Saturday, August 4, 2007

Baghdad, Iraq: 6 million people, 117 degrees and no water

I received the following email from the Answer Coalition:

By Richard Becker, Western Regional Coordinator, ANSWER Coalition
Friday, August 3, 2007

A crime against humanity committed by the occupying power.

For the past 24 hours, Baghdad has had virtually no running water.

Major parts of the city of six million people have lacked running water for six days, while daily high temperatures have ranged from 115 to 120 degrees. The tiny amount of water dripping through the pipes is causing many of those who must drink it to suffer acute intestinal illness.

According to reports, not enough electricity is available to run Baghdad’s water pumps. This in a country with vast energy resources.

Corporate media outlets—to the extent they have reported this horrific and mind-boggling story at all—have treated it as a failure on the part of Iraqis.

In reality, it is an appalling war crime committed by the occupying power, the U.S. military. It threatens the lives of tens of thousands of people in the short term and unthinkable numbers of people unless it is rectified immediately.

According to Article 55 of Geneva Conventions (1949) to which the U.S. government is a signatory: "To the fullest extent of the means available to it the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate."

Article 59 states: "If the whole or part of the population of an occupied territory is inadequately supplied, the Occupying Power shall agree to relief schemes on behalf of the said population, and shall facilitate them by all the means at its disposal."

To say that a huge city deprived of running water is "inadequately supplied" would rank as one of the great understatements of human history.

Of course, the shortage of water—the most vital of all necessities—does not extend to the U.S. personnel and contractors occupying Iraq.

The U.S. government tries to relieve itself of its obligations by pretending that Iraq’s "sovereignty" was restored in June 2004. But that is just another hoax.

Since its illegal invasion and conquest of Iraq in the spring of 2003, the real state power in the country has been the U.S. military.

This latest catastrophe to afflict the Iraqi people is another poisonous fruit of imperialist occupation. Not even in the worst times during the U.S. blockade of Iraq from 1990-2003, did such a disaster occur.

The U.S. regime in Iraq must provide the people of Baghdad with relief in the short-term to avert unprecedented disaster. The U.S. occupation must come to an immediate end. The officials responsible for the terrible crimes committed against the Iraqi people must be held accountable. The U.S. government owes Iraq vast reparations for the death and destruction imposed on that society by an illegal war of aggression.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Our bridges collapse, as we spend our money on war

The tragic events in Minnesota this week should be a wake-up call for all of us. The billions of dollars that we spend every month on the War in Iraq are coming from somewhere, and repair of our aging infrastructure is one of those areas.

Many of our nation's highways and bridges were built in the late 1950s and 1960s. There was a mad rush to build at the time for several reasons. The Cold War mentality that had us jump under our school desks for nuclear war drills (and just what was that supposed to do?) recognized that in the event of a nuclear bomb attack, we would need to be able to evacuate our cities quickly. Large scale interstates were built under the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956.

President Eisenhower was a proponent of building these highways, based on his experiences in World War II. However, even earlier, federal planning for a nationwide highway system began in 1921 when the Bureau of Public Roads asked the Army to provide it with a list of roads it considered necessary for national defense, resulting in the Pershing Map.

Interestingly, our current national mental state of a “war on terror” has not brought a similar rush to build or rebuild the infrastructure. This, even though we have seen the congestion and resulting danger on September 11 in New York City. Money is spent on a wide range of “security” items, from cameras to polo shirts that identify rescue workers. But was anything spent to make it easier to get out of NYC in the event of a disaster (either natural or man-made)?

From The Raw Story:

The American Society of Civil Engineers warned in a report two years ago that between 2000 and 2003, more than 27 percent of the nation's almost 600,000 bridges were rated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

“America must change its transportation behavior, increase transportation investment at all levels of government, and make use of the latest technology,” the society's wide-reaching “Report Card for America's Infrastructure” added.

In my city of Baltimore, there is a new push for “traffic calming,” which I endorse because people speed and it's dangerous. The main artery near my house just had millions spent on it to add median islands and curbs that narrow the road, so that in many places cars must merge into one lane north or south.

