Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Confesses To Confessing Under Torture

Umm, sorta satire...Pete

March 28, 2007 | Issue 43•13

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind who recently admitted to murdering journalist Daniel Pearl and planning more than 30 other terrorist acts, confessed on tape Monday that he had made his recent confessions under extreme physical and mental duress.

"I deeply regret any inaccuracies or exaggerations I may have uttered in my agitated mental state," a bloodied, visibly exhausted Mohammed said in a videotaped statement. "But the men with whom I was cooperating said the pain would only stop if I had in fact beheaded Pearl with my own hands, planned the September 11th attacks, and was actually Osama bin Laden after extensive plastic surgery. Again, I apologize for any difficulties that may arise from any misinformation I may have provided."

CIA and military intelligence officers said they were willing to intensify their interrogation of Mohammed if his torture claims prove inaccurate.

Brzezinski on terror hysteria

[This issue is not unfamiliar to GetOffThis! readers but it is interesting that it is being raised by such a stolid member of the establishment and published in the equally stolid Washington Post. Google, incidentally, only reports four sites picking up this interesting development. Brezesinski is clearly a spoil sport, threatening the future of media hysteria on the topic]

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, WASHINGTON POST - The "war on terror" has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration's elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America's psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may use terrorism against us.

The damage these three words have done -- a classic self-inflicted wound -- is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves. The phrase itself is meaningless. It defines neither a geographic context nor our presumed enemies. Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique of warfare -- political intimidation through the killing of unarmed non-combatants. . .

The culture of fear is like a genie that has been let out of its bottle. It acquires a life of its own -- and can become demoralizing. America today is not the self-confident and determined nation that responded to Pearl Harbor; nor is it the America that heard from its leader, at another moment of crisis, the powerful words "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"; nor is it the calm America that waged the Cold War with quiet persistence despite the knowledge that a real war could be initiated abruptly within minutes and prompt the death of 100 million Americans within just a few hours. We are now divided, uncertain and potentially very susceptible to panic in the event of another terrorist act in the United States itself.

That is the result of five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror, quite unlike the more muted reactions of several other nations (Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, to mention just a few) that also have suffered painful terrorist acts. In his latest justification for his war in Iraq, President Bush even claims absurdly that he has to continue waging it lest al-Qaeda cross the Atlantic to launch a war of terror here in the United States.

Such fear-mongering, reinforced by security entrepreneurs, the mass media and the entertainment industry, generates its own momentum. The terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats. That puts a premium on the presentation of credible scenarios of ever-more-horrifying acts of violence, sometimes even with blueprints for their implementation.

How to respond to RIAA harrassment

[Just a bit from a classic legal letter to RIAA's attorneys composed by Attoprney Merl Ledford III of Visalia CA]

MERL LEDFORD III - It is not too late to correct your clients' (and your law firm's) mistakes.

Mr. and Mrs. Merchant's emotional condition puts a premium on immediate case resolution. Thus, although I generally do not make opening legitimate offers as defense counsel, the clients' non-monetary interests and their probability of recovering their fees and costs in this matter (at a minimum) suggest that a defense settlement offer would not be inappropriate. Therefore:

My clients are willing to accept dismissal of the litigation in exchange for

1. Payment of Mr. Merchant's reasonable fees and costs including retainer of $6,880.25. The payment represents good value considering what your own firm's billings will have been to date and use of those billing records as the loadstar rate for Mr. Merchant's award. . .

2. Apology on your firm's letterhead by your supervising partner for inappropriately filing and maintaining an action against Mr. Merchant without probable cause and for the emotional hardship that such litigation caused; and

3. Execution of a mutual general release of all claims in my office's usual form. The RIAA form of release I have seen will not be used. It is my practice in these kinds of cases to require that the plaintiffs indemnify my clients against claims by third parties as part of my general release language. (E.g., your clients sue a site for posting guitar tabs to copyrighted music; my client visits the site, read the tabs, plays them on his guitar, and get sued by way of cross-claim by the guitar tab site. . .

4. Confidentiality: It is my general practice to disfavor confidential settlements. Under the circumstances, and so long as your clients are prompt and candid in dealing with their mistaken, misplaced lawsuit, I would consider a reasonable confidentiality provision. Again, quick response, full payment, and immediate dismissal will allow confidentiality as an option. . .

The authorized settlement offer expressed in the preceding paragraphs of this email . . . may be accepted by signing a copy of this email and returning it to my office by fax no later than the close of business on Friday, March 30, 2007. . . It is the best offer that will be made in this litigation based on the facts and circumstances as they are known at this time. Substantial discovery, investigation, and exchange of information remains that could substantially alter the settlement position of the parties to the betterment of either side in ways that cannot now be responsibly predicted. The case settlement value will, however, trend upward the longer I have to work on it. And the emotional distress damages for willfully filing and thereafter maintaining claims for relief without probable cause will only increase as the matter drags on. . .

Procedurally, we need to address how best to move the case to the Fresno Branch so you can enjoy our new Courthouse and avoid Judge Levi's wrath for filing in the wrong court. . .

Once the case is moved to the Fresno Branch, your clients should consider cleaning up their complaint. The FRCP and collateral estoppel from other RIAA law and motion matters require much greater specificity in pleading than your clients provided in the complaint I reviewed. Dates of the alleged downloads, which plaintiff (or affiliate) holds which copyright to which track, etc. must be specifically pleaded and proven. You are as familiar as I am with the results in other cases where RIAA's general allegations have been challenged. Let's get over that hurdle without unnecessary law and motion practice. . .

Monday, March 26, 2007

Snapshots from Unschooling Part 3

By Cynthia Peters

Part 1: "Snapshots from School"

Part 2: "Unenrolling My Daughter from School"

When Zoe quit school in ninth grade, one of the saddest things to me was the response of the kids she left behind. Some assumed she was pregnant or in rehab. One got angry with her for "throwing her life away." But mostly, her decision was met with a deafening silence.

Once they couldn't slot her actions into familiar categories (pregnancy, drug problems, truancy), then her actions became too difficult to understand. They responded the way any of us would if we were, let's say, part of an English-speaking audience and someone stood up to give a lecture in Chinese. We wouldn't bother listening. What would be the point?

It felt sad because so few of the students seem to be getting so few of their needs met in school, and yet when confronted with an alternative, they tuned it out. It's understandable, I guess. It would be like me trying to tune into a lecture in Chinese. When I asked Zoe's friends what they thought of school, many of them responded simply, "We're used to it." That's a common response to even the most dysfunctional institutions. They seem immobile, so why hurt yourself more by crashing up against them? Better to get used to it. They seem unavoidable, so why pay attention to people who bushwhack a way out? Better to write them off.

For more on what I think is wrong with "getting used" to school, see Parts 1 and 2 of this series. This part, Part 3, turns away from school and looks instead at unschool.

First, let's be clear that with unschooling, we have a real paradigm shift. Not only are we speaking a different language in this family, but probably even the hand signals don't look familiar. Zoe is not doing any traditional schooling of any sort. Soon after leaving school, she signed up for a community Spanish class and a video class offered by a friend of a friend, and she considered having a math tutor, but she dropped out of the first two and ended up refusing the last. I was disappointed at first. It's easier to explain things to the relatives when you can point to familiar activities like classes. "Taking classes" is shorthand for "learning," after all. It was hard enough to explain why we let our 15-year old leave school, and now I had to confess that she hadn't managed to stick with even the most minimal "school work."

Why hadn't she? I think her answer would be that the model wasn't working for her. She didn't want to know Spanish badly enough to sit through a class on it. For the video class, she wanted to be able to hover and witness and learn by watching, but she did not want to produce anything. "Too much pressure," she said. My hard-working, Puritan ancestors turn in their graves at these words. But, yeah, that's how she sees it, so that's how it is - at least for her. Let's look a little more carefully, keeping in mind the limits to the lessons that can be learned from one experience, but being open to those lessons nonetheless.

