Monday, December 28, 2009

davidswanson's Journal - An Avatar Awakening

davidswanson's Journal - An Avatar Awakening

Anyone else go to see Avatar? I recommend it and agree 100% with David Swanson on this. He also suggests handing out the flyer at the end of this article as people come out of the theaters.
He says:
"Let's face it, if James Cameron had made a movie with the Iraqi resistance as the heroes and the U.S. military as the enemies, and had set it in Iraq or anywhere else on planet earth, the packed theaters viewing "Avatar" would have been replaced by a screening in a living room for eight people and a dog.

Nineteen years ago, Americans packed theaters for "Dances with Wolves" in which Native Americans became the heroes, but the story was set in a previous century and the message understated.

The Na'vi people of "Avatar" are very explicitly Iraqis facing "shock and awe," as well as Native Americans with bows and arrows on horseback. The "bad guys" in the battle scenes are U.S. mercenaries, essentially the U.S. military, and the movie allows us to see them, very much as they are right now in 177 real nations around the world, through the eyes of their victims.

People know this going into the movie, and do not care. For better, and certainly for worse, they do not care. Millions of people stand in lines, shell out big bucks, wear stupid-looking 3-D glasses, sit in the dark for three hours, identify with twelve-foot-high pointy-eared blue people, cheer as the credits roll, and simply do not care that actual human beings suffer the same fate as the computer-generated creations, albeit without miraculous happy endings.

Imagine if a tenth of the people who now sympathize with these bony blue beings were to take three hours to read a book or watch a movie about the people of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or Iran. Our real planet would then be a different world.

When I saw "Avatar" in a packed 3-D theater in Virginia, and the crowd cheered the closing shot, I shouted: "And get out of Iraq too!" No one cheered for that. But no one called me a traitor either.

But will anyone in that crowd lift a finger to pressure their representatives in Congress to stop funding the evil they'd just seen sanitized, animated, relocated, and ever so slightly disguised?

Rob Kall at OpEd News suggested that we make flyers to hand out at theaters following screenings of "Avatar." Having now seen the film, I think he's right. Here's a flyer (PDF). Here's the text:


Did you know that the Na'vi people are real, their troubles are real, and you can be a hero who saves them? It's true!

The story of "Avatar" is the story of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries attacked and occupied by U.S. mercenaries and U.S. troops.

It's harder to think about that, than it is to sympathize with giant blue computer-animated creatures. But it's extremely important that you take the step to explicitly admit to yourself what you've just watched in this movie, and that you take the additional step of doing something about it.

You don't have to ride a dragon or shoot an arrow, but you do have to call this number 202-224-3121 and ask to speak with your representative in the U.S. House of Representatives and tell them that their career will be over if they vote another dime to pay for the evil depicted in "Avatar."

Tell them that investing your money in education, transportation, energy, or infrastructure produces many more jobs than investing it in killing. Tell them that diplomacy and aid work better than bombs, and that we do not need unobtainium, which is called that for a reason, although we know it as "oil".

Call every day until you get the right answer, and report your daily progress at "

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Seasons greetings: The Christmas Truce, Have a Peaceful Christmas and New Year

John McCutcheon tells a Christmas tale and sings his great song The Christmas Truce.
We hear this one at our just concluded Winter Solstice concert every year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Corporations Are Persons, Gitmo Detainees Aren't. Welcome To Our Brave New World.

I find this almost unbelievable!

Crooks and Liars: "If any of your loved ones are serving abroad, you might be interested to know the Obama administration, by virtue of SCOTUS's refusal of the case, just got the Supreme Court's blessing to torture. Obviously, other countries will follow our lead:"

"The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., had ruled that government officials were immune from suit because at that time it was unclear whether abusing prisoners at Guantanamo was illegal.

Channeling their predecessors in the George W. Bush administration, Obama Justice Department lawyers argued in this case that there is no constitutional right not to be tortured or otherwise abused in a U.S. prison abroad.

The Obama administration had asked the court not to hear the case. By agreeing, the court let stand an earlier opinion by the D.C. Circuit Court, which found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – a statute that applies by its terms to all "persons" – did not apply to detainees at Guantanamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law.

The lower court also dismissed the detainees’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Geneva Conventions, finding defendants immune on the basis that "torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants."

Finally, the circuit court found that, even if torture and religious abuse were illegal, defendants were immune under the Constitution because they could not have reasonably known that detainees at Guantanamo had any constitutional rights.

The circuit court ruled that "torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants."

Eric Lewis, lead attorney for the detainees, said, "It is an awful day for the rule of law and common decency when the Supreme Court lets stand such an inhuman decision. The final word on whether these men had a right not to be tortured or a right to practice their religion free from abuse is that they did not."

"The lower court found that torture is all in a days’ work for the secretary of defense and senior generals," he added. "That violates the president’s stated policy, our treaty obligations, and universal legal norms. Yet the Obama administration, in its rush to protect executive power, lost its moral compass and persuaded the Supreme Court to avoid a central moral challenge. Today our standing in the world has suffered a further great loss."

Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney Shayana Kadidal, co-counsel on the case, told IPS, "In many ways the opinion the Supreme Court left standing today is worse when one gets past the bottom line – no accountability for torture and religious abuse – and digs into the legal reasoning."

"One set of claims are dismissed because torture is said to be a foreseeable consequence of military detention," he said. "How will the parents of our troops captured in future foreign wars react to that?"

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Obama Fails to escape the Bush Legacy of a War on Terror: Lets the Pentagon lead instead of Interpol

Informed Comment:
Juan Cole's insight on Obamas Peace Prize speech:

Obama, Peace and War

"If it is true that the Nobel committee awarded President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize for not being George W. Bush, they must have been dismayed to discover that Bush's war on terror remained the framework for Obama's acceptance speech.

It was a great speech, with its references to Gandhi and King and its emphasis on human rights and economic justice. It was not a speech Bush could or would have given.

But Obama ultimately failed to escape the pull of the GWOT. Accountability is demanded of others but not of the US. No high official will be prosecuted for war crimes in Iraq.

The fringe terrorist group al-Qaeda is depicted as a challenge for the Pentagon, not the Interpol. Then Afghan insurgents are equated to al-Qaeda. Iran, which has no nuclear weapons program, is equated with North Korea.

Obama implied that peaceful conflict resolution is preferable, but that challenges do arise that require a military resolution. But he has unwittingly stacked the deck in favor if the military-industrial complex by adopting Bushian rhetoric at key junctures--speaking of enemies as 'evil,' militarizing the response to terrorism, and asserting false equivalences that help make war seem inevitable.

Obama has yet to decide whether he is a visionary or a technocrat. The prize committee hoped for the former. In this speech they got the latter."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

- Making the TransAfghanistan Pipeline Safe for Democracy

McCamy Taylor's Journal - Making the TransAfghanistan Pipeline Safe for Democracy

I don’t pretend to know why President Obama is so determined to escalate the war in Afghanistan, the country that drove the Soviet Union into bankruptcy. Maybe he covets the executive privilege that goes with being a war time president. Maybe he is courting the center and center-right in anticipation of the 2012 election. Maybe he does not want to bring too many troops home all at once for fear of worsening the economic recession at home. Maybe he is scared of being called a waffler a flip flopper or some other unpleasant name if he goes back on his word. Maybe he is afraid that terrorists will attack the mainland U.S. again and he will be blamed for ending one of Bush’s foreign wars too soon. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

The only thing I know for certain is that the troops will not be back home until after 2014. That is when the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline is scheduled to be operational.

The Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline is the reason the Taliban rose to power. In the mid 1990s, Unocol began plans for an oil and a gas pipeline that would run from the Caspian Sea, through Afghanistan and Pakistan and finally to India. You know, the country where they are sending all our jobs. Unocol and the CIA helped to put the Taliban in power, thinking that the new regime would permit them to build the pipeline.

Intelligence "whistleblower" Julie Sirrs claimed that anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Shah Massoud told her he had "proof that Unocal had provided money that helped the Taliban take Kabul "
And French journalist Richard Labeviere said, referring to the later 1990s, "The CIA and Unocal's security forces ... provided military weapons and instructors to several Taleban militias.

