Friday, November 30, 2007

War is not healthy for children and other living beings

Photo of Iraqi children at play by way of the Situationist.

Hussein, with McClatchy News, writes from Baghdad:

Yesterday noon, an American squad from the United State Army (about ten to twelve) broke in Al-Mansour preparatory school for one reason or another. We don't have the right to ask them why they came to the school. The soldiers spread in different spots of the school walking towards the back yard which is used as a soccer field. Most of the students were in their classes when the squad came, but still there were many students in the yard who were terrified to see the American soldiers with their guns. One of the students was upset to see the soldiers and he threw a stone and hit one of them. Three soldiers surrounded him kicking him with their boots for some minutes on different parts of his body.

Later, a teacher of English said that the captain of the squad told him "next time if students throw stones, we will use our machine guns not the boots". I really hated myself hearing that news as I am a teacher myself. What shall I do if I were there? ... What excuses will I give for that incident? My brain stops thinking from now on.

Some U.S. commenters on the blog are indignant that the actions of U.S. soldiers should be presented in such a light -- others express sympathy with the rational, if misplaced, fear the soldiers must have been feeling.

Last spring Washington Post reporter Sudarsan Raghavan investigated the question: what is this war doing to Iraq's children?

... Abdul Muhsin started to focus on children only last year. Like many of the estimated 60 psychiatrists who remain in Iraq, he treated only adults before the invasion. Back then, he said, children with psychological problems were a rarity.

Inside his bare office at Ibn Rushed Psychiatric Hospital, where armed guards frisk patients at the entrance, he flipped through a thick ledger of patients. In the past six months, he has treated 280 children and teenagers for psychological problems, most ranging in age from 6 to 16. In his private clinic, he has seen more than 650 patients in the past year.

In a World Health Organization survey of 600 children ages 3 to 10 in Baghdad last year, 47 percent said they had been exposed to a major traumatic event over the past two years. Of this group, 14 percent showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In a second study of 1,090 adolescents in the northern city of Mosul, 30 percent showed symptoms of the disorder....

Many of the children Abdul Muhsin treats have witnessed killings. They have anxiety problems and suffer from depression. Some have recurring nightmares and wet their beds. Others have problems learning in school. ...

He and other child specialists say as many as 80 percent of traumatized children are never treated because of the stigma attached to such ailments.

"Our society refuses to go to psychiatrists," said Abdul Sattar Sahib, a pediatrician at Sadr General Hospital in Sadr City.

The Iraqi doctors fear that the violence the children have experienced will pervade Iraqi society for decades to come.

We know already that U.S. soldiers bring the mental agony of war home with them.

Veterans aged 20 through 24 ... had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age. (The suicide rate for non-veterans is 8.3 per 100,000, while the rate for veterans was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.)

CBS News,
November 13, 2007

Wondering ...

This woman was methodically circling the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park today, checking each rubbish bin for recyclable bottles that can be exchanged for tiny amounts of cash.

Was I seeing grinding poverty? Or was I seeing a person who makes a valued contribution to her family's welfare? Someone whose activity is a product of desperate need? Or a worker who pulls her weight to the best of her ability?

I have no way of knowing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas novelty

In honor of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, it seems appropriate to mention to this innovative Christmas gift item. The olive wood nativity scene, complete with separation wall, is available from the Amos Trust. They explain

A nativity set with a difference - this year the wise men won't get to the stable. ...poignant, ironic and made in Bethlehem.

The Amos Trust is a U.K.-based organization that describes itself as working for "justice and hope for the forgotten."

Why not to vote for Obama

They can't attack him as unqualified to be President because he's black. That wouldn't fly in contemporary U.S. political discourse. So they make him deny he's a Muslim.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A speak out against commercial hate

Members of the "Hate Hurts America" interfaith coalition held a press conference this morning outside Talk Radio KNEW 910. KNEW is the San Francisco home of hate radio host Michael Savage. Not surprisingly KNEW is an outlet of Clear Channel, the megaconglomerate that claims 110 million listeners to its radio stations.

Savage's program claims 8 million listeners. He has quite a history of vicious statements about Muslims. For example Media Matters reports this:

"[W]hen I see [Muslim extremists] hanging from lampposts, with their guts hanging out, then I'll believe that there's a difference between radical Islam and the rest of Islam over there. But if I don't see that -- if I don't see the massive uprising against them, I can only assume that they're the shock troops of all of Islam in the Middle East."

He doesn't much like lesbians, Democrats or Hillary Clinton either. Recently he took off on the Quran:

"What kind of religion is this? What kind of world are you living in when you let them in here with that throwback document in their hand, which is a book of hate. Don't tell me I need reeducation. They need deportation. I don't need reeducation. Deportation, not reeducation. ..."