"Hey, teachers! Leave those kids alone!" - Pink Floyd

Zoe didn't learn to read under pressure either. She liked stories and didn't have a facility for deciphering text. She had parents who read to her a lot, so, from her point of view, what on earth would be the benefit of slogging through those dreadful "early readers"? Our gut feeling was that she would read eventually, but perhaps not on the school system's timetable, so we took her out of first grade. She avoided being labeled. We avoided tense homework sessions and power struggles. She soaked up stories. We communicated a lot of trust in her abilities. She learned that she could be in charge of her learning. During the summer before what would have been fourth grade, she decided she wanted to learn to read, and so she did. She asked an adult friend up the street to tutor her, and within a couple of months, she was reading sophisticated novels. She started reading when her mind was ready and when she would be able to read at the level she was interested in. This last point is important. Reading held little interest for when she could not do it fluidly and at a sophisticated level.

At one point during the tutoring sessions, this friend up the street came to talk with me. She was worried Zoe might have some sort of dyslexia. We had wondered the same ourselves. How else could we make sense of her being so outside what the experts considered appropriate in terms of reading? We held off on taking her in for a diagnosis. "Let's give it a little more time," we said. After six weeks of minimal tutoring, Zoe was reading comfortably, and she has rarely been without a book since (except when she was in school, I should add, which she decided to try starting with eighth grade. Why did school seem to lessen her interest in reading? An easy answer is that with all the homework, she didn't have enough time. But probably that is not quite true. It's more likely that, having practiced tuning out all day at school, she didn't have the energy to tune in enough to read a book.)

Once a friend asked Zoe how she finally learned to read. Her answer was, "My parents waited until I was ready." Notice there was no actual mechanism that started her reading; rather, there was an absence of pressure. This is where you have to take a leap of faith into the new paradigm or agree to Chinese immersion. We think so often in terms of what we *do* to kids - what phonics program, what standardized tests, what homework, what toys, what preschool programs, what praise, what punishment, what treatment for attention deficit disorder - and perhaps not enough about how much we should *let them be.*

I don't mean let them be in the commercial-culture, school-based, lack-of-community sort of way that most of our kids are subjected to. I don't mean let them be so that corporate noise and teachers and loneliness fill up their lives. I mean be present for them, but not so directive. I mean making meaningful choices available, not layer upon layer of noise about lip glosses and video games. I mean allow learning and exploration to take place in multiple ways, not by some uniform method decided on by bureaucrats who are more driven by the (dys)function of large institutions than they are by the needs of actual children who have enormous wells of curiosity and energy.

"I'm trying to figure out what an education is."

This was Zoe's response to a friend who accused of her wasting time doing nothing. "At least I'm getting an education," he had said. On the surface Zoe appears to resist pressure, but in the paradigm shift of unschooling, she's taken on a lot of responsibility. She has no teachers or school system telling her what to do. She is not studying for tests or counting on a report card to let her know how she's doing. She wasn't interested in the stress of having to memorize Spanish verbs, and she had a bad case of performance anxiety in the video class, but in an odd twist, she has decided to bear significantly more pressure than most kids have to bear. Namely, she has taken responsibility for her own education.

Sometimes, I wonder if it's too much for a 15-year old. Maybe we should alleviate some of that stress by "telling" her what to do and "making" her do it. I suppose we could, but we know from experience how poorly that works. We've learned from her how she excels when she's ready. We honor our relationship with her enough not to impose our will. As her parents, we don't have too many requirements except that she help out with the dishes, earn some money for the things she wants to do, and practice moderation (as well as be safe and responsible) in her explorations of the world. Beyond that we offer the structure of our lives, the communities we've forged in the neighborhood and in our political work, and our trust in her.

Maybe in the end, those offerings have higher expectations embedded in them than any exhortations to get on the honor roll. They include the radical expectation or fundamental belief that she is part of a community, that her ideas matter, and that her participation makes a difference. The organizer at the grassroots community arts center where Zoe volunteers wonders how she got along before Zoe started helping her out. Zoe's work at Spontaneous Celebrations has connected her to the Bean Town Society, an organization led by neighborhood youth. She has helped organize festivals, written leaflets, input data, promoted events, and gotten to know a range of people working on a range of programming. Should I extrapolate the "educational" value of her volunteer efforts? I think not. When you dispose of a set of standards, you don't refer to them in an effort to figure out how you're doing. This is not to say, of course, that I have a problem with traditional academics. But most of the worthwhile stuff you learn in school, you could learn in a fraction of the time if it weren't so lost in the mind-anesthetizing aspects of school and the pressures of institutional norms.

"I'm not sure what's wrong with me. I just want to sleep."

The absence of externally imposed pressure does not equal the absence of stress. You don't work with a grassroots group and avoid stress. Racial politics in Boston have never been easy, and Zoe is in the thick of it. The essay she wrote as part of an application to work with youth doing social change work and study over the summer was all about her desire to explore the meaning of race. "Why does skin color matter so much," she wrote. "And how can I work to solve that?"

She's been helping to mobilize for an upcoming anti-war rally, and she's turned her MySpace page into commentary on Bush. She struggles a lot with coherent but somewhat flailing anger. In December she attended a Buddhist retreat, and came back stunned by meeting Vietnamese monks - "who have more right to be angry than anyone else," by her estimation - and yet who are able to be compassionate.

"No wonder you're tired," I'd like to tell her. "For one thing, you're a normal teenager, and normal teenagers need to sleep a lot. And for another thing, look at what you're dealing with." Racism, white privilege, the brutality of our nation's policies. Yeah, these things might be making her tired. Not to mention the plethora of other life changes that she has to negotiate, including becoming an adult, making and keeping friends, developing sexuality, and taking more and more responsibility for the world around her. These challenges make her no different from every other teenager in Boston; only, unlike them, she doesn't have to be at school at 7:20 am. She gets to sleep more.

"It's about trying to be happy."

This was Zoe's response when I asked her what unschooling meant to her. She's sought happiness in engagement with her community, grappling with hard issues, as well as other things I have not talked about too much here - staying up until all hours reading, listening to music, spending hours on the computer, taking photographs, teaching herself photoshop, watching movies with her sister, hanging out with friends, experimenting with all sorts of things that she'd probably prefer I not get into. We certainly don't have an absence of angst in our house. But we have more than our fair share of privilege. Zoe's dad and I enjoy interesting, empowering work that approaches paying the bills, and we have had two decades in this community - developing ties, doing political work, helping to create (in some ways) an infrastructure that Zoe can use to "scaffold" herself into adulthood.

And that's what I wish more kids and families had a choice about. Every time I read another article about education reform, I wince at the calls for extended school days, longer school years, more homework, more after-school enrichment, more ways for adults to tell kids what to do, spy on them while they do it, and then grade them on it. As a parent, I'll tell you what I need: policy changes that make it possible for all adults to be part of building a community, for there to be more "neighbors up the street" who can pitch in with tutoring sessions, and for there to be more meaningful mentoring opportunities for youth. Decent schools would be helpful, too. Classroom learning works for some people, and they should have access to it if they want it.

A benefit of quitting school, we might find, is that kids find themselves feeling happier. They at least realize they can seek happiness, which is not true for kids in school, many of whom have instead mastered a *tolerance* for their everyday life. Other truly radical changes might evolve as well. Kids will look inside for direction and to discover what moves them, and they will be shaped, too, by a community that cares about them and trusts them rather than authority figures that threaten them with punishment or seduce them with praise. Their (non-sleep-deprived) participation, freely given, will not just be an opportunity for personal growth, I'm guessing, but there will be benefits for all of us, as we get to enjoy the autonomous presence of all the eager, curious, energetic, creative kids who are currently locked away in school.

