Archive for February, 2007

Since the invasion of Iraq, I’ve argued that the Bush doctrine, specifically the invasion of Iraq, has radicalized Muslim extremists and increased America’s vulnerability to terrorism. What’s even more damning, still, is this administration’s willingness to risk the lives of millions of Americans to gain strategic influence in the Middle East and control over Iraq’s vast oil reserves. Prior to the invasion, the Bush administration knew that a military action against Iraq would spark a Jihadist Renaissance; they ignored this threat.

Moreover, bellicose rhetoric or action against Iran will have the same effect there, as the 9/11 attacks had here. After the attack on America, Americans united around Bush. If half of us didn’t support Bush before 9/11, the attacks forced us to rally around our President; after all, he was all we had. We trusted President Bush to protect us from the threat of terror. Who else could we have turned to? Many Americans enlisted in the army and our government promised to avenge the deaths of 3,000 innocent Americans.

The invasion of Iraq, like the conflict in Afghanistan before it, has had the same effect on extremist Muslims around the world. Thus it comes as no surprise when Mother Jones Magazine reports that “the Iraq War has generated a stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of civilian lives lost; even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one-third…the Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of the Al Qaeda ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks in the past three years from London to Kabul, and from Madrid to the Red Sea.”

If we ever hope to reduce or even eliminate terror we must, as Noam Chomsky has argued, stop participating in it. We have to pull out of Iraq. We have to negotiate with Iran and Syria. We have to reassess our blind support for Israel. We have to place the security of our people ahead of economic or strategic ambition.

— Igor Volsky

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George Will’s latest column, A Lack of Courage in Their Convictions, argues that Democratic criticism of the war in Iraq is disingenuous and politically opportunist. “Indiscriminate criticism of President George W. Bush is an infectious disease that may prove crippling to congressional Democrats.” The Democrats refuse to cut off funding for the Iraq war; instead, they condemn the surge rhetorically in a non-binding resolution. “They lack the will to exercise their clearly constitutional power to defund the war. And they lack the power to achieve that end by usurping the commander in chief’s powers to conduct a war.”

I agree with George. Democrats should defund the war and bring home the troops. It’s what the Iraqis want and it’s what we want. But then, Will’s logic takes a turn for the absurd. While urging the Democrats to act on their convictions, Will writes “They can spend this year fecklessly and cynically enacting restrictions that do not restrict. Or they can legislate decisive failure of the Iraq operation — withdrawal — thereby acquiring conspicuous complicity in a defeat that might be inevitable anyway.”

If Democratic support for withdrawal demonstrates “conspicuous complicity in a defeat” George Bush’s policy has made such defeat “inevitable.” But I disagree with the premise. A resolute push for withdrawal (enforced by restricting funding) is the only strategy for saving American lives and resources; to refute American Iraqi policy is to save America from a deeper commitment.

To compare criticism to an “infectious disease” is not just demonstrative of Will’s contempt for democracy but it’s also an indication of his stark partisanship: the Democrats should cut off funding to a policy which will inevitably fail, but if they do, they will take part in a “conspicuous complicity” for failure. Will is urging the Democrats to legislate their convictions; should they do so, however, George Will will criticize them for taking his advise.

— Igor Volsky

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The environment has become a hot topic in politics lately, seemingly everyone on all sides of the political debate acknowledging that we have a serious problem.  About half asserting that global climate change threatens the survival of life as we know it, the other half asserting the problem is the first half itself.

The story appearing “in the spotlight” of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ homepage today, under the title “Global Warming Obscured by Politics,” offers some indication of the current debate’s substance and quality.  Because the scholarly inquiry into global climate change has been so seriously defiled by the biases that invariably accompany environmentally crass political agendas, the scientific community has been forced to pursue authentic inquiry through their own independent means.  Government supported inquiry has proven valueless because the ends it seeks always have an eye to corporate profit, a reality that effectively compromise its utility.  The issue of whether our home planet can sustain our current lifestyle -or even sustain our continued presence as a species at all- is, it would appear, unworthy of anything beyond the deceitful and subversive political tactics that typify most other social concerns.

The environment, it is important to realize, differs sharply from other political issues; this is one topic of political debate wherein contempt for the perspective of science is more than just foolish, it is suicidal.  The stratagem of the leading skeptics is hopelessly misguided, and quite shameless, I believe.  Few people, I think, are able to acknowledge reality for what it is, with all its discomforting implications, and continue to believe as they wish against all evidence suggesting that they shouldn’t.

