31 October 2006

Hasta La Vista

Peace Tree Farm has an excellent list of the candidates that we need to get rid of this time around.

Sympathy for the Devil

With a corporate-owned media and a corporate-sponsored government, it's little wonder that we get slates of laws putting forth a corporate agenda. But when the rightwing actually embraces such nonsense as part of their agenda, it's hard to know how to respond. A great example comes from Seeing the Forest via Cut to the Chase. The ballot initiative, that is supposedly designed to redress eminent domain issues, "makes an even greater mockery of property ownership than the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on eminent domain."

From Seeing the Forest: There is a law on the ballot in four states that says if I want to open a hog farm or a chemical plant next door to your house and you don't want me to do that, then YOU have to PAY ME not to -- you have to pay me ALL THE MONEY I MIGHT HAVE MADE.I am not kidding. This new law says that if you want to stop a corporation from dumping toxic waste into the river from which you get your drinking water, or stop them from venting dangerous chemicals into the air, then YOU have to PAY that company not to. I am NOT kidding!The far right says that a government stopping a company from dumping waste into a river is "taking" money from that company. I am not kidding. And you had better take this seriously or YOU will be PAYING companies to not harm you and your families.Along with EVERYTHING else going on in this election, the far right has managed to get stealth "takings" initiatives on the ballot in four states. In California it is Proposition 90. In Washington it is Initiative 933. In Idaho it is Proposition 2. In Arizona it is Proposition 207.

This is a "private property" and "takings" amendment disguised as a limit to "eminent domain." This means that it is supposed to be about keeping the government from seizing property so it can be used by commercial interests. But what this really does is prevent the states from ANY regulation of property, including ANY environmental regulations, ANY zoning laws, etc.These ballot initiatives are all funded by one person - a New York real estate tycoon named Howie Rich. And he did this through front groups - organizations disguised as something else. See if you can guess what he plans to do the day after these laws pass? (Hint -- think "hog farm next door to your house.")

26 October 2006

Plan 9 From Neoconia

Daily Kos gives us a glimpse into the dark and mysterious workings of the conservative mind:

When one considers the actual neocon rationale for invading Iraq, it comes as no wonder that the Neo-GOP tried to scare the bejessus out of us with ginned up tales of Saddam Hussein stealing into our hometowns at the next full moon and murdering us in our sleep with nerve gas or nukes. Because the real reason was beyond surreal. It sounds like a cheesy B-movie plot. The actual neocon 'Plan for Iraq' went something like this:

1) Bomb the daylights out of Iraq, 2000 pound JDAMS and cruise missiles, day and night, into heavily populated areas, utterly destroy the government at every level and eliminate key infrastructure, literally burn it to the underground bunkers.

2) Rumble north from Kuwait in multiple armored columns ten miles long tearing up the highways with tank treads micromanaged by Donald Rumsfeld while, 2a) spraying entire towns with heavy caliber depleted uranium rounds left and right along the way, and 2b) strafing anything that moves from the air.

3) Upon arrival in a now devastated Baghdad, suffering from power blackout and reeking to high heaven thanks to no water or sewer services -- not to mention homes, gutters, and waterways full of rotting bloated corpses -- detain or snuff every policemen and military member dumb enough to still be wearing a uniform, shoot the city full of gaping holes, crater the roadways. Drag terrified civilians, men, women, kids, out of their homes or cars at gunpoint, shackle them, and strip search them in broad daylight. Pack them off to Saddam's old prisons marked for further torture and depraved sexual humiliation.

4) Passively watch the city looted of what little of value remains by criminal elements without lifting a trigger-finger.

5) Start loading US oil tankers with Iraqi crude.

7) Send in college kids whose qualifications for rebuilding an entire nation bombed into the stone-age consists of phone banking for the GOP and opposing reproductive rights for women.

8) Here's where the real neocon genius kicks in ... The Iraqis are going to swoon with pro US gratitude. See? The lucky survivors will be so smitten with the American occupiers after this experience that they'll forget decades of dictatorship and propaganda, put aside centuries of ethnic and tribal conflict, and a millennium of hostility and resentment for the west ... and they'll spontaneously rise up, self organize, and peacefully model their government and culture after our own. See?

The rest of the religious nutcases and brutal Monarchs across the region will likewise be so helplessly enthralled with this sterling success, that they'll opt to abandon their despotic ways and go democratic too. Americans are loved from Pakistan to Libya. Ponies for all! See?
Uhh, yeah; how could that possibly fail?

Casualty Count

It looks like October 2006 will be one of the top 3 or 4 most fatal months since Shrub's War started. Thursday alone saw the announcement of 5 U.S. deaths.

