Israel’s Sonic Booms Terrifies Gaza Children

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Deafening Sound Considered Retaliation for Palestinian Attacks
By WILF DINNICK, Dec. 29, 2005

It’s Israel’s latest weapon: Without notice, an Israeli jet fighter flies low over the densely populated Gaza Strip, breaking the sound barrier.

The massive sonic boom often breaks windows, shakes entire apartment buildings and terrifies the people of Gaza.

Shaul Mofaz, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert

Just about every night for the last five months, 10-year-old Basma Abid Adiam has had trouble sleeping.

Her father says during the day she often seems distant. Basma’s problems started when the Israeli air force began breaking the sound barrier almost nightly over her home.

On the fourth floor of her family’s apartment building, surrounded by her brothers and sisters, Basma said shyly, “We are afraid when we hear the boom. I wet my bed. During the day when we go to school, we are afraid and try to hide.”

An international activist waves to Palestinians after arriving to Gaza in an attempt to break an Israeli blockade August 23, 2008. Israel said on Saturday it would allow seafaring activists seeking to challenge its blockade on the Gaza Strip to enter the Hamas-controlled territory. From Reuters Pictures by REUTERS.

Responding to Rocket Attacks Against Israelis

Since Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip last September, a small group of Palestinian militants has been using the northern Gaza area to launch homemade rockets at Israel.

The Palestinian authority has either been unable or unwilling to stop the attacks. The Israel army says it has to take action.

The almost nightly sonic booms are the Israeli air force’s attempt to turn the Palestinian population against the militants in Gaza and help stop the attacks.

Targeting innocent civilians violates the Geneva Conventions. Both Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups have asked the Israeli High Court to stop the air force from this practice.

Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a psychiatrist in Gaza, says it is the children who are harmed the most.

“For children under the age of 6, large noise means danger, a danger to life,” he said. “This is definitely a form of collective punishment, which under international law is prohibited and considered a war crime.”

An activist tosses roses into the sea as part of a memorial service in memory of 14 Palestinian fishermen killed since the Israeli siege of Gaza and 34 U.S. sailors killed by Israeli fire during an attack against the USS Liberty 41 years ago in the Cypriot port of Larnaca on Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008. About 40 activists from 16 countries will set sail aboard the boats from the Mediterranean island for the estimated 30-hour trip to the Palestinian territory. They say they will "non-violently" resist any attempts by Israeli authorities to arrest them. From AP Photo by PHILIPPOS CHRISTOU.

But Rannan Gissim, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, defends the tactic. “The inconvenience that it causes the Palestinian population cannot be measured against the question of life or death for Israelis on the other side.”

Scott Ritter on War With Iran

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Scott Ritter on War With Iran

By Scott Ritter, Dec 19, 2007

Scott Ritter

The Truthdig columnist (and WMD expert) warns that war with Iran could be inevitable, despite the National Intelligence Estimate report that says Iran dismantled its nuclear program in 2003. Bush, Ritter argues, doesn’t let facts get in the way of what he wants.

Listen to this interview. (PodCast)

Transcript:

James Harris: This is Truthdig. James Harris sitting down with Scott Ritter, former chief weapons inspector in Iraq. And today we’re talking about the latest report from the National Intelligence Estimate. The report says that Iran is not, as of mid-July, in the nuclear weapons business. Scott Ritter-I think, wisely-told me to look at this report with caution and that this means nothing to the White House, that they [members of the Bush team] are about regime change. Please explain.

Scott Ritter: Well, I think it’s important to assess patterns of behavior. When we take a look at the Bush administration and how it has sought to implement its policies of regional transformation in the Middle East, inclusive, these policies include the notion of regime change, removing unpopular regimes, regimes that the United States unilaterally declares incompatible with its vision, removing them from power. This includes Saddam Hussein and the theocracy in Tehran. They have demonstrated a tendency to exaggerate threats in the form of weapons of mass destruction to exploit the ignorance of the American public and the fear that is derived from this ignorance. They did so with Iraq. They made a case for war based upon weapons of mass destruction that they fail to back up with anything other than rhetoric. I can say, as a former weapons inspector who ran the intelligence programs from ’91 to ’98, that we had fundamentally disarmed Iraq, so for the president to say that there’s this new weapons capability, he would have to demonstrate some new information, and he failed to do so. And that’s why I said, unless he provides this new data, that there isn’t the WMD threat that he said. The same thing can be said about Iran.

Harris: Why should we be cautious about what President Bush is telling us right now?

Ritter: Here’s a president who has said Iran is a threat, a threat in the form of a nuclear weapons program. But for some time now I have been saying, “Where’s the beef, Mr. President? …”

Harris: Hmm.

Ritter: ” … I hear the rhetoric, but your pattern of behavior leads me to believe that you might be exaggerating the threat, fabricating the threat, misrepresenting data to achieve your policy objective of regime change, trying to exploit the ignorance of the American public and the fear derived from this ignorance.” Now we have a National Intelligence Estimate that is released that says, “Time out. There hasn’t been a nuclear weapons program in Iran since 2003.” Now I need to make a point here: I continue to say that there’s never been a nuclear weapons program in Iran. And the National Intelligence Estimate doesn’t provide any evidence to sustain its assertion that there was a nuclear program. But be that as it may, they’re saying that the concept of Iran today pursuing nuclear weapons is a fallacy. There’s no data to promote this. Now, if we lived in world where government functioned the way it’s supposed to when it comes to policy-that is, you get your intelligence, you look at it, you examine it, you assess it, and you say, “OK, how do we now interact with the target, the nation, in this case, Iran?”-that’s normal. That’s cause-and-effect relationship.

Harris: Sure.

Ritter: But what we have is, the administration has already made up its mind about what it wants to do with Iran and had been fabricating a case based upon a nuclear weapons program that the U.S. intelligence community now says doesn’t exist today. Do you think there will be a change in policy? And the answer, of course, is no, because they’ve got the cart before the horse. They put the policy out in front. Inconveniently, the intelligence community didn’t back them on the nuclear weapons issue. …

Harris: But you say Iran’s status as a terrorist organization also plays into this. How so?

Ritter: Not only does the Bush administration continue to say that Iran is a terrorist state, that it supports terrorists who were directly or indirectly involved in the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The United States Senate has passed a resolution that says the same thing and certifies the Iranian Revolutionary Guard command is a terrorist organization. So anybody who thinks for a second this National Intelligence Estimate somehow retards the ability of the Bush administration to engage in military action against Iran, you’re sadly mistaken. The Bush administration’s policy has been made. This estimate was not used to make that policy, and as you yourself have reflected, the president’s not going to let this estimate get in the way of his continuing to articulate Iran as a threat.

