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Here’s an interesting little tidbit—Reporters Without Borders has just published its most recent Worldwide Press Freedom Index, and the Unites States has dropped to 53rd place, from 44th last year and from 17th in 2002, below a whole slew of developing countries. Just another example of the damage done by six years of the Bush administration.

According to Reporters Without Borders:

Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognize the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

The jailing of blogger Josh Wolf was a case in point.

Reporters Without Borders compiles its index by sending a questionnaire to partner organizations throughout the world, in which it lists 50 criteria for assessing press freedom and “the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible” for various violations against reporters, ranging from murder and imprisonment to harassment.

This organization also publishes an excellent Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents:

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When reminded at today’s press conference that the Iraq War is now reaching the duration of World War II, with no “victory” and no end in sight, the President responded,

BUSH: First of all, this is a different kind of war than a war against the fascists in World War II. We were facing a nation state — two nation states — three nation states in World War II. We were able to find an enemy by locating its ships or aircraft or soldiers on the ground.

But back in August, 2005, Bush was touting the similarities between the Iraq War and World War II, particularly in terms of the moral imperative:

“Like the Second World War, our present conflict began with a ruthless surprise attack on the United States,” Bush said “We will not forget that treachery, and we will accept nothing less than victory over the enemy . . . Like the murderous ideologies of the 20th century, the ideology of terrorism reaches across borders and seeks recruits in every country. So we’re fighting these enemies wherever they hide across the Earth.”

“ . . . our present conflict began with a ruthless surprise attack on the
United States.”
  If the President was referring to 9/11 here, which apparently he was, then someone should have reminded him that Iraq was not responsible for that attack.  And,

Reaching back into history, Bush repeatedly cited Roosevelt’s steadfastness as the model for today’s conflict, comparing the Japanese sneak assault on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. Much as Roosevelt fought pre-Pearl Harbor isolationism, Bush urged against a return to what he called the “pre-9/11 mindset of isolation and retreat.”

So when it was convenient to do so, Bush compared 9/11 to Pearl Harbor, blindly ignoring the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, which made the comparison to Pearl Harbor meaningless.  But Mr. Bush continues to conflate Iraq and the “war against terror” and,  now, when it is convenient to do so, he uses the same conflation to respond to criticism regarding tactical errors.  After all, this is a different kind of war than World War II.  It is a war against terrorism, not a war against a nation-state.  

The two wars are neither morally or tactically equivalent.  The Iraq War did, in fact, begin with the US attack of a sovereign nation-state defined as the enemy, but the attack was unprovoked and unjustified, which was not the case when the US attacked Japan.  And, since the initial US attack, Iraq has been flooded with terrorists,  completing the self-fulfilling prophecy/myth that in Iraq we are fighting a “war against terror” rather than a war against a nation-state, so it is easier than ever to conflate the two.  And, you see, here is the biggest difference between Iraq and World War II.  Once we have transformed the Iraq War from a war against a sovereign country to a “war against terror,” we must realize that a terrorist organization is not a nation-state, and we must recognize “terrorism” as an “ism,” as a tactic, so the battleground is both dispersed and infinite.

There is absolutely no equivalent between the Iraq War and World War II because United States involvement in World War II was provoked and was certainly not unilateral.  And it was always a war against specific enemies, not a war against a tactic or a broadly defined ideology.  If it had been a war against fascism or a war against the tactic of using nuclear weapons, rather than a war against Germany and Japan, it would never have been won. In fact, the Cold War, a war against an “ism” (communism) and against a tactic (the use of nuclear weaponry) was not fought conventionally, and it took more than 40 years to win. And it was not won unilaterally, it was not won with torture and Guantanamos, it was not won by abusing the Constitution, and it was not won with brute force.

