that the Chief Prosecutor considered tainted and unreliable, or perhaps obtained as the result of torture or coercion."
This was reported in some media earlier this week. I missed it. But the source I cited for Hartmann's February 11 remarks, the PBS News Hour, has not seen fit to do so.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hey, "American Senator" Barack HUSSEIN Obama! Suck. On. This.

Bush in Jerusalem (CNN)
PRESIDENT BUSH: We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.
So what's next, let loose the nukes? There evidently isn't any reason to do anything else but make war on those who would resist Israel, starting with Hezbolla next door in Lebanon. Chris Floyd has more, including a good discussion of this recent Democracy Now! interview with As'ad AbuKhalil.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The president's ludicrous war narrative

An Olbermann Special Comment

The U.S. certainly, definitely, absolutely never ever tortures. I know this because the president said so. And Defense Department documents revealing non-torture treatment like beating to death, strangulation, threats, and sensory deprivation prove it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Oh, jeebus, they're gonna cover the "controversial" Stephen King remarks on reading and opportunity...

Update: This was worse than expected. An indignant military commentator was given pretty much free reign to bash Stephen King on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. Here's how it started, "A deputy undersecretary for the Department of Defense says Maine author Stephen King cruelly perpetuated an incorrect stereotype when he suggested last month that military service is a refuge for the illiterate."

Barbara Cariddi's angle is "repercussions." A. J. Higgins does the meat of the 4 1/2 minute piece, connecting postponement of a planned fund-raiser for Democratic Senate candidate Tom Allen to the "controversy." Higgins does mention that these "repercussions" are sourced from the likes of O'Reilly and Limbaugh. My sense is that MPBN follows the lead of these preachers in the halls of wingnuttia.

I suppose Higgin's angle on literacy problems in Maine is a bit of a counterbalance in Stephen King's favor. But I think you could have done a much better report on this important issue if the dose of "repercussions" for King had not been ladled on top of it.

The Pentagon spokesperson really did not deal with Stephen King's intended point, that lack of literacy limits options in life, instead tacking against what is essentially a red herring, the myth that the military is full of illiterates. I did not hear that at all in King's remarks and I certainly do not believe that to be true.

However, recruiting standards certainly have taken a hit in recent years. This was not investigated at all by MPBN, even though mainstream stories have been available for months, sourced from the Pentagon itself, including this February Bangor Daily News story blogged by Gerald at Turn Maine Blue (thanks, Gerald).

I would note that a problem amongst some troops may be a lower level of thinking skills with respect to understanding the consequences of displayed attitudes and actions, not necessarily "illiteracy." This comes out big time in the Winter Soldier testimony.

These consequences are significant and terrible for people in countries America occupies, and for America itself. See below. Previous posts on this topic HERE and HERE.

Here is the audio I promised (4 1/2 minutes):

NYT General
How's the media follow-up to last month's major New York Times expose on Pentagon propaganda been going? Stone cold silence.

Important as Stephen King remarks? Not so much.

Vet official email
An email "error"? Or a cover-up? It's worth page C8

This is a follow-up to the item I posted Saturday. I literally spent 45 minutes looking for this thing in the paper. I knew I'd seen it in there. This ran in the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday last week, the same day the paper carried it's first story on Stephen King's remarks about limits to opportunity for people with low skills, "...if you can read, you can walk into a job later on. If you don't, then you've got, the Army, Iraq, I don't know, something like that."

Wingnuttia was all over that—the King remark, that is. It does not matter to them if there is any easily-seen evidence—as the BDN did give Mr. King space to explain—that poor reading skills do limit opportunity, and military grunt jobs these days with very high risk for injury and death in this country's wars are often one of those limited options.