Harris: Well, Scott, if you’re right, that’s a high crime. That’s wanton disregard for American wishes, disregard for any of the national intelligence agencies that supposedly cover our back.

Ritter: It’s wanton disregard for everything we stand for as a nation. We elect representatives to government to do our bidding. We expect them to operate within a framework of due process set forth by the rule of law. We might call this the Constitution or laws derived from the Constitution. We speak of checks and balances where we have three separate but equal branches of government, and when it comes to foreign policy and national security policy, really, two. The judiciary takes a step aside and it becomes the executive and the legislative branch. And there’s a system, a bureaucratic system there-the State Department, the CIA, the Defense Department-that is supposed to weigh in on these issues. And like I said, you want to gather the facts, examine the reality, and then make the policy. What we have here is an administration that, ideologically, has committed itself to certain policy actions divorced from what we’ll call reality, early on in the Bush administration.

Harris: Hmm.

Ritter: We heard people speak of a new reality, that the Bush administration can make its own reality. I’m not joking. Paul O’Neill, former secretary of the Treasury, who sat in Cabinet meetings where this was said. And so we now take a look at a situation where the president and his administration are continuing to march forward on a policy direction, regardless of what the data says. Am I jaded? No. I’m alarmed, as much as you are, but I think it’s imperative that we address this responsibly by first realistically acknowledging what’s occurring. There’s too many pundits out there today who are raising the flag of victory, saying, “Aha! Because of this NIE, this National Intelligence Estimate, war’s off the table. We don’t have to worry about it. The Bush plan has been undermined.” It most certainly hasn’t, because the Bush administration has never shown a tendency to respect the normal system of government. This estimate won’t have an impact at all.

Harris: Is it likely that George Bush will look at this report, throw it in the garbage and continue on, business as usual? The business, in this case: engage hostilely with Iran.

Ritter: The answer is yes. He is engaging hostilely with Iran. Remember: I’ve been saying for some time now that the Bush administration is taking the nuclear issue off the front burner. The CIA’s estimate follows on the heels of a finding by the International Atomic Energy Agency back in September that said the same thing: There’s no evidence of a nuclear weapons program. And this was one of their final analyses. They’ve been saying this for some time. The Bush administration has been, for many months now, having a hard time selling Iran’s nuclear threat as a causa bella. This is why they’ve shifted to terror and terrorism. The Bush administration is going to use the gift it was given by the U.S. Senate, this target list of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard command to serve as the cornerstone of its target list when it comes to launching a limited military operation against Iran that’ll probably take place some time in the spring. This is the plan, and the NIE-I don’t think-has changed this one iota. Now, it could. Let’s say Congress woke up all of a sudden. Let’s say Congress said, “Oh my goodness, this president’s been pulling our chain, been lying to us, hyping this thing up. There’s no threat,” and Congress intervenes in a way that it’s refused to do so to date, then maybe, maybe this war could be stopped. But if Congress continues to turn a blind eye or worse, as in the case of the Senate resolution, to facilitate Bush’s hyping of Iran as a threat, I think war is inevitable.

Harris: They’ve been asleep for five years now. Why would they wake up now? Why …

Ritter: [Unintelligible.]

Harris: Yeah. Hillary Clinton voted “yes.” She’s a U.S. senator, she’s running for president, and she said, “Yes, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is indeed a terrorist organization.” Does this further the idea that “the Democrats and the Republicans-you know what?-they’re all in bed together”?

Ritter: It furthers the notion that front-runners are all in it together. The bottom line is, Hillary is getting money from the same sources that fund Giuliani. And if you take a look at their foreign policies, they’re pretty much one and the same. They’re very aggressive foreign policies. They’re based upon the premise of a unitary executive, that the president has the right to pre-emptively launch military strikes against threats that emerge, and maybe do so in a manner which negates Congress. There’s no difference between Hillary and George W. Bush or Rudy Giuliani when it comes to issues of this sort. There’s other Democrats out there who of course take a more nuanced, I would say responsible, point of view. Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, an outstanding candidate. But he’s not getting money from the same sources that are underwriting Hillary and Giuliani and others.

Harris: Scott, tell me what you think our president should be all about these days.

Ritter: The president should govern in accordance with the Constitution. What we have here is a situation that has existed for some time now where successive presidential administrations, frustrated by the inadequacies of democracy, so to speak-.

Harris: [Laughs.]

Ritter: It’s an ugly process. It takes time. It’s not convenient. And presidents want to wield their executive authority. And so, especially in time of war, they’ve created this concept-and it’s totally at odds with the Constitution-of the unitary executive where the president has unilateral powers in times of war. Somebody like Ron Paul, I think, somebody who knows the Constitution, takes a look at this notion of unitary executive authority and says, “Humbug. That’s ridiculous.” And I agree with him. I think it’s imperative that whoever becomes president understands that there are constitutional restrictions on what the president can and can’t do. I also think it’s imperative that Congress start reading the Constitution and flexing its constitutional muscles. That there is a role for Congress to play. It’s called oversight. And that Congress can retard irresponsible policy, that the president doesn’t get a blank check when it comes to foreign policy and national security policy. But, as you mentioned, we don’t have a Congress that seems to be enlightened in this fashion, and outside of a Ron Paul we don’t have too many people who have announced themselves as candidates for the president who will publicly commit to reversing this trend towards a unitary executive.

Harris: Before we move on, what are you optimistic about as we close the year and some of us being to make resolutions? Having told us before, there are no weapons of mass destruction, having been vociferous about the fact that the Bush administration is not doing their job, what keeps you optimistic in all of this? How do you not become jaded? How do you not become disillusioned?

Ritter: I’m a student of history. I allow myself to go back and examine the history of the United States, and I recognize that throughout our history our nation has been faced with serious problems, and yet we overcame these problems. It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t happen overnight, but I’m a firm believer in the resiliency of the American people and our system of government because it’s founded in the Constitution. And as long as we respect that Constitution and abide by that Constitution, I’m comfortable with the fact that we will recover. It’s not going to happen overnight. It won’t happen in the next decade. I’ve said-. This invasion of Iraq has set in motion events that are going to take decades to cure. And so I’m not optimistic about 2008, 2009, 2010; I’m optimistic about 2020, that America will heal itself. But we’re not going to heal ourselves without a fight. That doesn’t mean that I can just sit back and throw my feet up and say, “I’ll just wait until the time passes.” No. We’ll heal ourselves because we will wake up collectively. Congress will reawaken. The presidency will be brought in line with the Constitution, but not without a fight. And so 2008 is going to be a fight, 2009 is going to be a fight. We have to fight, because if we don’t, then I have no confidence whatsoever in America healing itself.