That's fine, except that this is also marked with little blues signs that say “evacuation route.” Oh my. I'd better start clearing some space underneath my desk again ....

Jon Stewart: When Dick Cheney smiles, an angel gets water-boarded

If you missed it on the Daily Show, The Raw Story has a summary and a video clip:

“Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were both on television last night, answering questions,” said Jon Stewart on Wednesday's Daily Show, comparing the rarity of the event to “a giant squid having sex with Bigfoot as the ghost of Jim Morrison claps giddily.”

Senator Dole's twisted compassion

The U.S. Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation that would raise tobacco taxes to pay for expanding a children's health program, shrugging off a veto threat from President George W. Bush who wants a more limited plan.

Senator Elizabeth Dole denounced the bill, saying “Of the 20 percent of the adult population that smokes, around half are in families earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. In other words, many of the families SCHIP is meant to help will be disproportionately hit by the Senate’s proposed tax hike.”

Aww, she's standing up for the poor people. What a wonderful person.

But wait — Dole's home state of North Carolina is also a major producer of tobacco. Uh, could her compassion really be more about money in North Carolina and getting re-elected?

Senator Dole's concern notwithstanding, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the legislation by 68-31. The House also approved a similar bill. The two bills will now need to be reconciled.

President Bush has vowed to veto this bill, but the votes in both the House and the Senate are more than enough to override a presidential veto.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. President!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Congressional Web “Masters”?
Um, not so much

Do you get frustrated when looking up information from congressional websites? You're not alone. A news study shows that there is no cooperation among the 535 House and Senate web managers, and that basically, they aren't interested in whether you find their sites helpful or useful. From Government Computer News:

“Strikingly, we find that there are relatively few efforts by offices to evaluate what constituents want or like on their Web sites,” state the researchers in their paper, “Members of Congress Websites: Diffusion at the Tip of the Iceberg.”

David Lazer, the lead researcher for the project and a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, presented the results at the annual conference of the Digital Government Society of North America recently in Philadelphia.

The research team interviewed 100 individuals who held primary responsibility for maintaining official Web sites for individual members of the House or Senate. They found “strikingly little effort” on the part of managers to find out what features or information constituents wanted and what elements of the Web site worked or did not work.

Only one office sent out a survey form asking what features users would like to see. Other offices relied on what they called informal feedback such as e-mail. Lazer said the lack of a formal feedback mechanism could be problematic if it leads citizens to view the sites as of little help and could even cause them to become more disengaged from the political process.

Momentum growing for impeachment

There are now 34 members of Congress who have signed on to the HR 333, a bill proposing articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney. What was once viewed as a far-out idea is now gaining support and serious consideration by many more than the 34 who have officially signed on as co-sponsors.

From AfterDowningStreet:
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D., Wisconsin) and Congressman Donald Payne (D., N.J.) have signed on as cosponsors of H. Res. 333, a bill proposing articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney, according to Congressman Dennis Kucinich's office. Kucinich is the original sponsor of the bill. Baldwin is the fourth member of the House Judiciary Committee to have added her name to the bill. A fifth Judiciary Committee member, Steve Cohen, has thus far signed on only to a bill proposing the impeachment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Because ... Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!


Illegal Immigrants: Uncle Sam Wants You

From In These Times:

Latino teenagers, including illegal immigrants are being recruited into the military with false promises.

In 1996, Jesus Alberto Suarez del Solar was a 13-year-old boy, up from Tijuana on a family shopping trip, when he stopped at a Marine Corps recruiting table at an open-air mall in Chula Vista, Calif.

Jesus had been an easy mark for the recruiter — a boy who fantasized that by joining the powerful, heroic U.S. Marines, he could help his own country fight drug lords. He gave the recruiter his address and phone number in Mexico, and the recruiter called him twice a week for the next two years, until he had talked Jesus into convincing his parents to move to California. Fernando and Rose Suarez sold their home and their laundry business and immigrated with their children to Escondido, where Jesus enrolled at a high school known for academic achievement. But the recruiter wanted him to transfer to a school for problem teenagers, since its requirements for graduation were lower and Jesus would be able to finish sooner. He was 17 and a half when he graduated from that school, still too young to enlist on his own, so his father co-signed the enlistment form, as the military requires for underage recruits.