None of 'em give a hoot about the human wreckage of the war and they never did. It's a crazymaking. Christ! One thousand attempted suicides per month!? There is a permanent nightmare looming over our future directly because of this war. And they can't see it in wingnuttia. Their only comfort is to latch onto celebrity remarks perceived as "liberal" and wave the flag over them while throwing a tantrum. It's a damn shame that the Bangor Daily News takes this lead and plays along for days on the front page. This administration's real, consequential cover-up of the situation merits only one tiny item on C8.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Today was a maintenance day for the site. I needed an upgrade to address a security issue. After a few hiccups, it seems to be back to normal. Let me know if you notice any issues.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Drone aircraft used in Sadr City

The NPR Check item I just
posted about reminded me of an NPR story that ran a bit over a year ago. It involved the "Predator" and the newer "Reaper" drone aircraft the Pentagon likes to use for "precision" bombing in densely populated areas it wishes to pacify. I wrote about this here: Where is Sidney Freedman when you need him?

Over about the last month, these diabolical remote-controlled aircraft have been used to deadly effect in the area of Baghdad called Sadr City:

Heavy civilian casualties after drone attacks
Posted: 2008/05/09 - From: Mathaba
by Diana Lee
Time and time again, news stories of heavy civilian casualties have surfaced ? largely innocent women and children slaughtered or injured - after reports of attacks by armed UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) that roamed the skies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon and Gaza.

Most recently, UNICEF expressed serious concern about the systematic air and missile attacks wreaking havoc in Sadr City by the U.S. military in its relentless pursuit of insurgents. The Iraqi government declares almost 1,000 people have died so far ? 60% of them are women and children. Prior to the UNICEF report, USA Today gave an account that the U.S. military record showed ?an unprecedented number of air strikes by unmanned airplanes in April to kill insurgents?. The Pentagon has increased use of armed drones to deal with the escalation in fighting in Baghdad's district of Sadr City as well as in Basra.
The story goes on to describe how these killing machines are used in Afghanistan as well.

The way NPR reported the wonders of these devices, it was all about family. "Pilots" could go home to their wives & children after a day in the lab sending missiles into other people's homes. I am just so anguished that in America this story of sickening death and destruction can be given a veneer such as that presented by NPR.

The news today is perhaps a hopeful Mother's Day message: a ceasefire in Sadr City. But a thousand civilians killed under the weight of U.S. remote-control bombs has been the cost.
Scoop! "Super-secret" transcript

Lately I have not been much of a consumer of National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Frankly, I've felt for a long time that NPR news reporting just isn't credible any more. But I did hear this recruiting pitch story about a 56-year-old Vietnam vet who recently has re-enlisted with hopes of being sent to the current wars:

The Impact of War
Vietnam-Era Vet Reports for Duty
Morning Edition, May 9, 2008 ? Army Spc. Tom Owens first joined the military during the Vietnam War when he was 17. He earned two Bronze Stars before leaving the service in 1992.

But nearly two years ago, when the Army raised its enlistment age limit to 42, Owens decided to sell his landscaping business and volunteer to serve his country again ? at age 55.
"Maybe some other guys ? might see this and think, 'You know, the Army, maybe it's not such a bad thing,' and maybe they might come back." --Lt. Col. Dave Johnson
The "scoop" is a "transcript" of a story meeting the reporter, Kathy Lohr, must have had with her producer and "obtained" by NPR Check, a website I've grown to admire. Good blogging, check it out.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Weak in Review: Bangor author Stephen King remarks on reading skills and options in life, made "controversial" by wingnut bloggers, carry huge weight over Iraq/Afghanistan veteran suicide issue in Bangor Daily News

It was quite a week of war and veterans issues coverage in the Bangor Daily News. Was it their big, front-page coverage of the U.S.-backed killing and destruction in civilian neighborhoods in Sadr City? Nope, there was no such coverage. Was it their prominent story on the hearings in Congress and west coast court case on treatment of veterans and controversial actions by high officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs? Nope, they had just a tiny AP release buried deep in the paper on that.

What they had was THIS:

Stephen King fires back after blogger attacks remarks
By The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - Bangor Daily News
BANGOR, Maine ? Stephen King has fired back at conservative critics who attacked him over a remark he made a month ago at a writers symposium for high school students.

A blogger jumped on King?s statement at the Library of Congress about the importance of reading in which he suggested poor readers have limited prospects, including service in the Army.

"I don?t want to sound like an ad, a public service ad on TV, but the fact is if you can read, you can walk into a job later on. If you don?t, then you?ve got the Army, Iraq, I don?t know, something like that. It?s not as bright," King said at the April 4 event in which he was accompanied by his wife Tabitha and son Owen.