Harris: Tell me a little about your dig. You’re leading a dig on Truthdig, Truthdig.com. And it’s called “Calling Out Idiot America.” Can you share with us some of what you’re saying? Your thesis, if you will?

Ritter: That was the first piece I wrote. I was approached by Mr. Scheer [Robert Scheer, Truthdig editor] and Ms. Kaufman [Zuade Kaufman, Truthdig publisher] to write for Truthdig. I thought probably the best thing to do is to set the tone of how I was going to approach this, which wasn’t going to be a kinder, gentler dig; it was going to be an in-your-face dig, but not one that was irresponsible. I chose, right off the bat, the issue of Iraq. I say we have a responsibility to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are over there and a responsibility to our government to be engaged on Iraq. But, sadly, most Americans were ill equipped. I was driving down- I had just talked to the publishers and the editors of Truthdig and I was driving down from L.A. to San Diego, formulating this concept of-how do I explain Shia, Kurds and Sunni to people? And I was listening to the radio and the Green Day song came on, “Calling Out to Idiot America.” I said, “That’s a great title. That’s pretty much what I’m trying to do.” With all due respect to the American people, we’re 300 million people, technologically advanced, but we’re probably the most ignorant people in the world …

Harris: How do you mean? How do you mean?

Ritter: … so I have no qualms about calling Americans idiots when it comes to issues like Iraq, Iran and other areas around the world that somehow in our nationalistic-. We thump ourselves on the chest and say we have a right to intervene, but when you ask people to talk about the reality of that country, we know nothing about it, so we’re basically sticking our nose in an area that we’re ignorant of.

Harris: Mm-hmm. How do we cure that? Because I think that’s the main reason we can’t make change. At least that’s one speculation: that we are thousands of miles away from where the action is going down. We’re disconnected. We’re over here living our lives, we’re doing our own thing and there’s a war going on. Maybe that’s why we aren’t up in arms collectively.

Ritter: It’s a huge part of the problem, the complacency of a society that has been dumbed down by the narcotic of consumerism. If you just think about it, we wrapped ourselves in this cocoon of comfort and so long as the powers that be keep us waddling down a relative path of prosperity, we don’t want to rock the boat. But the fact is, we must empower ourselves with knowledge and information. That’s why I’m grateful to Truthdig for giving me a chance to write, because I view it as an outstanding forum for informing people and for having people empowered with knowledge and information so that we make informed decisions. We go back. We talk about our system of government. It doesn’t work if we, the people, are divorced. And if you accept, as I do, that the Constitution of the United States is the foundation of our government, that preamble says that we, the people of the United States of America, we shouldn’t take that lightly. The Supreme Court has said, because of that preamble, the Constitution belongs to us; we are the defenders of the Constitution. And so it’s imperative that we, the people, get empowered and we empower ourselves through the acquisition of knowledge and information and then assert ourselves onto a system of government. But it’s going to require people to stand up and shake off this apathy, as I said, the narcotic of consumerism brings the bear. I love Christmas. I help my Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah. I think there’s nothing wrong with this time period, but we also need to reflect on how far we’ve shifted away from a holiday that celebrates human beings coming together and instead become involved in a holiday that’s about conspicuous spending.

Harris: Yeah.

Ritter: We need to recognize that there’s an enemy out there. And if we look in the mirror long enough, we’ll realize that the enemy is us.

Harris: I think you make a good point. Some of my busy friends would say, “You know what? What time do I have to make a difference? Is there anything the average Joe can do to help affect change? Besides writing the senator and writing the congressman, what else can you do?

Ritter: The first thing is to recognize that there’s a need. That’s step one. You have to say, “There is a need for change.” The next thing, after that, is to allocate time. I keep hearing people say, “I don’t have time.” Last night was Monday Night Football. Heckuva game, by the way. I sat in a bar with my friends. These are good guys; they’re not stupid. But they keep telling me over and over again, “That foreign policy stuff is too complicated, man. How do you expect us to get our fingers wrapped around it? You’ve been living this for your life, but we don’t do this. We have jobs and everything.” And I said, “That’s fair enough.” But then we’re watching the game, and they start criticizing play calls. They say, “You know, if they’d given the ball to the fullback on this play, statistically speaking on second down through the guard and tackle off the right side, he’s going to gain 3.5 yards.” I said, “How do you know that?” They go, “Oh, we studied the stats.” I’ll tell you what: If you’ve got enough time to study sports stats so that you know this kind of information, you can make that kind of analysis, you’ve got enough time to study American foreign policy and have an informed opinion about places where Americans are dying.

Harris: You would agree, then, that the more informed, and the more masses, the more people that are informed, the better off we are. We benefit from that, don’t we?

Ritter: It’s the only way we can be. It’s not one of these things that we would say is an “elective.” We don’t get to opt out of this one. If you call yourself an American citizen, you have to be informed. It’s a responsibility of citizenship. It’s not something you can opt into or opt out of. If you opt out of it, turn in your passport and leave my country. If you want to be a citizen in America, you’ve got to opt in and say: “Hey! I’m here. I count. I’m relevant, and I’m going to be informed.”

Harris: I think it is the job of every American to know something about foreign policy and something about government and be able to talk intelligently about these subjects, because that only means a better public. So I agree with you there. But we are preaching that Americans need to participate, yet the chief American is not participating. He’s not doing the things that we’re preaching Americans should do. So then, how, at this time, can we mount an effort to overcome the backward thinking that’s coming out of the White House?

Ritter: One of the reasons why the executive headed down the path towards unilateral executive power is that they got frustrated with the slow pace of democracy. I think the first thing we have to recognize is that the American people can’t allow themselves to be frustrated by the slow process of democracy. The other thing they have to recognize is that the rule of law means nothing unless the law is enforced. And we have a president who is showing a wanton disregard for the rule of law. There are constitutional remedies for executives who behave in this manner. It’s called impeachment. And I’m a big fan of the American public letting Congress know that impeachment is on the table. It’s Congress’ job, not to impeach, per se, but to investigate. And we have clear examples in the case of Iraq of the potential of wrongdoing that Congress has yet to investigate in a satisfactory manner. And now we’re taking a look at Iran. If we speak of holding the president to account for his actions, how about starting to hold Congress accountable for their failure to act in accordance with the will of the people? And what I’m talking about is a Nancy Pelosi and a Harry Reed, these “great” Democrats. And I say “great” in quotations because I don’t think they’re great at all. These Democrats who were elected to office by the will of the people and who have said that they are going to do nothing to tie the hands of this president when it comes to issues such as Iran and Iraq. And the last thing they’re going to do is defend the Constitution by holding the president accountable for his failure to abide by the Constitution. It’s time we started holding these people accountable as well.