That is, he's a jerk who peddles prejudice and fear for profit.

Hate Hurts America points out to advertisers that they may not want to be complicit in the hate business. Some big companies, including Office Max, JC Penney and Autozone, have responded, dropping ads on Savage's program.

Today's press conference organized by the Muslin civil rights organization CAIR, promoted an interfaith petition asking other advertisers to get out of hate mongering. Speakers included lots of San Francisco's activists, including representatives of the Lt. Watada Support Committee, the American Friends Service Committee and Gerardo Sandoval representing the city supervisors.

But by far the most interesting speaker was Rabbi Harry Manhoff of the San Francisco Board of Rabbis who took as his text the famous statement of the German pastor Martin Niemoller -- "They came for the Communists, and I didn't object - For I wasn't a Communist; ... They came for the Jews, and I didn't object - For I wasn't a Jew; Then they came for me - And there was no one left to object." He explained [my paraphrase] that he had begun to worry -- though he had preached against the Bush Administration's Iraq invasion and suspension of habeas corpus within his own congregation, he hadn't really stepped out into the public eye with his criticisms. He was afraid taking too strong a presence would be used to criticize "my beloved Israel." But the kind of venom encouraged by Savage had convinced him he must speak out and reach across expected chasms.

In the words of the petition:

Hate-filled words can and do lead to violent actions.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Big Coal -- and us

Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer, near Macon, is the largest single point source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Photo by Jeff Goodell. Natural History Magazine.

Do you suspect you ought to know more about how the United States contributes to the planet overheating? Reporter Jeff Goodell offers a heaping serving of understandable, if not palatable, explanation in Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future.

The author is a magazine feature writer and it shows. In the first sections of the book he puts a human face on the people who dig coal and who live with mining's byproducts, the people who transport the black rock, and the industry that profits from coal extraction and burning.

But this book is about more than explicating the problem -- and yes, our addiction to the energy provided by coal is a big problem. Goodell wrestles with a fundamental question: can a global capitalist society decide that the common good must prevail over the very engines of its wealth: individual greed and short-term profits?

On one level, he's confident it can be done. He proclaims:

We don't need to destroy our world, just reinvent it.

He finds hope for reinvention in what to U.S. sensibilities is an unlikely place -- among polluted China's rural developers. In that society, where living standards are on the rise despite labor and ecological horrors, he finds a "can do" spirit which encourages hope. (This tracks with the polling reported here.) And he's a hopeful guy because of his own background; having grown up in Northern California during the energy crunch and "malaise" of the late 1970s, he saw the rise of Silicon Valley as proof that the new futures could be imagined just when progress seemed to be hitting a wall.

But for all that, Big Coal emphasizes the entrenched power that coal interests and resource extraction barons wield to constrain our choices. He does not underestimate the obstacles to meaningful change, coming to this realization:

We hear it all the time: if we pass laws that limit CO2 emissions, the price of electricity will skyrocket and the economy will collapse! If we clean up dirty coal plants, the price of electricity will skyrocket and the economy will collapse! ...This is nothing new in America. ... the writer Ian Frazier observed, "Lincoln's great moment was saying 'I don't care if it is destructive. Slavery is wrong. 'You start with, 'Is it right or wrong?' Then you act on that judgment. You don't say, 'I'm not going to say it's wrong because it would be too impractical to undo.'"

Burning coal may not be the moral equivalent of slavery, but it is a moral question nevertheless.

One could quibble about whether Lincoln really treated slavery as the unequivocal moral evil we now so easily declare it to be. But it is worth noting that to imagine a solution to the climate crisis we face, Goodell has to shift the terrain of the discussion to a moral realm that the economic system in which we live explicitly and intentionally excludes from our social and scientific understanding of the world.

James Surowiecki who writes "The Financial Page" column in the New Yorker, similarly turned to a non-economic explanation of human behavior recently when writing about the writers' strike. He seems bemused:

Readiness to pay a price in order to enforce an idea of what is right is part of what keeps sides [in the labor dispute] from settling.... in labor relations, the bottom line isn't always the bottom line.

It takes a considerable mental shift to get that statement out of a conventional economist.

Goodell is almost certainly right that "goods" that can't be entirely calculated within capitalist economics will have to be the end of measures to preserve a livable planet. Tinkering at the edges of current practices with "cap and trade" emissions control markets isn't going to cut it. Big Coal loses if the planet wins. Can we, like the emerging Chinese, even imagine that we could demand and enforce an end to current destructive energy addictions?
Are we able to make the fight to get there?