Blogger Noel Sheppard likened the comment to former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry?s remarks that if you don?t get a good education, "you get stuck in Iraq."

"Nice sentiment when the nation is at war, Stephen," Sheppard wrote.
The BDN continued coverage with an editorial and they did give the spooky author plenty of space to respond, but the angle was on the "controversy" of the remarks.

The story wouldn't quit, as some of the troop greeters at the airport had temporarily removed King items from the terminal area. The group leaders over there came to their senses and had the items replaced.

Meanwhile, consider that THIS outrageous story of officials covering-up the real challenges returning troops face is barely news up here:

An Outrage: V.A. Official Who Covered Up Veterans' Suicides Won't Lose Job
Greg Mitchell - Huffington Post - May 10, 2008
A week of hearings in Washington on the alarming spike in suicides among veterans of the Iraq war, and an official cover-up of the numbers, has ended with both the Veterans Affairs chief and the V.A. mental health director whose advice on the matter was "Shh," still holding their jobs.

Meanwhile, the returning soldiers "are dropping like flies." That's how one soldier characterized the spike in suicides among servicemen coming home from war, according to Greg Dobbs, who is completing a documentary on PTSD for HDNet and wrote an op-ed today for the Rocky Mountain News of Denver.

Dr. Ira Katz, the mental health official who ordered "Shh!" on revelations of the alarming number of suicides among U.S. veterans, won't lose his job over it, his boss told Congress. The poor fellow, like all of us from time to time, just wrote without thinking in an e-mail, V.A. Secretary James Peake testified.

Katz agreed that it was just a bad choice of words when he sent his colleagues an e-mail about suicide data that started out with "Shh!" in the subject line. The e-mail (which I covered in-depth last week) went on to admit that 12,000 veterans a year attempt suicide while under department treatment -- but this number should be kept from CBS News, which was studying the issue. "Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?" the e-mail asked.
For a bunch more, please read Alexander Cockburn's Counterpunch Diary for today, Real Clear Numbers: 101,000 U.S. Casualties a Year.

All this just shows how loathe to face the truth about this war are many Americans. People would rather pile on Stephen King for what I think is a valid observation: the military becomes one of the few options open to young people who have for whatever reason been ill-served by the educational system.
Some of us who have lived to my age, or maybe even a little older "we were so hopeful that this would never happen again, that we would never do this to another generation of young people?. And we?re doing it right now,? you know,? we?re doing it right now. We?re killing ?em, we?re maiming 'em, we?re sending 'em home crazy. And we?re not doing anything for 'em when they get back. It?s the same thing again.
--Stan Goff, Orono, Maine, November 15, 2005

Friday, May 09, 2008

Red squirrel
Yes, again for Pink
Busy day at the feeder

Chipping Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow

Sparrow comparison
Sparrow comparison

There was a rush of migrating sparrows at the feeder today. At one point I counted fifteen, most swarming on the ground. New arrivals (not seen yesterday) were white throats and chipping. You can hear the chips out there. Chipping sparrows are resident for the summer, but the others are bound for the north.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Hiding in cover

White-crowned Sparrow

A bunch of these guys have been around all day. I scattered food for them on the ground, where they seem to prefer it. I think they're hungry. They are on their way north to breed around Hudson Bay. That greenish cast in the background is the body of a car. Cool effect.
White Crowned Sparrow

White crowned sparrow

I don't think this is a white throated. Note the lack of the really white throat, and no brown patch by the eye.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Sections of densely populated area being sacked

Curiously, I am finding that the BBC and the radio program it cosponsors, The World, are the only mainstream outlets reporting this:

Wednesday, 7 May 2008 13:42 UK
Iraq prepares for Baghdad exodus
By Clive Myrie - BBC News, Baghdad
The authorities in Baghdad say they are preparing for an exodus of thousands of people from eastern parts of the city... Two football stadiums are on stand-by to receive residents from two neighbourhoods in the Sadr City area. The government has warned of an imminent push to clear the areas of members of the Mehdi Army, loyal to the anti-American cleric, Moqtada Sadr.