Afghanistan is not another Vietnam, It is another Afghanistan - Obama Leads the Empire to Tragedy

By Scott Weinstein
December 1, 2009

President Obama’s intensification of the Afghanistan war announced tonight, showed the few of us who protested Bush's rush to war in 2001, that they are the same. Like a Shakespearean tragedy, Obama’s web of lies and aggrandizement destroys his promise of “change we can believe in”.

Since the 2001 U.S. invasion, a few hundred Al Quaeda, a thousand allied troops, a few thousand Taliban and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed by the war. This begs the question: Why is the U.S., Canada and NATO occupying Afghanistan?

The first Obama lie

The U.S. must prevent a safe haven for Al Quaeda.

Al Quaeda is a small loose network that comprises a few hundred people in the Afghanistan / Pakistan. If they are as amorphous and flexible as the western intelligence says they are, Al Quaeda has essentially disappeared from the war region and moved elsewhere.

If Al Quaeda is staying in the region, it is not because it is the only place to launch attacks on the west, but because they want to fight the invaders.

The 9-11 hijackers did not come from Afghanistan or even Pakistan. Most of them came from Saudi Arabia, via Germany, Arizona and other un-targeted places.

9-11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, captured in 2002, will face trial in New York. The U.S. does not know where Osama Bin Laden resides.

The Second Obama lie

The Taliban, who are Al Quaeda’s ally, must be defeated.

The Taliban are not Al Quaeda allies, but are fundamentalist Afghan nationalists. Evolved from the U.S.-backed anti-Soviet mujahideen, they allied with Al Quaeda in the 1990’s out of convenience. Bin Laden gave them a lot of money, and they rented him land and some security. The Taliban even came to the U.S. to discuss a joint gas pipeline deal. The Al Quaeda came to the U.S… well you get the difference.

Now the Taliban are not fighting for Al Quaeda, they are fighting the U.S., Canadian and the NATO invaders. Just as they and other Afghans successfully routed the Soviet invaders, their grandparents successfully fought the British occupation earlier in 1919. Previously, Afghans defeated the Macedonians, the Safavid Persians, and the Romans invaders.

Vietnam only kicked out two empires. The Afghans have expelled many.

The third Obama lie

We must fix the current government control Al Quaeda and the Taliban.

Afghanistan’s Karzai government is a coalition of warlords, drug-lords and other corrupt men with different priorities and interests - not a unified noble national mission.

Malalia Joya is a brave Afghan woman elected to parliament, and then expelled from parliament and hunted by the current government. Joya puts the situation in stark perspective: the current US/Canadian-backed Afghan government is no better for the Afghan people than the Taliban.

Joya explained in Montreal November 24, “We are fighting against occupation. We are fighting against warlords, and the Taliban. It is easier to fight against one enemy than two. So we need your help to end the occupation.”

Democracy, women's rights and opium-war off the table

At least give Obama some credit for dropping some of Bush’s propaganda.

The U.S./NATO operations have killed thousands more women and children than Americans died in the 9-11 attacks. We read about wedding parties mistakenly targeted by U.S. drones and NATO fighter jets, but thousands of refugees have died of exposure and starvation in the cold mountains fleeing U.S. bombing campaigns.

Women’s rights have literally taken a beating under the Karzai government warlords. Women have been raped, beaten, tortured and killed - just as under the Taliban. The Karzai government enacted a repressive Sharia law while the Western governments continued to arm and fund them. Today, girls are forbidden to attend school in most of Afghanistan.

Why are we fighting in Afghanistan?

John Foster is an energy economist and author of "Afghanistan and the new great game: Prized pipeline route could explain West's stubborn interest in poor, remote land.” Foster writes, “Afghanistan is a strategic piece of real estate in the geopolitical struggle for power and dominance in the region”.

The military industrial complex benefits from war. It primes the defense contractor’s pump, employs a massive amount of political and human capital, and helps the capitalist system control priorities.

By Obama’s calculation, this unpopular war costing more lives, 30,000 more troops, many more years, and tens of billions of dollars yearly is not too high a price for the empire, yet.

However, our opposition can drive the political cost up rapidly, and end the Afghanistan tragedy sooner.
Thanks to Scott Camil for this letter

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The big lie of Afghanistan | Malalai Joy, Afghan parliment member speaks against occupation

The big lie of Afghanistan | Malalai Joya |

"My country hasn't been liberated: it's still under the warlords' control, and NATO occupation only reinforces their power"

My country hasn't been liberated: it's still under the warlords' control, and Nato occupation only reinforces their power

"In 2005, I was the youngest person elected to the new Afghan parliament. Women like me, running for office, were held up as an example of how the war in Afghanistan had liberated women. But this democracy was a facade, and the so-called liberation a big lie.

On behalf of the long-suffering people of my country, I offer my heartfelt condolences to all in the UK who have lost their loved ones on the soil of Afghanistan. We share the grief of the mothers, fathers, wives, sons and daughters of the fallen. It is my view that these British casualties, like the many thousands of Afghan civilian dead, are victims of the unjust policies that the Nato countries have pursued under the leadership of the US government.

Almost eight years after the Taliban regime was toppled, our hopes for a truly democratic and independent Afghanistan have been betrayed by the continued domination of fundamentalists and by a brutal occupation that ultimately serves only American strategic interests in the region.

You must understand that the government headed by Hamid Karzai is full of warlords and extremists who are brothers in creed of the Taliban. Many of these men committed terrible crimes against the Afghan people during the civil war of the 1990s.

For expressing my views I have been expelled from my seat in parliament, and I have survived numerous assassination attempts. The fact that I was kicked out of office while brutal warlords enjoyed immunity from prosecution for their crimes should tell you all you need to know about the "democracy" backed by Nato troops.

In the constitution it forbids those guilty of war crimes from running for high office. Yet Karzai has named two notorious warlords, Fahim and Khalili, as his running mates for the upcoming presidential election. Under the shadow of warlordism, corruption and occupation, this vote will have no legitimacy, and once again it seems the real choice will be made behind closed doors in the White House. As we say in Afghanistan, "the same donkey with a new saddle".

So far, Obama has pursued the same policy as Bush in Afghanistan. Sending more troops and expanding the war into Pakistan will only add fuel to the fire. Like many other Afghans, I risked my life during the dark years of Taliban rule to teach at underground schools for girls. Today the situation of women is as bad as ever. Victims of abuse and rape find no justice because the judiciary is dominated by fundamentalists. A growing number of women, seeing no way out of the suffering in their lives, have taken to suicide by self-immolation.

This week, US vice-president Joe Biden asserted that "more loss of life [is] inevitable" in Afghanistan, and that the ongoing occupation is in the "national interests" of both the US and the UK.

I have a different message to the people of Britain. I don't believe it is in your interests to see more young people sent off to war, and to have more of your taxpayers' money going to fund an occupation that keeps a gang of corrupt warlords and drug lords in power in Kabul."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Cost of War - Cost benefit Analysis on Afghanistan by Robert Greenwald

Do we need to occupy an entire country for 100 bad guys? -Robert Greenwald... - Democratic Underground

I hate the term Cost benefit analysis because it always means someone or something dies so someone can make some money but Greenwald applies it effectively here: Jobs versus War and where do we spend our money.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Is there a pattern of suspicious deaths among women soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Family says Fort Lewis soldier was murdered (killed execution-style) - Democratic Underground: "Source: AP

Here is the latest report. Look below for an article by Col Ann Wright on a disturbing pattern of suspicious deaths among women servicce ,e,bers,, especially minority women.

TACOMA, Wash. -- The family of a Fort Lewis soldier who died in a non-combat shooting in Iraq says she was killed execution-style, with a bullet in the back of the head.

The mother of Staff Sgt. Amy Tirador of Colonie, N.Y., told The News Tribune of Tacoma it was not an accident or a suicide.

The Army says it is still investigating the Nov. 4 death at a military base in Kirkush. Tirador was an Arabic-speaking interrogator with the 209th Military Intelligence Company.

Her mother, Colleen Murphy, says she has enlisted the support of Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, to help find the person responsible for the shooting.

Read more:"


U.S. Military Is Keeping Secrets About Female Soldiers' 'Suicides'
By Col. Ann Wright, Truthdig. Posted September 10, 2008.

Our soldiers' families deserve better than that.

