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While Obama promises to simmer things down in Iraq, he has been calling for refocusing our troops towards Afghanistan… the supposed “good” war. Unfortunately, Afghanistan is only a “good” war in the sense that it is slightly less horrendous than Iraq by comparison. Slightly. Like Iraq, it is still unjustified carnage against the completely wrong target(s). Here’s a piece by John Pilger I thought especially poignant.

Obama, The Prince Of Bait-And-Switch

On 12 July, the London Times devoted two pages to Afghanistan. It was mostly a complaint about the heat. The reporter, Magnus Linklater, described in detail his discomfort and how he had needed to be sprayed with iced water. He also described the “high drama” and “meticulously practised routine” of evacuating another overheated journalist. For her US Marine rescuers, wrote Linklater, “saving a life took precedence over [their] security”. Alongside this was a report whose final paragraph offered the only mention that “47 civilians, most of them women and children, were killed when a US aircraft bombed a wedding party in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday”.

Slaughters on this scale are common, and mostly unknown to the British public. I interviewed a woman who had lost eight members of her family, including six children. A 500lb US Mk82 bomb was dropped on her mud, stone and straw house. There was no “enemy” nearby. I interviewed a headmaster whose house disappeared in a fireball caused by another “precision” bomb. Inside were nine people – his wife, his four sons, his brother and his wife, and his sister and her husband. Neither of these mass murders was news. As Harold Pinter wrote of such crimes: “Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”

A total of 64 civilians were bombed to death while The Times man was discomforted. Most were guests at the wedding party. Wedding parties are a “coalition” speciality. At least four of them have been obliterated – at Mazar and in Khost, Uruzgan and Nangarhar provinces. Many of the details, including the names of victims, have been compiled by a New Hampshire professor, Marc Herold, whose Afghan Victim Memorial Project is a meticulous work of journalism that shames those who are paid to keep the record straight and report almost everything about the Afghan War through the public relations facilities of the British and American military.

The US and its allies are dropping record numbers of bombs on Afghanistan. This is not news. In the first half of this year, 1,853 bombs were dropped: more than all the bombs of 2006 and most of 2007. “The most frequently used bombs,” the Air Force Times reports, “are the 500lb and 2,000lb satellite-guided . . .” Without this one-sided onslaught, the resurgence of the Taliban, it is clear, might not have happened. Even Hamid Karzai, America’s and Britain’s puppet, has said so. The presence and the aggression of foreigners have all but united a resistance that now includes former warlords once on the CIA’s payroll.

The scandal of this would be headline news, were it not for what George W Bush’s former spokesman Scott McClellan has called “complicit enablers” – journalists who serve as little more than official amplifiers. Having declared Afghanistan a “good war”, the complicit enablers are now anointing Barack Obama as he tours the bloodfests in Afghanistan and Iraq. What they never say is that Obama is a bomber.

In the New York Times on 14 July, in an article spun to appear as if he is ending the war in Iraq, Obama demanded more war in Afghanistan and, in effect, an invasion of Pakistan. He wants more combat troops, more helicopters, more bombs. Bush may be on his way out, but the Republicans have built an ideological machine that transcends the loss of electoral power – because their collaborators are, as the American writer Mike Whitney put it succinctly, “bait-and-switch” Democrats, of whom Obama is the prince.

Those who write of Obama that “when it comes to international affairs, he will be a huge improvement on Bush” demonstrate the same wilful naivety that backed the bait-and-switch of Bill Clinton – and Tony Blair. Of Blair, wrote the late Hugo Young in 1997, “ideology has surrendered entirely to ‘values’ . . . there are no sacred cows [and] no fossilised limits to the ground over which the mind might range in search of a better Britain . . .”

Eleven years and five wars later, at least a million people lie dead. Barack Obama is the American Blair. That he is a smooth operator and a black man is irrelevant. He is of an enduring, rampant system whose drum majors and cheer squads never see, or want to see, the consequences of 500lb bombs dropped unerringly on mud, stone and straw houses.