Seeing is believing

Fires of hell? No. A factory in India where New York City manhole covers are made on contract for Consolidated Edison.

We don't usually get to see the labor on which our well-being rests. Kudos to J. Adam Huggins for this picture from today's New York Times.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Yesterday I met with a prospective local candidate. He's a good guy and would be wonderful to have in government. I was encouraging and even donated to his campaign. And I said to him what I say to all of them: to win office, you have to run with all your being -- and you have to understand that the qualities that make a good candidate are completely different than the qualities that make for a good officeholder.

I've previously described the quality candidates need as benign megalomania.

This morning I see that Mark Halperin. a senior political analyst for Time magazine and former ABC News Political Director, is saying something similar about our aspiring presidents:

Our two most recent presidents, both of whom I covered while they were governors seeking the White House. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are wildly talented politicians. Both claimed two presidential victories, in all four cases arguably as underdogs. Both could skillfully serve as the chief strategist for a presidential campaign.

But their success came not because they convinced the news media (and much of the public) that they would be the best president, but because they dominated the campaign narrative that portrayed them as the best candidate in a world-class political competition. In the end, both men were better presidential candidates than they were presidents.

Halperin is criticizing the news media, his own profession, himself, for practicing the horserace journalism that values political dexterity over policy substance. He might as well criticize our capitalist culture that has assured most of us that candidates are just marketable commodities and that holds campaigns to no higher ethical standards than it holds prescription drug commercials.

...These side effects may kill you, but isn't the background scenery lovely ... soft music fades...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Time to unsubscribe

Warning: This film shows a performance artist undergoing, for real, interrogation techniques permitted in the CIA handbook.

You won't like it.

You are being asked to sign on for Amnesty International UK's "unsubscribe" campaign:

We did not sign up. We do not approve. We unsubscribe.

Unite against terrorism. Unite against human rights abuses in the 'war on terror'.

Go ahead; do it. It is not a lot, but it is something.

Horror and hope

My friend Jane at Acts of Hope pointed me to Bill Moyers talking with theologian James Cone about the nooses coming out of our racist closets these days -- and the power of love and resistance. Here's a sample:

BILL MOYERS: I would have a hard time believing God is love if I were a black man. I mean, those bodies swinging on the tree. What was God? Where was God during the 400 years of slavery?

JAMES CONE: See, you are looking at it from the perspective of those who win. You have to see it from the - perspective of those who have no power. In fact, God is love because it's that power in your life that lets you know you can resist the definitions that other people are being-- placing on you. And you sort of say, sure, nobody knows the trouble I've seen. Nobody knows my sorrow. Sure, there is slavery. Sure, there is lynching, segregation.

But, glory, hallelujah. Now, that glory hallelujah is the fact that there is a humanity and a spirit that nobody can kill. And as long as you know that, you will resist.

I'm pretty much video proof, but this is a frank, truthful, joyful conversation not to be missed. Video and transcript here. Take the time to watch; you won't regret it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Flying while Muslim

Too dangerous to fly?

What it boils down to, says Dr. Waleed Meneese, the Imam of Daralfarooq mosque in Southeast Minneapolis, “is that the faith of 1.5 billion people is becoming a suspicious practice in America.”

Twin Cities Daily Planet,
November 22, 2006

The cancerously expanding Terrorist Security Center watch lists that underlie everyday U.S. airport security theater generate thousands of false stops and create inconvenience of hundreds of thousands of prospective passengers. But those experiences are innocuous compared with the harassment and humiliation that U.S. Muslims and others with Arabic names experience when crossing the border and boarding airplanes.

Southern California InFocus recently catalogued numerous incidents:
  • "I was returning from a trip to Dubai and Saudi Arabia," recalls [Dr. Monzer] Kahf, [a well-known Syrian-born consultant, trainer and lecturer in Islamic banking, finance and economics] who has been living in the United States for 37 years and became a U.S. citizen in 1980. "The customs officer told me I had too many stamps in Arabic on my passport." Kahf said he was detained for an hour and a half, questioned and eventually let go. Kahf also added that since then he has traveled overseas 24 times and on each and every trip he was stopped, detained and interrogated.

  • "Any time I leave the country, I'm usually stopped for at least an hour or two - the most was four hours," said [Shaikh Yassir Fazaga] an Eritrea-born soft-spoken imam. "I've gotten so used to it, that I actually prepare myself." When returning to the United States from Canada in July 2006, Fazaga, who is a U.S. citizen, arrived two hours before his flight and was given clearance to board the plane only to be pulled off later. He was then detained and questioned for close to three hours. Fazaga was not given a reason for his detention but was cleared and let go. "I missed my flight and had to wait an extra day to catch the next flight out of Calgary," Fazaga added.