In the last seven weeks around 1,000 people have died, and more than 2,500 others have been injured, most of them civilians....
The story also says that leaflets warning residents to leave have been distributed. It says that the Iraqi operations are "backed by US ground and air support."

I just listened to the report on this on The World, but the audio is not up on the website yet. It's rather nonchalant about the football stadiums where the refugees are supposed to be housed while their neighborhoods and homes are sacked under the gun of U.S. air power.

The militia fighters who keep firing on the Green Zone supposedly have to be rooted out because they are "hiding" among the civilians. This is swill to hide the killing of civilians the U.S. perpetrating. I suspect that the Sadrist militia has very deep support in these neighborhoods. The attack is really an attack on the population as a whole.

The result of U.S.-backed bombardment causing thousands of deaths among a population of millions who had been caged behind barriers and starved, now finally being removed, will be an even wider war. They are daring Iran to get more involved to help this mainly Shiite population.

Of course, fuller reporting on the situation can be found at Raed in the Middle and Al-Ghad. The latter speaks of a recent U.S. bombing of a Sadr City hospital, a war crime under the Geneva Convention. But not surprising following U.S. practices in Fallujah four years ago.
Iraqi official livid over proposal supported by Senator Susan Collins to force attachment of oil revenue for American purposes

"America has hardly even begun to repay its debt to Iraq."
--Abdul Basit, the head of Iraq's Supreme Board of Audit

With another massive Iraq war funding bill now before Congress, it has become popular among Republicans and Democrats alike to take Iraq to task for not using enough of its burgeoning oil revenue for reconstruction projects. Senator Collins joined that fray in front-page stories last month, insisting that the "free ride" for Iraq should be over.

Good thing I listen to the podcast of Harry Shearer's Le Show. Otherwise, I would not have caught this significant story, which last week evidently made it no further than the Chicago Tribune:

Iraq: U.S. has no claim to oil boom
By Liz Sly - Tribune correspondent - May 1, 2008
BAGHDAD ? As Congress gears up to debate the Bush administration's latest request for an additional $108 billion in war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan, Iraqis are fuming at suggestions being floated by lawmakers that Baghdad should start paying a share of the war's costs by providing cheap fuel to the U.S. military.

"America has hardly even begun to repay its debt to Iraq," said Abdul Basit, the head of Iraq's Supreme Board of Audit, an independent body that oversees Iraqi government spending. "This is an immoral request because we didn't ask them to come to Iraq, and before they came in 2003 we didn't have all these needs."

The issue of Baghdad's contribution to the costs of the war jumped to the forefront early in April during testimony to Congress of the Iraq war commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. Noting that the soaring price of oil is likely to give Iraq a revenue bonanza this year of up to $70 billion, senators quizzed the two on why Iraq isn't using its rising oil income to pay more of the costs of reconstruction.

Iraqi and U.S. officials say they are. Iraqis acknowledge the need for Iraq to take on a greater share of its reconstruction costs and say it is doing so. In fact, according to the latest report released Wednesday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the body established by Congress to monitor reconstruction spending, Iraq is now responsible for the majority of the money spent on reconstruction and the Iraqi security forces.

Iraqis say the criticisms in Washington grossly simplify the complexities of Iraq's situation and fail to take into account the vastness of Iraq's needs....
The Tribune article goes on to review the staggering history of corruption under American auspices, "Behind the controversy lies a giant muddle of misspending, waste, corruption and poor accounting on the part of both Iraq and the U.S. surrounding about $100 billion worth of spending on reconstruction and the Iraqi security forces that has barely dented Iraq's needs over the past five years."

U.S. Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has some quibbles with Congresspeople like Collins and Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, who have made hay with the "Iraqis are not pulling their weight" line--"a bit overplayed," according to Bowen. Figures are presented that suggest Iraqi piking on their own reconstruction just is not the case.