Harris: Certainly refreshing to hear that you still maintain optimism and that you still have belief.

Ritter: I have belief in the American people. The government, as long as it’s reflective of the will of the people within the framework of the Constitution, I’ll continuously eye it in a suspicious fashion. But the government we have in play today? No, I don’t have any faith in it. It needs to be changed, and this is our collective responsibility to elect people to office who will do our bidding in accordance with the Constitution and who will be held accountable to us. Too many times we vote, but then that’s it. We don’t do the second half of the representative democracy equation, which is to hold them to account.

Harris: Yeah. If we keep calling the people, maybe they will answer one day. I believe they have to answer.

Ritter: I agree.

Harris: Scott Ritter, the former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, is also the author of “Iraq Confidential” and the first man I heard say there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Scott Ritter, thank you for joining us today on Truthdig.

Ritter: Thank you for having me.

Harris: All right then. For Scott Ritter, this is James Harris, and this is Truthdig.

Poor Haitians Resort to Eating Dirt Mud Cakes

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Rising Food Costs Force Haiti’s Poor to Resort to Eating Dirt

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

It was lunchtime in one of Haiti’s worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud. With food prices rising, Haiti’s poorest can’t afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies. Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country’s central plateau.

The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.

Yolen Jeunky arranges dried mud cookies for sale in a bucket in Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Nov. 29, 2007. (Ariana Cubillos/ AP Photo)

“When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day,” Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth.

Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. “When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too,” she said.

Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well.

A woman dries mud cookies in the sun on the the roof of Fort Dimanche, once a prison, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Nov. 29, 2007. Rising prices and food shortages are threatening Haiti’s fragile stability, and the mud cookies, made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening, are one of very few options the poorest people have to stave off hunger. (Ariana Cubillos/ AP Photo)

The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places.

The global price hikes, together with floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season, prompted the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other Caribbean countries. Caribbean leaders held an emergency summit in December to discuss cutting food taxes and creating large regional farms to reduce dependence on imports.

At the market in the La Saline slum, two cups of rice now sell for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say.

The hand of a woman is covered in mud as she makes mud cookies on the roof of Fort Dimanche, Nov. 30, 2007. (Ariana Cubillos/ AP Photo)

Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared to food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.

Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies in places such as Fort Dimanche, a nearby shanty town.

Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which the slum is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun.

The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets.

A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered.

Assessments of the health effects are mixed. Dirt can contain deadly parasites or toxins, but can also strengthen the immunity of fetuses in the womb to certain diseases, said Gerald N. Callahan, an immunology professor at Colorado State University who has studied geophagy, the scientific name for dirt-eating.

Haitian doctors say depending on the cookies for sustenance risks malnutrition.

Yolen Jeunky prepares cookies made of dirt, water, salt and butter on the the roof of Fort Dimanche. (Ariana Cubillos/ AP Photo)

“Trust me, if I see someone eating those cookies, I will discourage it,” said Dr. Gabriel Thimothee, executive director of Haiti’s health ministry.

Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them.

“I’m hoping one day I’ll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these,” she said. “I know it’s not good for me.”

By JONATHAN M. KATZ Associated Press Writer
Jan 29, 2008
The Associated Press

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

The cost of food: facts and figures

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Explore the facts and figures behind the rising price of food across the globe.

The World Bank has announced emergency measures to tackle rising food prices around the world.

World Bank head Robert Zoellick warned that 100 million people in poor countries could be pushed deeper into poverty by spiralling prices.

The crisis has sparked recent food riots in several countries including Haiti, the Philippines and Egypt.

The World Bank endorsed Mr Zoellick’s “new deal” action plan for a long-term boost to agricultural production.

Emergency help would include an additional $10m (£5m) to Haiti, where several people were killed in food riots last week, and a doubling of agricultural loans to African farmers.

Starvation risk

Mr Zoellick’s proposals were endorsed by the World Bank’s steering committee of finance and development ministers at a meeting in Washington.

We have to put our money where our mouth is now so that we can put food into hungry mouths
Robert Zoellick
World Bank head

The World Bank and its sister organisation, the IMF, have held a weekend of meetings that addressed rising food and energy prices as well as the credit crisis upsetting global financial markets.

The leader of the International Monetary Fund last week said hundreds of thousands of people were at risk of starvation because of food shortages.

Prices have risen sharply in recent months, driven by increased demand, poor weather in some countries that has ruined crops and reduced production area, thanks to an increase in the use of land to grow crops for transport fuels.

The price of staple crops such as wheat, rice and corn have all risen, leading to an increase in overall food prices of 83% in the last three years, the World Bank has said.

GLOBAL FOOD PRICE RISES
Wheat: 130%
Soya: 87%
Rice: 74%
Corn: 31%
Time: Year to March 2008
Source: Bloomberg

The sharp rises have led to protests and unrest in many countries, including Egypt, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

In Haiti, protests last week turned violent, leading to the deaths of five people and the fall of the government.

Restrictions on rice exports have been put in place in major producing countries such as India, China, Vietnam and Egypt.

Importers such as Bangladesh, the Philippines and Afghanistan have been hit hard.

Rich urged to act

“We have to put our money where our mouth is now so that we can put food into hungry mouths,” Mr Zoellick said. “It’s as stark as that.”

He called for more aid to provide food to needy people in poor countries and help for small farmers. He said the World Bank was working to provide money for seeds for planting in the new season.

He also urged wealthy donor countries to quickly fill the World Food Programme’s estimated $500m (£250m) funding shortfall.

Mr Zoellick’s “New Deal for Global Food Policy” also seeks to boost agricultural policy in poor countries in the longer-term.

On Saturday, the head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, warned of mass starvation and other dire consequences if food prices continued to rise sharply.

“As we know, learning from the past, those kind of questions sometimes end in war,” he said.

He said the problem could lead to trade imbalances that may eventually affect developed nations, “so it is not only a humanitarian question”.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/business/7344892.stm

Published: 2008/04/14 11:02:54 GMT


We Own the World, but We are Broke?

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Noam Chomsky, ZNet, January 1, 2008

You all know, of course, there was an election — what is called “an election” in the United States — last November. There was really one issue in the election, what to do about U.S. forces in Iraq and there was, by U.S. standards, an overwhelming vote calling for a withdrawal of U.S. forces on a firm timetable.