  • On Dec. 16, 2004, Anaheim resident Bilal Dalati, 42, was coming back from a business trip with a 15-person delegation that included Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez and several elected officials. ... Then, something unexpected happened. "The minute I stepped off the plane, there were two officers waiting for me," Dalati said. "They took my passport, walked me to my luggage and then went through it piece by piece." Dalati, a U.S. citizen of 20 years, said he was pat-searched, had the contents of his pockets and wallet emptied and then asked odd questions. Dalati added that the officers subsequently photocopied all paperwork in his possession, and then he was let go.

Given the frequency of these incidents, it is good news that the six Muslim religious leaders who were yanked off a US Airways flight last year will be getting their day in court.

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected most defense arguments to dismiss a lawsuit filed by six Muslim imams who were arrested last November on a U.S. Airways jet in Minneapolis after passengers reported they were acting suspiciously.

The imams have said that three of the men in their party said their evening prayers in the airport terminal before boarding the plane, then entered the aircraft individually, except for one member who is blind and needed a guide. Once on the plane, the men did not sit together.

A passenger raised concerns about the imams through a note passed to a flight attendant. Also, witnesses reported that the imams made anti-American comments about the war in Iraq and that some asked for seat belt extensions even though a flight attendant thought they didn't need them.

U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery, in a 41-page opinion and order, said it is "dubious" that a reasonable person would conclude from those facts that the imams were about to interfere with the crew or aircraft. She said the plaintiffs had stated a plausible claim that Metropolitan Airports Commission officers violated their constitutional rights.

Associated Press,
November 21, 2007

How very conventional these citizens, these imams, are! They think they should have a constitutional right to pray, travel and hold opinions. Perhaps courts will agree. We can hope so.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Watch out: the watch list is growing

Today the New York Times reports that air travel has gone smoothly for most Thanksgiving travelers. The weather was good -- and prospective airline customers are getting well trained: many began the holiday a day early to avoid the crush.

So how's our "no fly list," our security theater system, doing? According to slew of recent reports on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and its parent Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), the system is still limping -- and regularly infringes on our expectation that we're innocent until we commit a crime and should expect to be allowed due process to clear our names. Nor does it make us safer.

For starters, the watch list continues to snare absurd victims. In addition to Congressmen and small children, even an airline pilot has a problem:

Captain Robert Campbell was a pilot for the US Navy in Vietnam. He recently retired from a 22-year career as an airline pilot.

And, yep, he's on the list...

"The fact is, I'm authorized by the TSA to fly the airplane and ride the jump seat on air carriers," he said. "But if I want to ride in the back, I'm on the No-Fly List."

Aero News Network,
November 6, 2007

The TSA says this sort of thing happens because people have names very like or identical to people who should be stopped from flying. At the present rate of growth, roughly 200,000 new names a year, pretty soon one million names will trigger special scrutiny. Not surprisingly,

..."It undermines the authority of the list," says Lisa Graves of the Center for National Security Studies. "There's just no rational, reasonable estimate that there's anywhere close to that many suspected terrorists."

Though the government wins breathless hype from student reporters for its Terrorist Screening Center which selects these names, the office of the Inspector General was less impressed when it examined a sample portion of the list:

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said its management by the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) "continues to have significant weaknesses," producing a high error rate and a slow response to complaints from citizens.

In an examination of 105 records, for example, the auditors found that 38 percent of the records contained errors or inconsistencies that the TSC's own quality-assurance efforts had not found. They also discovered that the TSC is operating two versions of the database in tandem without ensuring that their contents are identical, which they said could result in missed opportunities to identify terrorists. ...

The review found that nearly half the initial name matches against the watch list proved worthless, suggesting that the government should consider misidentifications a priority and develop policies to address them, Fine said.

Washington Post,
September 6, 2007

Security expert Bruce Scheier got a chance to explain the results of bad matches to TSA head Kip Hawley:

The main problem with the list is that it's secret. Who is on the list is secret. Why someone's on is secret. How someone can get off is secret. There's no accountability and there's no transparency. Of course this kind of thing induces paranoia. It's the sort of thing you read about in history books about East Germany and other police states.

Not everyone gives the government the benefit of the doubt about its list collecting. As reported in Travel Management,

First Amendment rights activist Edward Hasbrouck, working for The Identity Project, during the TSA meeting said that the "core of the proposed rule" is a requirement for "would-be air travelers to obtain permission from the government before they can travel." That, he said, infringes on freedoms of assembly of movement.

And all this mass of names and data the government is collecting isn't just used to hassle people who want to fly. The government uses it in multiple other contexts.