Since I posted on April 28 the article "Is There an Army Cover Up of the Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers," the deaths of two more U.S. Army women in Iraq and Afghanistan have been listed as suicides -- the Sept. 28, 2007, death of 30-year-old Spc. Ciara Durkin and the Feb. 22, 2008, death of 25-year-old Spc. Keisha Morgan. Both "suicides" are disputed by the families of the women.

Since April 2008, five more U.S. military women have died in Iraq -- three in noncombat-related incidents. Ninety-nine U.S., six British and one Ukrainian military women and 13 U.S. female civilians have been killed in Iraq, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as probably hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women and girls. Of the 99 U.S. military women, 64 were in the Army active component, nine in the Army National Guard, seven in the Army Reserve, seven in the Marine Corps, nine in the Navy and three in the Air Force. According to the Department of Defense, 41 of the 99 U.S. military women who have been killed in Iraq died in "noncombat-related incidents." Of the 99 U.S. military women killed in the Iraq theater, 41 were women of color (21 African-Americans, 16 Latinas, three of Asian-Pacific descent and one Native American).

Fourteen U.S. military women, including five in the Army, one in the Army National Guard, two in the Army Reserves, three in the Air Force, two in the Navy (on ships supporting U.S. forces in Afghanistan) and one in the Marine Corps, one British military woman and six U.S. civilian women have been killed in Afghanistan. According to the Department of Defense, four U.S. military women in Afghanistan died in noncombat-related incidents, including one now classified as a suicide. Four military women of color (three African-Americans and one Latina) have been killed in Afghanistan.

The deaths of 14 U.S. military (13 Army and one Navy) women and one British military woman who served in Iraq, Kuwait or Afghanistan have been classified as suicides.

Two Army women in Iraq (Pfc. Hannah Gunterman McKinney, a victim of vehicular homicide, and Pfc. Kamisha Block, who was shot five times by a fellow soldier who then killed himself) and two Navy women in Bahrain (MASN Anamarie Camacho and MASN Genesia Gresham, both shot by a male sailor who then shot, but did not kill, himself) have died at the hands of fellow military personnel.

Several more military women have died with unexplained "noncombat" gunshot wounds (U.S. Army Sgt. Melissa Valles, July 9, 2003: gunshot to the abdomen; Marine Lance Cpl. Juana Arellano, April 8, 2006: gunshot wound to the head while in a "defensive position"). Most of the deaths of women who have died of noncombat gunshot wounds have been classified as suicides, rather than homicides.

The Army, the only military service to release annual figures on suicides, reported that 115 soldiers committed suicide in 2007. According to Army figures, 32 soldiers committed suicide in Iraq and four in Afghanistan. Of the 115 Army suicides, 93 were in the Regular Army and 22 were in the Army National Guard or Reserves. The report lists five Army women as having committed suicide in 2007. Young, white, unmarried junior enlisted troops were the most likely to commit suicide, according to the report.

From 2003 until August 2008, the deaths of 13 Army women and one Navy woman in Iraq and Afghanistan (including Kuwait and Bahrain) have been classified as suicides (numbers confirmed with various media sources):

2008 -- Spc. Keisha Morgan (Taji, Iraq)
2007 -- Spc. Ciara Durkin (Bagram, Afghanistan), Capt. (medical doctor) Roselle Hoffmaster (Kirkik, Iraq)
2006 -- Pfc. Tina Priest (Taji, Iraq), Pfc. Amy Duerkson (Taji, Iraq), Sgt. Denise Lannaman (Kuwait), Sgt. Jeannette Dunn (Taji, Iraq), Maj. Gloria Davis (Baghdad).
2005 -- Pvt. Lavena Johnson (Balad, Iraq), 1st Lt. Debra Banaszak (Kuwait), USN MA1 Jennifer Valdivia (Bahrain)
2004 -- Sgt. Gina Sparks (it is unclear where in Iraq she was injured, but she died in the Fort Polk, La., hospital)
2003 -- Spc. Alyssa Peterson (Tal Afar, Iraq), Sgt. Melissa Valles (Balad, Iraq)
The demographics of those Army women who allegedly committed suicide are as intriguing as the circumstances of their deaths:

-- Seven of the women, being between the ages of 30 and 47, were older than the norm (Davis, 47; Lannaman, 46; Dunn, 44; Banaszak, 35; Hoffmaster, 32; Sparks, 32; and Durkin, 30). (Most military suicides are in their 20s).
-- Three were officers: a major (Davis), a captain and medical doctor (Hoffmaster) and a first lieutenant (Banaszak).
-- Five were noncommissioned officers (Lannaman, Dunn, Sparks, Valles and Valdivia).
-- Five were women of color (Morgan, Davis, Johnson, Lannaman, Valles).
-- Four were from units based at Fort Hood, Texas, and were found dead at Camp Taji, Iraq (Dunn, Priest, Duerkson, and Morgan).
-- Two were found dead at Camp Taji, Iraq, 11 days apart (Priest and Duerkson).
-- Two were found dead at Balad, Iraq (Johnson and Valles).
-- Two had been raped (Priest, 11 days prior to her death; Duerksen, during basic training).
-- One other was probably raped (Johnson, the night she died).
-- Two were lesbians (Lannaman and Durkin).
-- Two of the women were allegedly involved in bribes or shakedowns of contractors (Lannaman and Davis).
-- Two had children (Davis and Banaszak).
-- Three had expressed concerns about improprieties or irregularities in their commands (Durkin's concerns were financial; Davis had given a seven-page deposition on contracting irregularities in Iraq the day before she died; Peterson was concerned about methods of interrogation of Iraqi prisoners).
-- Several had been in touch with their families within days of their deaths and had not expressed feelings of depression (Morgan, Durkin, Davis, Priest, Johnson).

- snip -

The families of slain soldiers deserve the truth about how they served and how they died. A professional military should handle each case with utmost care and concern. Tragically, in the past seven years, too many families have been faced with unanswered questions and a military bureaucracy that closes ranks against those who are trying to find answers.

I appeal to those in our military who know how these women died to come forward. Hopefully, the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Susan Davis, (202) 225-2040, will hold hearings on military suicides in the next two months and provide protection from retaliation for those willing to testify.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cost of War Unquestioned while 45,000 Americans die a year from lack of Health Care because it Costs Too Much

FDL Action » FDL Statement on Senate Combined Health Care Bill:
"The Federal Budget is a Moral Document. Our Government Just failed its Morality Test Again!

"According to a study by the Harvard Medical School, nearly 45,000 people die in the United States each year because they lack health insurance and can not get good care, and it is estimated that medical costs contribute to 62% of all bankruptcies. This is a callous decision that has an enormous cost in human lives and untold suffering.

Yet in the midst of quibbling about $90 billion a year for health care, the President just signed a one year $680 billion defense spending bill, which does not include the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This represents a serious problem with the priorities of those in government.

But while people struggling with crippling health care costs and pre-existing conditions may have to wait until 2014 for relief, states can begin opting out immediately."

"That means for the next four years, health care will become a partisan football at the state level, easily gamed by the same insurance company lobbyist dollars that flooded on to Capitol Hill this year. And just as 42 members of the House did the bidding of PhRMA and inserted language into the Congressional Record in support of their endless monopolies on biologic “drugs of the future,” the Senate bill followed suit and included the Anna Eshoo-written language which prevents generic versions of vital lifesaving drugs from ever coming to market.

Seventy-two percent of Americans believe it is important to give people the choice of a public option when forcing them to buy insurance. They do not trust insurance companies. A clear majority of the Senate agrees with them, and would willingly pass a bill with an unfettered public option. But Harry Reid has capitulated to lobbyist money and has allowed the Senate to be held hostage by Senators like Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson, who have each received over half a million dollars in campaign donations from insurance companies.

It is time to acknowledge that the Senate process is broken and undemocratic, and is working against the interests of the American people. It is too easily gamed by lobbyist money and has become unresponsive to the needs of small businesses struggling to pay for the health care costs of their employees at a time when unemployment is skyrocketing. The Senate filibuster — and the ability of any one Senator to hold the entire body hostage on behalf of lobbying interests — must come to an end.

If Harry Reid truly cares about fighting for the good of the country over the good of Wellpoint, he will immediately dispense with the opt-out and move to reconciliation and allow a majority in the Senate to deliver to Americans what they want and desperately need."

