Sunday, February 25, 2007

Appeal for Redress on 60 Minutes

Per deadissue, tonight's 60 Minutes will feature the active-duty GI's who are filing the Appeal for Redress with regard to the Iraq War. These are regular troops, taking their careers in hand to halt the war the only way they honorably can. They aren't bailing, or hiding under a bush or going AWOL (not that those things may not be justified under the circumstances). This is the entire text of the Appeal:
As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq . Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.
You can read more about it here.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

"Be Careful, Buddy"

They got you fightin' white against colored, native against foreign...when you know there ain't but two sides in the world - them that work and them that don't.
Matewan, 1987

I watched Harlan Country, USA today, and damn near wept through the whole thing. This documentary, which won the 1976 Academy Award in that category, takes an intimate lens to the coal miners of Harlan County Kentucky and their decision to join the United Mine Workers union. UMW Boss Tony Boyle had his reform opponent, his opponent's wife and their daughter murdered in their beds. Three rank-and-file union members then mounted a successful campaign to clean up the UMW. On the crest of this wave, the miners of the Brookside mine in Harlan become the reformed UMW's first effort at "organizing the unorganized."So the film crew journeyed to Harlan. There, they documented the struggle of miners and their families as they endured a 14 month strike, trying to win a union contract. The entire film ripples with the tension of a community bucking a corporate siege. These Kentuckians are stripped raw, fighting Duke Energy's gun thugs and trying to hold together a brittle front of solidarity. The power of their love and desperation is irresistible, even looking down 30 years.

The primary concern of the miners is not their pay. They were poor, but so was everyone else in Harlan county. But working conditions at the Brookside mine were horribly unsafe. The miners and their families lived in company-owned shacks with no hot water, no baths, no toilets. Needless to say, healthcare for themselves and their families was totally lacking. Blacklung, officially denied by Duke Energy, hung over every man.

Looming in the background is the terrible tragedy of the Mannington Mine explosion. 78 men were burned alive in the 1968 explosion that led to the 1969 Coal Mine Safety Act. Mannington underscores the stakes for these men and women, fully aware that they are but grist for the mill. The backbone of the union fight are the wives and daughters of the miners--not subject to the operator's court injunctions and struggling to raise children amid the grinding but matter-of-fact poverty of Kentucky Appalachia. There's violence. There's a murder.

The bare determination of the people of Harlan hits with brute force throughout. They eventually win the union contract from Duke, but sacrifice the right to strike in the process. As in life, there's no neat bow around the ending. The fight continues as the credits roll and the miners go back to their low tunnels underground.

What kept me wracked throughout was the memory of the 2006 Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia. Back in 1968, the Mannington mine was inspected 16 times by Federal inspectors and was given 16 extensions to comply. Then the mine blew up. The Mine Safety Act was passed.
In 2005, the [Sago] mine was cited by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) 208 times for violating regulations, up from 68 in 2004. Of those, 96 were considered significant and substantial. Additionally, West Virginia's Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training issued 144 citations over that year, up from 74 the previous year. (Wikipedia)
Then the mine blew up. The records of the subsequent investigation have been blocked from release by the International Coal Group in spite of pressure from the UMW and 2 US Representatives (one Dem and one Rep). Ameliorative legislation was submitted in the House, the Senate and the State of West Virginia almost immediately. But there were already plenty of laws on the books.
Sadly, in the way mines are often run, the $24,000 in fines paid by the Sago managers last year constituted little more than the cost of doing business. In the Appalachian routine, miners balking at risky conditions down below can quickly forfeit their livelihood if they have no union protection.

Political figures from both parties have long defended and profited from ties to the coal industry. Whether or not that was a factor in the Sago mine's history, the Bush administration's cramming of important posts in the Department of the Interior with biased operatives from the coal, oil and gas industry is not reassuring about general safety in the mines. Steven Griles, a mining lobbyist before being appointed deputy secretary of the interior, devoted four years to rolling back mine regulations and then went back to lobbying for the industry. NYTimes
ICG built itself by buying up bankrupt mines. But only the non-union bankrupt mines. They even waited-out a bankruptcy proceeding to be sure that the union contracts of their targeted purchases would be dishonored before they made an offer. No surprise, then, that Sago was a non-union mine.

Right after the disaster, the response of MSHA was to change the FOIA requirements pertaining to its investigations, making it impossible for the families of the miners ever to find out the results of the investigations. ICG followed suit.