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Tonight, Oct 18, PBS stations will air “The Net at Risk,” a 90-minute documentary produced by Bill Moyers, which hails our grassroots efforts to support Net Neutrality. Please check your local listings and tune in. After the show, participate in a live Web debate featuring Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott and phone company flack Mike McCurry.
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Read the Salon story: http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2006/10/02/slayers/
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During the run-up to the Iraq War, some time during 2002, I attended a talk and question and answer session by a fellow named Scott Ritter.  Ritter, an ex-Marine with impressive credentials and an intellectual bent, had formerly been a UN weapons inspector in Iraq.  He resigned from that position in 1998, fed up with the Clinton administration’s policy maneuvers and sick of the way that the inspections were being used solely as a means to gather intelligence.  His experience in Iraq and elsewhere, however, made him an expert on the issue of WMDs, and this is the issue that he addressed when I went to see him speak. He argued, quite simply, that there were no WMDs in Iraq.

Before I attended the talk, I wasn’t entirely sure what to believe regarding the presence of WMDs in Iraq, partly because there was so little factual information available on the topic and even less “straight talk.” However, my instinctive mistrust of the Bush administration and its motives, as well as its tendency to paint every issue with a broad brush, made me lean toward believing that the WMDs didn’t exist or, at best, that no one really knew for sure.  Also, my intuitive read on the situation was that Saddam Hussein was playing an elaborate game of cat and mouse. Why? Because that is what I might do were I in his situation.  If you have nothing with which to defend yourself, then you’d better at least make it seem like you do—puff yourself up and seem bigger, as most vulnerable creatures have done since the beginning of time. I’d also read a good book on Iraq by a fellow named Dilip Hiro, who argued that Iraq had been so crippled by the sanctions that they could barely keep the water running, let alone develop weapons of mass destruction. Made complete sense to me.

Anyway, after listening to Scott Ritter talk, I was almost 100% certain that the WMDs didn’t exist, and, since then, of course, Ritter has been proved correct.

Why did I find him credible? Partly because of his experience with the matter and partly because of the logical way he presented the information. Sometimes when you listen to someone speak you just know that they are telling the truth because they are able to make all the proper connections, they are able to illustrate without embellishing, and they are able to provide specific examples to support their points. They are able to answer questions on the topic with great ease and they are able to provide lots of background information. So it was.

So why was 99% of the country not listening to Ritter? Partly because none of the major media outlets were willing to give him a voice. News programs that had formerly used him as a Mid East expert then refused to interview him. Why? Because the media outlets drank the Kool Aid, just like most everyone did at the time. In addition, some reporters tried to shame and slander Ritter by making much of a misdemeanor charge that he tried to solicit sex from a 16 year old girl, via the internet (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). The charge was eventually dismissed, but some say that it was dismissed only because a deal was struck, something that we will never know about for sure because the court records in this sensitive case were, quite properly, sealed. Anyway, all of that did not change or affect his experience and knowledge regarding Iraq. He was a Republican, too, but I didn’t hold that against him.

He argued and continues to argue, quite rightly I think, that the proponents of this war were mostly ideologues (but ideologues unaware of their own underlying cynicism—my point not necessarily Ritter’s) and that the Bush administration was and is all about regime change. Well, we know that now. And Ritter continues to argue that Iran is next on the agenda, regardless what anyone says.

Here’s an interview that Ritter gave on the topic in March of 2006:

[odeo=http://odeo.com/audio/850768/view]

And here’s another one on Iraq, older I think:

http://www.chartock.net/ritter.html


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A very positive story came out of NPR this morning about two items that seem worth taking a look at: 

Literature from the Axis of Evil  

and Lullabies from the Axis of Evil 

Part of the effort here it seems is to humanize those that the government would dehumanize by using a phrase such as “axis of evil,” and also to help foster some cultural understanding of those that we would go to war with.   The story features some clips from the book and CD.

BBC News today reported on a study, conducted by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Heath, a reliable source I should think, which determines that, since 2003, upwards of 665,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed as a direct result of US occupation. As best I can determine from the article, the figure was arrived at by extrapolating data from a sample population.