The Wages Of Endless War in Afghanistan: Our Tax Dollars at Work

f | The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan: "The Wages Of Endless War"

An Oxfam poll of 704 randomly selected Afghans reveals untold suffering-- 1 in 5 say they've been tortured, three quarters have been forced to leave their homes at some point in the endless civil war, 43% have had property destroyed. The survey also has what would seem to be some moderately encouraging findings regarding the counterinsurgency: 70% see unemployment and poverty as a key driver of civil war; 48% blame the government's weakness and corruption; 36% point to the Taliban; 25% to interference by neighboring countries; just 18% to the presence of international forces; another 18% to d al Qaeda-- and another 17% to the lack of support from the international community. After 30 years of civil war, only 3% named the current conflict as the most harmful period (though the report cautions that areas where the current fighting is worst are underrepresented).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Another Lesson about Fort Hood on Race, Religion and Heroism

The Other Lesson Of Fort Hood, Ctd - The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan
A story from Afghanistan that warns us not to stereotype our fellow Americans.

"I spent the better part of last year deployed to Afghanistan, where I was stationed at Bagram. Part of my job, actually the most important part, was to coordinate the transfer of my unit's fallen back home. This was something that I never, ever looked forward to, but it was a duty I took very seriously. Part of this duty was a departure ceremony as our fallen left Afghanistan for Dover. I don't think you can ever realize how powerful these ceremonies are until you've taken part in one.

At Bagram, all personnel not performing an essential task would line up on the main drive through Bagram. As the open backed HUMMV carrying the flagged draped transfer case slowly proceeded from the mortuary down the main drive to the airfield, everyone would come to attention and render a salute. There would be thousands of people, soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, lined up as for this. The fallen hero would be taken on to the tarmac and driven to an empty C-17 that had its ramp lowered, waiting to receive the transfer case. An honor guard and a cordon, as well as hundreds of servicemen and women, would be silently standing at attention as an honor guard carried the remains to the center of the aircraft. Whenever possible I would arrange for the honor guard and cordon to come from the fallen's team or platoon. Always, always, always, they wanted to be the ones to perform this service.

The last fallen hero ramp ceremony I put together still stings in my memory.

Ramadan had just ended, it was the first few weeks of autumn. A few kilometers from our base one of our police mentoring teams (PMT) was almost attacked by a vehicle bourne improvised explosive device (VBIED). I say almost as the attack was thwarted by one of our HUMMV drivers who took evasive action. Unfortunately, this resulted in the rollover of the HUMMV which caused the death of the driver. I was at the mortuary when the MEDEVAC helicopter brought this young man's broken body in to be prepared for the journey home.

The rest of his team were brought to Bagram as well. They were very adamant that they be the ones to escort the fallen brother to the C17. Although dirty and disheveled from their encounter, I agreed as I am certain their brother would have had it no other way. To a man, they wanted me to know one essential fact about him: he was Muslim. They insisted that he be sent home with a Muslim cleric presiding. We had one at Bagram, a major who was an Islamic chaplain - in fact I had dinner with this man just a few nights prior. We were able to grant the PMT's request.

I do not have the words to adequately describe the emotion in the night air on the tarmac. Under a crescent moon the fallen hero was carried onto the C17 by his team brothers, followed by the honor guard, the Commanding General and Command Sergeant Major of the 101st Airborne, and of course the Muslim chaplain."

U.S.: Army Sends Infant to Protective Services, Mom to Afghanistan // Current

U.S.: Army Sends Infant to Protective Services, Mom to Afghanistan // Current

VENTURA, California, Nov 13 (IPS) - U.S. Army Specialist Alexis Hutchinson, a single mother, is being threatened with a military court-martial if she does not agree to deploy to Afghanistan, despite having been told she would be granted extra time to find someone to care for her 11-month-old son while she is overseas.

Hutchinson, of Oakland, California, is currently being confined at Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah, Georgia, after being arrested. Her son was placed into a county foster care system.

Hutchinson has been threatened with a court martial if she does not agree to deploy to Afghanistan on Sunday, Nov. 15. She has been attempting to find someone to take care of her child, Kamani, while she is deployed overseas, but to no avail.

According to the family care plan of the U.S. Army, Hutchinson was allowed to fly to California and leave her son with her mother, Angelique Hughes of Oakland.

However, after a week of caring for the child, Hughes realised she was unable to care for Kamani along with her other duties of caring for a daughter with special needs, her ailing mother, and an ailing sister.

In late October, Angelique Hughes told Hutchinson and her commander that she would be unable to care for Kamani after all. The Army then gave Hutchinson an extension of time to allow her to find someone else to care for Kamani. Meanwhile, Hughes brought Kamani back to Georgia to be with his mother.

However, only a few days before Hutchinson's original deployment date, she was told by the Army she would not get the time extension after all, and would have to deploy, despite not having found anyone to care for her child.

Faced with this choice, Hutchinson chose not to show up for her plane to Afghanistan. The military arrested her and placed her child in the county foster care system.

Currently, Hutchinson is scheduled to fly to Afghanistan on Sunday for a special court martial, where she then faces up to one year in jail.

Hutchinson's civilian lawyer, Rai Sue Sussman, told IPS, "The core issue is that they are asking her to make an inhumane choice. She did not have a complete family care plan, meaning she did not find someone to provide long-term care for her child. She's required to have a complete family care plan, and was told she'd have an extension, but then they changed it on her."

Asked why she believes the military revoked Hutchinson's extension, Sussman responded, "I think they didn't believe her that she was unable to find someone to care for her infant. They think she's just trying to get out of her deployment. But she's just trying to find someone she can trust to take care of her baby."

Hutchinson's mother has flown to Georgia to retrieve the baby, but is overwhelmed and does not feel able to provide long-term care for the child.

According to Sussman, the soldier needs more time to find someone to care for her infant, but does not as yet have friends or family able to do so.

Sussman says Hutchinson told her, "It is outrageous that they would deploy a single mother without a complete and current family care plan. I would like to find someone I trust who can take care of my son, but I cannot force my family to do this. They are dealing with their own health issues."

Sussman told IPS that the Army's JAG attorney, Captain Ed Whitford, "told me they thought her chain of command thought she was trying to get out of her deployment by using her child as an excuse." '

Major Gallagher, of Hutchinson's unit, also told Sussman that he did not believe it was a real family crisis, and that Hutchinson's "mother should have been able to take care of the baby".

In addition, according to Sussman, a First Sergeant Gephart "told me he thought she [Hutchinson] was pulling her family care plan stuff to get out of her deployment".

"To me it sounds completely bogus," Sussman told IPS, "I think what they are actually going to do is have her spend her year deployment in Afghanistan, then court martial her back here upon her return. This would do irreparable harm to her child. I think they are doing this to punish her, because they think she is lying."

Sussman explained that she believes the best possible outcome is for the Army to either give Hutchinson the extension they had said she would receive so that she can find someone to care for her infant, or barring this, to simply discharge her so she can take care of her child.

Nevertheless, Hutchinson is simply asking for the time extension to complete her family care plan, and not to be discharged.

"I'm outraged by this," Sussman told IPS, "I've never gone to the media with a military client, but this situation is just completely over the top."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cost of War: Blackwater Said to Approve $1 Million in Iraqi Bribes After Shootings - And remember that our taxes!

Blackwater Said to Approve $1 Million in Iraqi Bribes After Shootings -

"WASHINGTON — Top executives at Blackwater Worldwide authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials.

Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests over the deadly shootings in Nisour Square stoked long-simmering anger inside Iraq about reckless practices by the security company’s employees. American and Iraqi investigators had already concluded that the shootings were unjustified, top Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater’s ouster from the country, and company officials feared that Blackwater might be refused an operating license it would need to retain its contracts with the State Department and private clients, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Four former executives said in interviews that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater’s president, had approved the bribes and that the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where the company maintains an operations hub, to a top manager in Iraq. The executives, though, said they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of the potential recipients."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Military Spending comes in last in job creation Right Behind Tax Cuts. Education is #1 followed by Health Care and Infrastructure Rebuilding

McCamy Taylor's Journal - Books, Not Bombs: How Military Spending Hurts the Economy and Education Spending Helps: "In their 2007 paper, The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities, Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier study the effects of war spending versus other types of federal spending on the economy, particularly on jobs. They compare spending on education, health care, mass transit, home improvement construction, tax cuts and the military to see how they rate in terms of job production and overall economic benefit using the input-output method of Leontief. Their conclusions may surprise you.