In Huntington, Utah in 2003-04 mine workers went on strike for better wages and benefits. At the time, they were getting $7 per hour. Union workers in West Virginia were, by that time, making $17 per hour. The Kingston family fought tooth and nail against the miners before giving in -- sort of. It took the support of unions throughout the mountain west and the pressure of the community of Huntington and the Catholic church (but not the Mormons) before they would even rehire the striking workers, never mind sign a union contract or give those men a raise.

It just never ends. I would never have thought myself a radical. But the business world proves again and again that they will do nothing without being forced. As someone in Harlan County said, "Behind every dime they give you is a fight." The men and women of Harlan literally paid in blood first for the right to health care and better working conditions and later, to win back their right to strike -- a right which they had to give up just to get benefits in the first place. Now, 30 years later, courts are giving away everything the unions fought for. The right to contract apparently only runs in one direction: you have the right to sign away your life and be held to that promise. But the corporations will be held to no such promises.

The year the miners of Harlan won their 4% raise (1975), the cost of living was up 7% and the profits for Duke Energy were up 170%. Now almost all the coal fields are owned by the oil companies. The same oil companies who are posting profits so immense that only governments recognize what they mean. And union participation is at a post-war low. And the ratio of wages to CEO compensation is worse than it was during the Gilded Age.

There's something we need to get back to in this country. It's the idea that those men are your brothers. It's the recognition that unless you're in the top 1%, this system is designed to squeeze you until there's no blood left, then suck you dry of all moisture. If you punch a clock, hell, if your income is greater than your capital gains, you need to see that this isn't working.

We aren't capitalists in this country by Constitutional mandate. There's no reason we can't abandon it for something else. I'm not advocating that. But I am saying that unless we see about making sure that capitalism works for everybody, there will come a time in the near future when it will work for nobody.

As the movie "Harlan County, USA" begins to close, a group of miners get in the car that will shoot them under the ground. Once there, they'll spend the next ten hours on their knees in the midst of a constant racket of machinery, sucking coal dust into their lungs and not thinking about the roof of rock above them and the methane gas collecting at their feet. A miner slides the door closed and the camera focuses on a sign stuck to the glass: "Be careful, buddy."

Good advice.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Hunter S. Thompson, July 18, 1937 to February 20, 2005

Most of what follows was originally in an email to friends that I sent last year.

When he was alive and writing (and kicking) Hunter S. Thompson was renowned for his preternatural gifts in political prophesy (as you may be aware). If I could guess at his largest professional frustration I would say it was society's steadfast refusal to heed his warnings. Two years ago today, he shot himself. On September 12, 2001, HST wrote the following:
The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now -- with somebody -- and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerrilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. Osama bin Laden may be a primitive "figurehead" -- or even dead, for all we know -- but whoever put those All-American jet planes loaded with All-American fuel into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did it with chilling precision and accuracy. The second one was a dead-on bullseye. Straight into the middle of the skyscraper.

Nothing -- even George Bush's $350 billion "Star Wars" missile defense system -- could have prevented Tuesday's attack, and it cost next to nothing to pull off. Fewer than 20 unarmed Suicide soldiers from some apparently primitive country somewhere on the other side of the world took out the World Trade Center and half the Pentagon with three quick and costless strikes on one day. The efficiency of it was terrifying.

We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for them.

This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed -- for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now.
Pretty smart guy, that Hunter. Pretty damn smart. Later, he wrote this:
We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the whole world-a nation of bullies and bastards who would rather kill than live peacefully. We are not just Whores for power and oil , but killer whores with hate and fear in our hearts. We are human scum, and that is how history will judge us...No redeeming social value. Just whores. Get out of our way, or we'll kill you.

Well, shit on that dumbness. George W. Bush does not speak for me or my son or my mother or my friends or the people I respect in this world. We didn't vote for these cheap, greedy little killers who speak for America today-and we will not vote for them again in 2002. Or 2004. Or ever.

Who does vote for these dishonest shitheads? Who among us can be happy and proud of having all this innocent blood on our hands? Who are these swine? These flag-sucking halfwits who get fleeced and fooled by stupid little rich kids like George Bush?

They are the same ones who wanted to have Muhammed Ali locked up for refusing to kill gooks. They speak for all that is cruel and stupid and vicious in the American character. They are the racists and the hate mongers among us-they are the Ku Klux Klan. I piss down the throats of these Nazis.

