Sunday, March 30, 2008

This is America?

60 Minutes presented a story on a German citizen, Murat Kurnaz, who was tortured by the US in the "war on terror" and detained for five years, though they had no evidence against him.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Endless War of Divide and Conquer

It's hard to understand how the US occupation of Iraq will lead to lasting peace and democracy--if that ever was a real goal. Rather, the US continues on its strategy of divide and conquer, pitting wealthy and powerful Shiites (The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Badr Brigade) against the poor (Sadr's Mahdi Army). Chris Floyd of the Baltimore Chronicle states:

"The Bush regime – which is intimately involved in every step of the Basra operations, despite its rote denials – is trying to keep the war boiling on a high simmer. This is the only option it has left to achieve its primary war aim: a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq."

Floyd adds:

"The only possible move that could even potentially defuse the situation at this point is the total withdrawal of American forces. This could, perhaps, compel the various Iraqi factions to come to some accommodation. It is unlikely that such an accommodation would be reached without bloodshed; but blood is being shed copiously now. And as along as the American presence remains, as an artificial, alien – and ever-aggravating – factor, skewing the playing field, taking sides, killing people, and serving as a focus and fomenter of nationalist rage (and a handy pretext for avoiding accommodation), the situation will only grow worse. And certainly no other possible resolution – internal negotiation, a UN or pan-Arab peacekeeping force, etc. – will ever be possible as long as American forces remain in Iraq.

But let us be clear. The withdrawal of American forces from Iraq is not a "good" solution. It will lead to blood and suffering. But there are no good solutions to what Bush and his willing executioners in Congress, the media and Establishment have wrought in Iraq. There were never any "good" solutions. All hope, all potential for a "good" solution evaporated in the very instant that the first bomb fell on March 19, 2003. From that moment, the only thing – the only thing – that one could hope for and work for has been some kind of mitigation of the murderous consequences of this abominable crime."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Understanding "Externalities"

One of the essential critiques of "free market capitalism" is the understanding of externalities. From this position, corporations have no ethic to do anything other than maximize profits, and therefore try their best to shift their costs to others. Some good websites to check out:

Chronicling the Rhetoric that Led to War

The Center for Public Integrity has done a great service by chronicling the rhetoric and false statements leading to the Iraq war:

Consider, for example, these false public statements made in the run-up to war:

* On August 26, 2002, in an address to the national convention of the Veteran of Foreign Wars, Cheney flatly declared: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." In fact, former CIA Director George Tenet later recalled, Cheney's assertions went well beyond his agency's assessments at the time. Another CIA official, referring to the same speech, told journalist Ron Suskind, "Our reaction was, 'Where is he getting this stuff from?' "

* In the closing days of September 2002, with a congressional vote fast approaching on authorizing the use of military force in Iraq, Bush told the nation in his weekly radio address: "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. . . . This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year." A few days later, similar findings were also included in a much-hurried National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction — an analysis that hadn't been done in years, as the intelligence community had deemed it unnecessary and the White House hadn't requested it.

* In July 2002, Rumsfeld had a one-word answer for reporters who asked whether Iraq had relationships with Al Qaeda terrorists: "Sure." In fact, an assessment issued that same month by the Defense Intelligence Agency (and confirmed weeks later by CIA Director Tenet) found an absence of "compelling evidence demonstrating direct cooperation between the government of Iraq and Al Qaeda." What's more, an earlier DIA assessment said that "the nature of the regime's relationship with Al Qaeda is unclear."

* On May 29, 2003, in an interview with Polish TV, President Bush declared: "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories." But as journalist Bob Woodward reported in State of Denial, days earlier a team of civilian experts dispatched to examine the two mobile labs found in Iraq had concluded in a field report that the labs were not for biological weapons. The team's final report, completed the following month, concluded that the labs had probably been used to manufacture hydrogen for weather balloons.

* On January 28, 2003, in his annual State of the Union address, Bush asserted: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production." Two weeks earlier, an analyst with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research sent an email to colleagues in the intelligence community laying out why he believed the uranium-purchase agreement "probably is a hoax."

* On February 5, 2003, in an address to the United Nations Security Council, Powell said: "What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources." As it turned out, however, two of the main human sources to which Powell referred had provided false information. One was an Iraqi con artist, code-named "Curveball," whom American intelligence officials were dubious about and in fact had never even spoken to. The other was an Al Qaeda detainee, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who had reportedly been sent to Eqypt by the CIA and tortured and who later recanted the information he had provided. Libi told the CIA in January 2004 that he had "decided he would fabricate any information interrogators wanted in order to gain better treatment and avoid being handed over to [a foreign government]."