Three years later, at the age of 20, his body was torn apart in Iraq by an American-made fragmentation grenade during the first week of the invasion. In the Pentagon’s official Iraq casualty database, his death is number 74.

Now Jesus is in a cemetery in Escondido, and his parents, who blame each other for his death, are painfully and bitterly divorced. While his mother bears her loss as a private tragedy, Fernando, who has dual Mexican and American citizenship, is working tirelessly to protect other young immigrants from being manipulated by U.S. military recruiters—the way he wishes he had protected his son.

In the Iraq war, citizenship is being used as a recruiting tool aimed specifically at young immigrants, who are told that by enlisting, they will be able to quickly get citizenship for themselves (sometimes true, depending on what the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch of the Department of Homeland Security finds) and their entire families (not true; each family member has to go through a separate application process). Nevertheless, with the political pressures on Latino families growing daily under this administration, many young Latinos are unable to resist the offer, which immigrants’ rights activists see as blatant exploitation of a vulnerable population.

Read the rest here.

Kucinich grills Rumsfeld on 'cover up' at Tillman hearing

My man, Dennis Kucinich took on Donald Rumsfeld at the congressional hearing on potential cover ups in the Pat Tillman case. If you have any doubt about Kucinich's abilities or intelligence, please watch the exchange between the two.

Rumsfeld tries his usual dodges of the questions and vague responses, but Kucinich doesn't let him off. He calmly persists with his question, rephrasing, repeating, and persisting so that Rumsfeld can't slime his way out of it. My favorite exchange between them:

“Was there a Department of Defense press strategy with respect to the war?” the Ohio Democrat asked.

“If there was, it obviously wasn't very good,” Rumsfeld quipped back.

The Rumsfeld remark drew Kucinich's ire.

“Well you know maybe it was very good because you actually covered up the Tillman case for awhile, you covered up the Jessica Lynch case, you covered up Abu Ghraib, so something was working for you,” he said. “So something was working for you.”

Rumsfeld angrily denied any cover up “on this matter.”
Go Dennis!

US, Britain seek UN resolution to expand role in Iraq

Well, now we want the UN to come in and clean up our mess. Since two bombings in 2003, the UN has had only a small presence in Iraq because of the incredible security risk (despite what John McCain would have you believe as he strolls thru the markets in a vest and escorted by armed guards).

It's not clear if this is a direct result of the recent meeting between President Bush and the new British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, but the timing is interesting.

Also this week, Iraq's largest Sunni Arab bloc resigned from the cabinet yesterday. They said they were resigning in protest against what they said was the prime minister's failure to respond to a set of demands, including the release of security detainees not charged with specific crimes, the disbanding of militias and the participation of all government groups in security talks.

Nuri al-Maliki's regime now consists of only two Sunnis in the 40-member cabinet. This does not bode well for efforts to have the sectarian groups work together in a united Iraq.

House defies veto threat from President Bush, adds 6 million children to insurance program

From today's Washington Post:
House Democrats pushed through legislation Wednesday to add 6 million lower-income children to a popular health insurance program while making deep cuts in federal payments to Medicare HMOs, defying a veto threat from President Bush.

On a 225-204, mostly party-line vote, the House passed the legislation, which would add $50 billion to the decade-old State Children's Health Insurance Program and roll back years of Republican-driven changes to Medicare.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Wednesday Poetry Break

September's Song, A Poem in Seven Days

thunder and lightning and our world
is another place no day
will ever be the same no blood

they know this storm in otherwheres
israel ireland palestine
but God has blessed America
we sing
and God has blessed America
to learn that no one is exempt
the world is one all fear
is one all life all death
all one

2 Wednesday 9/12/01

— Lucille Clifton

Iraq oil ministry refuses to work with unions

Whether you belong to a union or not, I think most people in this country agree that a basic principle of democracy is the right to join one if you wish. Which is the all the more reason you should be outraged that the Iraq Oil Ministry has refused to recognize or have any dealings with the Oil Workers Union.