The bottom line here is that people in Iraq have noticed America's arrogance. To them, people like Collins and Levin are heard to be manipulating American politics for American interests while using Iraq and it's oil as a pawn. But to me the truth is clear. America has destroyed Iraq. It's guts have been cut out to the point that, as Patrick Cockburn has described, the lakes of sewage are visible from outer space. The reconstruction projects our Congress bothers to discuss after its done funding the military operation (which works to further destroy the country) barely scratch the surface of what America owes the Iraqi people.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

One minute at the Veazie Dam


I shot this yesterday about this time. The Penobscot really has some punch from all the rain last week. You can hear how it's just roaring. This sound can be heard from our bedroom, just slightly more distant than the Salmon Club park from where the footage was shot. Watch for the crazies coming out on the precarious concrete slab from the Eddington side during the last 30 seconds.
Was Kool Aid was on Augusta Civic Center menu?

Turn Maine Blue and Collins Watch each have multiple good posts containing a selection of the available media links for stories about this past weekend's Republican State Convention in Augusta.

It strikes me that the Republicans seem to be designing their 2008 Maine campaign around throw-back issues that have little resemblance to today's political and economic predicaments. In other words, Maine's Republicans will be reciting Reagan-era mantras on spending and taxes while re-invigorating anti-choice and anti-gay constituencies; and crossing out "Soviet" and replacing it with "Islamo-fascist" in fearful national security rhetoric. This is underscored by the appearance of reactionary anti-gay Jesus-is-God columnist Cal Thomas, a Reaganaut throw-back if there ever was one.

Thomas is an interesting choice to provide reinforcement for Collins, since his raison d'?tre is to bash gays with holier-than-thou religious rhetoric. How that comports with the recent endorsement of Senator Collins by an ostensible gay rights outfit called the Human Rights Campaign is a real head scratcher.

Some discussion about what is going on is HERE. The endorsement, Collin's own actions, and the reaction of Christian-oriented hate groups in Maine all seem to be at odds. If we want to try to explain it all, I would say Collins truly is not on the same page as bashers like Thomas and the Christian Civic League, but she feels she needs votes from those quarters bad enough to throw them bones, and not throw them under the bus in the manner Barack Obama did with his former pastor.

It's sure to be an interesting campaign.

Monday, May 05, 2008

It's a hell of a problem for a nuclear power....

Matt Taibbi on The Great Derangement

I've appreciated Matt Taibbi's work since I found this column he wrote for New York Press in September 2003, discussing how the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority had hired a figure from the Russian economic "shock therapy" period. At the time, the same thing, something they called "rapid privatization," was on the table for Iraq. Lot's of detail was archived HERE, due to a proposed U.S.-Iraq "business conference" then planned at the University of Maine.

H/T to Jazz from Hell for the video. I'll go along with Taibbi "is the best American journalism has to offer."

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Poor contractor oversight to blame

Perhaps Senator Susan Collins will be interested in this:

Despite Alert, Flawed Wiring Still Kills G.I.'s
By JAMES RISEN - New York Times - Published: May 4, 2008
WASHINGTON ? In October 2004, the United States Army issued an urgent bulletin to commanders across Iraq, warning them of a deadly new threat to American soldiers. Because of flawed electrical work by contractors, the bulletin stated, soldiers at American bases in Iraq had received severe electrical shocks, and some had even been electrocuted.

The bulletin, with the headline "The Unexpected Killer," was issued after the horrific deaths of two soldiers who were caught in water ? one in a shower, the other in a swimming pool ? that was suddenly electrified after poorly grounded wiring short-circuited.

"We?ve had several shocks in showers and near misses here in Baghdad, as well as in other parts of the country," Frank Trent, an expert with the Army Corps of Engineers, wrote in the bulletin. "As we install temporary and permanent power on our projects, we must ensure that we require contractors to properly ground electrical systems."

Since that warning, at least two more American soldiers have been electrocuted in similar circumstances. In all, at least a dozen American military personnel have been electrocuted in Iraq, according to the Pentagon and Congressional investigators.

While several deaths have been attributed to inadvertent contact with power lines under battlefield conditions, the Army bulletin said that five deaths over the preceding year had apparently been caused by faulty grounding, and the circumstances of others have not been fully explained by the Army. Many more soldiers have been injured by shocks, Pentagon officials and soldiers say.