I just finished reading a NYT Op-Ed by Obama that I found particularly refreshing. While he didn’t address the fact that his plans for troop draw-downs and redeployments don’t include the thousands upon thousands of privately hired mercs that flesh out the battlefield, he did say a few things that address some of the most fundamental apprehensions that I have had about this “Mess-O-Potamia.”

I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea, and would redeploy our troops out of Iraq and focus on the broader security challenges that we face. — Barak Obama (source)

This simple declaration, if carried out, will undoubtedly save thousands of lives on both sides of this war.

One of the critical components to understanding “why they hate us” is the fact that we have been uninvited guests in the Middle East for decades now, and our presence there is viewed as the utmost of insults. Unlike us, the folks in the Middle East haven’t forgotten that we overthrew the democratically elected government in Iran in 1953. Folks there haven’t forgotten that we supplied both sides of the Iran-Iraq war until we decided to tip the scales and bet on Saddam… and then subsequently made Saddam one of our biggest allies right up to and after the first incursion into Iraq. And perhaps the most poignant sting in the minds of the Middle Eastern people would be our unwavering and active support of the immeasurable number of atrocities committed by Israel over the last forty or fifty years.

To hear a politician talk about rejecting American Imperialist ambitions is a wonderful sound indeed. Of course, now we’ll need to see if he can stick to his words and put them into concrete action… a much harder feat.

Read the full Op-Ed

The crisis in Darfur is, by now, well-known to most people around the globe. With over 200,000 people dead and over 2 million people displaced from their homes, the conflict has gained the attention of the entire world. However, Darfur was already on the radar of countries like China and the United States long before the fighting broke out that has since torn apart the region. In fact, Sudan has been an area of interest for many countries thanks to it being rich in oil and mineral resources. Also, both the U.S. and China have been pumping oil from Sudan to their respective markets–The U.S. since 1979 and China since the 1990s.

The importance of Sudan has skyrocketed in recent years since the amount of oil that remains in the Middle East is already fairly well known and other smaller resources have already been tapped and are drying up as I write. The likelihood of new reserve discoveries in Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, for example, is fairly low, but much of Africa is uncharted and untapped.

In 1945, the U.S. State Department declared that Middle East oil was “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the great material prizes in world history” (source). I don’t think it takes much to apply this rhetoric to Sudan and other areas of Africa, especially since the land is still ripe with potential for big players like China and the United States.

The U.S. Department of Energy agrees. It has produced studies projecting that oil production out of Africa would rise at an incredible rate over the next two decades and openly cites the increasing strategic importance of Africa within the framework of U.S. interests (source).

With that background laid, let us get back to the region that currently holds the attention of the world: Darfur due to the atrocities that have been taking place there for the last 5 years.

The basics: Sudan is a country located in north-eastern Africa. Darfur is the northwestern region inside Sudan. The people of Darfur have long had very little say or control in the happenings of their own country and government, they have felt neglected, and have often rallied for succession from Sudan. To this end, groups of rebels formed over the years and began carrying out actions against the government forces. In 2003, a formal rebellion began, and in response, the government bombed Darfur and sent its militia, the Janaweed, to quell the region, which it did and has continued to do today with extreme gusto.

The central “players” in the feud are the Janjaweed–as mentioned above, these are a government-backed and superiorly outfitted militia. They are considered to be responsible for the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths in Darfur. When the story first broke, the ties between the Janjaweed soldiers and the government were denied, but it’s quite clear now that the Janjaweed have enjoyed lavish support from the Sudanese government, enabling them to carry out some of the worst atrocities of the conflict. On the other side of the fence is the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) which has at times fractured into many sub-groups, reformed and re-assimilated this smaller groups under the SLA banner. Janjaweed militias have the support of the government. Similarly, the rebel forces have had help from its neighbor, Chad.

As with most genocidal conflicts in the world, there is an ethnic component to the killing though it’s not strictly based on distinctions between race or skin pigmentation in this case. The targets of the government-supported cleansing are mostly Black Africans and Muslim subsistence farmers. In contrast, those running the government of Sudan and enlisted as Janjaweed fighters are mostly of Arab descent.