Of the six types of spending considered, only tax cuts do a worse job of creating jobs than military spending. Education spending is the best bet for your money if you want to increase the number of people making a real living wage. Spend more on health care, mass transit and home improvement and you will create jobs that do not pay as well as in the education sector----but they still generate more money for the economy than the relatively small number of high paying defense jobs and the service industry minimum wage jobs that you get with tax cuts.

Here is the study cited:

Quotes in support of these ideas include Thomas Paine and Alan Greenspan

Tom Paine

Speaking about patriots and military spending, once upon a time, back when the Founders of Our Country were battling King George and Great Britain, they understood the real use of war spending. Rather than protecting the people, it was meant to enslave them. In The Rights of Man Thomas Paine asks why the nations of Europe did not follow through with a proposal to end war made by Henry IV of France. He concludes:

"Whatever is the cause of taxes to a Nation, becomes also the means of revenue to Government. Every war terminates with an addition of taxes, and consequently with an addition of revenue; and in any event of war, in the manner they are now commenced and concluded, the power and interest of Governments are increased. War, therefore, from its productiveness, as it easily furnishes the pretence of necessity for taxes and appointments to places and offices, becomes a principal part of the system of old Governments; and to establish any mode to abolish war, however advantageous it might be to Nations, would be to take from such Government the most lucrative of its branches. The frivolous matters upon which war is made, show the disposition and avidity of Governments to uphold the system of war, and betray the motives upon which they act."

Alan Greenspan

"Alan Greenspan understands the importance of education spending to help the economy grow. Here is his speech to the Federal Reserve Board in 2000.

Certainly, if we are to remain preeminent in transforming knowledge into economic value, the U.S. system of higher education must remain the world's leader in generating scientific and technological breakthroughs and in preparing workers to meet the evolving demands for skilled labor. With two-thirds of our high school graduates now enrolling in college and an increasing proportion of adult workers seeking opportunities for retooling, our institutions of higher learning increasingly bear an important responsibility for ensuring that our society is prepared for the demands of rapid economic change. Equally critical to our investment in human capital is the quality of education in our elementary and secondary schools. As you know, the results of international comparisons of student achievement in mathematics and science, which indicated that performance of U.S. twelfth-grade students fell short of their peers in other countries, heightened the debate about the quality of education below the college level. To be sure, substantial reforms in math and science education have been under way for some time, and I am encouraged that policymakers, educators, and the business community recognize the significant contribution that a stronger elementary and secondary education system will make in boosting the potential productivity of new generations of workers. I hope that we will see that the efforts to date have paid off in raising the achievement of U.S. students when the results of the 1998-99 international comparisons for eighth graders are published."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma Holding up Veterans benefits Bill

Here is the Senators contact information in case you want to write or call:
Washington, D.C. Office:
172 Russell Senate Office Building,
District of Columbia 20510-3602
Phone: (202) 224-5754
Fax: (202) 224-6008

Thirteen major military and veterans groups have joined forces to try to force one senator — Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma — to release a hold that he has placed on a major veterans benefits bill.

Coburn has been identified by Senate aides as the lawmaker preventing consideration of S 1963, the Veterans’ Caregiver and Omnibus Health Benefits Act of 2009, by using an informal but legal practice of putting a hold on a bill.

Coburn’s staff did not respond to questions, but Senate aides said the first-term senator has expressed concern about creating new and unfunded benefits and wants the opportunity to amend the measure.

One of Coburn’s suggestions is to divert money from unspent economic and job stimulus programs to cover costs of new benefits for veterans and their families, according to sources who have discussed the issue with Coburn’s staff.

So far, at least, Senate leaders don’t want to let Coburn offer any amendments because of the precedent that would set to delay other legislation. Actual funding for benefits traditionally is handled separately from the bills that authorize the benefits, Senate aides said.

Earlier this fall, Coburn placed holds on S 252, the Veterans Health Care Authorization Act of 2009, and S 728, the Veterans’ Insurance and Benefits Enhancement Act of 2009, which led to the introduction of S 1963, which combines key provisions of the two earlier bills in an effort to get around Coburn’s opposition.

In a letter sent Monday night to the Senate majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the 13 military and veterans groups ask the Senate to get on with it.

“It is essential that Congress act on this comprehensive measure without further delay,” the letter reads. “Thousands of disabled veterans with serious medical conditions and the family members who care for them are counting on this additional support.”

The letter says passing the bill by Veterans Day would be a “fitting way” to honor veterans.

Those signing the letter include the nation’s major veterans groups — The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AmVets, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Blinded Veterans Association, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Jewish War Veterans, plus the Military Officers Association of America, National Military Family Association and Wounded Warrior Project.

Steve Robertson, legislative director for The American Legion, said delaying the bill hurts families caring for severely wounded combat veterans who would benefit from the stipends, health care, counseling and respite care that would be provided to caregivers in the bill.

“For a lot of family caregivers, delay is costing them their jobs and their savings. It’s having a big impact,” he said.

Robertson said he has spoken to Coburn’s staff about the earlier holds on S 252 and S. 728, but the conversation was fairly one-sided, with Coburn’s aides trying to get Robertson to dissuade veterans from flooding the senator’s office with calls.

“They made it clear that Sen. Coburn sees this as using his rights as a senator to place a hold on a bill, and that he was not doing anything illegal or wrong,” Robertson said. “I agree with that, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense to hold up a bill that would do a lot of good things for veterans that has cleared a committee and is ready for a vote.”

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate assistant majority leader, mentioned Coburn’s hold in a Tuesday floor speech without citing Coburn by name, saying that the bill was being held up by one senator over cost.

“How much is a veteran’s life worth?” Durbin asked, adding that he hopes the hold is lifted.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jon Stewart Hosts Nonviolent Palestinian, Jewish Partners for Peace: Video

Unedited Video posted below . The on air video was edited to eliminate the criticism of US media silence on this issue. Are we seeing a crack in our own Media Iron Curtain? Thanks to Jon and his producers are in order. There was pressure on the show to not air this at all.

interview pt 1

interview-pt 2

these comments from an eyewitness MOndweiss: "The interview ran nearly 15 minutes and it was clear it would have to be edited down to air it. The full interview is posted above, and it is well worth watching the whole thing. Right off the bat it was clear this would be a historic moment:

Baltzer: "We’re part of a large movement of Palestinian and Jews working together. This is not new or novel."

Barghouti: "Jewish Americans have been in the avant garde struggling for justice, in this country at least, and for democracy and in this particular case it is just normal that people like Anna are with us because we are struggling for liberty, we’re struggling for freedom, we’re struggling for justice."

Then, as Dr. Barghouti said that Palestinians have been subjected to a system of segregation, the man with slicked back hair sitting directly in front of me pulled a Joe Wilson and yelled "Liar!" (it’s at 1:49 of the first part of the interview).

Dr. Barghouti was unfazed and explained his reason for working with Anna – "It’s just natural to have an alliance of people who believe in the same values." He returned to this theme of values several times and applause grew every time. He finally made it clear what the Palestinians are calling for – equal rights.

Over the next few minutes he mentioned the names of leaders in whose footsteps he’s following – Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. With each passing mention the trio in front of me squirmed in their seats, and most of the rest of the audience grew more excited.

I think Stewart did a reasonable job with the interview. Although the version that ran on air made it look like he dominated the conversation, in fact he gave the speakers plenty of time to make their points. When he gave them the obligatory question on Israel’s security, Baltzer hit it out of the park:

There is nothing defensive about denying Palestinians water. There is nothing defensive about preventing people from having materials to build their homes. So many of the institutions that I understood to be defensive cannot be justified by security anymore. Building a wall between Palestinians and Palestinians?

This was too much for "Slick" in front of me to take, and he burst out again. You can hear him in the background at 7:47 of the first clip. He was escorted from the studio at 8:11 where he was belittled by Stewart ("Bye sir, you can, uh, certainly visit our sedar"). The crowd laughed and cheered as he was led away, and his faux fur clad friend was truly perplexed both by what Baltzer was saying ("Why is she saying that? What is she saying?"), as well as the crowd’s overwhelming support for the speakers.