The State Department queries the list before issuing visas, customs and border agents use it to vet incoming travelers and a subset of the list is exported to airlines for their passenger rating systems. More than 800,000 local and state police can also query the database when they pull over a speeding car or run a detained person's name through their computer system.

Wired Security News

The ACLU warns that the TSC envisions additional uses:

There was considerable discussion in today's [Congressional] hearings on whether the watch list should be checked for anyone trying to purchase a firearm. One can imagine the watch list, once thought of as merely a "No-Fly List," being used increasingly as a screening method to determine eligibility for a wide array of privileges and rights. A move in this direction would make it a true blacklist, with hundreds of thousands of Americans wrongly denied full participation in society because of erroneous placement on the list.

This certainly seems possible if the powers-that-be feel the need for more coercive controls over some of their opponents. For the moment, most of us are not threatening enough to invoke such a response. And for the moment, we can and must still defend whatever political space we can make. But something cancerous and evil is growing among us, exemplified in those airport security checks.

Thanksgiving for hills and their critters

I don't celebrate often enough the wonderful land in which I live, the hilly trails where I run when my tired feet let me.

On the coast in the Marin Headlands (part of the Golden National Recreation Area) rocky coves hide where the mountains plunge into the sea.

Hawks -- many turkey vultures actually, but there are redtails too -- soar on the thermals looking for dinner.

This guy tries to blend in with an old asphalt road and almost succeeds.

A doe checks out the slow moving intruder.

While the gentleman of the family decides the runner can't possibly disturb their grazing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Who gets to vote?

New black voters, 1966.

Here's yet another case of politicians picking their voters rather than voters picking their politicians. This one is from Florida. Like every state under the federal H[elp] A[merica]V[ote]A[ct] (passed after the 2000 election debacle), Florida has had to clean up its voter rolls and create a statewide database of registrants.

Now a Florida newspaper's analysis shows that when new registration applications go through thestatewide level, somehow ten percent of potential voters get dropped. And there is a pattern to who gets filtered out:

More than 14,000 initially rejected — three-quarters of them minorities — didn't make it through that last set of [state] hoops.

Blacks were 6 1/2 times more likely than whites to be rejected at that step.

Hispanics were more than 7 times more likely to be failed.

Unaccepted but also not denied, they remain in limbo as "incomplete" or, often, sitting in Florida's new statewide voter registration system with no designation at all.

State law requires those "lost" voters to be notified; most contacted said they were unaware of the problem.

If Republican authorities have their way, a lot of jurisdictions are going to need a new civil rights movement.

In the early 90s I was part of a group of North Americans who shared their electoral experience with left parties in El Salvador. Our hosts shared a perfect description of this sort of barrier to public participation. They called it "strategic incompetence."

H/t TPM.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Depressing thought for a Monday morning.

A corner of an evaporating glacier, Kilimanjaro, 2002.

A Democrat on the Democrats:

The message from the world's science community is that humanity has seven years in which to abate the growth of carbon emissions. That is less than a two-term President's opportunity to lead. The next American President effectively will decide mankind's future relationship with the planet.

As of now, no Democratic candidate is making this necessary crusade the centerpiece of their campaign, and every Republican candidate in effect sub silentio supports the melting of the ice caps, drowning of Florida, flourishing of plague and pestilence, and sparking of global war over energy resources. In this latter respect if anything I underestimate the terrible policies advocated by the Republicans. They make the America Firsters of the years before Pearl Harbor look like globalists. The Democrats, however, have within their group no one who as yet is the fervent champion of what Al Gore has won the Peace Prize for.

Reed Hundt, TPM

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Happy Birthday St. John's:
We're 150 today!

Marshal Cousins photo.

The Bay Area Reporter, a publication that can be described as San Francisco's gay newspaper of record, shares the news:

Gay-friendly church celebrates 150 years

A San Francisco church that's been welcoming the LGBT community for more than three decades will celebrate its 150th anniversary this weekend.

The Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist has survived low membership, the 1906 earthquake, an arson fire in the 1970s, and an ever-evolving neighborhood. The church, which occupies a quiet, leafy corner of the Mission District, will host a special Eucharist, reception, and dinner Sunday, November 18.

You don't have to be Episcopalian to attend.

The church offers a "very loving, supportive community," said Kathy Veit, one of the church's lay leaders. The church provides "something people are looking for that can be elusive in a place like the San Francisco Bay Area, where people are too busy to work on relationships," she said.