Thanks to Zoe, who declined the opportunity to write this piece herself, but who generously read it and offered her comments. Thanks also to Mary Goodson for her comments. For more information about unschooling teens, start by reading "The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Drop out of School and Get a Real Education" by Grace Llewlyn.

Unenrolling My Daughter from School Or Choosing Not to "Get Used to It", Part 2 of Snapshots from School

By Cynthia Peters

Read Part 1 first if you haven't already:

Note: As I explained in my previous commentary (see "Snapshots from School",, December 12, 2006) our family's relationship to schooling is unusual. Both our kids have homeschooled - in a mostly unschooling fashion - for most of their lives. Our shock at what we saw happening when our oldest daughter started attending school might seem wide-eyed and naïve to many. I'm sure it is. But perhaps there are some lessons in it. That said, this piece is written with apologies to those kids who don't have the option to go to school if they want to and to those who don't have (or don't think they have) the choice to leave. Also, apologies to the many teachers and administrators out there who continually reach out to kids despite institutional norms that pressure them to do the opposite.

"Dealing with schools was the worst part of parenting," a friend recently said. Her words rang in my head as my partner and I tried to support our 15-year old through her first term at a large public exam school in Boston. School was quite literally getting in the way of our relationship, and it was getting in the way of her growth and well-being. She was tuning out and turning off; and the more we coaxed her to hang in there, the more she got bashed. We couldn't see any way forward for her except to get used to it. Or not.

The worst part of parenting, in my opinion, is negotiating the pressure to seek private solutions (that will at least benefit your offspring) with the desire and need to find collective solutions (that will ultimately benefit all of us).

How do you support a kid to master the skills she needs to survive in school - when those skills themselves are anti-social, debilitating, and oppressive? For the first three months of the school year, it seemed like what Zoe needed the most was to be able to do what she was told without worrying about whether it was right, fair, or sensible; to shrug off the violence she witnessed; and to call on stamina and a thick skin to survive. Although there is perhaps a time and a place for all of these qualities, it seems illogical in the extreme (if your goal is education) to be systematically squashing kids' ability and desire to think, to be inuring them to violence, and to be training them to take it. It is not illogical at all, however, if your goal is to train future contributors to the institutions of work, leisure, and governance as they are currently defined. You might as well start early getting them used to the behaviors and pressures they'll experience in the future.

We tried different approaches to helping Zoe get what she wanted out of the school. She made good friendships; she became a member of the Gay/Straight Alliance; she discovered an interest in biology - so there were reasons why she wanted to be there. We helped her try to balance suffering through the rest of it with hanging in there in order to get the parts she wanted. But ultimately the balance was impossible to achieve. At least for her. On December 18, 2006, I unenrolled Zoe from school. The process was instructive.

At one point, we sat in the office for about twenty minutes. During that short time, we witnessed the "disciplinarian" (let's call him Mr. D) deal with several children. One kid - maybe a sophomore - was brought in to be reprimanded for skipping class. During the reprimand, the kid barely made eye contact with Mr. D. He basically looked like he was having an out-of-body and out-of-mind experience - which may have been a most effective escape route as Mr. D's apparent goal was to shame him, humiliate him, and threaten to take him off the ice hockey team.

There was no respect for privacy. The whole "conversation" happened in front of anyone who happened to be in the office. There was no attempt to find out what was going on with the kid or to explore why he wasn't going to class. Mr. D did not even seem particularly concerned about the fact that the kid was basically acting like a zombie. The whole charade seemed like a ritual enactment of the essence of mandatory education today. Mr. D represents institutional authority, the enforcer of the rules, the wielder of the carrot and the stick. He makes it clear that he doesn't care if the kid is *learning* so long as the kid is *showing up.*

After he left, a younger kid came in who apparently was not so alienated from authority and still retained some idea that you could get support navigating difficult situations in school. He was being bullied by kids in the lunchroom and he came in asking for help. Mr. D talked to him the same way he talked to the other kid - his words and his tone moving along the narrow spectrum between shaming, blaming, and humiliating. "What are you doing in here talking to me? I don't want to see you back here. We all have problems sometimes. Get back to class."

Violence, bullying, and mean behavior are expected and almost condoned in this way. It's an institutional norm. Get used to it. In Zoe's English class one day, three students walked in during the middle of the period to harass a girl who had supposedly stolen something from one of them. The teacher maintained a perfectly blank expression, did not engage the students, and called security. I don't blame her for not getting in the middle of what could have turned into a physical brawl. Eighty to 100 teachers are assaulted each year in Boston public schools, usually when they are trying to break up a fight (according to the "Boston Globe," 12/29/06). But after security came and removed the players in this particular episode, the teacher simply returned to the lesson. "Turn to page 56 of `Jane Eyre'." There was no attempt to process what had happened or make sense of the experience.

How did the kids in the class respond? "We were just laughing," said Zoe. I can imagine the nervous laughter that results from being trapped in a place where stuff like that happens, where it's considered normal, where everyone proceeds as if it hadn't happened, and where you take note for future reference of how these things are handled. An underlying but powerful current of violence is practically palpable.

It's not just evident in the fact that police confiscated 577 weapons from Boston public school kids last year or that many children say they fear for their safety, but it's clear in these other not-exactly-subtle ways as well. When class is disrupted and a brawl is threatened in the middle of 9th grade English, and the teacher does not even register the event in her countenance or her conversation, the lesson of that period is clear: that's how it is. Get used to it.

While waiting in the office, I had the opportunity to talk to Zoe's art teacher - the one who gave her an F on a project (and then supposedly threw it away) because she had neglected to list the section number at the top of the page. "What was the idea of failing her for what was just a slight bureaucratic error?" I asked.

"Well," he explained. "I have to sign in every morning when I get to work. If I don't, I get in trouble. She needs to learn how to follow the rules."

"Okay," I said, "Leaving aside whether art class is the appropriate place to teach future workplace rules, why did you throw the piece away? Don't you think that sends the wrong message - like the art itself doesn't matter?"

"Oh," he answered. "I didn't really throw it away. I just threatened to do that." He laughed. "I tell all the kids that, but I don't really throw them away."

More charades, in other words, like what happened in the office with the disciplinarian. The first kid who came to see Mr. D didn't really have to listen; he just had to present his body to the office so that the act of listening could be simulated. The second kid brought more of his whole self to the office, but learned the important lesson that that was a mistake. If you bring your whole self, then your whole self gets bashed.

It's not that they are in school to learn or to grow. It's that they're there to follow a script. Furthermore, it's fine - even preferred and expected - that kids do so in a zombie-like fashion. When I question a teacher for trashing my kid's work, his only words of comfort are that she wasn't singled out. I'm supposed to feel better because he does it to all the kids.

As we were leaving, the bell rang. "Uh oh," said Zoe. There was a two-second pause during which there was silence, and then mayhem as doors flew open and kids began sprinting in all directions down the hallways. We pressed ourselves up against the wall as the kids flew by. They had three minutes to do whatever they needed to do plus get to their next class on time. Three minutes is not enough time to get to your locker, stow books from your last class, get books for your next class, use the bathroom, or check in with a friend. It's barely enough time to traverse the enormous expanse of the school. It's certainly not enough time to change gears from Latin to geometry or history to gym or to reflect on what you're doing or to think. It's arbitrary regimentation, and it doesn't make sense for children or probably for any living things.

But everyone does it because it's the rule and because if you don't, you'll have to go see Mr. D., and play-act in the charade of dominance (his) and submission (yours), which, assuming you have the resources to make the calculation, takes more energy than hurrying up and getting to class on time.

Dropping out isn't the answer for everyone. The advantages and disadvantages of staying in school might balance out for some in favor of staying. I wrote a number of years ago in my review of the "Teenage Liberation Handbook" by Grace Llewlyn ( that it takes a certain amount of privilege to walk away from school. I am grateful that we were able to step outside the institution, but I'm appalled about what we left behind.