The accidental deaths and close calls, which are being investigated by Congress and the Defense Department?s inspector general, raise new questions about the oversight of contractors in the war zone, where unjustified killings by security guards, shoddy reconstruction projects and fraud involving military supplies have spurred previous inquiries.

American electricians who worked for KBR, the Houston-based defense contractor that is responsible for maintaining American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, said they repeatedly warned company managers and military officials about unsafe electrical work, which was often performed by poorly trained Iraqis and Afghans paid just a few dollars a day.
This betrayal is really sickening. Some of these people could still be alive if Senator Collins had not been asleep when the warnings came in and action by her oversight committee could have really counted.
Democratic nominee John Kerry said basically the same thing in 2004

There was a minor hubbub, especially on the Countdown program with Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, about this remark in Denver Friday,
SENATOR MCCAIN: My friends, I will have an energy policy that we will be talking about, which will eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East that will - that will then prevent us - that will prevent us from having ever to send our young men and women into conflict again in the Middle East.
Later, McCain said this really "didn't mean the U.S. went to war in Iraq five years ago over oil," along with some incomprehensible reason why the word "again" did not so mean. He then "clarified" that the Iraq war really was "because of weapons of mass destruction."

Ha! That's funny! Weapons of Mass Destruction is a better reason to be in Iraq than oil! Or, maybe he misspoke there too, it's really because Iraq is the "Central Front" of the Terror War, like a McCain stand-in explained on Hardball Friday.

It's all pretty silly. It may be "politically inconvenient," as the former Fed Chair, Alan Greenspan, wrote in his memoir, but no one can seriously believe that the U.S. would have picked Iraq for an invasion, conquest, and attempt at permanent strategic control if it weren't for that country being the only one left in the entire world where a few million barrels per day of potential swing oil production might be possible into the future.

And Senator John Kerry formed basically the same equation of better energy policy = no more troops to the Mideast. From his New Hampshire primary victory speech on January 27, 2004,
SENATOR KERRY: Stand with us - and we will give America the security of energy independence, because our sons and daughters should never have to fight and die for Mideast oil.
It is difficult to find because no one official wants to discuss in the open the role oil occupies in the formation of policy. Witness McCain's backtracking above. But if you want a picture of how much oil drives policy, October 2005 remarks by former Secretary of State Colin Powell's deputy, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, should be your guide.
WILKERSON: The other thing that no one ever likes to talk about is SUVs and oil and consumption and, as one little girl said yesterday at the Yoshiyama Awards, do you know that we consume 60 percent of the world's resources? We do; we consume 60 percent of the world's resources. Well, we have an economy and we have a society that is built on the consumption of those resources. We better get fast at work changing the foundation -- and I don't see us fast at work on that, by the way, another failure of this administration, in my mind -- or we better be ready to take those assets. We had a discussion in policy planning about actually mounting an operation to take the oilfields in the Middle East, internationalize them, put them under some sort of U.N. trusteeship and administer the revenues and the oil accordingly. That's how serious we thought about it.
Five years after the invasion of Iraq, we have $4 gas knocking at the door while we have a debilitating quagmire in the target country. It just keeps getting more and more puzzling to me that we can't have a forthright discussion about why we are really in there.

Note: Below the fold is the entirety of the 2004 New Hampshire victory speech by Senator Kerry. I really had to dig to find it, so I'm keeping it handy right here. It's rather apropos to today's gas tax discussions. I'd even say that this speech is more critical of big corporate interests than most of what is going on in the campaign today.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

THIS should be blockbuster news:

Secret Bush "Finding" Widens War on Iran
Six weeks ago, President Bush signed a secret finding authorizing a covert offensive against the Iranian regime that, according to those familiar with its contents, "unprecedented in its scope."

Bush?s secret directive covers actions across a huge geographic area ? from Lebanon to Afghanistan ? but is also far more sweeping in the type of actions permitted under its guidelines ? up to and including the assassination of targeted officials. This widened scope clears the way, for example, for full support for the military arm of Mujahedin-e Khalq, the cultish Iranian opposition group, despite its enduring position on the State Department's list of terrorist groups.
Of course on U.S. shores it's not possible to think about consequences in such a manner, but looking at this finding from Iran's point of view and applying the standard for self defense established by President Bush himself would mean immediate preventive Iranian attack upon the United States is justified by the Bush Doctrine. If Iran were to wait until the threat against its territory were to fully materialize, it would be too late.