Veit, who identifies as lesbian and was raised Roman Catholic, said before she became a member three years ago, it had been 25 years since she'd been to church. She said the Bay Area's transitory nature makes it hard for people to get to know each other, but church members do things for each other like taking meals to new parents, and helping elderly church members get to medical appointments.

According to the Reverend John Kirkley, the church's openly gay rector – the pastor of the parish – as many as 80 percent of the church's approximately 90 members are LGBT. Veit said about 60 percent of the church's members live within walking distance, which is close to the Castro District, Noe Valley, and the South of Market neighborhoods.

[There's much more ...]

The party is this evening. I intend to enjoy.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Terrors of the night
Chinese to show the way?

Glacier edge on Kilimanjaro in 2002; certainly long melted today.

When I was a child in the 50s, we sweated at night in fear of the Bomb. In the United Kingdom today

Half of children between the ages of seven and 11 are anxious about the effects of global warming and often lose sleep over it...

A survey of 1,150 youngsters found that one in four blamed politicians for the problems of climate change, while one in seven said their own parents were not doing enough to improve the environment.

The Scotsman

Now there is a cohort asking itself at a very young age, "Can it happen here?" They are not crazy; in fact they have a sensible, and aptly targeted, apprehension of risk:

From the high asthma rates in Massachusetts to malaria scaling Mount Kenya, sick children have become the first victims of rising temperatures and extreme weather.

Boston Globe

International polling reveals that the adults also get it. Interestingly Chinese citizens are among the most willing to pay for needed costs and lifestyle changes.

In all countries majorities agree that in order to address the problem of climate change it will be necessary for individuals in their country "to make changes in their life style and behavior in order to reduce the amount of climate changing gases they produce."

Urban Chinese have the largest majority--85 percent--who would support raising taxes on the fuels that contribute most to climate change. ...

... China stands out as exceptionally willing to consider higher taxes as a means of combating climate change. When those against or uncertain about higher taxes are asked whether they would support them to increase efficiency or develop new sources, the total in favor of tax increases becomes a nearly unanimous 97 percent.

Apparently there's something about living in a country on the economic rise that gives people at large a can-do attitude, something our current rulers in this country neither practice nor encourage.

Thoughtful people wonder whether the challenge of climate change actually presents even more threat to our historic social arrangements than is posed by climate crisis itself. The author and social observer Anatol Lieven has mused:

The question now facing us is whether global capitalism and Western democracy ... can make the limited economic adjustments necessary to keep global warming within bounds that will allow us to preserve our system in a recognizable form; or whether our system is so dependent on unlimited consumption that it is by its nature incapable of demanding even small sacrifices from its present elites and populations.

If the latter proves the case, and the world suffers radically destructive climate change, then we must recognize that everything that the West now stands for will be rejected by future generations. The entire democratic capitalist system will be seen to have failed utterly as a model for humanity and as a custodian of essential human interests.

International Herald Tribune

Now there's a vision worthy of nightmares.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Iraq Moratorium day

Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won
Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none
And by union what we will can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.

From the preamble to the constitution of the United Mineworkers of America

Buhdydharma has up a great post for this Iraq Moratorium Friday. The little essay explores the metaphor of the water of resistance -- the demand to stop U.S. war(s) -- spreading out through the U.S. population, seeping into unexpected cracks, leaking out where least expected.

Take a look at Bruce Lee on the power of water:

As an alternative to big peace marches and the tiresome, though necessary, work of pressuring complacent politicians of both parties, the Iraq Moratorium aims to get as many possible of us moving on a local level on the 3rd Friday of every month. The Iraq Moratorium project undoubtedly needs any spare change we have available.

Dissent around the table, around the world

When you visit other people's countries, have you ever wished you could reassure your hosts that you aren't on board with contemporary US foreign adventures? Very possibly, if you are part of the 20 percent of U.S. residents who even have a passport. Apparently that's how the women pictured above felt. The sign scrawled on a menu reads, "we did not vote for Bush."

They had just won an international bridge tournament in Shanghai; they were proud and happy; they wanted to share their moment with their international friends.

“What we were trying to say, not to Americans but to our friends from other countries, was that we understand that they are questioning and critical of what our country is doing these days, and we want you to know that we, too, are critical,” Ms. Greenberg said, stressing that she was speaking for herself and not her six teammates.

The controversy has gone global, with the French team offering support for its American counterparts.

“By trying to address these issues in a nonviolent, nonthreatening and lighthearted manner... “you were doing only what women of the world have always tried to do when opposing the folly of men who have lost their perspective of reality.”

New York Times
November 14, 2007

The U.S. Bridge Foundation was not amused. Sponsors, including the Chinese government, might withhold contributions. The offending sign makers are threatened with suspension from federation events, including the World Bridge Olympiad next year in Beijing. The federation demands an apology and more.