That said, the lines of division aren’t as clear as they may seem. African and Arab identities are often mixed in Sudan since in many instances you can’t look at the color of a person’s skin and instantly know into what category he or she fits. Instead, the designation seems to have more to do with the description of one’s wealth, occupation, family background or even affiliation with the government.

…[R]ebels have described themselves as Africans fighting an Arab government. Ethnic slurs used by both sides in recent atrocities have riven communities that once lived together and intermarried. …Mahjoub Mohamed Saleh, editor of Sudan’s independent Al-Ayam newspaper [writes,] ‘The bottom line is that tribes have intermarried forever in Darfur. Men even have one so-called Arab wife and one so-called African. Tribes started labeling themselves this way several decades ago for political reasons’ (source).

So, while most media outlets have pegged this conflict as a genocide or a battle between ethnic groups or, if they’re really remiss in their duties as reporters, labeled it a religious feud, the reasons for the violence in Darfur are far more nuanced, yet political factors, including a desire for autonomy on one hand and maintaining control through the use of force on the other seem a bit more accurate.

Since this post acts as just a “primer” on Darfur, hopefully dispelling a few myths that have been floating about the ethos, I’ll end it here. I’ll continue my thoughts in my next post by returning to what matters most… the interactions of my country with Darfur and specifically its actions and rhetoric with respect to the current crisis.

Hot from the presses folks… now that habeas corpus has been restored for the detainees at Gitmo, the first cases are being heard and guess what? The government’s evidence is pure bullshit, or as the New York Times put it, “based on bare and unverifiable claims” (source).

…A three-judge panel said the government contended that its accusations against the detainee should be accepted as true because they had been repeated in at least three secret documents.

The court compared that to the absurd declaration of a character in the Lewis Carroll poem “The Hunting of the Snark”: “I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true.”

“This comes perilously close to suggesting that whatever the government says must be treated as true,” said the panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The unanimous panel overturned as invalid a Pentagon determination that the detainee, Huzaifa Parhat, a member of the ethnic Uighur Muslim minority in western China, was properly held as an enemy combatant (source).

The sad part of this story… sadder than the fact that it has taken six fucking years to finally return the rights that should have been afforded to these people in the first place… is that the man in question in this case has already told his wife to remarry because he considered himself “already dead” or at least unlikely to ever see the light of day outside of Guantanamo. But even worse than that is that he probably cannot return to China and over 100 countries have rejected taking him in.

So, as these cases are reviewed, we’re likely to see those who are freed also have no where to go… so not only have we wasted 6 years of their lives by locking them away for no reason, stripping them of their humanity (because these detainees still lack the rights that we afford to even our worst enemies under the UN charter–assuming we still follow it, anyway), no, robbing them of 6 years wasn’t enough. We’ve created a class of “untouchables” that no country wants. These people have nothing. Their lives have been completely severed and tattered… and for what reason?

Well, in this case, it was simply because the Bush administration went Snark hunting: statements about this man were repeated in 3 documents and that was enough “evidence” to destroy his life.

I can’t express the anger and shame I feel right now to live in a land that has been so derailed from its once noble ideals of justice and fairness. I thank god that we seem to have finally come to our senses. What a pity that it has taken so long and damaged so many in the meantime.

The first step is to set the innocent free. The second step must be taken by people like you and me… we must hold these treasonous fearmongers accountable for the lives they have destroyed on a whim. We have allowed them to betray the spirit of democracy and justice for far too long. If we have any sense of justice, we’ll stand up and speak for all those that remain unjustly shackled and languishing.

We must face our own cowardice. It’s so easy to sit there and shrug our shoulders because we haven’t been tossed behind bars. Our families haven’t been torn asunder. We don’t have the power to do anything about this… right? Are you sure? How many lives must be uprooted, displaced, bombed, dismembered, disabled, blown up, shot up, hacked up, or severed before it becomes wrong enough for us to muster the courage to act?