I don’t want to recount the whole interview, you can watch it. I have to say, I was blown away. Although I was laughing out loud for the first two segments, I was on the verge of tears throughout the interview. Here was a Palestinian leader demanding equal rights and an anti-Zionist Jew calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel towards peace on The Daily Show and they were being applauded, while the traditional pro-Israel hasbara was being shown the door.

Palestinian equal rights was placed directly next to health care and the economy on The Daily Show’s progressive agenda and the audience was totally along for the ride. I could hardly believe my eyes, and yet it made perfect sense at the same time. Who can argue that it is necessary to deny people water? Who can argue against equal rights? The answer is increasingly no one, and if The Daily Show’s audience is any indication, the next generation will be leading this fight in a much different direction."
Unedited Video posted below these comments form an eyewitness. The on air video was edited to eliminate the criticism of US media silence on this issue. Are we seeing a crackin our own Media Iron Curtain? Thanks to Jon are in order. There was pressure on the show to not air this at all.

Eyewitness MOndweiss: "The interview ran nearly 15 minutes and it was clear it would have to be edited down to air it. The full interview is posted above, and it is well worth watching the whole thing. Right off the bat it was clear this would be a historic moment:

Baltzer: "We’re part of a large movement of Palestinian and Jews working together. This is not new or novel."

Barghouti: "Jewish Americans have been in the avant garde struggling for justice, in this country at least, and for democracy and in this particular case it is just normal that people like Anna are with us because we are struggling for liberty, we’re struggling for freedom, we’re struggling for justice."

Then, as Dr. Barghouti said that Palestinians have been subjected to a system of segregation, the man with slicked back hair sitting directly in front of me pulled a Joe Wilson and yelled "Liar!" (it’s at 1:49 of the first part of the interview).

Dr. Barghouti was unfazed and explained his reason for working with Anna – "It’s just natural to have an alliance of people who believe in the same values." He returned to this theme of values several times and applause grew every time. He finally made it clear what the Palestinians are calling for – equal rights.

Over the next few minutes he mentioned the names of leaders in whose footsteps he’s following – Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. With each passing mention the trio in front of me squirmed in their seats, and most of the rest of the audience grew more excited.

I think Stewart did a reasonable job with the interview. Although the version that ran on air made it look like he dominated the conversation, in fact he gave the speakers plenty of time to make their points. When he gave them the obligatory question on Israel’s security, Baltzer hit it out of the park:

There is nothing defensive about denying Palestinians water. There is nothing defensive about preventing people from having materials to build their homes. So many of the institutions that I understood to be defensive cannot be justified by security anymore. Building a wall between Palestinians and Palestinians?

This was too much for "Slick" in front of me to take, and he burst out again. You can hear him in the background at 7:47 of the first clip. He was escorted from the studio at 8:11 where he was belittled by Stewart ("Bye sir, you can, uh, certainly visit our sedar"). The crowd laughed and cheered as he was led away, and his faux fur clad friend was truly perplexed both by what Baltzer was saying ("Why is she saying that? What is she saying?"), as well as the crowd’s overwhelming support for the speakers.

I don’t want to recount the whole interview, you can watch it. I have to say, I was blown away. Although I was laughing out loud for the first two segments, I was on the verge of tears throughout the interview. Here was a Palestinian leader demanding equal rights and an anti-Zionist Jew calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel towards peace on The Daily Show and they were being applauded, while the traditional pro-Israel hasbara was being shown the door.

Palestinian equal rights was placed directly next to health care and the economy on The Daily Show’s progressive agenda and the audience was totally along for the ride. I could hardly believe my eyes, and yet it made perfect sense at the same time. Who can argue that it is necessary to deny people water? Who can argue against equal rights? The answer is increasingly no one, and if The Daily Show’s audience is any indication, the next generation will be leading this fight in a much different direction."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Former Marine Resigns from State Department to protest Afghan occupation

First US Official Resigns Over Afghan War; Says "It's Not Worth The Fight" | Crooks and Liars

I'm so glad someone who has been there has finally said it:

(I)n a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, (former Marine Corps Captain Matthew) Hoh, 36, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency.

"I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department's head of personnel. "I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."

The reaction to Hoh's letter was immediate. Senior U.S. officials, concerned that they would lose an outstanding officer and perhaps gain a prominent critic, appealed to him to stay.

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry brought him to Kabul and offered him a job on his senior embassy staff. Hoh declined. From there, he was flown home for a face-to-face meeting with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer," Holbrooke said in an interview. "We all thought that given how serious his letter was, how much commitment there was, and his prior track record, we should pay close attention to him."

While he did not share Hoh's view that the war "wasn't worth the fight," Holbrooke said, "I agreed with much of his analysis." He asked Hoh to join his team in Washington, saying that "if he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of the war on lives and treasure," why not be "inside the building, rather than outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won't have the same political impact?"

Hoh is quick to say he's not some hippie peace-nik. Sigh. Why does he make that sound like a bad thing? But Hoh does feel that our presence does nothing but escalate violence and turmoil with the Afghans.

(M)any Afghans, he wrote in his resignation letter, are fighting the United States largely because its troops are there -- a growing military presence in villages and valleys where outsiders, including other Afghans, are not welcome and where the corrupt, U.S.-backed national government is rejected. While the Taliban is a malign presence, and Pakistan-based al-Qaeda needs to be confronted, he said, the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war.

As the White House deliberates over whether to deploy more troops, Hoh said he decided to speak out publicly because "I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, 'Listen, I don't think this is right.' "

"I realize what I'm getting into . . . what people are going to say about me," he said. "I never thought I would be doing this."

The New Atlanticist, a foreign policy blog, looks at it from a different POV: While Obama Dithers...

Now, as it happens, I think Hoh's analysis of the situation is spot-on:

Hoh's doubts increased with Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election, marked by low turnout and widespread fraud. He concluded, he said in his resignation letter, that the war "has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency."

With "multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups," he wrote, the insurgency "is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and Nato presence in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified."

American families, he said at the end of the letter, "must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can be made any more.

While I don't appreciate the adoption of Cheney's framing--Obama isn't dithering, he's considering carefully his options--James Joyner has a point. Obama pushed Afghanistan as the "good war" and the reverberations of Hoh's resignation do appear to have leadership scrambling.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The US Doing Diplomacy instead of War? Here are some details

Secret Talks Progress on Illegal Iranian Nuclear Plant - TIME: "The backroom talks began in June, when Iranian officials told the International Atomic Energy Agency their country was running out of fuel for an aging research reactor built for the Shah in 1967 by American technicians. Iran sought the IAEA's help in buying more of the specially manufactured plates of enriched uranium used in the reactor to produce isotopes for cancer treatment, X-rays and insecticides. The IAEA, in turn, discussed the request with the U.S. (See pictures of Iran's presidential election and its turbulent aftermath.)

'We very quickly saw an opening here,' says a senior Administration official involved in the multiparty negotiations that ensued, speaking on condition of anonymity. The U.S. realized it could arrange for the manufacture of the specialized plates from an unorthodox source: the stash of low-enriched uranium Iran has produced in violation of U.N. Security Council demands at its massive Natanz uranium-enrichment plant over the past several years. The U.S., Israel and others had estimated that the Iranian stockpile was enough — if Iran kicked out inspectors and repurposed its enrichment facilities to enrich uranium to weapons grade — to produce material for a single atom bomb. So, the idea that Iran might agree to send most of it abroad to be turned into harmless plates for the research reactor"

What followed was a careful set of high-level negotiations between Iran, the IAEA, Russia, France and the U.S. to iron out details. In mid-September, Obama called the head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei to inform him that the U.S. was willing to do the deal. ElBaradei then contacted the Iranian representative at the IAEA, who said he would have to check with his government, the senior Administration official says. Eventually the Iranians contacted ElBaradei to signal a willingness to deal.

The Americans wanted to make sure the Iranians weren't going to pull a fast one and persuade the Russians to get the material for the research-reactor fuel from a source other than Iran's own stockpile. When President Obama met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in New York City at the U.N. General Assembly in late September, he pressed the Russian to "confirm at the level of the President that this whole deal hinged on it being Iran providing the fuel," says the senior Administration official. The official says Medvedev agreed.