As few people know, a couple of months earlier there were extensive polls in Iraq, U.S.-run polls, with interesting results. They were not secret here. If you really looked you could find references to them, so it’s not that they were concealed. This poll found that two-thirds of the people in Baghdad wanted the U.S. troops out immediately; the rest of the country — a large majority — wanted a firm timetable for withdrawal, most of them within a year or less.

The figures are higher for Arab Iraq in the areas where troops were actually deployed. A very large majority felt that the presence of U.S. forces increased the level of violence and a remarkable 60 percent for all of Iraq, meaning higher in the areas where the troops are deployed, felt that U.S. forces were legitimate targets of attack. So there was a considerable consensus between Iraqis and Americans on what should be done in Iraq, namely troops should be withdrawn either immediately or with a firm timetable.

Well, the reaction in the post-election U.S. government to that consensus was to violate public opinion and increase the troop presence by maybe 30,000 to 50,000. Predictably, there was a pretext announced. It was pretty obvious what it was going to be. “There is outside interference in Iraq, which we have to defend the Iraqis against. The Iranians are interfering in Iraq.” Then came the alleged evidence about finding IEDs, roadside bombs with Iranian markings, as well as Iranian forces in Iraq. “What can we do? We have to escalate to defend Iraq from the outside intervention.”

Then came the “debate.” We are a free and open society, after all, so we have “lively” debates. On the one side were the hawks who said, “The Iranians are interfering, we have to bomb them.” On the other side were the doves who said, “We cannot be sure the evidence is correct, maybe you misread the serial numbers or maybe it is just the revolutionary guards and not the government.”

So we had the usual kind of debate going on, which illustrates a very important and pervasive distinction between several types of propaganda systems. To take the ideal types, exaggerating a little: totalitarian states’ propaganda is that you better accept it, or else. And “or else” can be of various consequences, depending on the nature of the state. People can actually believe whatever they want as long as they obey. Democratic societies use a different method: they don’t articulate the party line. That’s a mistake. What they do is presuppose it, then encourage vigorous debate within the framework of the party line. This serves two purposes. For one thing it gives the impression of a free and open society because, after all, we have lively debate. It also instills a propaganda line that becomes something you presuppose, like the air you breathe.

That was the case here. This is a classic illustration. The whole debate about the Iranian “interference” in Iraq makes sense only on one assumption, namely, that “we own the world.” If we own the world, then the only question that can arise is that someone else is interfering in a country we have invaded and occupied.

So if you look over the debate that took place and is still taking place about Iranian interference, no one points out this is insane. How can Iran be interfering in a country that we invaded and occupied? It’s only appropriate on the presupposition that we own the world. Once you have that established in your head, the discussion is perfectly sensible.

You read a lot of comparisons now about Vietnam and Iraq. For the most part they are totally incomparable; the nature and purpose of the war, almost everything is totally different except in one respect: how they are perceived in the United States. In both cases there is what is now sometimes called the “Q” word, quagmire. Is it a quagmire? In Vietnam it is now recognized that it was a quagmire. There is a debate of whether Iraq, too, is a quagmire. In other words, is it costing us too much? That is the question you can debate.

So in the case of Vietnam, there was a debate. Not at the beginning — in fact, there was so little discussion in the beginning that nobody even remembers when the war began — 1962, if you’re interested. That’s when the U.S. attacked Vietnam. But there was no discussion, no debate, nothing.

By the mid-1960s, mainstream debate began. And it was the usual range of opinions between the hawks and the doves. The hawks said if we send more troops, we can win. The doves, well, Arthur Schlesinger, famous historian, Kennedy’s advisor, in his book in 1966 said that we all pray that the hawks will be right and that the current escalation of troops, which by then was approaching half a million, will work and bring us victory. If it does, we will all be praising the wisdom and statesmanship of the American government for winning victory — in a land that we’re reducing to ruin and wreck.

You can translate that word by word to the doves today. We all pray that the surge will work. If it does, contrary to our expectations, we will be praising the wisdom and statesmanship of the Bush administration in a country, which, if we’re honest, is a total ruin, one of the worst disasters in military history for the population.

If you get way to the left end of mainstream discussion, you get somebody like Anthony Lewis who, at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, wrote in retrospect that the war began with benign intensions to do good; that is true by definition, because it’s us, after all. So it began with benign intentions, but by 1969, he said, it was clear that the war was a mistake. For us to win a victory would be too costly — for us — so it was a mistake and we should withdraw. That was the most extreme criticism.

Very much like today. We could withdraw from Vietnam because the U.S. had already essentially obtained its objective by then. Iraq we can’t because we haven’t obtained our objectives.

And for those of you who are old enough to remember — or have read about it — you will note that the peace movement pretty much bought that line. Just like the mainstream discussion, the opposition of the war, including the peace movement, was mostly focused on the bombing of the North. When the U.S. started bombing the North regularly in February 1965, it also escalated the bombing of the South to triple the scale — and the South had already been attacked for three years by then. A couple of hundred thousand South Vietnamese were killed and thousands, if not tens of the thousands, had been driven into concentration camps. The U.S. had been carrying out chemical warfare to destroy food crops and ground cover. By 1965 South Vietnam was already a total wreck.

Bombing the South was costless for the United States because the South had no defense. Bombing the North was costly — you bomb the North, you bomb the harbor, you might hit Russian ships, which begins to become dangerous. You’re bombing an internal Chinese railroad — the Chinese railroads from southeast to southwest China happen to go through North Vietnam — who knows what they might do.

In fact, the Chinese were accused, correctly, of sending Chinese forces into Vietnam, namely to rebuild the railroad that we were bombing. So that was “interference” with our divine right to bomb North Vietnam. So most of the focus was on the bombing of the North. The peace movement slogan, “Stop the bombing” meant the bombing of the North.

In 1967 the leading specialist on Vietnam, Bernard Fall, a military historian and the only specialist on Vietnam respected by the U.S. government — who was a hawk, incidentally, but who cared about the Vietnamese — wrote that it’s a question of whether Vietnam will survive as a cultural and historical entity under the most severe bombing that has ever been applied to a country this size. He was talking about the South. He kept emphasizing it was the South that was being attacked. But that didn’t matter because it was costless, therefore it’s fine to continue. That is the range of debate, which only makes sense on the assumption that we own the world.

If you read, say, the Pentagon Papers, it turns out there was extensive planning about the bombing of the North — very detailed, meticulous planning on just how far it can go, what happens if we go a little too far, and so on. There is no discussion at all about the bombing of the South, virtually none. Just an occasional announcement, okay, we will triple the bombing, or something like that.

If you read Robert McNamara’s memoirs of the war — by that time he was considered a leading dove — he reviews the meticulous planning about the bombing of the North, but does not even mention his decision to sharply escalate the bombing of the South at the same time that the bombing of the North was begun.