When the United Nations’ experts appeal to our national conscience, asking that we open our minds to the possibility that grotesque over-consumption could be responsible for impending ecological catastrophe, the United Nations itself is baselessly discredited as threatening our “American way of life” or attempting to attack our global economic sovereignty.  When scientists publish a report exposing the urgency of environmental crises, corporate lobbyists offer other scientists cash incentives to dispute the reports, or they simply attack the credibility of the scientists that have the audacity to suggest something contrary to the corporate agenda, no matter how grounded in objectivity the report might actually be.  These practices, though common among large environment-wrecking corporations, are well-known but somehow escape public scrutiny.  When measured in terms of its likely consequences, the truly criminal nature of this corporate behavior cannot be overstated; it is conceptually reducible to murder for profit.  In that its aim is to threaten the survival of humanity as an undivided collective, solely for the purpose of self-interest, intervention of this sort is more serious a crime than is genocide.

The most urgent arguments regarding global climate change are rarely even addressed in our culture’s narrow spectrum of public debate.  The conventional lines of even the most liberal solutions offer little hope in saving the human race from self-destruction.  Constructive solutions such as “E85” (an alternative fuel source attained through mixing ethanol and gasoline at a ratio of 17:3) are patchwork solutions whose hope of restoring our environment’s health and stability are nil.  It is as though we cannot face the inescapable truth that meaningful environmental improvement demands significant lifestyle change.  Efforts toward other objectives are tantamount to attempting improvement of one’s health by switching cigarette brands or transitioning to smokeless tobacco.

Unless our attitudes change, it is reasonable to assume that the fate of the earth’s people will ultimately be decided by a scant 4% of its population, an influential few who thrive on poorly presented lies which survive not for their logical viability but merely for the fact that they are more attractive than the plain, undeniable, simple truth.  Science matters; the consensus of leading international scientific enterprises are more discussion-worthy than some unaccountable gargantuan corporation’s ability to hire some hack with a PhD to lie.  These are facts we must accept, or we shall die with our denial.

— Daniel Black


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Most Americans consider the argument that the Bush administration invaded Iraq to control its oil and exert influence over the greater Middle East conspiratorial; but in Iraq, “in one of the first studies of Iraqi public opinion after the US-led invasion of March 2003, the polling firm Gallup asked Iraqis their thoughts on the Bush administration’s motives for going to war. One percent of Iraqis said they believed the motive was to establish democracy. Slightly more – five percent – said to assist the Iraqi people. But far in the lead was the answer that got 43 percent – “to rob Iraq’s oil.”

Here at Writings by the Hudson we’ve syndicated Democracy Now! stories about America’s attempts to gain control over the second largest oil reserves in the world. On today’s program, Raed Jarrar, Iraq Project Director for Global Exchange and Antonia Juhasz, author of “The Bush Agenda: Invading the World One Economy at a Time” discussed a draft copy of a proposed Iraqi oil law which gives American (or other foreign) corporations a great deal of control over Iraq’s most profitable natural resource. Here are the basics:

The proposed legislation legalizes long term contracts between foreign companies and the Iraqi National Oil Company and will allow vast profits to leave the country.

The law establishes the Federal Oil and Gas Council. The Council will include representitives from the Iraqi National Oil Company as well as representatives from foreign oil companies like ExxonMobil, Shell and BP. This board will be responsible for approving Iraqi oil contracts but will treat Iraq’s national company as “just another oil company among lots of other companies, including US oil companies. And this council, the new oil and gas council, is going to be the decision making body to determine what kind of contract the Iraqis can sign.”

The law allows regional provinces to sign oil contracts, without the approval of the federal government (which could only veto a contract). This provision “may open the doors for splitting Iraq into three regions or even maybe three states in the very near future.”

The new foreign-controlled council is the product of the Baker-Hamilton Commission (in fact, this may be the only recommendation the Bush administration adopted). But most Americans will never hear of it; the mainstream media will never report it. The Iraqis, on the other hand, given their history, will most certainly resent the intrusion. Greater violence and instability may ensue but the Bush administration will be able to convince Americans that the insurgency is trying to stifle Iraqi democracy. Maybe he will choke on the irony, maybe not. Either way, he’ll be willing to spill more blood for oil.

— Igor Volsky

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Conservative radio and TV talk show host Sean Hannity has been asking viewers/listeners to send in pictures of Al Gore boarding private planes. To hear Sean Hannity tell it, if Gore flies or drives or burns a fire in a fireplace then he is a hypocrite and An Inconvenient Truth is worthless or dishonest. But Gore’s travel habits, regardless of how lavish they are, don’t negate the dangers of global warming. And to suggest that Gore should cease flying or driving is simply ridiculous; an advocate must spread his message and Hannity’s attacks are thinly veiled political attempts at discrediting the message, by attacking the messenger. (What good would Al Gore do sitting in a cave somewhere worrying about melting glaciers in Greenland?)