The federation has proposed a settlement to Ms. Greenberg and the three other players, Jill Levin, Irina Levitina and Ms. Rosenberg, who have not made any mollifying statements.

It calls for a one-year suspension from federation events, including the World Bridge Olympiad next year in Beijing; a one-year probation after that suspension; 200 hours of community service “that furthers the interests of organized bridge”; and an apology drafted by the federation’s lawyer.

What's a bridge player to do when her federation wants to police her political views?

What's an empire to do when women just want to be friendly?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fixing the vote by race, age and class

No color-no ID required. Light blue-some ID required. Blue-photo ID required. Dark blue-proof of citizenship required. January 2007

When you can't win an election on your own merits, wouldn't it be great to pick own your electorate who you can trust will vote for you? That's why politicians like to draw district boundaries to ensure one-party dominance. A new study [pdf] from the University of Washington's Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Sexuality shows pretty conclusively that by demanding voters show photo IDs, Republicans ensure that more voters are white, older, and affluent. Others, likely Democrats, get pushed off the rolls.

Indiana's photo ID law is being challenged as discriminatory in court. Researchers set out to find what it really would do voter eligibility. They polled carefully randomized samples of voters and non-voters about their IDs. The results show clearly that the ID requirement is designed to build a Republican bias into the universe of voters and potential voters.

  • 21.8 percent of black Indiana voters do not have access to a valid photo ID (compared to 15.8 percent of white Indiana voters -- a 6 point gap).
  • When non-registered eligible voter responses are included -- the gap widens. 28.3 percent of eligible black voters in the State of Indiana to not have valid photo ID (compared to 16.8 percent of eligible voting age white Indiana residents - a gap of 11.5 percent).
  • The study found what it termed "a curvilinear pattern (similar to an upside down U-curve)" in the relationship between age and access to valid ID -- younger voters and older voters were both less likely to have valid ID compared to voters in the middle categories. 22 percent of voters 18-34 did not have ID, nor did 19.4 percent over the age of 70. (compared to 16.2 percent of Indiana voters age 35-54 without valid ID and 14.1 percent for 55-69 year olds).
  • 21 percent of Indiana registered voters with only a high school diploma did not have valid ID (compared to 11.5 percent of Indiana voters who have completed college -- a gap of 9.5 percent).
  • Those with valid ID are much more likely to be Republicans than those who do not have valid ID. Among registered voters with proper ID, 41.6 percent are registered Republicans, 32.5 percent are Democrats.

Brennan Center fror Justice

It's pretty clear who the authors of this law think should be allowed to elect their government officials.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Diplomacy in the time of empire

Maziar Bahari of Newsweek interviewed Sadegh Kharazi, Iran's former ambassador to France, about his country's tortured relations with the North American giant.

... whenever we wanted to have a rapprochement with the United States they demanded more.

H/t to Informed Comment: Global Affairs.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Iraq war has set a human tide in motion

A woman with a supply of rations from the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization. Marko Georgiev for The New York Times.

According to Juan Cole, an Iraqi newspaper reports that

1,500 Iraqis are being forced to leave Syria every day as a result of strict new visa requirements. Still, about 500 new Iraqi refugees are able to come into Syria every day, since they managed to get visas. There are an estimated 1.4 million Iraqi refugees in Syria. There is now a net reduction of 1,000 per day, so that if it continues, in about 4 or 5 years all the Iraqis will be out of Syria. Which is probably what the Syrian government intends. Note, however, that this influx of 7,000 Iraqis a week from Syria is not spurred by better security in Iraq (otherwise, why are 500 a day or 3500 a week still leaving Iraq for Damascus?) The exodus is being dictated by new Syrian strictness about visas and residency permits.

Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs talked with people forced to return to a still desperately dangerous Baghdad.

Broke and desperate, Ziad Qahtan Naeem and his family have returned to their house in war-battered Baghdad, a move they likened to a "death sentence".

The six-member Shia family fled the Sunni-dominated Mansour neighbourhood of western Baghdad nearly two years ago and took refuge in Syria, joining more than one million Iraqis there.

But they have become part of a growing wave of Iraqis leaving Syria -- not because they are confident of Iraq’s future but because they have run out of money. ...

"At any moment you or any member of your family could be a statistic in a police file," added 46-year-old Naeem, who spent US$30,000 in Syria.

Things have deteriorated to the point that some parts of Iraq are turning away Iraqis fleeing more violent parts of the country. Basra has begun keeping out arriving refugees.

“We cannot cope with any more families seeking refuge in our province, whatever their reasons. The governorate is seriously affected by the high number of displaced families,” a senior official in Basra Governing Council, Hassan Abdul-Kareem, told IRIN on 11 November. ...