Furthermore, individual solutions, like the one our family found, don't begin to address the institutional nature of the problem. For that, we need a collective solution. Last year, Boston high-schoolers organized to force the school board to rescind its policy of locking out students who showed up to school late. If they can organize themselves to be let in, they can organize themselves to be let out or to have a say about what happens inside. They can say en masse that they refuse to participate in the charade anymore. The only thing that props up Mr. D's authority, after all, is the teenager's agreement to present his body for simulated listening. He has the power to refuse to do so - but it will only register if he organizes with others.

Workers do it when they strike. Soldiers do it when they refuse to fight. Students can do it too. Everyone has a right to meaningful, empowering education in a non-violent, non-oppressive environment. The responsibility to make that happen belongs with all of us.

To solve many of the pressing problems we face today, we need every one of those minds to be tuned in, interested, present, and cared for. That's just one reason (there are many) to have more humane, liberatory schools that help kids use their minds rather than coach them to turn off.

Stay tuned for Part 3 - "Snapshots from Unschool."

Army deployed seriously injured troops

Soldiers on crutches and canes were sent to a main desert camp used for Iraq training. Military experts say the Army was pumping up manpower statistics to show a brigade was battle ready.

By Mark Benjamin

Mar. 26, 2007 | Last November, Army Spc. Edgar Hernandez, a communications specialist with a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, had surgery on an ankle he had injured during physical training. After the surgery, doctors put his leg in a cast, and he was supposed to start physical therapy when that cast came off six weeks later.

But two days after his cast was removed, Army commanders decided it was more important to send him to a training site in a remote desert rather than let him stay at Fort Benning, Ga., to rehabilitate. In January, Hernandez was shipped to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where his unit, the 3,900-strong 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, was conducting a month of training in anticipation of leaving for Iraq in March.

Hernandez says he was in no shape to train for war so soon after his injury. "I could not walk," he told Salon in an interview. He said he was amazed when he learned he was being sent to California. "Did they not realize that I'm hurt and I needed this physical therapy?" he remembered thinking. "I was told by my doctor and my physical therapist that this was crazy."

Hernandez had served two tours in Iraq, where he helped maintain communications gear in the unit's armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles. But he could not participate in war maneuvers conducted on a 1,000-square-mile mock battlefield located in the harsh Mojave Desert. Instead, when he got to California, he was led to a large tent where he would be housed. He was shocked by what he saw inside: There were dozens of other hurt soldiers. Some were on crutches, and others had arms in slings. Some had debilitating back injuries. And nearby was another tent, housing female soldiers with health issues ranging from injuries to pregnancy.

Hernandez is one of a dozen soldiers who stayed for weeks in those tents who were interviewed for this report, some of whose medical records were also reviewed by Salon. All of the soldiers said they had no business being sent to Fort Irwin given their physical condition. In some cases, soldiers were sent there even though their injuries were so severe that doctors had previously recommended they should be considered for medical retirement from the Army.

Military experts say they suspect that the deployment to Fort Irwin of injured soldiers was an effort to pump up manpower statistics used to show the readiness of Army units. With the military increasingly strained after four years of war, Army readiness has become a critical part of the debate over Iraq. Some congressional Democrats have considered plans to limit the White House's ability to deploy more troops unless the Pentagon can certify that units headed into the fray are fully equipped and fully manned.

Salon recently uncovered another troubling development in the Army's efforts to shore up troop levels, reporting earlier this month that soldiers from the 3rd Brigade had serious health problems that the soldiers claimed were summarily downgraded by military doctors at Fort Benning in February, apparently so that the Army could send them to Iraq. Some of those soldiers were among the group sent to Fort Irwin to train in January.

After arriving at Fort Irwin, many of the injured soldiers did not train. "They had all of us living in a big tent," confirmed Spc. Lincoln Smith, who spent the month there along with Hernandez and others. Smith is an Army truck driver, but because of his health issues, which include sleep apnea (a breathing ailment) and narcolepsy, Smith is currently barred from driving military vehicles. "I couldn't go out and do the training," Smith said about his time in California. His records list his problems as "permanent" and recommend that he be considered for retirement from the Army because of his health.

Another soldier with nearly 20 years in the Army was sent to Fort Irwin, ostensibly to prepare for deployment to Iraq, even though she suffers from back problems and has psychiatric issues. Doctors wrote "unable to deploy overseas" on her medical records.

Entire Article Here...

Sunday, March 25, 2007


By Les Blough, Editor
Mar 24, 2007, 09:02

The Boston Globe article (below) reports that yesterday, Democrat-led House of Representatives voted to continue the war in Iraq for another 17 months. In the last 17 months, 1265 US and British soldiers were killed in Iraq - about 4 a day. At least 23,113 Iraqis were killed in the last 15 months - probably many more.

At the Encampment to Stop the War in Washington DC last week organized by Troops Out Now Coalition, we were first in line to attend the Democrats' first hearing for funding the war. Our "representatives" refused to allow us to attend the public hearing. So we confronted the Democrats outside the hearing room door in the hallway of the Rayburn Building. They arrested 9 of us for doing no more than speaking out against the war, exercising our first amendment right in a public building.

The corporate media report included below states:

"The House of Representatives for the first time passed a binding resolution for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, voting by a 218-to-212 margin to force President Bush to end US involvement in the war by the end of August 2008."

All sectors of society and the corporate media agree that the people voted the Democrats into power last November for the express purpose of ending the war in Iraq. The Democrats and Republicans then colluded to continue the war with their absurd claims that they could not end the war now because of their responsibility to "protect the troops" and to protect Iraqis from themselves by averting a civil war. The Democrats - in control of the House and Senate even claimed that their hands are tied and they are powerless to stop the war. All 3 of these claims are an affront and insult to those who put them in office last November. Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha presented their decision to continue the war. Pelosi shamelessly stated, "Proudly, this new Congress voted to bring an end to the war in Iraq". John Murtha put this face on the death-vote: "We are going to make a difference with this bill. We are going to bring those troops home. We are going to start changing the direction of this great country." Then the Boston Globe gave them cover, offending every anti-war protester since the first invasion calling Murtha, that crusty old killer in Vietnam - "a key anti war leader".

It should now be crystal clear to all those who have trusted the Democrats over the decades to be the "people's party" - the U.S. political party who gives voice to the poor, the downtrodden, the worker and the ordinary person - that the Democrats are one and the same with the Republicans. They always have been, but the U.S. government's rampant global aggression during the last 4 1/2 years - and has ripped the masks off the Democrats and shown them for what they have always been - imperialist, capitalist pigs who value the individual beneath the worth of profit and power. The blood of the the 1265 soldiers killed in the last 17 months and of the Iraqis killed in the last 15 months rests squarely on the backs of the Democrats who funded the slaughter - just as much as the Republicans. The burden of the blood of those who will be killed in the next 17 months will be borne by the same Democrats who are intent on keeping this war going whatever their perverted reasons.

Finally, this corporate media report attempts to distance the war-mongering Democrats from the man who is now hated by so many people in the U.S. and throughout the world: George W. Bush

"An outraged Bush declared that the Democratic-led body had "abdicated its responsibility" by passing a bill he said would hearten insurgents even though there is "no chance" the House could override his veto.

Nobody should be fooled by this rhetoric. It's a beast with two heads and the two political parties work in tandem to reach their combined, corporate objectives. Both are controlled by the corporations and if not controlled - heavily influenced by AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbies. Just as with domestic policy, in the case of the Iraq war, the Republicans are the "Bad Cop" and the Democrats the "Good". But there can be no possible good - no matter how they mind-fuck it - about the death of another baby, child, mother, father, uncle, aunt, cousin or friend in Iraq. Whatever their twisted goals, they cannot be worth the life of one more soldier - most do not want to be there - they know they've been lied to, are killing for corporate interests and only want to come home.