I should say, incidentally, that with regard to Vietnam what I have been discussing is articulate opinion, including the leading part of the peace movement. There is also public opinion, which it turns out is radically different, and that is of some significance. By 1969 around 70 percent of the public felt that the war was not a mistake, but that it was fundamentally wrong and immoral. That was the wording of the polls and that figure remains fairly constant up until the most recent polls just a few years ago. The figures are pretty remarkable because people who say that in a poll almost certainly think, I must be the only person in the world that thinks this. They certainly did not read it anywhere, they did not hear it anywhere. But that was popular opinion.

The same is true with regard to many other issues. But for articulate opinion it’s pretty much the way I’ve described — largely vigorous debate between the hawks and the doves, all on the unexpressed assumption that we own the world. So the only thing that matters is how much is it costing us, or maybe for some more humane types, are we harming too many of them?

post war iraq map oil companies

Getting back to the election, there was a lot of disappointment among anti-war people — the majority of the population — that Congress did not pass any withdrawal legislation. There was a Democratic resolution that was vetoed, but if you look at the resolution closely it was not a withdrawal resolution. There was a good analysis of it by General Kevin Ryan, who was a fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard. He went through it and he said it really should be called a re-missioning proposal. It leaves about the same number of American troops, but they have a slightly different mission.

He said, first of all it allows for a national security exception. If the president says there is a national security issue, he can do whatever he wants — end of resolution. The second gap is it allows for anti-terrorist activities. Okay, that is whatever you like. Third, it allows for training Iraqi forces. Again, anything you like.

Next it says troops have to remain for protection of U.S. forces and facilities. What are U.S. forces? Well, U.S. forces are those embedded in Iraqi armed units where 60 percent of their fellow soldiers think that they — U.S. troops, that is — are legitimate targets of attack. Incidentally, those figures keep going up, so they are probably higher by now. Well, okay, that is plenty of force protection. What facilities need protection was not explained in the Democratic resolution, but facilities include what is called “the embassy.” The U.S. embassy in Iraq is nothing like any embassy that has ever existed in history. It’s a city inside the green zone, the protected region of Iraq, that the U.S. runs. It’s got everything from missiles to McDonalds, anything you want. They didn’t build that huge facility because they intend to leave.

That is one facility, but there are others. There are “semi-permanent military bases,” which are being built around the country. “Semi-permanent” means permanent, as long as we want.

General Ryan omitted a lot of things. He omitted the fact that the U.S. is maintaining control of logistics and logistics is the core of a modern Army. Right now about 80 percent of the supply is coming in though the south, from Kuwait, and it’s going through guerilla territory, easily subject to attack, which means you have to have plenty of troops to maintain that supply line. Plus, of course, it keeps control over the Iraqi Army.

The Democratic resolution excludes the Air Force. The Air Force does whatever it wants. It is bombing pretty regularly and it can bomb more intensively. The resolution also excludes mercenaries, which is no small number — sources such as the Wall Street Journal estimate the number of mercenaries at about 130,000, approximately the same as the number of troops, which makes some sense. The traditional way to fight a colonial war is with mercenaries, not with your own soldiers — that is the French Foreign Legion, the British Ghurkas, or the Hessians in the Revolutionary War. That is part of the main reason the draft was dropped — so you get professional soldiers, not people you pick off the streets.

So, yes, it is re-missioning, but the resolution was vetoed because it was too strong, so we don’t even have that. And, yes, that did disappoint a lot of people. However, it would be too strong to say that no high official in Washington called for immediate withdrawal. There were some. The strongest one I know of — when asked what is the solution to the problem in Iraq — said it’s quite obvious, “Withdraw all foreign forces and withdraw all foreign arms.” That official was Condoleeza Rice and she was not referring to U.S. forces, she was referring to Iranian forces and Iranian arms. And that makes sense, too, on the assumption that we own the world because, since we own the world U.S. forces cannot be foreign forces anywhere. So if we invade Iraq or Canada, say, we are the indigenous forces. It’s the Iranians that are foreign forces.

I waited for a while to see if anyone, at least in the press or journals, would point out that there was something funny about this. I could not find a word. I think everyone regarded that as a perfectly sensible comment. But I could not see a word from anyone who said, wait a second, there are foreign forces there, 150,000 American troops, plenty of American arms.

So it is reasonable that when British sailors were captured in the Gulf by Iranian forces, there was debate, “Were they in Iranian borders or in Iraqi borders? Actually there is no answer to this because there is no territorial boundary, and that was pointed out. It was taken for granted that if the British sailors were in Iraqi waters, then Iran was guilty of a crime by intervening in foreign territory. But Britain is not guilty of a crime by being in Iraqi territory, because Britain is a U.S. client state, and we own the world, so they are there by right.

What about the possible next war, Iran? There have been very credible threats by the U.S. and Israel — essentially a U.S. client — to attack Iran. There happens to be something called the UN Charter which says that — in Article 2 — the threat or use of force in international affairs is a crime. “Threat or use of force.”

Does anybody care? No, because we’re an outlaw state by definition, or to be more precise, our threats and use of force are not foreign, they’re indigenous because we own the world. Therefore, it’s fine. So there are threats to bomb Iran — maybe we will and maybe we won’t. That is the debate that goes on. Is it legitimate if we decide to do it? People might argue it’s a mistake. But does anyone say it would be illegitimate? For example, the Democrats in Congress refuse to put in an amendment that would require the Executive to inform Congress if it intends to bomb Iran — to consult, inform. Even that was not accepted.

The whole world is aghast at this possibility. It would be monstrous. A leading British military historian, Correlli Barnett, wrote recently that if the U.S. does attack, or Israel does attack, it would be World War III. The attack on Iraq has been horrendous enough. Apart from devastating Iraq, the UN High Commission on Refugees reviewed the number of displaced people — they estimate 4.2 million, over 2 million fled the country, another 2 million fleeing within the country. That is in addition to the numbers killed, which if you extrapolate from the last studies, are probably approaching a million.

It was anticipated by U.S. intelligence and other intelligence agencies and independent experts that an attack on Iraq would probably increase the threat of terror and nuclear proliferation. But that went way beyond what anyone expected. Well known terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank estimated — using mostly government statistics — that what they call “the Iraq effect” increased terror by a factor of seven, and that is pretty serious. And that gives you an indication of the ranking of protection of the population in the priority list of leaders. It’s very low.