According to the article, “The estimated death toll is equal to about 2.5% of Iraq’s population, and averages out at more than 500 additional deaths a day since the start of the invasion.” In addition, “the researchers say that in nearly 80% of the individual cases, family members produced death certificates to support their answers.” Now, this means 80% of the sample population, not 80% of the 665,000, but, if one accepts this methodology and, if one were to only count those deaths documented by a death certificate, the figure would still be 532,000, more than five times the official estimate. The BBC article contains further details on how the study was conducted, but the study itself will be published in an upcoming edition of the highly respected medical journal The Lancet.

Well, I recall when liberal columnist Molly Ivins, and Maureen Dowd as well if I’m not mistaken, got in trouble for saying that more Iraqi civilians have been killed as a result of the occupation than were killed by Saddam Hussein’s brutal practices. Ivins made the following apology:

CROW EATEN HERE: This is a horror. In a column written June 28, I asserted that more Iraqis (civilians) had now been killed in this war than had been killed by Saddam Hussein over his 24-year rule. WRONG. Really, really wrong.

But, if these estimates are even close to correct, the numbers are, in fact, inching ever closer to each other.

It partly depends upon how you do the math, in both cases, but the numbers are close even if you use an estimate of Iraqi deaths attributed to Saddam that comes from the intensely anti-Saddam and pro-American Iraq Foundation, an organization of expatriates:

DOING the arithmetic is an imprecise venture. The largest number of deaths attributable to Mr. Hussein’s regime resulted from the war between Iraq and Iran between 1980 and 1988, which was launched by Mr. Hussein. Iraq says its own toll was 500,000, and Iran’s reckoning ranges upward of 300,000. Then there are the casualties in the wake of Iraq’s 1990 occupation of Kuwait. Iraq’s official toll from American bombing in that war is 100,000 — surely a gross exaggeration — but nobody contests that thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians were killed in the American campaign to oust Mr. Hussein’s forces from Kuwait. In addition, 1,000 Kuwaitis died during the fighting and occupation in their country. Casualties from Iraq’s gulag are harder to estimate. Accounts collected by Western human rights groups from Iraqi émigrés and defectors have suggested that the number of those who have “disappeared” into the hands of the secret police, never to be heard from again, could be 200,000.

OK, so if you don’t count Iranians killed in the Iraq-Iran war or the Kuwaitis killed in the Gulf War, that’s 500,000, plus 100,000 as a result of the Gulf War, plus 200,000 as a result of Saddam’s reign of terror. This totals 800,000, and please note that the Gulf War number, if attributed to Saddam rather than the US or some combination of both, is, acording to this source, hugely inflated.

Even less reliable sources estimate higher because they include civilians that may have died as a result of sanctions, which, however one cuts it, were not imposed by Saddam. Eliminate those numbers and you have pretty much the same estimate:

From a very sketchy source: moreorless : heroes & killers of the 20th century:

. . . between 150,000 and 340,000 Iraqis and 730,000 Iranians killed during the Iran-Iraq War. An estimated 1,000 Kuwaiti nationals killed following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. No conclusive figures for the number of Iraqis killed during the Gulf War, with estimates varying from as few as 1,500 to as many as 200,000. Over 100,000 Kurds killed or “disappeared”. No reliable figures for the number of Iraqi dissidents and Shia Muslims killed during Hussein’s reign, though estimates put the figure between 60,000 and 150,000. (Mass graves discovered following the US occupation of Iraq in 2003 suggest that the total combined figure for Kurds, Shias and dissidents killed could be as high as 300,000). Approximately 500,000 Iraqi children dead because of international trade sanctions introduced following the Gulf War.

OK, so excluding Iranians, Kuwaitis, and those that may have died as a result of sanctions–Minimum: 311,500; Maximum 940,000. 

Some estimates for civilian executions are as high as 600,000, but this figure and the 300,000 one given above seem to be inflated—they are based largely on a mistaken report that 400,000 people were found in mass graves.

Wikipedia’s article on Human Rights in Saddam’s Iraq , which may be the most reliable among all of these sources, includes a total maximum of approximately 330,000 documented civilian deaths as a result of the gulag alone.  To this figure we can add those Iraqi soldiers and civilians killed during the two wars.