If you think there is no need for these workers to organize, imagine the working conditions they must endure. Do you think either the government or the private sector cares about their safety or well-being? Of course not. In fact, the Oil Ministry is busy drafting the “Hydrocarbon Law,” which will give foreign oil companies huge access to Iraqi oil. The law contains 3 sentences on Oil Revenue Sharing and 33 pages on Privatization. And the Bush-Cheney Administration, with its undeniable ties to the world of private oil money, are pushing this law at the expense of the Iraqi people.

Dennis Kucinich, my candidate for President in 2008, wrote his colleagues recently,

“The law, if passed, is expected to open the country's billions of barrels of proven oil reserves, the world's third largest, to foreign investors....Under the new law, the Iraq National Oil Company would have exclusive control of only about 17 of Iraq's approximately 80 known oil fields.”

According to our Leader/Decider/War President, our troops are in Iraq for the purpose of bringing democracy to that country. Why then are we trying to (a) take their oil and (b) reinstitute policies of Saddam Hussein?

Saddam Hussein outlawed worker organizing in the public sector; subsequent U.S. occupying powers and now the Iraqi government do not recognize the workers' rights to organize.

A nice summary of this situation written earlier this year is Iraq Labor vs. ExxonMobil, BP and Shell at

photo of an Iraqi oil refinery worker by David Bacon at Oil For Freedom.

Naked couple involved in wreck

Just in from the Austin American-Statesman:

Investigators think that alcohol was a factor in a head-on collision in Comal County on July 18 in which two victims were pulled from their car naked.

“The only thing they had on was the radio . . . and their seat belts,” Department of Public Safety Cpl. Rick Alvarez said.

On the evening of July 18, Lisa Marie Bishop, 25, of Austin was driving north on FM 1102 north of New Braunfels when she went around a curve and swerved into the southbound lane, crashing head-on to a truck driven by Juan Montoya, 49, of New Braunfels, Alvarez said.

Montoya was not injured. Bishop sustained injuries that were not life-threatening, but her passenger, 26-year-old Robert Rydeen of Austin, was airlifted to San Antonio and was in stable condition Monday, officials said.

Bishop told investigators that she and Rydeen had been at Schlitterbahn Waterpark and had removed their wet clothes for the drive home, Alvarez said. Investigators found some wet clothes in the car as well as evidence of alcohol consumption.

Alvarez said that in his 13 1/2 years as a DPS trooper, he had never before investigated a crash involving nude drivers.

“But she's from Austin,” he said, “and I figure Austin folks are a little different.”

U.S. drops Baghdad electricity reports

Can you imagine life without electricity? I mean, I definately enjoy the occasional foray into the wilderness without tv, phones, even lights. But it's always nice to come home to a hot shower, microwave popcorn, and a dvd. That's what we know as “civilization.”

Well, daily civilized life in Baghdad has gotten so bad, the US government is just not going to report on it anymore. A bit of denial that sounds a little dysfunctional to me! From the LA Times:

WASHINGTON -- As the Bush administration struggles to convince lawmakers that its Iraq war strategy is working, it has stopped reporting to Congress a key quality-of-life indicator in Baghdad: how long the power stays on.

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that Baghdad residents could count on only “an hour or two a day” of electricity. That's down from an average of five to six hours a day earlier this year.
Iraq's electricity supply has received less attention than other national indicators as debate over the president's surge has intensified in Washington.

The administration's July progress report focused on 18 benchmarks of Iraqi government progress toward political reconciliation among ethnic and religious

However, the reliability of the electricity supply has long been seen by Iraqis as a key indicator of the success of the U.S. enterprise.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Chief Justice Roberts Suffers Seizure

This could shape up to be an interesting year. Or it could mean nothing. When I was a kid we had a german shepherd with epilepsy. He would have a seizure, and then get up and chase a tennis ball. Maybe we'll see the Chief Justice doing that soon ...