The false statements dramatically increased in August 2002, with congressional consideration of a war resolution, then escalated through the mid-term elections and spiked even higher from January 2003 to the eve of the invasion.

It was during those critical weeks in early 2003 that the president delivered his State of the Union address and Powell delivered his memorable U.N. presentation. For all 935 false statements, including when and where they occurred, go to the search page for this project; the methodology used for this analysis is explained here.

In addition to their patently false pronouncements, Bush and these seven top officials also made hundreds of other statements in the two years after 9/11 in which they implied that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or links to Al Qaeda. Other administration higher-ups, joined by Pentagon officials and Republican leaders in Congress, also routinely sounded false war alarms in the Washington echo chamber.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It's a Small World, After All

It really is a small world. It appears that Chevron is in negotiations to drill oil in Iraq. This is the same company that had Condoleeza Rice as a Board member until 2001, and the same company that was involved in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein in 2001 and 2002. This is the same Chevron with the following human rights and environmental record:


“Chevron, the second-largest American oil company, is preparing to acknowledge that it should have known kickbacks were being paid to Saddam Hussein on oil it bought from Iraq as part of a defunct United Nations program, according to investigators. … At the time, Condoleezza Rice, now secretary of state, was a member of Chevron’s board and led its public policy committee, which oversaw areas of potential political concerns for the company. Ms. Rice resigned from Chevron’s board on Jan. 16, 2001, after being named national security advisor by President Bush.” (Via Atrios)


Human Rights Abuses: environmental destruction, health violations, and violent killings

The petrochemical company Chevron is guilty of some of the worst environmental and human rights abuses in the world. From 1964 to 1992, Texaco (which transferred operations to Chevron after being bought out in 2001) unleashed a toxic "Rainforest Chernobyl" in Ecuador by leaving more than 600 unlined oil pits in pristine northern Amazon rainforest and dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic production water into rivers used for bathing water. The toxic crude oil and formation water seeped into the subsoil, contaminating surrounding freshwater and farmland. As a result, local communities have suffered severe health effects, including cancer, skin lesions, birth defects, and spontaneous abortions. Indigenous communities have been dispossessed of their lands, and millions of hectares of rainforest have been destroyed to make way for the company's pipelines and oil wells.

Chevron is also responsible for the violent repression of nonviolent opposition to oil extraction. In Nigeria, Chevron has collaborated with the Nigerian police and military who have opened fire on peaceful protestors who oppose oil extraction in the Niger Delta. In 1998, two indigenous Ilaje activists were killed by Nigerian military officers flown in by the company while protesting at an oil platform in Ondo state. In 1999, two people from Opia village were killed by military personnel paid by Chevron, after soliciting a meeting to complain about the company's harmful effects on local fishing. And in 2005, Nigerian soldiers fired upon protestors at Escravos oil terminal, leaving one protestor dead.

Additionally Chevron is responsible for widespread health problems in Richmond, California, where one of Chevron's largest refineries is located. Processing 350,000 barrels of oil a day, the Richmond refinery produces oil flares and toxic waste in the Richmond area. As a result, local residents suffer from high rates of lupus, skin rashes, rheumatic fever, liver problems, kidney problems, tumors, cancer, asthma, and eye problems.

In December 2004, the Unocal Corporation, which recently became a subsidiary of Chevron, settled a lawsuit filed by 15 Burmese villagers, in which the villagers alleged Unocal's complicity in a range of human rights violations in Burma, including rape, summary execution, torture, forced labor and forced migration. Despite the settlement, human rights abuses continue along the oil pipeline in Burma, which is still "secured" by the Burmese military. Chevron is responsible for the risks associated with this pipeline.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Forgotten

The Iraq occupation has nearly been removed from America's short attention span.

Sacrifice of the Common Man*

On the same day that President Bush stated that the "outcome" of the Iraq occupation would make the deaths of 4000 soldiers worthwhile, a news story also revealed that Chevron was in negotiations with Iraq to tap oil there.* These stories should be understood together, so that people know who is being sacrificed (working-class people) and for what reason (corporate oil profits). Julian Tuwim's poem, The Common Man, has just as much meaning today as it did almost 80 years ago.

The Common Man (Julian Tuwim, 1929)

When plastered billboards scream with slogans
'fight for your country, go to battle'
When media's print assults your senses,
'Support our leaders' shrieks and rattles...
And fools who don't know any better
Believe the old, eternal lie
That we must march and shoot and kill
Murder, and burn, and bomb, and grill...