So, what is the bottom line of all of this counting which is, at best, estimated? The bottom line from my perspective is that at least half a million Iraqis and Kurds died as a result of Saddam’s brutality and foolishness and at least half a million have died as a result of American foolishness (and, sometimes, brutality). But when you consider that the figure compiled for Saddam covers a period of upwards of twenty years and the American occupation figures cover a period of upwards of three years, one gets a very grim picture indeed. If one accepts the 500 plus a day figure, one must acknowledge that this far exceeds Saddam’s daily average.

At best, one can only conclude that this occupation has caused much more grief for the Iraqi people and has been more a part of the problem than the solution. And one can also conclude that our government has been far less than honest with us regarding the reality for Iraqis, which seems to be getting worse daily, particularly for those in Baghdad.


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Where: Login online at http://67.19.231.218/v4/login.asp?r=1b261dc2&p=0 (see below for more details on how to attend)

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Why is the US government selective about whom it classifies as a terrorist and about whom it condemns for targeting civilians?  Does it depend on which side they are fighting?   

From the NY Times: 

United Nations officials estimate that southern Lebanon is littered with one million unexploded bomblets, far outnumbering the 650,000 people living in the region. They are stuck in the branches of olive trees and the broad leaves of banana trees. They are on rooftops, mixed in with rubble and littered across fields, farms, driveways, roads and outside schools.As of Sept. 28, officials here said cluster bombs had severely wounded 109 people — and killed 18 others. Muhammad Hassan Sultan, a slender brown-haired 12-year-old, became a postwar casualty when the shrapnel from a cluster bomb cut into his head and neck. 

Why has Israel been allowed to use cluster bombs in civilian areas?  Unexploded cluster bombs basically function as land mines that are perilous to innocent civilians long after hostilities have ended.  Children are often the victims of unexploded cluster bombs because of their tendency to wander around in areas where they shouldn’t and to pick up things that look like toys. This has been a big problem in Afghanistan, where unexploded cluster bombs left there after the American attack have caused ongoing problems.  Cluster bombs are not very precise, so they’re not supposed to be used in civilian areas, but Israel used them when targeting civilian areas of
Lebanon.
 

And from NPR this morning: 

Thirty years ago Friday, a Cuban airliner blew up in mid-air, killing all 73 people aboard.U.S. officials later concluded that a violently anti-Castro Cuban exile named Luis Posada Carriles helped plan the bombing. But Thursday the Justice Department refused to classify Posada, who is in jail for immigration violations, as a terrorist. 

Let me get this straight— The US government takes suspected terrorists, sometimes proved innocent, and locks them up in Cuba, denies them rights, and labels them enemy combatants.   

Then, the US government takes a notorious terrorist with a long resume, a Cuban, and locks him up in Texas where he is not only given access to US courts, but is held and charged as a criminal rather than a terrorist.   

What, precisely, does the “war on terrorism” mean in this context?  If it is a war against a “tactic” as some have said, rather than an entity, then it also seems to depend on who is using that tactic. Thus it is not only an open-ended war, but a war in which the enemy is selectively and subjectively defined.   


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I generally don’t react to anything that Ann Coulter says because she is so extremely ridiculous and, as Svetlana on the Sopranos said about Janice—she is a “boring voman.”

However, the disinformation that she spreads is truly remarkable and troubling when you consider that Fox News at prime time has over two million viewers.

Ann Coulter to O’Reilly, in reference to the Foley scandal:

And by the way, this is a perfect example of the Democrats way overplaying their hands. They’re talking about, you know, just because Foley is gay and sending, you know, asking a kid what he wants for his birthday, we should have been wiretapping the guy’s phone. They don’t want to wiretap…

I think their [Democrats] hysterical overreaction to Foley — when the New York Times ethicist says we should boycott the Boy Scouts, because they don’t want gay men camping with a 14-year-old boy, but they think we should be wiretapping a congressman for asking a kid what he wants for his birthday.

