Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Quarrel on the Titanic

A Quarrel on the Titanic by Uri Avnery at

One of the happiest moments in my life occurred in a restaurant.

It happened before the second intifada. I had invited Rachel to celebrate her birthday with dinner at a famous restaurant in Ramallah.

We were sitting in the garden under strings of colorful lights, the air was fragrant with the perfume of flowers and the waiters were hurrying back and forth with laden trays. We ate Mussakhan, the Palestinian national dish (chicken with tahini baked on pita bread), and I drank arak. Our waiter, who had overheard us talking, took our order in Hebrew. We were the only Israelis there. At the nearby tables, Arab families with the children in their best clothes, as well as a bride and groom with their wedding guests. Bursts of laughter punctuated the murmur of Arabic conversations, and spirits were high.

I was happy, and a sigh escaped me: “How wonderful this country could be, if only we had peace!”

This is what we want. Peace.

This is what the Democrats and the other war-mongers don't understand. That we can indeed all live together in peace. Throughout the entire Bush administration, the Democrat's position was never one of peace. The Democrats always criticized the Bush administration for being incompetent at war. But the Democrats never wanted peace. The Democrats merely claimed that they could be better war-mongers than the Republicans.

We want peace. We want to sit in restaurants, surrounded by those who we used to be told were our enemies, and we want to enjoy pleasant meals and good times.

This is what struck me the most when I was traveling on business in Europe. One could sit in a restaurant and hear so many different languages being spoken around you. Someone like me who's read lots of history knows that all of the speakers of these languages used to fight constant wars against each other. Now you hear the voices and the fluid flow of languages swirl around you while sitting peacefully in a restaurant.

Peace is possible. Most people want peace. Most of the world wants peace these days. This is why our leaders have to put so much time and effort into trying to make us all hate each other. Read the news today, and you see Obama and the Democrats stirring up hatred towards Iran in order to spark yet another war.

What I want, and what I think most people in the world want, would be to sit peacefully at a restaurant in Tehran, maybe on a patio, enjoying a beautiful spring evening with the other human beings around me.

Peace is what we want.

Democrats Betray Labor

Democrats Betray Labor. Card Check is Pronounced Dead by David Macaray at

Earlier this week it was acknowledged by labor officials and Democratic insiders that the EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act), as presently written, wasn’t going to pass. While the bill may be reintroduced in a different form, the crucial “card check” component has been pronounced dead. Although labor wonks across the country were disappointed by the news, most weren’t surprised by it.

Despite all the hoopla and anticipation, skeptics had predicted long ago that this ambitious bill, which would have provided working people with far greater access to labor unions, had virtually no chance of passing. Why? Because it was too explicitly “pro-labor.”

Big Business and the Democratic Party (despite its lip service) simply couldn’t allow legislation this progressive to become law. Not for nothing has Taft-Hartley remained on the books for 62 years.

The question is, what is Labor going to do about it?

Wall Street gave more money to Obama than to any other candidate in the last election. Meanwhile, Labor also supported Obama. That alone sounds quite bizarre, that Wall Street and Labor would be backing the same candidate in an election. It seems rather obvious that one of the two has made a major mistake and is going to come away disappointed. And anyone who's honestly watched the Democrats for the last 20 years knew it was going to be Labor.

Once upon a time, the Democrats were a party that always had less money than the Republicans, but which could rely on armies of volunteers to help win elections. In the late 80's, the Democrats, led by the DLC, changed this and committed themselves to big money instead. Ever since, the Democrats run well financed campaigns full of expensive advisers and lots of TV ads. And ever since then, the Democrats serve the interests of big money once elected.

This EFCA battle is a perfect example. The leadership of the Democratic party was not willing to anger big contributors by supporting a system where businesses aren't as able to win union elections by intimidation. When push comes to shove, the Democrats back big money .... again.

The leaders of today's labor movements clearly are not representing the interests of their members by supporting Wall Street's candidate list in elections. The question is, when will Labor start to support candidates that truly represent the interests of the workers. When that happens, it will be a political earthquake because for the first time since the 1980's the voice of the workers will be heard in elections and thus in government.

Workers probably should not wait for their union leaders to take them in this direction. It has been obvious since at least the middle of the Clinton terms that the Democrats had allied themselves with business, not with labor. Yet, the union leaders consistently manage to back Wall Street's candidates in elections. It seems rather clear that workers are going to need to move on their own to gain a voice in the American political system.

One thing is perfectly clear. The vast majority of American workers have no voice in the system today. That's what continually backing the Democrats has brought them. Nothing. Its said that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things over and over and while expecting different results. So, is Labor going to back the Democrats again in 2010? Or, is Labor going to try something different for a change?

PS ... another article on Labor by Dave Lindorff, A Corporate Crime Wave of Labor Law Violations concludes with this call for street actions:

This is no time to be polite with politicians, and no time to limit political action to writing email letters, signing petitions and making phone calls.

This is a time to call out the corporate managers who are treating the labor laws like so much toilet paper—a time for boycotts, for marches, and for sit-ins.

End the American corporate crime wave of labor law violations!

Demand stiff penalties for breaking labor laws!

Support unionized companies and boycott anti-union companies!

Pass the ECFA, as written, with no compromises!

That's the sort of leadership, coming from the bottom, not from the union's plush executive offices, is what holds the real chance for real change.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What Obama (and Bush) don't want you to see

The Sydney Morning Herald has some of the photos that Obama is working so hard to try to keep you from seeing.

There's one line of this debate that keeps shocking me. We are constantly told that releasing these photos would hurt America's standing in the world. Or that releasing these photos might put American troops in danger of being tortured themselves if captured.