So what would the Iran effect be? Well, that is incalculable. It could be World War III. Very likely a massive increase in terror, who knows what else. Even in the states right around Iraq, which don’t like Iran — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — even there the large majority would prefer to see a nuclear armed Iran to any U.S. military action, and they are right, military action could be devastating. It doesn’t mean we won’t do it. There is very little discussion here of the illegitimacy of doing it, again on the assumption that anything we do is legitimate, it just might cost too much.

Is there a possible solution to the U.S./Iran crisis? Well, there are some plausible solutions. One possibility would be an agreement that allows Iran to have nuclear energy, like every signer of the non-proliferation treaty, but not to have nuclear weapons. In addition, it would call for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. That would include Iran, Israel, which has hundreds of nuclear weapons, and any U.S. or British forces deployed in the region. A third element of a solution would be for the United States and other nuclear states to obey their legal obligation, by unanimous agreement of the World Court, to make good-faith moves to eliminate nuclear weapons entirely.

Is this feasible? Well, it’s feasible on one assumption, that the United States and Iran become functioning democratic societies, because what I have just quoted happens to be the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the populations in Iran and the United States. On everything that I mentioned there is an overwhelming majority. So, yes, there would be a very feasible solution if these two countries were functioning democratic societies, meaning societies in which public opinion has some kind of effect on policy. The problem in the United States is the inability of organizers to do something in a population that overwhelmingly agrees with them and to make that current policy. Of course, it can be done. Peasants in Bolivia can do it, we can obviously do it here.

Can we do anything to make Iran a more democratic society? Not directly, but indirectly we can. We can pay attention to the dissidents and the reformists in Iran who are struggling courageously to turn Iran into a more democratic society. And we know exactly what they are saying, they are very outspoken about it. They are pleading with the United States to withdraw the threats against Iran. The more we threaten Iran, the more we give a gift to the reactionary, religious fanatics in the government. You make threats, you strengthen them. That is exactly what is happening. The threats have lead to repression, predictably.

Now the Americans claim they are outraged by the repression, which we should protest, but we should recognize that the repression is the direct and predictable consequence of the actions that the U.S. government is taking. So if you take actions, and then they have predictable consequences, condemning the consequences is total hypocrisy.

Incidentally, in the case of Cuba about two-thirds of Americans think we ought to end the embargo and all threats and enter into diplomatic relations. And that has been true ever since polls have been taken — for about 30 years. The figure varies, but it’s roughly there. Zero effect on policy, in Iran, Cuba, and elsewhere.

So there is a problem and that problem is that the United States is just not a functioning democracy. Public opinion does not matter and among articulate and elite opinion that is a principle — it shouldn’t matter. The only principle that matters is we own the world and the rest of you shut up, you know, whether you’re abroad or at home.

So, yes, there is a potential solution to the very dangerous problem, it’s essentially the same solution: do something to turn our own country into a functioning democracy. But that is in radical opposition to the fundamental presupposition of all elite discussions, mainly that we own the world and that these questions don’t arise and the public should have no opinion on foreign policy, or any policy.

Once, when I was driving to work, I was listening to NPR. NPR is supposed to be the kind of extreme radical end of the spectrum. I read a statement somewhere, I don’t know if it’s true, but it was a quote from Obama, who is the hope of the liberal doves, in which he allegedly said that the spectrum of discussion in the United States extends between two crazy extremes, Rush Limbaugh and NPR. The truth, he said, is in the middle and that is where he is going to be, in the middle, between the crazies.

NPR then had a discussion — it was like being at the Harvard faculty club — serious people, educated, no grammatical errors, who know what they’re talking about, usually polite. The discussion was about the so-called missile defense system that the U.S. is trying to place in Czechoslovakia and Poland — and the Russian reaction. The main issue was, “What is going on with the Russians? Why are they acting so hostile and irrational? Are they trying to start a new Cold War? There is something wrong with those guys. Can we calm them down and make them less paranoid?”

The main specialist they called in, I think from the Pentagon or somewhere, pointed out, accurately, that a missile defense system is essentially a first-strike weapon. That is well known by strategic analysts on all sides. If you think about it for a minute, it’s obvious why. A missile defense system is never going to stop a first strike, but it could, in principle, if it ever worked, stop a retaliatory strike. If you attack some country with a first strike, and practically wipe it out, if you have a missile defense system, and prevent them from retaliating, then you would be protected, or partially protected. If a country has a functioning missile defense system it will have more options for carrying out a first strike. Okay, obvious, and not a secret. It’s known to every strategic analyst. I can explain it to my grandchildren in two minutes and they understand it.

So on NPR it is agreed that a missile defense system is a first-strike weapon. But then comes the second part of the discussion. Well, say the pundits, the Russians should not be worried about this. For one thing because it’s not enough of a system to stop their retaliation, so therefore it’s not yet a first-strike weapon against them. Then they said it is kind of irrelevant anyway because it is directed against Iran, not against Russia.

Okay, that was the end of the discussion. So, point one, missile defense is a first-strike weapon; second, it’s directed against Iran. Now, you can carry out a small exercise in logic. Does anything follow from those two assumptions? Yes, what follows is it’s a first-strike weapon against Iran. Since the U.S. owns the world what could be wrong with having a first-strike weapon against Iran. So the conclusion is not mentioned. It is not necessary. It follows from the fact that we own the world.

Maybe a year ago or so, Germany sold advanced submarines to Israel, which were equipped to carry missiles with nuclear weapons. Why does Israel need submarines with nuclear armed missiles? Well, there is only one imaginable reason and everyone in Germany with a brain must have understood that — certainly their military system does — it’s a first-strike weapon against Iran. Israel can use German subs to illustrate to Iranians that if they respond to an Israeli attack they will be vaporized.

The fundamental premises of Western imperialism are extremely deep. The West owns the world and now the U.S. runs the West, so, of course, they go along. The fact that they are providing a first-strike weapon for attacking Iran probably, I’m guessing now, raised no comment because why should it?

You can forget about history, it does not matter, it’s kind of “old fashioned,” boring stuff we don’t need to know about. But most countries pay attention to history. So, for example, for the United States there is no discussion of the history of U.S./Iranian relations. Well, for the U.S. there is only one event in Iranian history — in 1979 Iranians overthrew the tyrant that the U.S. was backing and took some hostages for over a year. That happened and they had to be punished for that.