I’m hesitant to accept Al Gore as a radical environmentalist. During the Clinton administration Al Gore hit the sheets with the biggest polluters in the industry. Today he seems genuinely dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of global climate change, and this is admirable. People can certainly change and if Al Gore now supports green policy, more power to him.

The campaign season has inspired Fox News to pick up where Sean Hannity left off. Gore may be considering a 2008 Presidential bid and the well-oiled conservative smear machine is working over time to distract voters from the issues and portray or frame Democrats in an unflattering manner. It’s cheap politics and I hate that.

— Igor Volsky

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Sir Francis Bacon’s immortal words, though centuries old, have enjoyed a revival in our culture these recent years. “Silence,” asserts Bacon, “is the virtue of fools.” Although I invite everyone to contribute their thoughts and ideas on the subject, I worry they’ll be dissuaded from doing so by our current government, a government that is encouraging other Americans to join the distinguished group that Bacon describes. Silence, though not yet a public mandate, is clawing its way into the minds of the mainstream, attempting even to affect our children.

Two examples of stifled thought and word, which both occurred this past week, shall suffice. If you think the following words of a serviceman deployed to Guantanamo Prison Facility, “Yeah, this one detainee, you know, really pissed me off, irritated me. So I just, you know, punched him in the face,” would lead to disciplinary action, you are correct. The speaker, however, (the man who undoubtedly is “gathering intelligence” and contributing to the “noble calling of our time”) is not the object of such action; the individual who repeated them is, instead. Sgt Cerveny, a legal aide who spent a week in Guantanamo, repeated these words to investigators and subsequently made herself a target. The investigation was discarded by a superior officer of hers, who called the entire process “oppressive”, but the ordeal is thought-provoking nevertheless. Attempted repression of free speech is alarming even in cases where it does not succeed; the criminality (in constitutional terms) of this behavior is not diminished by the incompetence with which it is executed. I don’t think that anyone could have predicted the remarkable ineptitude with which our political leaders fight our wars, but their crimes are crimes whether committed in fashions sloppy or slick.

Another assault on first amendment rights reached into a public school classroom just before the weekend. On the other side of the Hudson River, a class of fourth graders has been stripped of their right to speak out against “the war.” These kids have written a song appealing to the public conscience to, among other things, be respectful and responsible, end the violence and save humanity, and, ultimately, to “end the war”, but the song was pulled from the program; these children cannot perform the song they wrote together because it is “to political”. Although which war “the war” specifically refers to is never overtly specified in the song’s lyrics, it is the belief of the Goshen PTO that preserving some individuals’ willful ignorance of world affairs supersedes the rights of these children to creatively express themselves and voice their values as a class. A triumph for democracy, I suppose, is known to nations other than ours. Although Francis Bacon’s words might have sounded a bit general or abstract when he expressed them, there’s certainly no mistaking their meaning today.

– – Daniel Black

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You can flush that New York Times apology for publishing White House propaganda in the lead up to war with Iraq “without the slightest questioning, investigation, or presentation of ample counter-evidence” right down the toilet. Tomorrow’s Times will feature an article by Michael R. Gordon, the reporter who together with Judith Miller is responsible for authoring the must dubious reports on Iraq. This piece, available online tonight, is titled Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Made by Iran, U.S. Says. In the words of the NYT apology, Gordon’s article, which claims that “the most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran,” is “insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged.”

Since its release the piece has been scrutinized by liberal bloggers Juan Cole, ThinkProgress and others. Cole disputes Gordon’s central allegation (attributed to an unnamed military source) that close to 25 percent of American deaths in the last three months were caused by explosives being smuggled in from Shiite Iran to Shiites in Iraq.

This claim is one hundred percent wrong. Because 25 percent of US troops were not killed fighting Shiites in those three months. Day after day, the casualty reports specify al-Anbar Province or Diyala or Salahuddin or Babil, or Baghdad districts such as al-Dura, Ghaziliyah, Amiriyah, etc.–and the enemy fighting is clearly Sunni Arab guerrillas. And, Iran is not giving high tech weapons to Baathists and Salafi Shiite-killers.


The attempt to blame these US deaths on Iran is in my view a black psy-ops operation. The claim is framed as though this was a matter of direct Iranian government transfer to the deadliest guerrillas. In fact, the most fractious Shiites are the ones who hate Iran the most. If 25 percent of US troops are being killed and wounded by explosively formed projectiles, then someone should look into who is giving those EFPs to Sunni Arab guerrillas. It isn’t Iran.