Shit like this will only stop when we make it stop.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m excited to think that the United States may finally end its racist monopoly on the country’s highest position of power. For all of our bullshit and crowing about freedom and our progressive democracy, the U.S. is one of the few democratic nations on the planet that has yet to see a woman and/or person who is not of the dominant race in this position of power. And, out of the choices that we Americans have faced for that office over the last 8, or even I’d go as far as to say 16 years, Barack Obama is the best candidate I’ve seen on the docket.

He speaks of hope. He has an understanding of issues of both race and class that, from what I can tell, is unparalleled to any past president. He seems grounded in a sense of fairness and rationality. He was spoon-fed the same bullshit yet still managed to vote with his conscience when going to war with Iraq. He’s able to form an argument and defend his position with useful, informed perspectives… something I have really missed ever since George took the reigns. Just the simple instance of hearing someone make a logical case for something they believe in has been so rare these past 8 years. But most importantly, he seems willing to listen to other people and is not afraid to have his ideas challenged… which I’d say is the opposite of our current president, who is so afraid of ideas outside the party line that he insulates himself from them almost entirely.

So yes, Barak is the best choice. Far better than anything Clinton had to offer… although what a shame that Hillary had to essentially paint herself as an aggressive, aloof hardliner in order to compete with the likes of the (republican) competition. I understand why she did it… electability and sexism. If she had been any less callous about her stance on the war or shown any signs of compassion, she would be labeled weak by the male population (and the many women who have been brainwashed by the system to consider such qualities a frailty).

I don’t think I need to go into why Barak is better than McCain considering that McCain is just as willing as the current administration to spin the truth. My favorite, tell-tale quote from McCain is the line about how, when he visited Iraq, he could walk “down the streets [of Baghdad] with no body armor on…” to which any number of news outlets then cut to photos of McCain wearing body armor, he and his delegation guarded by over 100 soldiers, 3 Blackhawks and 2 Apache gunships overhead ensuring the area was safe. Clicky for more McCain bullshit. McCain, to me, is just another branch of the extremely privileged, out-of-touch with reality elites that think they know what’s best for us little people.

But why do I think Barak is only the best out of the available choices and not a glowing candidate in and of himself?

With Hillary out of the race, Obama promptly declared on CNBC: “I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market.” Jason Furman is heading up his economic policy. Mr. Furman is a Wal-Mart supporter who thinks the people who are desperately trying to get Wally World to raise its wages are the problem, not the fact that Wal-Mart pays extremely substandard wages and cuts corners in nearly every way possible regarding benefits and compensation. Hell, Wal-Mart is one of the biggest drains on government hand-out programs since it actually suggests that its employees make use of federal programs so that the company doesn’t have to worry about things like health insurance (Medicaid and other taxpayer subsidized health services) or paying enough money on which a family could live (food stamps usage has shown to drastically increase once a Wal-Mart moves into town).

Let’s step away from economics and markets and take a look at foreign affairs. Obama has said that he supports an “undivided Jerusalem” as the capital of Israel. Not even Bush has been this myopic and callous regarding both the UN Resolution and international consensus that regards Jerusalem as an international city.

Obama has also decided to continue the embargo against Cuba… which, last time I checked, was in violation of so many human rights that every government of the United States since the beginning of the embargo (1962) could literally have crimes against humanity charges successfully brought against them for supporting it.

And then there’s the reappearance of the Monroe Doctrine in his speeches… or at least the spirit of it. For those unfamiliar with the term, the Monroe Doctrine has been used by politicians to sanction U.S. military and covert intervention in Latin America since its inception. When we don’t like the way a democratically elected government is running things, Monroe tells us we have the right to support death squads and Contra forces to beat the population to an utter pulp until that country’s government is forced to stop its socially-minded programs for the poor and working class and spend its money and time on defending its borders and civilian population (Nicaragua). Or, it means we have the right to support brutal dictatorships or carry out coups to install tyrants and thugs as long as they keep the way paved for U.S. investors (Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc.) . Read my article on Nicaragua for one example. If more info is needed here, just toss a comment at the end of this entry and it’ll be provided.