As the politicians grind on in their meat factory that was once called Iraq, we will grind on and confront them at their front door, on the street, in their Washington death rooms, wherever we can find them - and give them no quarter. Last week we raised the bar. We have begun our move from protest to Resistance.

- Les Blough, Editor

© Copyright 2007 by

Lies My Paper Told Me

By Allan Uthman, Buffalo Beast
Posted on March 24, 2007, Printed on March 25, 2007

While I'm one of those big complainers about deception in the media, I have to admit I get a giddy thrill out of reading it. As with any addiction, I've developed an increasing tolerance and require an ever purer dosage of insidious lies and appeals to conformity to get my kicks. Now I have a special appreciation for the most extreme variety of corporate press dishonesty: articles written solely to insult reality.

There's a pattern that articles seem to follow when some poor bootlicking journalist is tasked with refuting an objectionably true piece of information, despite having no coherent case against it. Usually, the majority of the piece will assess the offending claim and generally summarize the evolution of the controversy. This first 80% or so of the article will read like a regular, reasonably evenhanded piece of journalism, perhaps even containing sympathetic quotes from the suspect claim's proponents. Then, having nearly filled their word-count and still at a loss for a decent argument, the author will make a wild U-turn and hurry through a brief, entirely subjective, incomplete and patently idiotic dismissal of whatever point they were just explaining, a tacked-on "there, there" to soothe their tender, easily rattled readers. It reeks of editorial interference, but what's really remarkable is how clumsy and transparent the process is.

I recognized this pattern last year, when The New York Times addressed the fact that, despite having been quoted as saying "Israel must be wiped off the map" by every man, woman and child in the United States over the past year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a frequent victim of deliberate mistranslation, never actually said that. A correct translation, according to many native Farsi speakers, goes something like, "The regime occupying Israel must vanish from the pages of history," and was a direct quotation of Ayatollah Khomeini.

The article, by Times deputy foreign editor Ethan Bronner ("Just how far did they go, those words against Israel?"), is really something special. Of course, a regime -- that is, a government -- vanishing from the page of time doesn't evoke the apocalyptic image that a nation wiped off the map does, and this specific misquotation has done probably more than any other piece of domestic psy-ops to vilify Iran. It's an effective lie, so it must be saved, and it's Bronner's job to do it.

Despite Bronner's obvious reluctance to go along, the facts practically dragged him kicking and screaming toward the inexorable conclusion that Ahmadinejad didn't even say the words "Israel," "wipe" or "map." Bronner sprinkled a generous portion of bullshit throughout the piece, stating that the verb translated as "wipe" is transitive when it is intransitive, and even arguing that the fact that the Iranian president actually said "the regime occupying Jerusalem" instead of "Israel" makes the statement worse, because Ahmadinejad "refuses even to utter the name Israel." That is some amazing spin, I have to admit. But Bronner still cannot deny that "map" is wrong and significantly different in tone than "pages of history," even offering weak excuses for the error, and at least acknowledges that Ahmadinejad referred to Israel's government, not the whole of Israel. He really can't avoid decimating the original misquotation, which was and still is so oft-repeated in the media.

But then an amazing, incongruous thing happens: he draws precisely the opposite conclusion flatly contradicting his own analysis. Immediately after admitting that "it is true that he has never specifically threatened war against Israel," Bronner's final paragraph is outrageously illogical and cowardly. Check it out:

"So did Iran's president call for Israel to be wiped off the map? It certainly seems so. Did that amount to a call for war? That remains an open question."

What the fuck? He didn't say "Israel," he didn't say "map," but it "certainly seems" he did? And frankly, drawing solely from the evidence presented in Bronner's own damn piece, whether the statement was "a call for war" is decidedly not an open question. The reality here is that there was only one possible conclusion to this article from the minute that the Times decided to address the subject, and that, at a loss for a reasonable way to support that conclusion, Bronner simply banged it in at the end, regardless of the fact that it doesn't make the least bit of sense at all.

Entire essay here...

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

The President’s Prison

George Bush does not want to be rescued.

The president has been told countless times, by a secretary of state, by members of Congress, by heads of friendly governments — and by the American public — that the Guantánamo Bay detention camp has profoundly damaged this nation’s credibility as a champion of justice and human rights. But Mr. Bush ignored those voices — and now it seems he has done the same to his new defense secretary, Robert Gates, the man Mr. Bush brought in to clean up Donald Rumsfeld’s mess.

Thom Shanker and David Sanger reported in Friday’s Times that in his first weeks on the job, Mr. Gates told Mr. Bush that the world would never consider trials at Guantánamo to be legitimate. He said that the camp should be shut, and that inmates who should stand trial should be brought to the United States and taken to real military courts.

Mr. Bush rejected that sound advice, heeding instead the chief enablers of his worst instincts, Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Their opposition was no surprise. The Guantánamo operation was central to Mr. Cheney’s drive to expand the powers of the presidency at the expense of Congress and the courts, and Mr. Gonzales was one of the chief architects of the policies underpinning the detainee system. Mr. Bush and his inner circle are clearly afraid that if Guantánamo detainees are tried under the actual rule of law, many of the cases will collapse because they are based on illegal detention, torture and abuse — or that American officials could someday be held criminally liable for their mistreatment of detainees.

It was distressing to see that the president has retreated so far into his alternative reality that he would not listen to Mr. Gates — even when he was backed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who, like her predecessor, Colin Powell, had urged Mr. Bush to close Guantánamo. It seems clear that when he brought in Mr. Gates, Mr. Bush didn’t want to fix Mr. Rumsfeld’s disaster; he just wanted everyone to stop talking about it.

If Mr. Bush would not listen to reason from inside his cabinet, he might at least listen to what Americans are telling him about the damage to this country’s credibility, and its cost. When Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — for all appearances a truly evil and dangerous man — confessed to a long list of heinous crimes, including planning the 9/11 attacks, many Americans reacted with skepticism and even derision. The confession became the butt of editorial cartoons, like one that showed the prisoner confessing to betting on the Cincinnati Reds, and fodder for the late-night comedians.

What stood out the most from the transcript of Mr. Mohammed’s hearing at Guantánamo Bay was how the military detention and court system has been debased for terrorist suspects. The hearing was a combatant status review tribunal — a process that is supposed to determine whether a prisoner is an illegal enemy combatant and thus not entitled in Mr. Bush’s world to rudimentary legal rights. But the tribunals are kangaroo courts, admitting evidence that was coerced or obtained through abuse or outright torture. They are intended to confirm a decision that was already made, and to feed detainees into the military commissions created by Congress last year.

The omissions from the record of Mr. Mohammed’s hearing were chilling. The United States government deleted his claims to have been tortured during years of illegal detention at camps run by the Central Intelligence Agency. Government officials who are opposed to the administration’s lawless policy on prisoners have said in numerous news reports that Mr. Mohammed was indeed tortured, including through waterboarding, which simulates drowning and violates every civilized standard of behavior toward a prisoner, even one as awful as this one. And he is hardly the only prisoner who has made claims of abuse and torture. Some were released after it was proved that they never had any connection at all to terrorism.

Still, the Bush administration says no prisoner should be allowed to take torture claims to court, including the innocents who were tortured and released. The administration’s argument is that how prisoners are treated is a state secret and cannot be discussed openly. If that sounds nonsensical, it is. It’s also not the real reason behind the administration’s denying these prisoners the most basic rights of due process.

The Bush administration has so badly subverted American norms of justice in handling these cases that they would not stand up to scrutiny in a real court of law. It is a clear case of justice denied.

NYT Editorial Here...