23 October 2006

Jefferson & Henry on the Shrub Doctrine and the Thousand-year War Against Terror

The following quotes, taken from Glen Greenwald's blog, are worthy of extensive reflection:

Thomas Jefferson, in his letter to Thomas Paine, 1789. ME 7:408, Papers 15:269, said: "I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." And Patrick Henry warned us well in advance about Government officials who would seek to claim the right to imprison people without a trial:

Is the relinquishment of the trial by jury and the liberty of the press necessary for your liberty? Will the abandonment of your most sacred rights tend to the security of your liberty? Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessings--give us that precious jewel, and you may take everything else! ...Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.

In one sense, these observations are compelling because they define the core of what our country is supposed to be. But in another sense, they don't matter, because our Government is controlled by people and their followers who literally don't understand and, worse, simply do not believe in the defining values and principles of America. They know that this bill is a seizure of the most un-American powers imaginable, but their allegiance is to the acquisition of unlimited power and nothing else.

Lower pay, less baksheesh too

American politicos could take a few lessons from their Japanese counterparts. The new Japanese prime minister recently lowered his own salary by 30 per cent, and reduced the salaries of all cabinet members by 10 per cent.

While we're at it, why don't we pass a law forbidding all members of lawmakers families from working as lobbyists, and even more importantly, create another law forbidding all former government personnel from working for firms that subcontract for the U.S. government. (The law could simply state that the government is forbidden from accepting contracts from firms that employ its former workers.) This would help limit the culture of corruption--those people who quit their jobs as colonels or cabinet members to suddenly find lucrative employment as high-paid "consultants" (just why a retired cabinet member with no background in given industry is such a treasure trove of information and contacts I'll leave you to guess.)

18 October 2006

Jesus delayed

Cleveland.com: Voters should oust congressional Republican leaders because U.S. foreign policy is delaying the second coming of Jesus Christ, according to a evangelical preacher trying to influence closely contested political races. K.A. Paul railed against the war in Iraq on Sunday before a crowd of 1,000 at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, his first stop on what he hopes is a 30-city campaign. The Houston-based preacher said he believes that the Bush administration has delayed the second coming because U.S. foreign policy has blocked Christian missionaries from working in Iraq, Iran and Syria.

In a more positive move, the Bush administration, by pushing mankind into a spiritual dark-age, is hastening the birth of Maitreya Buddha (the Buddha of the future) on Earth. Buddhists have been seen outside the White House, gently shoving the protesting Christians aside in order to heap praises upon Bush for inadvertently leading us to a new age of compassion and wisdom.

Body-count rises

Seventy U.S. troops dead this month so far.

16 October 2006

Taliban stoop to a new low (or is it, a new high?)

What's a god-fearin' democratizing soldier supposed to do in the face of such obstacles? We learn today that the devious Taliban are using walls of marijuana to keep out Canadian troops. Maybe we could employ this clever strategem as a means of sealing off our southern border...

15 October 2006

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch

Bill O'Reilly tells the audience that he fears gains by progressives could mean "no more Christmas." Secular progressives, O'Reilly claims, want "No more Christmas, no pledge of allegiance to God. No more Christmas – 'this is pulling us down, because it's too judgmental.'"

I think someone's been watching too many reruns of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Not that there aren't a few real grinches to be found. Gracias to No Capital for the quote.

11 October 2006

Watch out for those chic chicks

This suggests a new form of birth control ==> Only sleep with women in drab clothing.

Women dress to impress when they are at their most fertile, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday in a study they say shows that signs of human ovulation may not be as mysterious as some scientists believe.

A study of young college women showed they frequently wore more fashionable or flashier clothing and jewelery when they were ovulating, as assessed by a panel of men and women looking at their photographs. "They tend to put on skirts instead of pants, show more skin and generally dress more fashionably," said Martie Haselton, a communication studies and psychology expert at the University of California Los Angeles who led the study.

War: What is it good for?

In Iraq, over a half-million more deaths than would have occurred had Shrub's War never taken place:

AP: In the new study, researchers attempt to calculate how many more Iraqis have died since March 2003 than one would expect without the war. Their conclusion, based on interviews of households and not a body count, is that about 600,000 died from violence, mostly gunfire. They also found a small increase in deaths from other causes like heart disease and cancer.

10 October 2006

Operational incompetence

Amidst the depressing news and views, I found the following smirkifying post over at Arms Control Wonk:

I close this discourse about operational confidence by noting that the United States has built a missile defense that does not work, to defend against a North Korean missile that does not work, that would carry a nuclear warhead that does not work.

This is all very postmodern.

All this incompetence converging at a single point in time. It's scary.

Signing Statements

The Congressional Research Service has issued an important report that is highly critical of Bush's attempt to expand Executive power via signing statements. The report concludes that these statements don't have any legal force and are therefore insignificant in terms of Constitionality:

Presidential signing statements have a long historical pedigree and there is no discernible constitutional or legal impediment to their issuance. While such statements have become increasingly common since the Reagan Administration and have increasingly been utilized by Presidents to raise constitutional or interpretive objections to congressional enactments, that increased usage does not render them unconstitutional. While the broad assertions of executive authority contained in these statements carry significant implications, both practical and constitutional, for the traditional relationship between the Executive Branch and Congress, they do not have legal force or effect, and have not been utilized to effect the formal nullification of
laws.