Obama has been quoted as saying we have “lost Latin America” (makes you wonder why we’re entitled to possess it in the first place…) and has talked about other ways we should be using our influence within the continent. Considering how many names of Latin American countries you can type into Google with the words “coup,” “dictatorship,” or “death squads” and then add “United States” and come up with a large number of hits detailing our sordid history within those lands, you would hope our best choice for president would be a little bit more aware of what he was saying….

And then there’s Iraq. Will Obama end the war he initially voted against? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Even though the Barak Obama website claims we will “have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months,” Americans should understand that merely means we will have, at best, half our troops home. It says nothing of the military training forces, mercenary troops, no-bid contractors and commercial enterprises that have been bleeding the country and its resources dry since they set foot in Iraq.

And, even if we did somehow miraculously pull all of our troops out of Iraq, Obama thinks we need to “finish the fight in Afghanistan” (Obama’s website). Okay, so Obama was against the obviously misguided war against Iraq. But saying we need to finish the fight in Afghanistan means he thinks it’s a conflict that is worth fighting… that we “should” be there. I do not share this view.

The purpose for attacking Afghanistan was to respond to the attacks of 9/11. Yet, even when the Taliban gave us an opportunity to bring the supposed mastermind of the attacks to justice (first they asked for evidence against Osama, then later offered to give him up w/o that requirement), we opted to dismiss their offer and proceeded to bomb the hell out of the civilian population. Since “we don’t do body counts” (Gen. Tommy Franks), we’ll never know the true number of civilian casualties… yet I can imagine that the continuing occupation of Afghanistan has only made it more difficult to distinguish civilian from “insurgent” as those fighting the U.S. and its allies have had to resort to guerrilla-style warfare in order to survive. (Hey, we did it vs the British, too.) Thankfully, some people have tried to keep a tally.

Afghanistan also paved the way for Iraq as it allowed us access to areas within the Middle East from which we could launch attacks, position troops and gather intel (for what little good that did us… heh). With these things in mind, I see the war raging in Afghanistan as little more than a punching bag to satisfy our need for vendetta for the crimes committed against us in September several years ago.

Now, for those of you who believe the War on Terror is a just cause, you may want to make sure you’ve thought the whole thing through thoroughly. My views on the subject are readily available.

So, yeah, Obama is the best choice out of a series of crappy ones. Let’s hope his desire for change keeps his mind open and flexible in the years to come if he indeed succeeds in becoming our nation’s next president.

Much to do…

There are tons of things going on in the world today.  Foremost, the aftermath of the earthquake that struck China’s Sichuan Province is massive and will require the world community to act quickly in order to fend off the looming threat of disease and famine that will result if aid does not reach those who need it most.  The link in the previous sentence is to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.  The site is equipped with the ability to accept online donations so there’s no red tape to wade through, no government coffers and filters to traverse.  Right now the death toll is over 12,000 and is expected to rise given the conditions of the province.

Elsewhere, Bush makes yet another public accusation about Iran sending weapons to Iraq.  However, as the LA Times reports, the accusations are hardly iron-clad.  For example, a scheduled press conference last week intended on exposing Iranian-supplied explosives was canceled because none of the weapons were actually from Iran.

Iran, on the other hand, is filing lawsuits against the U.S. and Britain because we gave financial support to a group that bombed a mosque in Shiraz.  Fourteen people were killed in the incident.

And of course, the junta continues to thwart aid workers and NGO’s efforts to get aid out to the people in Myanmar.  The current toll in Myanmar due to the cyclone is over 32,000, but the lack of aid getting to those that need it most will cause that number to rise sharply in the near future.

Ban Ki-moon: “We are at a critical point. Unless more aid gets into the country very quickly, we face an outbreak of infectious diseases that could dwarf today’s crisis. I therefore call, in the most strenuous terms, on the government of Myanmar to puts its people’s lives first. It must do all that it can to prevent this disaster from becoming even more serious.

There’s much more going on at the moment but I’m out of time for now.  I’ll be posting more on a few of the issues soon.

Nicaragua

Because the post was rather long, I put it on its own page. It contains a rundown of the United States’ involvement in Nicaragua in the post-WWII era, with special attention paid to the acts of U.S. terror committed against Nicaragua for which the U.S. was found guilty in the World Court.

Read more.