Friday, March 23, 2007

A $210 Million Tip? Nice Work If You Can Get It

By Barbara Ehrenreich, The Progressive
Posted on March 23, 2007

I’m not upset by the $210 million golden parachute Robert Nardelli received as a send-off from Home Depot. Not at all. To those critics who see it as one more step in the slide from free market capitalism to wholesale looting, I say: What do you really know about Nardelli’s circumstances? Maybe he has a dozen high-maintenance ex-trophy wives to support, each with a brood of special-needs offspring. Ever think of what that would cost?

Or he may have a rare disease that can be held at bay only by daily infusions of minced fresh gorilla liver. Just try purchasing a gorilla a day for purposes of personal consumption, or any endangered species, for that matter. There are the poachers to pay, the smugglers, the doctors and vets. I’m just saying: Don’t start envisioning offshore bank accounts and 50,000-square-foot fourth homes until you know the whole story.

Another reason I’m not troubled by the $210 million payoff is that the Home Depot board may see it as a kind of tip for its fired CEO, and like me, they may see no reason to link tips to performance. I don’t tip as a reward for good service; I tip because it’s part of the tipped person’s living. Waitstaff, for example, earn about $2 or $3 an hour -- a bit more now in certain states -- so a tip is just my contribution to their wage. Sloppy waitress? Surly cabdriver? I’m not their damn supervisor. They get their 20-25 percent anyway.

So what if Home Depot’s stock fell from $50 to $41 on Nardelli’s watch? Maybe the board should be commended for its generous tipping policies. Possibly it’s trying to send a message to us stingy 20 percenters: that 300 percent (based on Nardelli’s $64 million earnings over his six-year tenure) is more like it.

Or it could be that Home Depot has a more profound philosophical message to impart. The board may have decided to flout the very principle of capitalist exchange: that what you get paid should in some way reflect the work that you’ve done -- or the "value added," as they say in the business. If that seems unlikely, consider that Pfizer has just rewarded its own failed CEO with an exit package of -- and this can’t be coincidental -- $200 million.

Picture the board members sitting cross-legged on the floor in a circle, munching s’mores and giggling about how cleverly they’ve undermined the basis of our capitalist economy. Home Depot salesclerks get about $8-$10 an hour for lifting heavy objects and running around the floor all day; the CEO gets a total of almost $300 million for sinking the stock.

We’re not talking about a rational system of rewards—just random acts of kindness, vast sums of money alighting when and where they will, generally in the outstretched hands of those who already have far too much.

Now, could anyone in this store please tell me where to find the little doohickeys that hold up shelves? Oh well, I guess you have to scrap a lot of sales associates to come up with a decent CEO tip these days.

Barbara Ehrenreich is a columnist for The Progressive. Her latest book, "Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy," has just been published. Her website is

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Monday, March 19, 2007

Training Workers for Good Jobs

American politicians give lip service to the idea that retraining can give laid-off workers a second, better chance in a globalizing economy. Too often, the government treats such courses like arbitrary hoops for the unemployed to jump through if they expect to receive unemployment benefits. Instead, it could be finding better ways to target skills training to the very best jobs available.

The labor market is full of contradictions. Manufacturers have let millions of skilled laborers go, yet they report personnel shortages. The problem is that someone laid off by a carmaker won’t necessarily have the skills to work at a semiconductor factory, or even at a more advanced auto plant.

The majority of federal money for training dislocated workers goes to job-search help — writing résumés, preparing for interviews. The Trade Adjustment Assistance program pays for serious vocational education to help some shift occupations, but last year only 36,000 people began such training.

One program that might be a model for a larger national effort is Per Scholas in the Bronx, which trains low-income residents to be computer-repair technicians. What makes the program so successful is consulting closely with area businesses when it puts together its curriculum, to ensure that its graduates have the skills they need to get hired. That can mean something as simple as asking employers what kind of certification they require or as immediate as letting a company train one of its instructors.

As Dale Russakoff reported recently in The Washington Post, since 1998 more than a thousand students have graduated from Per Scholas, and it has found jobs for close to 80 percent of them. The program operates on an annual budget of just $1.9 million, provided by the City Council and foundation grants. As Per Scholas shows, the question is not whether job training can work, but why there hasn’t been a concerted national effort to make it work.

Tomgram: Anthony Arnove on the Anniversary from Hell

Four years ago, the United States invaded Iraq. It's the anniversary few want to remember; and yet, for all the disillusionment in this country, getting out of Iraq doesn't exactly seem to be on the agenda either. Not really. Here's a little tip, when you want to assess the "withdrawal" proposals being offered by members of Congress. If what's being called for is a withdrawal of American "combat troops" or brigades, or forces, then watch out. "Combat troops" turns out to be a technical term, covering less than half of the American military personnel actually in Iraq.

Here's a simple argument for withdrawal from Iraq (suggested recently in a reader's email to this site) -- and not just of those "combat troops" either. The military newspaper Stars and Stripes reports that, in January 2007, attacks on American troops surged to 180 a day, the highest rate since Baghdad fell in 2003, and double the previous year's numbers. Let's take that as our baseline figure.

Now, get out your calculator: There are 288 days left in 2007. Multiply those by 180 attacks a day -- remembering that the insurgents in Iraq are growing increasingly skilled and using ever more sophisticated weaponry -- and you get 51,840 more attacks on American troops this year. Add in another 65,700 for next year -- remembering that if, for instance, Shiite militias get more involved in fighting American troops at some point, the figures could go far higher -- and you know at least one grim thing likely to be in store for Americans if a withdrawal doesn't happen. (I first wrote a piece at Tomdispatch, "The Time of Withdrawal" back in October 2003, laying out the full reasons why I thought withdrawal was imperative and, unfortunately, it remains grimly relevant three and a half years later.)

Today, Anthony Arnove considers what that fourth anniversary means in Iraq, offering a few figures and comparisons of his own. Arnove is the author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, a small paperback modeled on a famous volume Howard Zinn wrote way back in 1967, arguing for a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. If you want to make the case -- and it's a compelling one -- to friends, neighbors, workmates, those who disagree with you, your Congressional representatives, or anyone else, this is probably the book you should have in your hands. Tom

Four Years Later... And Counting

Billboarding the Iraqi Disaster
By Anthony Arnove

As you read this, we're four years from the moment the Bush administration launched its shock-and-awe assault on Iraq, beginning 48 months of remarkable, non-stop destruction of that country … and still counting. It's an important moment for taking stock of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Here is a short rundown of some of what George Bush's war and occupation has wrought:

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

Walking Away from Guantanamo: Ursula K. LeGuin's Parable for Our Grotesque Times

By Alan Williams
Mar 15, 2007

Dragging characters out of books and into unrelated events can prove less illuminating than tiresome — and more for the characters' reputations than readers. While a wealth of conflicted themes are lent by invoking Anna Karenina as she pertains to adulterous situations, I’m content for that patron saint of cheaters to be left beneath the train tracks, dead. Ditto Madame Bovary. Ditto Hester Prynne. A trend is developing here, perhaps more for personal reasons than their frequency of allusion; nonetheless such comparisons are as old and dusty as Mrs. Havisham.

Certain potent figures hold our consciousness in such magnetic thrall that we cannot help but offer analogous real-world examples. George Bush as a modern-day Captain Ahab, hell bent on chasing and destroying the invisible, monstrous Osama bin Laden to the peril of innocent followers, was the metaphor du jour till he got distracted by a detestable but measly squid named Saddam. It’s difficult to name another personality half as pervasive and startlingly recognizable even to those who have not read Moby Dick (except for perhaps Jesus, to whom Bush has also been compared, but that’s for another column).

The same literary pickings on which we have to draw parallels are proportional to literacy in general. Yet journalists and writers bear the burden of making fiction relevant to today’s political sphere, no matter the reader’s bookshelf. Here and there, they are reaching in inspired ways to articulate this grotesque national moment by calling upon relationships in novels that are ultimately far more enduring than we are.