The report goes on to say that the statements are problematic in their intent--as a means of asserting broad Executive authority that the president does not have ex cathedra:

Instead, it appears that recent administrations, as made apparent by the voluminous challenges lodged by President George W. Bush, have employed these instruments in an attempt to leverage power and control away from Congress by establishing these broad assertions of authority as a constitutional norm. It can be argued that the appropriate focus of congressional concern should center not on the issuance of signing statements themselves, but on the broad assertions of presidential authority forwarded by Presidents and the substantive actions taken to establish that authority. Accordingly, a robust oversight regime focusing on substantive executive action, as opposed to the vague and generalized assertions of authority typical of
signing statements, might allow Congress in turn to more effectively assert its constitutional prerogatives and ensure compliance with its enactments.

9 October 2006

Columbus Day

We are again being asked to celebrate "Columbus Day" in celebration of the European "discovery" of the Americas. It's a bit like celebrating Hitler Day to celebrate Adolph's "discovery" of western Russia. What's even more amazing is that Columbus's little group, without the help of tanks or a modern bureacracy, actually managed to mount a genocide of almost modern proportions. I can't understand what element of the Columbus story Americans are choosing to identify with. This is, after all, the same man who planned a mass-murder against the very people who had swam out to his boats to greet him. He and his crew raped the young children and drove the natives to such despair with systematic torture, enslavement, and murder that the native people started killing their own children lest they suffer the same fate. In the spirit of the holiday, here's a quote from Zinn's excellent book:

Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island's beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:

"They... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned.... They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane.... They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."

These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.

Columbus wrote:

"As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts."

The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold? The Indians, Columbus reported, "are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone...." He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage "as much gold as they need . . . and as many slaves as they ask." He was full of religious talk: "Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities."

Because of Columbus's exaggerated report and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans' intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.

Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were "naked as the day they were born," they showed "no more embarrassment than animals." Columbus later wrote: "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."

But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.

Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.

When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island.

The chief source-and, on many matters the only source of information about what happened on the islands after Columbus came is Bartolome de las Casas, who, as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba. For a time he owned a plantation on which Indian slaves worked, but he gave that up and became a vehement critic of Spanish cruelty. In Book Two of his History of the Indies, Las Casas (who at first urged replacing Indians by black slaves, thinking they were stronger and would survive, but later relented when he saw the effects on blacks) tells about the treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards. It is a unique account and deserves to be quoted at length:

"Endless testimonies . . . prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives.... But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then.... The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians..."Las Casas tells how the Spaniards "grew more conceited every day" and after a while refused to walk any distance. They "rode the backs of Indians if they were in a hurry" or were carried on hammocks by Indians running in relays. "In this case they also had Indians carry large leaves to shade them from the sun and others to fan them with goose wings."

Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards "thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades." Las Casas tells how "two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys."

The Indians' attempts to defend themselves failed. And when they ran off into the hills they were found and killed. So, Las Casas reports. "they suffered and died in the mines and other labors in desperate silence, knowing not a soul in the world to whom they could turn for help." He describes their work in the mines:

"... mountains are stripped from top to bottom and bottom to top a thousand times; they dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on their backs to wash it in the rivers, while those who wash gold stay in the water all the time with their backs bent so constantly it breaks them; and when water invades the mines, the most arduous task of all is to dry the mines by scooping up pansful of water and throwing it up outside....

After each six or eight months' work in the mines, which was the time required of each crew to dig enough gold for melting, up to a third of the men died. While the men were sent many miles away to the mines, the wives remained to work the soil, forced into the excruciating job of digging and making thousands of hills for cassava plants.

Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides . . . they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation.... In this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . . . and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile ... was depopulated.... My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write...."

When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, "there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it...."

Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas. That beginning, when you read Las Casas--even if his figures are exaggerations (were there 3 million Indians to begin with, as he says, or less than a million, as some historians have calculated, or 8 million as others now believe?) is conquest, slavery, death. When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure--there is no bloodshed-and Columbus Day is a celebration.

The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks) the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they-the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court-represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there really is such a thing as "the United States," subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a "national interest" represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.

5 October 2006

Feeling terrisible

Sorry for the absence. The latest series of antics from the far right fringe--the legalization of concentration camps and the Foley follies in particular--have left me so over- and underwhelmed that I've temporarily lost my blogging mojo. And I lack a word to describe my mixed feeling of revulsion and hilarity. I need to coin a new term, something like "terrisible".

(On a completely unrelated note, why does the blogger spellcheck feature not know the word "blogging". You'd think...)