And I am too old to worry about whether they like it or not. Fuck them.
A Turkish production company has made a movie set in Iran where the hero Turks get all hero-y by besting the evil Americans. We have become the movie Nazis to the rest of the world. Now, when the free world needs a villain to beat up on for entertainment, they don't look to Russia, or China, or the Germans, or the Japanese, or the British. Now, we're the automatic assholes. And not just in their movies, but in their lives as well. Smart guy, that Hunter.
We are the Nazis in this game and I don't like it. I am embarrassed and I am pissed off. I mean to say something. I think a lot of people in this country agree with me...we'll see what happens to me if I get my head cut off next week -- it is always unknown or bushy-haired strangers who commit suicide right afterwards with no witnesses.
HST, January 2003.

"We are the Nazis in this game." Yes, you too. All of us. Everywhere we go for the rest of our lives, we'll trail the shame and blood of this President behind us. It will be the brand on your forehead the moment you open your mouth in another country: American Here. People won't see the Statue of Liberty or the boats of D-Day or the Great Society or the City on a Hill or the Berlin Airlift. They'll see Baghdad in flames (except for the Oil Ministry) and the dead points of dark in W's pupils as he stumbles drunkly through yet another glib slogan that ends in jets and troops and bombs and sorry there's just no more money for the Veteran's Administration or FEMA or anything but Star Wars and trips to Mars and this endless, pointless war.

Three days before he killed himself, Hunter wrote a suicide note titled "Football Season is Over."
No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun -- for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax -- This won't hurt.

His body was betraying him -- that is known. I don't know if Thompson finally decided not to live through shameful days. I don't know if he ran out of energy, finally, at the end of a long road. I don't know if he suffered early deterioration due to his life-long chemical abuse (which was legion).

I just hope I can channel enough of his mojo to make it through the rest of my own epoch, with a similar steadfast chip on my shoulder.
Here you can read The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, the first of Hunter's works to fully embody his Gonzo Journalism, a style he adopted for the rest of his career. Douglas Brinkley's Rolling Stone obit is here.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Coming War with Iran

I know there is a fair amount of content on this blog about the war. It isn't supposed to be a war blog, but as long as people are being killed in my name, I intend to have my say about it, however ineffectual.

There will soon be two US Navy carrier groups in the Persian Gulf.

At this point, there should be little argument that we haven't the troops to engage in a land war against Iran. Even the staunchest neoconservative must agree that our ground-based military is just about over-committed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The same, however, cannot be said for our air forces.

Carrier groups have little to do with ground war. Jets can't occupy territory. Carriers don't exist to carry troops (even if we had some). They do, however, make excellent platforms from which to launch bombing attacks.

Last month, in what may go down as the most ironic statement of the year, General Michael V. Hayden, director of the CIA, said "Iran seems to be conducting a foreign policy with a sense of dangerous triumphalism." I'll ignore for the moment what our presence in Iraq says about the sense informing our own foreign policy. Instead I'll focus on the hubris behind the remarks--an arrogance so great that it borders on naivete. Or it would if it weren't so transparently propaganda.

Instead, I ask this simple question: if Iran were conducting a bungled yet extensive invasion of Canada, causing hundreds of thousands of Canadians to flee to the United States as refugees, would the Government of the United States be involving itself in that conflict in some way? Do you think we might care, just a little, about how it turned out?

Just the same, the Bush people are unhappy that Iran is taking an interest in their little experiment in Iraqi democracy. In the past couple of months, Bushco have been at pains to reiterate that US forces have been encouraged to employ lethal force in dealing with Iranians in Iraq.
Though U.S. forces are not known to have used lethal force against any Iranian to date, Bush administration officials have been urging top military commanders to exercise the authority.

The wide-ranging plan has several influential skeptics in the intelligence community, at the State Department and at the Defense Department who said that they worry it could push the growing conflict between Tehran and Washington into the center of a chaotic Iraq war.

...A senior intelligence officer was more wary of the ambitions of the strategy.

"This has little to do with Iraq. It's all about pushing Iran's buttons. It is purely political," the official said. The official expressed similar views about other new efforts aimed at Iran, suggesting that the United States is escalating toward an unnecessary conflict to shift attention away from Iraq and to blame Iran for the United States' increasing inability to stanch the violence there.
Bush has spent the last week firing verbal warning shots. At least, the mainstream press has been treating them as warning shots. Given his track record, however, I would say that Bush's accusations, however substantiated, are not directed at Iran. He can not reasonably expect the Iranians to stand by and wait politely on the outcome of the fearsome sins of our occupation.