Camille Paglia recently described the Bush/Cheney codependency as “an unsavory, toxic relationship, a vampiric pseudo-marriage like that of the shadowy, Machiavellian Roger Chillingworth and the impressionable, waffling Arthur Dimmesdale in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.” Spinning momentary sympathy for the first lady, James McManus compared Laura Bush to Gretta Conroy from James Joyce’s “The Dead” in a downright frightening profile. McManus wonders if Laura, who at age 16 ran a stop sign and accidentally killed rumored boyfriend Michael Douglas, sometimes looks at her horse’s ass of a husband and pines for her deceased love, just as Gretta Conroy can’t let go of the lovelorn and dead Michael Furey even though she is married to a self-involved paragon of civic virtue. Going out on a limb like that takes imagination, balls, and a gut instinct so weirdly compelling he just may be right.

These and other examples demonstrate, within the lurid three-ring circus of Washington, what Milan Kundera describes in his new book The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts. That is, reality is “pre-interpreted” — “a magic curtain, woven of legends…already made-up, masked, reinterpreted” — and it is only the novel that can rip away this skein to reveal the lies and hypocrisy bred by greed and the corrupting pursuit of power. This is the same morally hardcore view of literature that Europeans have traditionally taken, but after seven years of lies and bombastic manipulation the time has come for the U.S. to up its dosage.

Who are the characters, though, that could encompass the Iraq war and its victims? How long will it take for this moment, from 9/11 onward, to gestate in some creative consciousness for a character to emerge capable of reflecting it?

These were the questions simmering when I read a postcard last week on PostSecret, since removed, from a child being held at Guantanamo Bay. My mind raced between its paradoxical rainbow-colored lines to the child in the cellar at the end of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” the 1975 short story by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Told in an ironic, singsong voice fit for reading a fairy tale, Omelas is described in the Festival of Summer as the happiest place imaginable with child-like denizens, subject to no law, whose "victory they celebrate is that of life." So preposterous is their pure happiness — "based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary or destructive, and what is destructive" — that Le Guin engages the reader directly: "I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as good-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. If so, please add an orgy."

Such bliss, as it turns out, is dependent upon the torture of a child, addressed mainly as "it," kept in a cellar: "Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery." Suddenly, with this very American revelation, Omelas becomes quite believable.

Who is this child beyond the “it” of the story? It would be too simple to say that he is essentially the child who wrote the postcard. That he is all of the tortured, despite “diplomatic assurances” that prisoners will not be persecuted even as they undergo extraordinary rendition, despite John McCain’s Military Commissions Act that still allows the president to determine in secret what the CIA will define as torture in its prisons. That he is the abandonment of the ancient right to habeas corpus, to challenge one’s imprisonment in court. That he is future generations. That he is what’s slouching towards Bethlehem to be born.

It would be too easy to draw these connections — although they are true — because “Omelas, bright-towered by the sea” is more like the country in Bush’s head than the U.S. at large. Plenty of citizens know about and are outraged by the well-documented practices at Guantanamo and around the world to no effect. As Le Guin puts it, "Theirs is no vapid, irresponsible happiness. They know that they, like the child, are not free."

The uneasy release from this condition, which Le Guin based on a scenario created by William James in "The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life," are those who visit the child and then do not return home, who "walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness."

So where, folks, do we go from here? For one, take a hard look at the scapegoat in the cellar, in our national soul. Two, ban torture for real. Three, walk away.

Copyright © 1998-2006
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Iraq and the Media: A Critical Timeline


It's hardly controversial to suggest that the mainstream media's performance in the lead-up to the Iraq War was a disaster. In retrospect, many journalists and pundits wish they had been more skeptical of the White House's claims about Iraq, particularly its allegations about weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, though, media apologists suggest that the press could not have done much better, since "everyone" was in agreement on the intelligence regarding Iraq's weapons threat. This was never the case. Critical journalists and analysts raised serious questions at the time about what the White House was saying. Often, however, their warnings were ignored by the bulk of the corporate press.

This timeline is an attempt to recall some of the worst moments in journalism, from the fall of 2002 and into the early weeks of the Iraq War. It is not an exhaustive catalog, but a useful reference point for understanding the media's performance. The timeline also points to missed opportunities, when courageous journalists—working inside the mainstream and the alternative media—uncovered stories that should have made the front pages of daily newspapers, or provided fodder for TV talk shows. By reading mainstream media critically and tuning into the alternative press, citizens can see that the notion that "everyone" was wrong about Iraq was—and is—just another deception.

September 1, 2002
— In a Baltimore Sun column calling for the resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq, former inspector Scott Ritter points out that earlier inspections had been able to verify a "90 percent to 95 percent level of disarmament," including "all of the production facilities involved with WMD" and "the great majority of what was produced by these facilities.”

September 6, 2002
— In a story entitled "Lack of Hard Evidence of Iraqi Weapons Worries Top U.S. Officials," Knight Ridder's Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay report that "senior U.S. officials with access to top-secret intelligence on Iraq say they have detected no alarming increase in the threat that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein poses to American security and Middle East stability."

September 7, 2002
—"From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."
(White House chief of staff Andrew Card, quoted in the New York Times about the government's plan to sell the public on the Iraq War.)

—Speaking of the need to disarm Iraq, George W. Bush refers to a report by the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) alleging that Iraq was six months away from developing a nuclear weapon. No such report exists, as MSNBC reports on its website (oddly, the article was quickly removed from MSNBC's website, as Paul Krugman would note months later—4/29/03). Bush's lie mostly escapes media scrutiny; as John MacArthur recalled months later (Columbia Journalism Review, 5/603), the Washington Post half-heartedly acknowledged the problem deep in a story:

In the twenty-first paragraph of her story on the press conference, the Washington Post's Karen DeYoung did quote an IAEA spokesman saying, in DeYoung's words, "that the agency has issued no new report," but she didn't confront the White House with this terribly interesting fact.

September 8, 2002
—Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller co-author the article "U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts" on the front page of the New York Times. The story relies heavily on claims made by Bush administration officials regarding Iraq's "worldwide hunt" to acquire aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment. Miller and Gordon warn that "Mr. Hussein's dogged insistence on pursuing his nuclear ambitions, along with what defectors described in interviews as Iraq's push to improve and expand Baghdad's chemical and biological arsenals, have brought Iraq and the United States to the brink of war." The article would come to be entirely discredited.

—Vice President Dick Cheney appears on Meet the Press and contends that Iraq has "reconstituted" its nuclear weapons program. His main piece of evidence is the recent attempts by Hussein to obtain aluminum tubes, which Cheney cites to "a story in the New York Times this morning."

More Documentation of the Massive Campaign of Lies Here...

Activists Seek Alternative Model to ‘Neo-Liberal’ Trade Pacts

by Michelle Chen

Mar. 19 – With two controversial trade deals awaiting ratification, Congress is taking stock of the White House's free-trade agenda, and activists are seizing the moment to call for policies that respond to the social needs of all countries involved.

Lawmakers are considering trade deals with Colombia and Peru that encapsulate some of the most contentious aspects of so-called "free trade": rules that critics say elevate corporate privilege over human rights, promote exploitation of workers, and destabilize economies.

At the same time, President Bush's power to broker such deals with minimal congressional oversight comes up for renewal later this year.

Labor, environmental, and humanitarian groups are urging Congress to block the pending agreements and similar accords now under negotiation. And opponents outside government are also working to upend the ideology behind modern trade policies in both parties by articulating an alternative agenda – one that treats global trade as a resource to raise living standards rather than as a vehicle for corporate profits.

"Trade is not any longer the province of government elites and investors," said Gary Hubbard, a spokesperson for the United Steelworkers union. "Everyone should benefit from trade – not just global corporations and governments."

Public outcry over free-trade agreements is nothing new. But with a new Congress, following an election in which job security and trade were hot-button issues, advocates for "fair trade" see an opportunity to finally penetrate the political mainstream.