Finally, it is obvious that if Iran did not exist, US troops would still be being blown up in large numbers. Sunni guerrillas in al-Anbar and West Baghdad are responsible for most of the deaths. The Bush administration’s talent for blaming everyone but itself for its own screw-ups is on clear display here.

Do newspaper sales increase in times of war? Do some of the Times’ corporate sponsors benefit? Is the corporate media filled with lazy reporters unaccustomed to the shoe-leather of investigative reporting? Is the corporate media structure an echo chamber of government propaganda? The questions mount as frustration builds.

— Igor Volsky

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How long are we going to allow conservatives to frame the political debate?

Even before I finished blogging about the so-called Pelosi-plane scandal, conservative blogger Michelle Malkin was obsessing over the ‘profane’ comments of Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, two progressive bloggers presidential candidate John Edwards hired to run his blog. Now the New York Times has picked up the story.

John Edwards learned the hard way this week of the perils of grafting the raucous culture of the Internet to the decidedly staider world of a presidential campaign. Mr. Edwards announced on Thursday, after 36 hours of deliberation, that he would keep on his campaign staff two liberal feminist bloggers with long cybertrails of incendiary comments on sex, religion and politics.

Deliberations over the fate of the two bloggers, Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, created a crisis in Mr. Edwards’s nascent campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 and illuminated the treacherous road ahead as candidates of both parties try to harness the growing power of the online world.


Mr. Edwards stumbled into this minefield ahead of his rivals for the presidency, but many of the other candidates could face similar problems as they try to integrate the passionate, provocative and freewheeling political discourse that flourishes on the Internet into more tightly controlled means of traditional campaign.

You can read some of the posts in question here. Buy while the Times is concerned about the perils of democracy, the paper, and the mainstream media more generally, regularly broadcast the bigotry of Jerry Falwell, Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity etc. Corporate sponsored hate speech is somehow more acceptable than carefully placed profanity, used for rhetorical spice. So long as you frame your debate in proper English, wear a suit and tie, and bring in commercial revenue, your speech, regardless of its hateful content, is considered acceptable.

Deterring Americans from actively participating in government policy has good historical precedent. While crafting the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison believed that power should be delegated to “the wealth of the nation,” not the general public, a group they affectionately labeled the “great beast.” And while Hamilton tried to overcome the “imprudence of democracy,” Thomas Jefferson observed that the “great beast” was “illy qualified to legislate for the Union.” In the early 20th century, President Woodrow Wilson recognized that physical coercion was a tool of the past, and that the best way to ensure that men with “elevated ideals” remain in power was to “manufacture consent” for the general public. This is a cruel but necessary “evil” since only “responsible men” could manage the interests that “elude public opinion entirely.”

Edwards did the right thing in keeping the two bloggers on staff. The free exchange of ideas must not conform to the ‘traditional’ mode of campaigns or the expectations of the corporate media. Conservative bloggers don’t get to determine what is ‘proper’ and the media must not provide them with a soap box from which to stifle democratic expression. Most importantly, we must not allow these manufactured controversies to distract from the issues. America deserves better; we don’t have to conform to the mold of corporate expectations.

— Igor Volsky

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First this morning (at around 9:30am) and then again this afternoon (at around 2:00pm) MSNBC reported on the Republican-manufactured controversy surrounding the negotiations between House sergeant-at-arms and the Pentagon to secure a large military plane to transport Nancy Pelosi from her offices in Washington D.C. to her district in San Francisco. Congressional Republicans have maliciously and erroneously suggested that Pelosi made the request, characterizing their own invention as ”an extravagance of power that the taxpayers won’t swallow.”

While I’m not surprised that the cable news networks have exploited the non-story to attract viewers, I’m shocked by the sheer sexism of Republican Congressmen and prominent network officials. The media has consistently portrayed Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, two powerful Democratic leaders, as power-hungry ‘bitches’. This story is ‘credible’ because it exploits female stereotypes; abuse of power by men (like the extravagant arrogance and power corruption of Dennis Hastert and the old Republican majority) is rarely considered news worthy (Tom Delay’s hammer-like tactics were reported, in diluted form, only after he was forced to resign).

All this begs the question: are Americans ready for a powerful female president? The Pelosi story suggests that we’re not; powerful women are still seen, by many in the ‘old boy establishment,’ as threatening masculine power and masculinity.

— Igor Volsky

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Quick note: Why don’t Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have ‘issue’ sections on their campaign websites while John Edwards, Joe Biden and most of the other ‘less viable candidates’ do? The two frontrunners for the Democratic nomination are running on image, not issues. As Noam Chomsky once told me, the same people who sell you toothpaste market political candidates.

— Igor Volsky

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