When press begins the battle-cry
That nation needs to unify
And for your country you must die...
Dear brainwashed friend, my neighbor dear
Brother from this, or other nation
Know that the cries of anger, fear,
Are nothing but manipulation
by fat-cats, kings who covet riches,
And feed off your sweat and blood - the leeches!
When call to arms engulfs the land
It means that somewhere oil was found,
Shooting 'blackgold' from underground!
It means they found a sneaky way
To make more money, grab more gold
But this is not what you are told!

Don't spill your blood for bucks or oil
Break, burn your rifle, shout: 'NO DEAL!'
Let the rich scoundrels, kings, and bankers
Send their own children to get killed!
May your loud voice be amplified
By roar of other common men
The battle-weary of all nations:

*for a review of Chevron's oppressive human rights and environmental record, including illegal payouts to Saddam Hussein in 2001 and 2002, go to

Friday, March 21, 2008

Empire and Racism

One of the great casualties of war and occupation is the objectification of others and the minimizing of deaths and destruction. People in power have long used working-class Americans as pawns and surrogate oppressors. For those on the ground, racist ideas and language are used as defense mechanisms, then as standard operating procedures. Soldiers are coming back to America, inflicted with the disease of racism and ethnocentrism, blaming the pawns on the other side of the chessboard.

This is the way of empire.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Missing the Big Story

I find that reader comments in the NT Times are often more insightful than the stories themselves. Here's an thoughtful comment from an online reader about the Iraq occupation:

"I despair at finding myself living among the horrors I thought happened only in the dark history of the most savage of the Mongol, Roman, Nazi eras. Anyone who imagines that our ravaging of Baghdad is less depraved than the burning of Carthage is delusional. We will carry forever the stink we created among the thousands we killed and millions we dispossessed in Iraq alone."

— Posted by Paul R. Cooper

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Speech on Race

Today, Presidential candidate Barak Obama gave his much anticipated speech on race, in the shadow of Independence Hall. As he invokes history, let us not forget a history few Americans recognize.

Let's not forget that another important building, the Walnut Street Jail, was also built nearby, before Independence Hall. The jail was originally built with 18 by 20 foot cells which would hold 30 to 40 people in unsanitary conditions. These people sometimes had done nothing more than been runaway slaves or debtors. The jailer sold gallons of alcohol for whatever the jailees could afford--which was sometimes the clothes from another inmate's back.

This was, for some historians, the beginning of the American carceral system, a system which, through Black and poor convict labor built railroads, tended plantations and dug out coal mines. These are the roots of a system that is more powerful and corrupt than it ever was some 220 years ago--it is a system that today thrives on its own failures, eating up state and local budgets at the expense of other government functions. Today, the US prison-industrial complex supervises 7 million people, most of whom are working class and people of color.

Monday, March 17, 2008

More Welfare for Wall Street

Economist Paul Krugman (NY Times, 3-17-2008) states that a bailout of investment banks is "inevitable." Bear Stearns was the first to fall last Friday, losing 90% of its value in one day. Media outlets are hinting that Lehman Brothers and UBS are also unstable.

If one follows the money, this run on investment banks has resulted from unscrupulous lending and a form of speculation that working-class people would lose their homes over. In other words, it was the "free market" doing what it does naturally.

If the US government bails out these so-called banks, what kind of message does it send? What lessons have been learned?

A little bit of economic history. According to Krugman, the S&L scandal cost the US $450 Billion in current US dollars, and real estate speculation in Japan cost its people 3 Trillion in current dollars. In an interview in CNNmoney, Krugman predicts capital losses of $6-$7 Trillion in the housing market and $1 Trillion in housing-based securities.

For more analysis read

Friday, March 14, 2008

Restricted Speech and Domestic Spying--An American Tradition

The current political appeal to wiretap Americans is nothing new. The US has a long-standing tradition of restricting free speech, domestic spying, and undue government influence of the media. This website includes links and a time line, including information on the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798-1801), Espionage and Sedition Acts (1917-18), Smith Act (1940-1957), McCarran Act (1950-present) and McCarthy era, Operation Mockingbird (1948-?), COINTELPRO (1956-1971), the Patriot Act (2001-present) and Operation Talon.

A link to Operation Chaos, a secret domestic spying program by the CIA

A link to Operation Mockingbird, CIA influence in American media

Freedom of speech is also highly restricted in work environments, including government service (Garcetti v Ceballos, 2006)

Formation of the National Applications Office (NAO), using US corporations for domestic spying in the US (2007)

Eyes Wide Open

FYI: The Bush administration was planning for an Iraq occupation in January 2001.

Use these sources to learn the true costs of occupation, counter media distortions, express cogent arguments against continuing the occupation, explain viable alternatives to the present course, and generate collective action.