From today's Washington Post:

Doctors who examined the stricken Chief Justice John Roberts called the episode at his Maine vacation home a "benign idiopathic seizure," meaning they found no tumor, stroke or any other explanation.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Top ten pub gardens

From the UK Guardian:

Few things beat sitting in your favourite beer garden with a cool pint in your hand. Here's our personal pick of the best sites across the UK.

Was Pat Tillman Murdered?
AP Gets New Documents

AP reports, via Common Dreams:

Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman’s forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player’s death amounted to a crime, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

“The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described,” a doctor who examined Tillman’s body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.

The doctors — whose names were blacked out — said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.
As American citizens, we're being bombarded with so many fantastic stories it's almost hard to take them all seriously. I mean, I watch Alberto Gonzales testify before Congress, and almost cannot believe my eyes and ears. He is so blatantly lying, it truly is almost beyond belief.

And now details are emerging about Pat Tillman's death that are also beyond belief. The medical evidence does not match up with the story we were all told about his last moments. It's not even close.

How can they think they deserve a raise?

From the McClatchy Newspapers:

After raising the minimum wage by 70 cents an hour this week, many members of Congress are ready to give themselves a pay increase of roughly $4,400 per year.

That would take their annual salaries to nearly $170,000.

Under current plans, members of Congress will receive an automatic pay raise, estimated at 2.5 percent, in January. In a show of bipartisan consensus, the House voted 244-181 last month to kill a proposal that would have forced a straight up-or-down vote on the pay increase.

Congress approved the law making its pay raises automatic in 1989, giving legislators an easy way to avoid tough votes that could hurt them during re-election campaigns. Since then, congressional salaries have nearly doubled, from $89,500 to $165,200 a year.

President Bush is paid $400,000 a year. His salary isn't affected by changes in congressional pay.

Monday morning roundup

A few interesting stories I've noticed this morning.

From “Is the US Heading for 'Developing Nations' Inequality Levels?”

In 1985 there were just 13 US billionaires. Now there are more than 1,000. In 2005 the US saw 227,000 new millionaires being created. One survey showed that the wealth of all US millionaires was $30 trillion, more than the GDPs of China, Japan, Brazil, Russia and the EU combined.

The Raw Story has “US plans massive arms deal for Saudis”

Congress will be asked by the Bush Administration to approve $20 billion in advanced weapons and planes for Saudi Arabia, at the same time that Israel, along with Congress, are nervous about Saudi Arabia's role in the war effort, the New York Times will report Saturday.
From Mother Jones “Cheney Big Brother?”:

There are growing signs that Cheney was behind the whole incredible series of events that culminated with Gonzales and former chief of staff Andy Card being sent to a nearly comatose Ashcroft's bedside on March 2004 with an envelope with the orders to reauthorize domestic spying program.
From the Huffington Post, “McCain Puts Straight Talk Express on eBay

In what some political observers are calling an ominous sign for his cash-starved White House bid, Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) today posted his campaign bus, The Straight Talk Express, on the Internet auction site eBay.

BagNews analyzes the meaning behind the image in President Bush's recent photo op with wounded veterans in “'W' On His Own Two Feet”

It portrays what appears to be a pot-bellied president being propped up by the amputated veterans, each seemingly stronger and more stable than he.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why Civil Unions Aren't Enough

I have often been asked my opinion on “gay marriage.” First off, I hate that phrase. How about instead we say “marriage, including gay people”? You see, when it's phrased as “gay marriage” it sounds like some special kind of marriage — and it's not. It is a commitment between two people, which gives each person in the relationship responsibilities and rights concerning property, finances, and health care.

Some people find the phrase “civil union” more acceptable, but there's a major flaw in this phrase: not every state recognizes it. And even in the states that do recognize civil unions, such as New Jersey, many couples are still being denied access to their employer's benefits for their spouse.

I accept, though I disagree with, religious beliefs against marriage of two gay persons. I do not accept that anyone's religious beliefs have any bearing on my civil rights. Some religions think women should not drive cars, and Americans have voiced outrage at such an idea. Yet how is that any different than a religious belief banning me from marrying my partner?

For an excellent description of the real flaws in the concept of civil unions, check out