Friday, May 02, 2008

High water

Penobscot River at Veazie 5-2-2008
Barely out of banks here

Fury at Veazie Dam 5-2-2008

We have very mild flooding only along the river frontage after about 8 cm of rain on Tuesday. Ms. Owl's colleagues who live up around Greenbush are experiencing more serious situations and road closures. The St. John Valley (hundreds of km north) has not been lucky at all this spring.
Seems like the torture promoters who roam the halls of wingnuttia are all bathed in the fantasy of "24." (According to Philippe Sands, the torture staff at Guantanamo Bay are great fans of this teevee fiction.)

In places like Fox Noise and the U.S. Supreme Court, apologists justify torture with this image of extracting information from "ticking bombs" ahead of "imminent attack."

Well, what about this? Here's a guy who was ripped out of his life and dealt the most cruel and inhuman practices that the Pentagon mind could muster for six years:

After More than Six Years, Al Jazeera Cameraman Sami al-Haj Released from Guantanamo Bay
Arrested in Pakistan in December 2001, Sami al-Haj spent nearly six-and-a-half years at Guantanamo without charge or trial. He had been on a more than a year-long hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. We hear al-Haj?s first public remarks from his hospital bed in Sudan and speak to his brother, Asim al-Haj.
AMY GOODMAN: Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj has just been released from Guantanamo Bay. The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders issued a statement Thursday saying Sami al-Haj had been tortured while at Guantanamo and subjected to 200 interrogation sessions. He?s lost forty pounds, is suffering from intestinal problems and bouts of paranoia, according to his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith....

After a tearful reunion with his family, he spoke out against the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo in an interview broadcast on Al Jazeera.

SAMI AL-HAJ: [translated] I?m very happy to be in Sudan, but I?m very sad because of the situation of our brothers who remain in Guantanamo. Conditions in Guantanamo are very, very bad, and they get worse by the day. Our human condition, our human dignity was violated, and the American administration went beyond all human values, all moral values, all religious values. In Guantanamo, you have animals that are called iguanas, rats that are treated with more humanity. But we have people from more than fifty countries that are completely deprived of all rights and privileges, and they will not give them the rights that they give to animals....
I wonder what "ticking bomb" information they might have gotten out of al-Haj after about the second day they held him.

Hullabaloo has an extensive rundown of more recent developments on the torture front.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Digby has the photo, with which I will not torture readers here. She takes on the vacuous White House Press Muffin, Dana Perino, who accused "the media" of playing "this up they do every single year."
DIGBY: She forgets that the jackass unnecessarily "flew" onto the ship for the photo op and pranced across the deck like a Chippendale's dancer before announcing "in the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." Far be it for anyone to "play it up." After all only hundreds of thousands of people are dead.

Beyond the oft-repeated line delivered by President Bush that day, "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed," and all the Hullabaloo about "Mission Accomplished," the speech of May 1, 2003 is a deep and vexing study in official propaganda and smoothing for public consumption what were by that time very harsh intentions for Iraq.

For example, the very next line after "prevailed" states that, "Our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country."

Well, how has that turned out for the "celebrating Iraqis" whom the president said that day had "seen the ageless appeal of human freedom"? Let's not bother to discuss the details of how the "Coalition" allowed looting and looted the country itself mercilessly, the U.S. policy of disciplining the population of Iraq by invading homes, sweeping up citizens to be tortured in dungeons, encouraging ethnic divide and death squads, conducting aggressive and currently increasing aerial bombardment of civilian areas, sacking whole cities (e.g. Fallujah), and generally ensuring the destruction of the modern state of Iraq.

Let's just look at one especially devastating consequence, studied and reported this week by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees:

Survey shows most Iraqis in Syria still unwilling to return home
GENEVA, April 29 (UNHCR) ? A survey of nearly 1,000 Iraqis currently staying in Syria has shown that 95 percent fled their homeland because of direct threats or general insecurity and that only 4 percent currently had plans to return to Iraq.