But, its not 'releasing the photos' that has these effects. These effects were instead caused when the torture was authorized and committed. Yes, this hurts America's standing in the world. And it means US military personnel might be tortured some day. But that's the result of the acts of torture themselves.

Releasing the photos could be the first step towards redemption. They tell any alcoholic that the first step towards a better life is admitting that they are an alcoholic. The first step towards ending torture by Americans is admitting that we are torturers. The second step would be bringing those responsible to justice, from Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gates on down, as a clear signal that we as Americans do not condone torture.

PS ... a few days later, we have VP Biden making the same ridiculous argument with regard to Guantanamo's prison camp. Now, he's saying the decision to close Guantanamo is 'opening Pandora's Box.'

No Mr. Vice President. It was the decision to OPEN Guantanamo that opened Pandora's Box. Trying to close it is just trying to clean up the mess and contain the damage.

Sound familiar?

The Black Shirts of Guantánamo by Jeremy Scahill via

Unfortunately, very little surprising in this article. The US military continues to brutalize prisoners at Gitmo, despite Obama's PR push that pretends we don't torture.

One of the ways we pretend we don't torture is by pretending that this is all something new. Its just a few people out of control. Its just one administration out of control that orders torture. Its just a few people who go too far and abuse prisoners.

The problem is, that's all bull. Here's a portion of Mr. Scahill's piece describing the torture of one Gitmo detainee. He's quoting one of the lawyer's who defends Gitmo prisoners.

"They brought their pepper spray and held him down. They held both of his eyes open and sprayed it into his eyes and later took a towel soaked in pepper spray and rubbed it in his eyes.

"Omar could not see from either eye for two weeks, but he gradually got sight back in one eye.

"He's totally blind in the right eye. I can report that his right eye is all white and milky -- he can't see out of it because he has been blinded by the U.S. in Guantánamo."

The problem is, this sounded sadly familiar. Click on this site to see why. That site has pictures and videos of what Humboldt County (CA) sheriff deputies did to some people who dared to try to protect a forest from people who wanted to clear cut it for profit. This happened back in the 1990's.

From the same website ...

officers forcibly seized the heads of each demonstrator, one by one, and repeatedly inserted cotton swabs saturated with oleoresin capsicum pepper spray onto the eyes of each one.
The deputies held the head of each Headwaters activist and inserted pepper spray into their eyes with cotton swabs. Seconds later, officers sprayed the substance directly into their faces at close range, from a few inches away.
The officers held the heads and swabbed pepper spray around and into the eyes of each the women, one of whom was a sixteen year old girl. After a few minutes they applied a second round of pepper spray swabbing, forcing open the eyelids as shown on the police video. Subsequently, officers applied a full force spray blast to one of the women, plaintiff Terri Slanetz, with the spray nozzle no more than 2" from her eyes.

Remember, several of the guards at Abu Ghraib had experience as US prison guards before going off to do their military reserve duty at Abu Ghraib.

Two of the guards at Abu Ghraib, Ivan L. (Chip) Frederick II and Charles Graner, had careers back home as corrections officers. Graner, whom The New York Times has described as one of "the most feared and loathed of the American guards" at Abu Ghraib, worked at Greene County Prison in Pennsylvania. According to a 1998 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, guards at the Greene facility behaved in ways that eerily anticipate the allegations from Abu Ghraib.

The United States of America tortures. We've done it for years. Our cops have beaten confessions out of prisoners for ages. They still complain that the Supreme Court actually slightly restricted this back in the 60's and 70's. In our foreign policy, we've been associated with torture for ages. Ever since the formation of the CIA after WWII, torture has followed the CIA everywhere they've gone. And it goes back further than that. For instance, read accounts of what the US did in the Phillipines back at the turn of the 20th century. Or read accounts of the Indian wars in this country.

My point is this. If Obama and the Democrats are serious about saying 'We do not torture', they have to do much more than cancel a couple of Bush's executive orders. This noble goal involves changing the entire culture of the United States. If you see the Democrats mounting a major effort to do this, then they are serious in saying that 'we do not torture'.

If all you see is the photo op where they proclaim this noble goal, but then everything continues pretty much as before, then they aren't serious.

What's the difference in how we treat Muslim prisoners and our own citizens? Well, our own citizens can sue in court. They can find a long, brutal, painful legal fight for a decade. And if they are courageous enough to fight that long fight, they can eventually win.

Anne-Marie Cusac has been writing about the abuse in US prisons for years now over at The Progressive magazine. Here's what she wrote after the Abu Ghraib abuse became widely known.

Abu Ghraib, USA
Abu Ghraib, USA
By Anne-Marie Cusac

When I first saw the photo, taken at the Abu Ghraib prison, of a hooded and robed figure strung with electrical wiring, I thought of the Sacramento, California, city jail.

When I heard that dogs had been used to intimidate and bite at least one detainee at Abu Ghraib, I thought of the training video shown at the Brazoria County Detention Center in Texas.

When I learned that the male inmates at Abu Ghraib were forced to wear women's underwear, I thought of the Maricopa County jails in Phoenix, Arizona.

And when I saw the photos of the naked bodies restrained in grotesque and clearly uncomfortable positions, I thought of the Utah prison system.

Donald Rumsfeld said of the abuse when he visited Abu Ghraib on May 13, "It doesn't represent American values."

But the images from Iraq looked all too American to me.

I've been reporting on abuse and mistreatment in our nation's jails and prisons for the last eight years. What I have found is widespread disregard for human rights. Sadism, in some locations, is casual and almost routine.

So Mr. Obama, you say 'we don't torture.' Do you mean it?