Obama then had a further phone conversation with ElBaradei late in September to confirm the details of the deal, which was finally announced at the Oct. 1 Geneva talks between Iran and the key Western powers, Russia and China. At those talks, U.S. negotiator, William Burns, had a one-on-one conversation with his Iranian counterpart to confirm the amount of uranium involved in the deal, and they agreed to the Oct. 19 meeting to determine details of the transfer.

Despite the top-level diplomatic work, U.S. officials were not particularly optimistic ahead of Monday's meeting in Vienna. After years of failed talks they were prepared for stalling by Iran or a breakdown over details. Sunday's suicide bombing that killed some senior Revolutionary Guards officers, and which many in Tehran blame on a U.S. covert program to destabilize the regime through support for separatist groups, could cast a shadow over the nuclear talks. But both sides have reasons to seek progress: if the deal were to go forward, the U.S. would have succeeded in securing most of Iran's existing stockpile against weaponization. Iran, for its part, could see the deal as legitimizing their enrichment of uranium in violation of U.N. demands. In the best case, officials said, sealing details of the reactor agreement would raise a hope of further progress — which is more than there has been in some time.

A view of Afghanistan and Obama from across the pond

YouTube - George Galloway debates Afghanistan with Dr Williams,advisor to Obama

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Army recruiting goals actually down from 07-08 - Standards lowered

The Army says it exceeded its 2009 recruiting goals. But the numbers are very fishy. - By Fred Kaplan - Slate Magazine: "The Pentagon boasted this week that the U.S. armed forces have exceeded their recruitment goals for this year. Some officials attributed the success to high unemployment in the civilian job market, others to a spurt in civic-mindedness.

Whatever the theory, many reporters assumed the numbers mean that more young men and women are joining the military."

In fact, however, fewer people joined the Army this year than last year. The Army exceeded its recruitment goals not because recruitment went up but rather because recruitment goals were lowered.

The Army is the service that has been having the hardest time finding new recruits in recent years, in part because it has borne the heaviest burden—and suffered by far the most casualties—in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

According to the Pentagon's report, the Army's goal for fiscal year 2009 was to sign 65,000 new recruits. It actually signed 70,045—amounting to 8 percent more than the target.

But the picture is less bright than it seems. Though the Pentagon's report doesn't mention this fact, in each of the previous two years, the Army's recruitment goal was 80,000—much higher than this year's. The Army met those targets, but only by drastically lowering its standards—accepting more applicants who'd dropped out of high school or flunked the military's aptitude test.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Foreign Policy And Health Care: a Poet's Perspective

Foreign Policy In Focus | Poem, 'Dear Legislators'

Dear legislators in Capitol City, sweating in stone buildings this Session,
searching for cash and coins for clinics and coronary bypass machines,
for bandages and bedpans, searching inside books and briefs and file
cabinets. Surely you've looked everywhere, but what do I know? I'm just
a poet with my papers and pens, just a professor with my satchel and silly
books, just a former nurse from Canada with my starched cap and soft-soled
shoes. Have you checked the bills coming in for aircraft carriers and chemicals
for our bases in Colombia and Cuba, for gas masks and guns for our soldiers
in Greece, Kyrgyzstan, and Paraguay, for tanks and tracer bullets in Thailand,
and São Tomé e Principe? Have you asked why we're still buying barbed wire
and bayonets for our battalions in Bahrain and Britain? Or claymore mines
and missiles for our military in the Marianas and the United Arab Emirates?
What about the cost of nuclear intelligence for our navy in Norway and the
Netherlands? Or artillery for our armed forces in Egypt, Ecuador and Ethiopia,
in Japan, Djibouti, and Jordan, in Panama and in Puerto Rico, Spain and Saudi
Arabia, in Poland, Liberia and Italy? Can we talk about foreclosing the bases?
Funding defibrillators instead for families in Florida and Delaware. Buying syringes
and scalpels and stethoscopes for clinic staff in South Dakota and Colorado.
Pacemakers for elders with arrhythmia in Alabama and Alaska. Bicycles
and jogging institutes for Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa. Treadmill machines
and touring nutritionists for Utah, Texas, and Kentucky. But what do I know,
I'm just a poet with my papers and pens, just a person wondering why we're
buying bullets with our billions instead of seeking care for our millions

Note: "The United States spends approximately $250 billion annually to maintain troops, equipment, fleets and bases overseas…865 bases operate outside the United States." — Anita Dancs, "Cost of Global U.S. Military Presence," Foreign Policy in Focus, Washington, D.C. July 3, 2009.

Frances Payne Adler is the author of 5 books of poetry, including 'The Making of a Matriot' (Red Hen Press, 2003), and is one of three co-editors of 'Fire and Ink: An Anthology of Social Action Writing' (University of Arizona Press, 2009). Her collaborative poetry-photography books and exhibitions about access to health care have shown in state capitol buildings and in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C. Adler is a professor of creative writing at California State University Monterey Bay, and founder of their Creative Writing and Social Action Program. In her earlier years, Adler was an emergency room nurse in Montreal.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

US Health Care Costs a 9/11 Every Three & a Half Weeks

The Seminal » A 9/11 Every Three and a Half Weeks

The latest peer-reviewed estimate of deaths due to to lack of health insurance is 45,000 per year.

That’s one 9/11 every three and a half weeks.

And that’s almost certainly an underestimate, since it doesn’t include deaths precipitated by underinsurance.

In the days and weeks following 9/11 did any legislator insist that we bring the perpetrators of that slaughter to justice, but only if we do it in a deficit-neutral fashion?


And Al Qaeda was only emulating three and a half weeks’ worth of our corrupt health care system.

I don’t want to hear another word about the impact of health care reform on the federal budget. We have enough models on how rational nations work this out. (I won’t say more, because that’ll bring me back to the public option’s inadequacies….)

Enough about who’s going to pay for it. One 9/11’s worth of human souls pay for the lack of it every three and a half weeks.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Orlando protest targeting defense contractors October 17th

Peace protesters targeting defense contractors -- "EAST ORANGE -- - Peace activists from throughout the state plan to descend on East Orange in mid-October for rallies against defense contractors that have branches at the Central Florida Research Park near the University of Central Florida.

A coalition of more than 30 groups under the Florida Peace Congress will hold two days of protest against four companies that they call 'corporate war profiteers' because of their multibillion-dollar defense contracts with the U.S. government, said Jeff Nall, an organizer from Palm Beach. The companies are Boeing, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon.

The first rally, mostly a warm-up for local peace advocates, will take place Oct. 14, starting at 12 p.m. in front of the UCF Student Union. The statewide rally will be Oct. 17, starting at 12 p.m. at the southeast corner of Alafaya Boulevard and University Boulevard."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

McCrystal requests 500,000 troops for 5 years in Afghanistan

Robert Naiman: McChrystal's "Ground Truth": Need Half a Million Boots on the Ground:

Andrea Mitchell reports: "with the leaks that have come, most likely from the military, about the troop strengths and all this, you have to really wonder, what would people expect? The numbers are really pretty horrifying. What they say, embedded in this report by McChrystal, is they would need 500,000 troops - boots on the ground - and five years to do the job. No one expects that the Afghan Army could step up to that. Are we gonna put even half that of U.S. troops there, and NATO forces? No way."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