A first step, they say, is to reform the negotiation process that has long been dominated by the White House and business interests.

The Bush administration's trade deals have been greased by "fast tracking" – a special authority that enables the executive branch to broker and sign a trade agreement without direct congressional input. The deal then goes to a simple up-or-down vote; Congress cannot make amendments, and debate time is limited. Last renewed in 2002, the president's fast-track authority will expire on July 1 – unless the Democrat-controlled Congress is persuaded to restore it.

Though the US Trade Representative's Office, the agency that leads trade talks, does consult with outside "advisory committees," many of these are currently dominated by representatives of corporations like Boeing and Intel.

New Rules

Yvette Pena Lopes, with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said that while union advocates realize that, inevitably, "trade is going to happen," their challenge now is to "begin to lay out what must be, and what cannot be, within trade agreements."

Earlier this month, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, a coalition of unions that includes the Teamsters, both issued policy statements calling for a more-transparent negotiation process to replace the current fast-track system. To check presidential power, they argued: Congress should design economic and social "readiness criteria" for deciding whether a trade deal with a country would be mutually beneficial. And lawmakers should establish stronger, binding labor and environmental standards that a country must meet before the president could finalize any deal.

The organizations said trade deals should incorporate basic labor standards set by the United Nations's International Labour Organization (ILO). These include the right to organize unions, prohibitions on child labor, protections against discrimination in employment opportunities, and the elimination of forced labor.

Unions and human-rights groups say the deals now awaiting congressional approval run counter to these goals.

The Peru agreement, for example, contains no explicit mandate to enforce ILO standards. It simply directs the Peruvian government to uphold its "existing labor laws" and discourages, but does not prohibit, the weakening of protections to serve commercial interests. Meanwhile, an investigation of Peru by the US State Department uncovered widespread child labor. And the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has reported frequent suppression of union organizers by employers – especially multinational companies.

The labor coalitions also join other activist organizations in opposing trade policies that could restrict governments from meeting basic social needs.

Controversial patent rules in the Peru and Colombia deals would expand pharmaceutical companies' power to monopolize production of essential medicines and block lower-cost generic versions. The Health Ministry of Peru projected in 2005 that the Peru trade agreement would foreclose access to medicine for about 700,000 to 900,000 people annually in the first five years of implementation.

Critics of the trade deals say corporate privilege would be further bolstered by "dispute settlement" measures, which empower companies to sue governments over policies that supposedly impinge on their market access.

Under similar provisions in the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among the United States, Canada and Mexico, firms have launched legal attacks on anti-toxic-dumping regulations, protections for indigenous sacred sites, and domestic tax policies.

Touting trade liberalization as part of a regional strategy to "build democratic institutions and promote socio-economic development," the US Trade Representative's Office has contended the pending trade deals would boost jobs and investment opportunities for the United States, while promoting long-term economic growth and combating drug trafficking in Peru and Colombia.

But Jessica Walker Beaumont, a trade and debt specialist with the Quaker activist group American Friends Service Committee, said current trade deals are based on "limiting the government's ability to make choices for itself" in economic policy – such as establishing public ownership of utilities, or shielding local farms from foreign competition.

In an analysis of the Peru and Colombia trade agreements, the humanitarian group Oxfam International predicted the free-trade rules would displace small-scale farmers with an onslaught of imports of cheap, subsidized US crops. The group cited government data for nine primary crops in Colombia, including cotton and rice, showing that without protective import restrictions, in these sectors, the area of land farmed would shrink by one-fifth and employment would fall by over a third.

Human-rights groups warn that economic destabilization of Colombia's rural sector would deepen existing strife by driving farmers into lucrative coca production or into the ranks of warring factions.

And workers' advocates argue that enacting the Colombia deal would display the administration's indifference to the country's ongoing human-rights crisis. US and Colombian rights groups point to scores of documented murders of trade unionists in recent years amid a ferocious civil war.

Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro, a member of the opposition party Polo Democrático Alternativo, told The NewStandard the trade deal must be renegotiated to include "new clauses that protect the labor rights of Colombian workers" as well as land-distribution policies that protect smaller farmers.

"Undoubtedly," he said through an interpreter, under the current deal, "the ones who will benefit, at least in the rural places in Colombia, are the narco-traffickers."

Recasting Globalization

Though fair-trade issues may be generating more political buzz, a concrete alternative to the free-trade agenda has not yet materialized on Capitol Hill.

More ambitious ideas have emerged on the grassroots level. One example is a far-ranging blueprint for "sustainable" international trade presented in 2002 by the Hemispheric Social Alliance, a coalition of advocacy groups across the Americas. That model envisioned trade pacts as mutual social contracts that would condition economic exchange on the promotion of global ethical standards.

Rather than focusing on pushing capital across borders, governments under these agreements would commit to policies like public investment in alternative energy sources, equal labor rights for migrants, and agricultural regulations based on securing an adequate regional food supply.

Stephanie Burgos, an advisor for Oxfam on trade policy, said more-comprehensive concepts of fair trade center on respect for the political and social integrity of other nations – allowing economically poorer countries to "decide their own pace and level of market opening."

For now, activists seeking dramatic changes in the global trade system fear congressional Democrats might ultimately continue their general support for prevailing neo-liberal trade priorities.

In a speech earlier this month, Representative Sander Levin (D–Michigan), head of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, urged reforms to current trade policies, stressing protections for US workers and labor rights.

But in recent statements, Ways and Means Committee chair Charles Rangel (D–New York) has called for Congress and the White House to "be partners in promoting trade" and announced he is working with the Trade Representative's Office on a compromise over labor provisions in the pending agreements.

Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at the progressive think tank Institute for Policy Studies, said activists should be wary that Congress "might cut a deal in name of these fair-trade activists but not actually go as far as we would like." In focusing on labor policies in the trade deals, she said, Democratic leaders could be trying to appease unions while glossing over more-nuanced issues involving the environment or expansive powers for investors.

But if broad consensus on how to restructure the global trade system has yet to emerge in Washington, some activists perceive at least a growing sense that the status quo is failing.

"We're at a turning point," said Larry Weiss of the Citizens Trade Campaign, a coalition of labor, environmental and other activist groups. "We are currently demonstrating that the old NAFTA model is dead, that no more NAFTA-style trade deals can get through Congress. But we are not yet at the point of establishing a new model."

Anti-war protests span globe, weekend

Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated against the Iraq war over the weekend, in wide-ranging protests that took place in large cities and small towns all over the world. Spain's protests were the largest in Europe, with some estimates putting the number of people taking part at 100,000. In the capital Madrid, protesters waved placards denouncing Pres. Bush and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar for "war crimes."

In the Turkish city of Istanbul, more than 3,000 took part in protests, carrying signs reading "Bush go home" and "We are all Iraqis." Hundreds also gathered to voice their opposition to the Iraq war in the Spanish cities Seville, Cadiz and Granada as well as the European capital cities Athens, Copenhagen and Rome.

In Washington, DC, tens of thousands braved cold temperatures to march to the Pentagon on Saturday carrying placards denouncing the war. In Los Angeles, thousands demonstrated in anti-war rallies that included the carrying of flag-draped coffins through the streets of Hollywood.

On Sunday, thousands marched through downtown Portland, Oregon; protestors in San Francisco closed Market Street, a major downtown thoroughfare; and in New York City protesters converged in a park near the United Nations headquarters. Other demonstrations were held in smaller cities throughout the country.

In Australia, small actions took place in both Sydney and Melbourne. In Santiago, an estimated 200 people marched from the Salvador metro station to the US Embassy in Las Condes on Saturday. In Canada, demonstrators in Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton denounced the Iraq occupation as well as the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

On Friday night in Washington, DC police thousands of Christians prayed for peace at an anti-war service at the Washington National Cathedral and then marched to the White House where police arrested 222 people who refused to obey rules that they keep moving.