The latest Assessment on Returns to Iraq was carried out for the UN refugee agency by the IPSOS market research agency in Syria from March 2-18. A total of 994 interviews were undertaken in Damascus at UNHCR's registration and food distribution sites, in community centres or during home visits.

Some 86 percent of the respondents were registered with UNHCR, while 14 percent had not yet been registered. A total of 95 percent stated that they had fled Iraq in recent years, either due to direct threats (65 percent) or general insecurity (30 percent). About 2 percent of the interviewed Iraqis had left Iraq before 2003; 44 percent between 2003 and 2006; and 54 percent since 2006. A total of 94 percent had a valid residency permit in Syria.


A total of 4.7 million Iraqis have been uprooted as a result of the crisis in Iraq. Of these, more than 2 million are living as refugees in neighbouring countries ? mostly Syria and Jordan ? while 2.7 million are displaced inside Iraq.

"UNHCR remains committed to identifying obstacles to a safe and dignified return to Iraq and to working with the Iraqi government on measures aimed at addressing these obstacles to ensure that a voluntary return will someday be possible," agency spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said in Geneva on Tuesday.

She noted that UNHCR had appealed in January for US$261 million for its work on behalf of Iraqi refugees outside their country as well as for the internally displaced. "So far, we have received just under half of that amount, which is not enough to keep our programmes going during the second half of 2008," she stressed.
For now at least, it's just wishful thinking that anytime soon there will be "a safe and dignified return to Iraq" for most of these people. This is really all you need to know to see that practically everything President Bush says about Iraq is bullshit.
Democratic challenger for Collins seat contrasts his position with hers

I want to be clear that I certainly will vote for Tom Allen in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary on June 10, despite a sincere challenge from Tom Ledue.

I recognize in these talking points that Tom is vastly better than Susan Collins, and that is why I can support him now and in the general election too. Tom is also an old friend from the days he was mayor of Portland and I was Chair of the Democratic City Committee. I know that electing Tom Allen will be a huge improvement for Maine in the U.S. Senate.

Still, I see reasons for concern and problems with his statement on Iraq. The worst single phrase he uses is "force the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own country." This hardly "contrasts" with the policy promoted recently by Senator Collins.

In fact, it has been U.S. policy over the last three decades to deny Iraqis the ability to run their own country and make their own history. The root of the insurgency is within this denial. Tom should listen to Iraqi-born Sinan Antoon on this, who spoke in Maine last month. (Listen HERE.) What Tom is doing here may be politically apt, or it may not. Personally, I believe that the Maine public is ready for a much stronger, more honest examination of how and why the U.S. is in Iraq, and an equally strong position in favor of complete withdrawal at the earliest possible time. Note: The Bangor Six were not guilty.

I don't see "complete" withdrawal in Tom's talking points, and I am distrustful of the legislation prohibiting "permanent" bases. The prohibition on permanent bases has been unworkable. It doesn't prohibit "enduring" bases and construction of the massive U.S. embassy-palace, for which Congress has continued to provide practically unlimited funds.

So while I will continue to support Tom, I do not think his election necessarily will be itself a solution in Iraq. Public pressure must focus on a timetable for complete withdrawal. Then maybe could begin the generations-long process (listen to Sinan Antoon) of healing Iraq after a decade of American support for its former dictator, more than a decade of Democratic-administration-approved sanctions & bombing, followed by the devastating Bush invasion, conquest, occupation, looting, and sacking.
Amazing statement by Penobscot County District Attorney

Jury acquits six in protest
By Judy Harrison - Thursday, May 01, 2008 - Bangor Daily News
Brendan Trainer, assistant district attorney for Penobscot County, prosecuted the case. He referred questions to District Attorney R. Christopher Almy.

"I think that the public in Maine is so disgusted with the war in Iraq that they demonstrated their disgust with this verdict," said Almy, a Democrat. "And, that they are upset with [Sen. Olympia] Snowe and Collins for getting us involved in this debacle."
Susan Collins, are you listening??