“The number of Iraqi families fleeing their homes for safer areas has increased, despite reports that levels of violence have diminished,” said Abdul-Kareem. ...

Dozens of families who arrived in the province on 9 and 10 November were forced to turn back or head to other southern provinces as Basra security stopped them at check points and prevented them from entering Basra city.

“When they saw our bags, a police officer stopped us and told me and my seven family members that we had to head back to where we came from because the local council had prohibited the entrance of new arrivals,” Raghib Muhammad, a 43-year-old Baghdad resident seeking refuge in Basra, said.

Relief agencies estimate that there are now roughly 2.5 million Iraqis forced into short term exile in Jordon or Syria by the violence unleashed by the U.S. war -- and an equal or greater number displaced within Iraq.

If you click on the picture of Faiza on the sidebar to the right, you'll reach the Collateral Repair Project, an Iraqi grassroots initiative through which people in the United States can help some of the displaced in Jordan and within Iraq help themselves. Take a look.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day:
The woman general who took the fall

One Woman's Army: The Commanding General of Abu Ghraib Tells Her Story by General Janis Karpinski with Steven Strasser.

A friend pulled this title out of a remainder bin, skimmed it, and passed it on: "You should read this." She was right.

As the title makes clear, this is Karpinski's side of the story of the torture scandal, for which she was the highest ranking officer to be rebuked. As far as her apologia is concerned, on some subjects, like the complete muddle Donald Rumsfeld's Department of Defense had made of Army Reserve, she is very persuasive.

At the mobilization station you end up with battalion commanders who don't know their brigade commanders, company commanders who don't know their battalion commanders, and soldiers who don't know each other or their leaders at any level. A soldier who grew up in Montana finds herself deploying with a bunch of guys from Brooklyn. A soldier who speaks no Spanish finds himself assigned to a company from Puerto Rico. If the system looks chaotic, it is. ... Most of the Reserve and National Guard units we sent to the Middle East starting in late 2002 had nothing like [the desirable] level of cohesion.

She is less able to document her central contention about the torture scandal -- though subsequent revelations about the sadistic inclinations of our rulers seem to bear her out:

For the rest of my days I will believe that, at Abu Ghraib , these soldiers were following orders when they humiliated and abused detainees.

But this material is not what I found so interesting about this book. What drew me in, as a Vietnam-era feminist whose life experience made the attractions of the military opaque, is Karpinski's tale of what attracted her to the Army and how she persevered despite discouragement and actual abuse from its male hierarchy.

[By 1977 when] the Army restructured itself into a volunteer force after Vietnam, it was attracting plenty of male recruits who wanted education and training that would carry over into civilian life. But the Army also needed warriors, and there were not so many volunteers for that assignment. That's where the women came in. Our policymakers' plan over the next decade was to steadily expand the ranks of women holding jobs in combat support and combat-service support. As more women were given roles as truck drivers, supply officers, intelligence analysts, and the like, more men would find those jobs closed and be forced to join the warriors. And once you became a professional infantryman, you were much more likely to make the Army your career. There were lots of civilian jobs for truck drivers and electronics technicians trained by the Army -- but not so many for combat fighters.

Karpinski didn't understand how women soldiers were being used to track men into less desirable jobs when she enlisted -- nor does it seem that she would have objected if she had known it. This is a woman who consistently identifies with management, a useful state of mind in a rigid hierarchy. But she's also no dope. Her struggle with her status as a woman in a man's world is interesting.

I was determined to become a soldier's soldier ...But I had to acknowledge something else about myself: I also wanted to remain a woman. ...Some women -- even straight women -- tried to neutralize the men by joining them, cutting their hair and playing down their female characteristics. For my part, I tried to be both an office and a gentlewoman. ... The way to be taken seriously in a man's world is force them to engage your intelligence, not to try to change what you are.

Well maybe. It worked for a long time for Karpinski. She aced paratrooper training. She fought off superior officers with wandering hands. She worked for male officers who respected her -- and male officers who were terribly threatened by her competence. She rose up the ranks -- and ended up learning Arabic and training women in the United Arab Emirates for military service. She was eventually promoted to brigadier general of MPs in the Reserves.

And then, as Bush's Iraq invasion went sour, after all the contortions she put herself through to rise in the institution she loved, she was made the Pentagon's scapegoat for Abu Ghraib. She still believes in the hierarchy she both submitted to and climbed but insists:

you have to look up the chain of command as well as down.

The book is a fascinating cultural period piece and an angle on the war worth more attention from those of us trying to end it.