VFP Chapter 14 tables at Crosby Stills and Nash Concert

Stephen Hunter

It was a beautiful day in St. Augustine for a concert under a canopied amphitheatre.
Bill Warrick (left) and myself, Stephen Hunter (right), represented the Gainesville, FL chapter of Veterans For Peace. We were joined by two members from the Central Florida chapter, Tom Santoni and Terry Buckenmeyer (center), both St. Augustine residents.
In the CS&N contract it states that local VFP members be provided with a table and chairs to hand out free literature about VFP and our activities. As stated in our charter, we must remain unbiased in our presentations.
Along with VFP, the Autism Speaks group, promoting autism awareness and Donate Life, an organization promoting organ donations were represented. The band is devoted to supporting these organizations.
Bill and I arrived in the parking lot at the exact same time as the St. Augustine members. (There was a little grumbling about being charged to park...) We pooled our resources and carried all our materials to the gate. We were met by a helpful attendant who was expecting us. It was just minutes before we gained entry and were led to our table. We hung the banners and placed a sign, set up the table with our literature and waited, watching what was happening in the pre-concert atmosphere as masses of fans (mostly aging ex-hippies like ourselves) were gathering at the gates.
In our bundle of materials brought were gifts for the band, T-shirts reading "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam" a book Lions of Medina and a CD on "Winter Soldier II." We contacted the "guy in charge" again and told him we had things for the band. Graham Nash's son, Will, came to see us and received the gifts for his dad and the rest of the band. We had hoped that the band might come out to see us, but to our (mild) disappointment, they did not. It is understandable that they can't just walk around in a huge crowd of fans.
Our table was just a few yards from the arena and we could hear all of the concert. We took turns going in to watch. With a triple encore, it was a good time for us all to the very end.
We encountered a lot of interest about our organization. Many who stopped by had family or friends, either in the military or thinking about joining. We handed out "Enlistment Guides" explaining the truth about recruiting and what to expect from the military, the VA and other organizations concerned with the welfare of our men and women in uniform.
Some people told us stories of people they knew and how they have been treated. One school teacher from a St. Augustine high school requested a stack of "Enlistment Guides" to hand to her students. A lot of people asked questions and took literature from the St. Augustine representatives. Their chapter may be getting new aapplications for membership. Overall, I think VFP was well received.
We want to thank Crosby, Stills and Nash for supporting our efforts to promote peace.

Why I threw the shoe | And Why We at VFP Stand Against the Occupation of Iraq

Why I threw the shoe | Muntazer al-Zaidi | The Guardian:
This is for me the heart of why I participate in Vets For Peace.

"I am free. But my country is still a prisoner of war. There has been a lot of talk about the action and about the person who took it, and about the hero and the heroic act, and the symbol and the symbolic act. But, simply, I answer: what compelled me to act is the injustice that befell my people, and how the occupation wanted to humiliate my homeland by putting it under its boot.

Over recent years, more than a million martyrs have fallen by the bullets of the occupation and Iraq is now filled with more than five million orphans, a million widows and hundreds of thousands of maimed. Many millions are homeless inside and outside the country.

We used to be a nation in which the Arab would share with the Turkman and the Kurd and the Assyrian and the Sabean and the Yazid his daily bread. And the Shia would pray with the Sunni in one.

Our patience and our solidarity did not make us forget the oppression. But the invasion divided brother from brother, neighbor from neighbor. It turned our homes into funeral tents."...

"As soon as I finished my professional duties in reporting the daily tragedies, while I washed away the remains of the debris of the ruined Iraqi houses, or the blood that stained my clothes, I would clench my teeth and make a pledge to our victims, a pledge of vengeance.

The opportunity came, and I took it...

When I threw the shoe in the face of the criminal, George Bush, I wanted to express my rejection of his lies, his occupation of my country, my rejection of his killing my people. My rejection of his plundering the wealth of my country, and destroying its infrastructure. And casting out its sons into a diaspora."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Juan Cole on Afghan - nam and the End of Western Colonialism in Asia

Informed Comment
Some excerpts from Juan Cole's analysis on Afghanistan. Whole article is linked above.

"Obama ... rejected any analogy between Vietnam and Afghanistan: “You have to learn lessons from history. On the other hand, each historical moment is different. You never step into the same river twice. And so Afghanistan is not Vietnam.” Obama may be the first American president to quote pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus."...

"the process of decolonization after WW II, while it unfolded differently in different colonies/ countries, did have some common or at least widespread characteristics. One of the reasons the Project for a New American Century and the Bush administration failed in their attempt to reinvent 19th-century empire in the 21st century is that peoples of the global south are now politically and socially mobilized en masse in a way they were not in 1850. Some 15,000 British troops could no longer hope to hold all of India. In some important respects, "Vietnam" partook of characteristics of decolonization and one could compare it to Algeria, e.g."...

"On Wednesday morning, MSNBC's "Morning Joe" had as a guest Jamie Rubin, an adjunct professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia U., and a "kitchen" adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the president (also husband of CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour). Rubin also took up cudgels against the Vietnam analogy.
"I think that Vietnam is a terribly debilitating analogy for our country. Every time something is difficult, we say, oh, it's Vietnam."...

Afghanistan and Vietnam have nothing to do with each other. The whole world is on our side in Afghanistan; the whole world was clearly not on our side in Vietnam."...

Here is Juan Cole's answer to Professor Rubin:

Afghanistan differs from Iraq in the following respects:

1) The Pashtuns from whom the anti-government forces derive are some 44% of the population, not a 20% or less minority the way the Sunnis of Iraq are. While most Pashtuns still reject the guerrillas, so did most Sunni Arabs reject the extremist guerrillas; the latter still controlled significant swathes of Sunni Iraq. The Taliban and kindred groups are a significant presence everywhere there are large Pashtun populations.

2) The Tajik and Hazara militias have largely been demobilized and are not available for deployment against the Taliban and other fundamentalist groups. The pro-Kabul Pashtuns typically do not have militias.

3) The pro-Karzai Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazara Shiites and Uzbeks that form the ruling clique are not united, and the government they dominate is extremely weak and poverty-stricken (the GDP in international currency [not purchasing power parity] is only about $9 bn a year, and the government budget is a little over $1 bn.). Iraq has something close to $70 bn. in reserves from oil sales. The Afghan government controls only 30% of the country. The country is resource-poor and there is no prospect of it having a proper tax base for a competent bureaucracy and army any time soon.

4) The Pashtun plurality is backed by the enormous Sunni country of Pakistan, whereas the pro-Kabul Pashtuns have no regional foreign patron to speak of; Iran generally supports the Tajiks and Hazaras, but it is hard to discern that they have pumped very significant resources into the country. In essence, Washington's regional ally, Pakistan, is ambivalent about the Tajik/Hazara/Uzbek takeover of Kabul and not close to Karzai's faction of Pashtuns.

5) In the aftermath of the recent election, probably a majority of Afghans and of Pashtuns sees the Karzai government as corrupt and illegitimate.

6) The Afghan army has faced extreme difficulties in training and expansion. Some 90% of the troops are illiterate, which limits how much they can be trained and even their ability to read street signs when they are sent into an unfamiliar city. (Iraq's literacy rate is 76%). Many Afghan troops lack discipline and some proportion regularly use recreational drugs during work hours. There is no evidence of any great esprit de corps or attachment to the Karzai government, in contrast to the Iraqi army's willingness to fight for PM Nuri al-Maliki and his ruling coalition.

7) US troops have proven unable to disarm the Taliban, Hizb-i Islam, or the Haqqani group. The number of fighters attached to these guerrilla groups has grown from 3,000 a few years ago to 15,000- 20,000 today. They are local, know the terrain, and receive patronage and support from Pashtun tribes who resent the foreign troop presence.

8) Pashtuns are not for the most part secularists, and a combination of religious and nationalist rhetoric such as is deployed by old-time guerrilla leader Gulbadin Hikmatyar and his "Islamic Party" has a great deal of appeal to them. Although the Taliban are only thought well of by 5% of Afghans in polls, that is probably 10% of Pashtuns. And many of the guerrilla groups opposing Karzai are not properly called Taliban (Pashtuns in Kunar Province are not thinking of Islamic Party when they denounce Taliban). Virtually no Pashtuns, who are a plurality of the country and the largest single ethnic group, want US or NATO troops in their country.

So Afghanistan is not very much like Iraq (there are other differences, as in the organization of the tribes), and if Rubin advises H. Clinton and Obama to depend on a "surge" plus a "Sons of Afghanistan" artificial militia policy, I think that would be dangerous advice.

Afghanistan is more like Vietnam than Obama and Rubin suggest. And, it is becoming more like it all the time."...

"By the way, Mr. Rubin, we Americans don't call "anything that is hard" Vietnam. We don't call keeping up a space station "Vietnam" or getting universal health care "Vietnam." We invoke Vietnam against long, costly Asian land wars, the objectives of which are murky and the medium-term and long-term success of which is in significant doubt. And by these criteria, Afghanistan has "Vietnam" written all over it."