No, Bush is not talking at Tehran. He is talking at you. He is preparing you for the bombing of Iran.

Whatever happens must happen within the scope of the Iraq Occupation. Congress (and the public) have been clear that however timid and retiring they have been in attempting to rein in the White House in Iraq, their tolerance for a de novo war with Iran is much more limited. So Bush is beginning to pick up the beat on the war drums, sure as switchgrass grows in Texas. He wants you to want bombs.

"I can say with certainty that the Quds Force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated I.E.D.’s that have harmed our troops," Mr. Bush said.

That's the first step. He's just getting you primed. As the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated in that same article, while some bomb materials were made in Iran, “that does not translate that the Iranian government, per se, for sure, is directly involved in this." That accusation will come later. That's how foreplay works, you see. First you kiss them in the ear. Then you step up the rhetoric, inch by inch, until they're ready for the fireworks.

Iran is a long way from home for me. I don't know any Iranians. I may have gone to school with one or two at some point, but I don't remember. If I ever knew. I do know they're having some troubles over there. Seems a pretty conservative guy is leading their country right now. He's being a little belligerent. The religious right really likes him, though he isn't really religious enough for some of them.

Sound familiar?

The point of this longish post is to share these pictures with you. "Tehran, the pivot of the axis of evil." I swiped that off of someone else's site. Apparently "Peace Train" is playing in the background (I don't have sound on my computer). Take a good long look at the people we are getting ready to bomb. This is a brief glimpse. If you wonder about those evil freedom haters on the other side of the world, those war-hungry, a-bomb seeking oil mavens, here are a few photos.

So when the high-tech catapult slings the first sortie of fire-dropping US fighter jets off the deck of the USS Nimitz to wipe out apartments and office blocks and symphony halls and parks and schools and, in fact, pretty much everything in Tehran except the oil ministry, you'll know where they're headed.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Monday, February 12, 2007

"Just a closer walk with thee..."

Happy Birthday today to Charles Darwin. Had he lived this long, Mr. Darwin would be 198 years old today. Although not actually the first to sneak up on the concept of species evolution (Alfred Russell Wallace should share in the distinction), Darwin's research was more progressed and he rightly deserves the larger share of credit.

Perhaps the least understood aspect of Darwin's theory is the idea of natural selection. An extremely slow process, fitness for a particular ecological niche relies on the happenstance of genetic mutation combined with sustaining that mutation over enormous lengths of time until it proves more survivable than other traits. If you're interested in understanding what all the fuss is about, allow me to recommend The Blind Watchmaker, by Richard Dawkins. Exhaustive without being exhausting, a very lucid description of the theory and its wonder.

If you're less inclined toward theory and more interested in stories and practical reality (e.g., how humans are freezing the natural process and creating a sterile world of very few species), I can wholeheartedly recommend Song of the Dodo, by David Quammen. Really beautifully written, this book addresses some of the concrete consequences of human settlement of the planet. Without even really touching on climate change. An excellent book altogether.

Speaking of climate change, it should be noted that Darwin, when he set out aboard the Beagle was not seeking to prove the theory of evolution. At the time of the voyage, Darwin was a firm Christian, convinced that the wondrous complexity of nature was proof of the existence of God. ("Consider the wonder of the eye...") He could not ignore what science showed him, however, and came to regard Christian dogma concerning the creation of the world as false.

This kind of revelation has been duplicated in the climate change field. A friend of mine, who has had the privilege of studying with climatologists and field biologists in Alaska, recalled for me that many of the people he met in the arctic had come fully intending to disprove the theory of Global Warming--some of them sent specifically to do so. The facts, however, were irrefutable.

When Darwin published his manuscript, he knew he'd be tarred as an apostate, an atheist. But he couldn't ignore what nature was telling him.
WHEN on board H.M.S. Beagle as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts, as will be seen in the latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the origin of species—that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. ...I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision.

C.R. Darwin

UPDATE 2-14-07: A tip from Crum in the comments to read The Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin's first-hand account of that journey. See the comments for more details. Thanks!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

New Content coming soon

I promise. I've been a bit tied up this past week working on a couple of non-net projects (though one or both may eventually make it here). In the meantime:

Game Over: Thirty-Six Sure-Fire Signs That Your Empire is Crumbling.