That’s two separate references to Foley’s emails in which she reduces the content to “asking a kid what he wants for his birthday.”

Hmmm. Let’s look at one of these transcripts. A conversation in which someone asks a kid what he wants for his birthday doesn’t usually come with the following billboard-sized disclaimer, on the ABC News site:

READER DISCRETION STRONGLY

ADVISED: Foley’s Exchange With

Underage Page

And here’s an excerpt from the exchange, in which they discuss masturbation techniques:

Maf54 (7:53:54 PM): do you really do it face down
Xxxxxxxxx (7:54:03 PM): ya
Maf54 (7:54:13 PM): kneeling
Xxxxxxxxx (7:54:31 PM): well i dont use my hand…i use the bed itself
Maf54 (7:54:31 PM): where do you unload it
Xxxxxxxxx (7:54:36 PM): towel
Maf54 (7:54:43 PM): really
Maf54 (7:55:02 PM): completely naked?
Xxxxxxxxx (7:55:12 PM): well ya
Maf54 (7:55:21 PM): very nice
Xxxxxxxxx (7:55:24 PM): lol
Maf54 (7:55:51 PM): cute butt bouncing in the air
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:00 PM): haha
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:05 PM): well ive never watched myslef
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:08 PM): but ya i guess
Maf54 (7:56:18 PM): i am sure not
Maf54 (7:56:22 PM): hmmm
Maf54 (7:56:30 PM): great visual
Maf54 (7:56:39 PM): i may try that
Xxxxxxxxx (7:56:43 PM): it works
Maf54 (7:56:51 PM): hmm
Maf54 (7:56:57 PM): sound inetersting
Maf54 (7:57:05 PM): i always use lotion and the hand
Maf54 (7:57:10 PM): but who knows
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:24 PM): i dont use lotion…takes too much time to clean up
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:37 PM): with a towel you can just wipe off….and go
Maf54 (7:57:38 PM): lol
Maf54 (7:57:45 PM): where do you throw the towel
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:48 PM): but you cant work it too hard….or its not good
Xxxxxxxxx (7:57:51 PM): in the laundry
Maf54 (7:58:16 PM): just kinda slow rubbing
Xxxxxxxxx (7:58:23 PM): ya….
Xxxxxxxxx (7:58:32 PM): or youll rub yourslef raw
Maf54 (7:58:37 PM): well I have aa totally stiff wood now

Well, you know what comes next, so to speak. That’s one heck of a yucky birthday present that they’re discussing there. I almost feel guilty just posting that conversation within close proximity of yesterday’s innocent panda bears.

I would say “shame, shame, shame,” to Coulter, I mean, except that when you look the word shameless up in the dictionary, you find Ann Coulter’s picture.

Far too cute:

“We’ve pretty much resolved the problems of infertility among pandas,” the center’s director Zhang Zhihe was quoted as telling Chinese media.

I guess so.

It’s a topsy-turvy world indeed when Mr. Foley, as Chair of the Caucus for Missing and Exploited Children can be allowed to continue in his job after sexually preying on an adolescent in his charge, but an art teacher can be suspended for taking her students to an art museum, one that featured nudity, of all things.

I feel sorry for the teacher, but I also feel sorry for the culturally-starved child, if he or she is to be raised by parents who can’t recognize the difference between works that celebrate the human form and those that degrade it. 

The District is now trying to say that she wasn’t the greatest teacher, but that accusation doesn’t seem to hold up to scrutiny and, anyway, I’ve never heard of a less than optimal teacher being suspended after 28 years of tenure for that reason alone. If that were the case, we would have even bigger teacher shortages than we do now—huge ones in fact.

I have dug up the names and numbers of School and School District administrators. Please call them and help save this poor woman’s job.

 

Wilma Fisher Elementary

Nancy Lawson
Principal

(469) 633-2600

 

Frisco Independent School District

Rick Reedy

Superintendent

(469) 633-6000

Two of the offending images:

Rodin’s “Shade”

Flora by Aristide Maillol 1911

 

Maillol’s “Flora”

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