No Link between 911 and Iraq/Iraq Not a Viable Threat

The Financial Costs of War (Current- and Long-Term):

Casualties (American and Civilian):

US Preparing for US Draft/Allowing “Moral Waivers”

US Plan for War Against Iran/”The Secret War”

War Profiteers/Persecution of Whistleblowers

Government/Media Distortions:

History/Speeches (War is a Racket, A Time to Break Silence, Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex)

Alliances Between the US and Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein

Humanitarian Crisis/Effects of Depleted Uranium

US War-Occupation Creating More Terrorists/Destabilizing Allies,,2142774,00.htmlorg/now/shows/314/index.html

PTSD/Amputations/Traumatic Brain Injuries

Alternative Courses of Action:

Collective Action (Iraq Vets/Religious Organizations/Counter-Recruiting)

Updated Websites:

9 Points About the Iraq Occupation

We the People should consider these points as we formulate or reformulate our positions on the continued US occupation of the Middle East.

1. The US has been involved in various adventures over the last century, supporting associates we would later call terrorists (e.g. CIA support of Saddam Hussein).

2. The US invasion was based on a desire for preemptive War against Iraq (see Paul O'Neill's interview on 60 Minutes, 1-11-04), poor information ("WMD") (linking Saddam and Al Qaeda), poor sources ("Curveball" and tortured detainees), hyperbole ("a mushroom cloud"), and poor planning ("they will welcome us"). Key information was censored or not released (Downing Street Memo).

3. Leaders (e.g. The Pope, the King of Jordan) and experts (VIPs) who warned against the war were ignored, and are still being ignored. Anti-war advocates included a diversity of people, including libertarians and nativists.

4. According to a Columbia/Harvard study the total cost of the war/occupation will be more than $2 trillion, excluding the cost of interest on the debt. New reports estimate a $2.4 to $3.5 trillion cost if not considerably higher.

5. Some people, and not others, have profited from the occupation. Could this money have been spent more effectively? Will this debt, particularly to China, affect geopolitics?

6. Since the US War and occupation, 4-4.5 million people have been displaced, creating a refugee crisis/humanitarian disaster. A Johns Hopkins University study estimated more than 600,000 premature deaths as a result of the US invasion and occupation. Most Iraqis do not support a US presence in Iraq.

7. More than 4000 Americans, mostly working-class People, have died as a result of the war and occupation. An unknown number have been wounded (official estimates are over 25,000). Tens of thousands of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder have been reported (New England Journal of Medicine).

8. It may be argued that neither the world, the Middle East, nor Iraq is safer with a US occupation (e.g. AQI would not have been formed or as well developed without a US occupation). Foreign Policy experts (including conservatives) argue that the US has pitted many groups against each other, destabilizing Iraq and the Middle East, including current allies.

9. The US use of torture has also put future US soldier/POWs in peril.

Upper Class Welfare

Bear-Stearns is handing out the tin cup, getting help from its old friends at the Federal Reserve.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison

Jeffrey Reiman's book The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison is an important critique of the US criminal justice system. The philosophy scholar argues that the sources of crime are well known (e.g. poverty, prisons, guns, drugs) but that little is done to reduce the causes. In fact, he argues, the criminal justice system has a vested interest in its own failures (The Pyrrhic Defeat Theory).

Other important points in the book:

Reiman cites a 1996 Rand study that indicates what works to reduce crime (preventing child abuse/neglect, enhancing children's intellectual and social development, providing support guidance to vulnerable adolescents, working extensively with juvenile offenders).

Reiman asks important questions: Who defines crime? How is the public image of crime created? How is crime not defined? What is the image we have of criminals? Why do white collar crooks get so little in comparison to the damage they do to society, and why is white collar crime rarely reported?

22% of all assailants are perceived to be Black, but 42% of those arrested are Black. Blacks make up no more than 13% of all drug abusers but 74% of those in prison for drugs. Discrimination occurs at all phases of the criminal justice system from arrest to imprisonment. The race of the victim and the race of the defendant are significantly related to use of the death penalty.

According to Reiman, people who cannot see a better way to curb crime, other than to lockup millions,lack imagination. He adds that "the crime and disorder which flow from hopeless poverty, unloved children, and drug abuse can't be solved by bottomless prisons, mandatory sentencing minimums or more police."

Reiman concludes with eight solutions for a more just society:

1. End poverty
2. Let punishment fit the criminal harm
3. Legalize drugs
4. Correctional programs that promote responsibility and prepare the prisoner for reentry
5. Gun control
6. Limit discretion of police, prosecutors, and judges
7. Right to equal counsel
8. More just distribution of wealth

The American Injustice System

60 Minutes: 26 Year Secret

An innocent Black man in prison for 26 years, and still waiting for his appeal.