Happy Sunday. Oh, I saw Jesus Camp recently. Be afraid.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

No no no--My Check, I insist.

Wages of War: No one can predict the long-term consequences of the Iraq War, but we note that only last summer did the U.S. stop collecting a 3 percent tax on long-distance telephone calls that was begun in 1898 to help pay for the Spanish-American War--a war that only lasted several months.

Christian Century, January 9, 2007

Let that one sink in for a minute.

Did you know you were paying a 3% tax on your long distance phone calls from the day you were born until the end of 2006 to pay for the SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR?

I don't really know what to say about that.

It feels so good to finally pay off those debts, doesn't it? Looks like we're all going to need to pick up a few extra hours. For the next 2 thousand years or so.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Molly Ivins 1944-2007

"Politics is not a picture on a wall or a television sitcom that you can decide you don't much care for."
"I have been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on the air, an experience somewhat akin to being gummed by a newt. It doesn't actually hurt, but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle."

And, hopefully,
"Any nation that can survive what we have lately in the way of government, is on the high road to permanent glory."

Saturday, February 3, 2007

From the Dept. of "Injustice Anywhere is Injustice Everywhere"

With a hat-tip to recent commenter Abdul-Halim V., allow me to point to What Makes American Muslims Unique, a brief note by a doctoral student on alt.muslim. There's not a ton of insight in the post, but it offers a jumping-off point if you're interested in beginning to understand the Islamic part of our population.

Like everything else in the U.S., this is a gem with thousands of facets. The title of the article grabbed my attention because of the growing population in my city of Muslims from the north African countries--particularly the Sudan and Somalia. Somalia is of particular international concern right now because of the turmoil raging there. US involvement has been under the radar for most Americans, but certainly not for Portland's Somali population. Add it to the list of things you're keeping track of. US officials claims that terrorist cells in Somalia, while also involved in fighting the provisional government, are also busy carrying out attacks beyond Africa. Hence the US airstrikes. The Ethiopian army (traditional adversary of Somalia) has, with the provisional Somali government's blessing, been driving the islamists south, toward Kenya, along with thousands of refugees. Naturally, Kenya doesn't want them. Guess who's helping them out? If you guess U.S. Marine ground forces, you win.

The Horn of Africa. Darfur, Ethiopia, Somalia. Quickly the world rolls toward fire.

The War in Somalia is part of a long pattern, longer even than US hegemony. It takes a back seat in our superficial and distracted news media, but for all our sakes we'd best keep our eyes on it. More than one commentator and the state department have identified Somalia as the next major terrorist stronghold (though everything Gartenstein-Ross opines should be taken with a grain of salt, IMO).

From my perspective, all this should be footnote to our own importance, however. Take some responsibility for getting to know the people around you in this tent. The alt.muslim article I linked to emphasizes that
The same bickering that exists elsewhere in the Muslim world is also certainly present in the US, which serves as a microcosm of the Muslim world. But America has historically offered people to forget past enmities and forge a new identity by becoming part of the melting pot. Similarly, American Muslims have a good chance of forming a truly dynamic American Muslim identity. All the component ethnic groups, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, who have made America their home have also brought their respective strengths, weaknesses, and prejudices. But in the US, one can find such sights like Shias and Sunnis praying side by side, Indians and Pakistanis getting along (most of the time), second generation desis overcoming the prejudices of their parents against African Americans, and so on.
Melting pot has been dropped in favor of 'salad bowl' by some. But the fact remains that we are in this Ark together.

Take a look around alt.muslim. I think you'll find good cause for hope there. Now find it in yourself.

We're all Democrats here, right?

Picked this off of Edward Ott's blog, The Laughing Muslim:
A man was was walking across a bridge one day, and he saw another man standing on the edge, about to jump off and commit suicide. He immediately ran over and said "Stop! Don't do it!" "Why shouldn't I?" he said. The man said, "Well, there's so much to live for!" "Like what?" "Well ... are you religious or atheist?" "Religious." "Me too!
Are you Muslim, Christian or Jewish?" "Muslim." "Me too!
Sunni or Shiite?" "Sunni." "Me too!
Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi or Maliki?" "Hanafi." "Wow! Me too!
Do you follow Sheikh Fulaan al Fullani or Sheikh Kaza Kazah?" "Sheikh Fulaan al Fullani." To which he said, "What?!! Die, heretic scum!" and pushed him off.