But for Iranians their history is that for over 50 years, literally without a break, the U.S. has been torturing Iranians. In 1953 the U.S. overthrew the parliamentary government and installed a brutal tyrant, the Shah, and kept supporting him while he compiled one of the worst human rights records in the world — torture, assassination, anything you like. In fact, President Carter, when he visited Iran in December 1978, praised the Shah because of the love shown to him by his people, and so on and so forth, which probably accelerated the overthrow. Of course, Iranians have this odd way of remembering what happened to them and who was behind it. When the Shah was overthrown, the Carter administration immediately tried to instigate a military coup by sending arms to Iran through Israel to try to support military force to overthrow the government. We immediately turned to supporting Iraq, that is Saddam Hussein, and his invasion of Iran. Saddam was executed for crimes he committed in 1982, by his standards not very serious crimes — complicity in killing 150 people. Well, there was something missing in that account — 1982 is a very important year in U.S./Iraqi relations. That is the year in which Ronald Reagan removed Iraq from the list of states supporting terrorism so that the U.S. could start supplying Iraq with weapons for its invasion of Iran, including the means to develop weapons of mass destruction, chemical and nuclear weapons. That is 1982. A year later Donald Rumsfeld was sent to firm up the deal. Well, Iranians may very well remember that this led to a war in which hundreds of thousands of them were slaughtered with U.S. aid going to Iraq. They may well remember that the year after the war was over, in 1989, the U.S. government invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to come to the United States for advanced training in developing nuclear weapons.

What about the Russians? They have a history too. One part of the history is that in the last century Russia was invaded and practically destroyed three times through Eastern Europe. You can look back and ask, when was the last time that the U.S. was invaded and practically destroyed through Canada or Mexico? That doesn’t happen. We crush others and we are always safe. But the Russians don’t have that luxury. Now, in 1990 a remarkable event took place. I was kind of shocked, frankly. Gorbachev agreed to let Germany be unified, meaning join the West and be militarized within a hostile military alliance. This is Germany, which twice in that century practically destroyed Russia. That’s a pretty remarkable agreement.

There was a quid pro quo. Then-president George Bush I agreed that NATO would not expand to the East. The Russians also demanded, but did not receive, an agreement for a nuclear-free zone from the Artic to the Baltic, which would give them a little protection from nuclear attack. That was the agreement in 1990. Then Bill Clinton came into office, the so-called liberal. One of the first things he did was to rescind the agreement, unilaterally, and expand NATO to the East.

For the Russians that’s pretty serious, if you remember the history. They lost 25 million people in the last World War and over 3 million in World War I. But since the U.S. owns the world, if we want to threaten Russia, that is fine. It is all for freedom and justice, after all, and if they make unpleasant noises about it we wonder why they are so paranoid. Why is Putin screaming as if we’re somehow threatening them, since we can’t be threatening anyone, owning the world.

One of the other big issues on the front pages now is Chinese “aggressiveness.” There is a lot of concern about the fact that the Chinese are building up their missile forces. Is China planning to conquer the world? Big debates about it. Well, what is really going on? For years China has been in the lead in trying to prevent the militarization of space. If you look at the debates and the Disarmament Commission of the UN General Assembly, the votes are 160 to 1 or 2. The U.S. insists on the militarization of space. It will not permit the outer space treaty to explicitly bar military relations in space.

Clinton’s position was that the U.S. should control space for military purposes. The Bush administration is more extreme. Their position is the U.S. should own space, their words, We have to own space for military purposes. So that is the spectrum of discussion here. The Chinese have been trying to block it and that is well understood. You read the most respectable journal in the world, I suppose, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and you find leading strategic analysts, John Steinbrunner and Nancy Gallagher, a couple of years ago, warning that the Bush administration’s aggressive militarization is leading to what they call “ultimate doom.” Of course, there is going to be a reaction to it. You threaten people with destruction, they are going to react. These analysts call on peace-loving nations to counter Bush’s aggressive militarism. They hope that China will lead peace-loving nations to counter U.S. aggressiveness. It’s a pretty remarkable comment on the impossibility of achieving democracy in the United States. Again, the logic is pretty elementary. Steinbrunner and Gallagher are assuming that the United States cannot be a democratic society; it’s not one of the options, so therefore we hope that maybe China will do something.

Well, China finally did something. It signaled to the United States that they noticed that we were trying to use space for military purposes, so China shot down one of their satellites. Everyone understands why — the mili- tarization and weaponization of space depends on satellites. While missiles are very difficult or maybe impossible to stop, satellites are very easy to shoot down. You know where they are. So China is saying, “Okay, we understand you are militarizing space. We’re going to counter it not by militarizing space, we can’t compete with you that way, but by shooting down your satellites.” That is what was behind the satellite shooting. Every military analyst certainly understood it and every lay person can understand it. But take a look at the debate. The discussion was about, “Is China trying it conquer the world by shooting down one of its own satellites?”

About a year ago there was a new rash of articles and headlines on the front page about the “Chinese military build-up.” The Pentagon claimed that China had increased its offensive military capacity — with 400 missiles, which could be nuclear armed. Then we had a debate about whether that proves China is trying to conquer the world or the numbers are wrong, or something.

Just a little footnote. How many offensive nuclear armed missiles does the United States have? Well, it turns out to be 10,000. China may now have maybe 400, if you believe the hawks. That proves that they are trying to conquer the world.

It turns out, if you read the international press closely, that the reason China is building up its military capacity is not only because of U.S. aggressiveness all over the place, but the fact that the United States has improved its targeting capacities so it can now destroy missile sites in a much more sophisticated fashion wherever they are, even if they are mobile. So who is trying to conquer the world? Well, obviously the Chinese because since we own it, they are trying to conquer it.

It’s all too easy to continue with this indefinitely. Just pick your topic. It’s a good exercise to try. This simple principle, “we own the world,” is sufficient to explain a lot of the discussion about foreign affairs.

I will just finish with a word from George Orwell. In the introduction to Animal Farm he said, England is a free society, but it’s not very different from the totalitarian monster I have been describing. He says in England unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force. Then he goes on to give some dubious examples. At the end he turns to a very brief explanation, actually two sentences, but they are to the point. He says, one reason is the press is owned by wealthy men who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed. And the second reason — and I think a more important one — is a good education. If you have gone to the best schools and graduated from Oxford and Cambridge, and so on, you have instilled in you the understanding that there are certain things it would not do to say; actually, it would not do to think. That is the primary way to prevent unpopular ideas from being expressed.

The ideas of the overwhelming majority of the population, who don’t attend Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge, enable them to react like human beings, as they often do. There is a lesson there for activists.

The Guantanamo 6 Found Guilty on all Charges

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The Guantanamo Six;

  1. George Bush
  2. Dick Cheney
  3. Donald Rumsfeld
  4. Paul Wolfowitz
  5. Alberto Gonzales
  6. Rudy Guiliani

have all been found Guilty on all Charges.

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The charges were;

  • Committing High Treason
  • Engaging in a Conspiracy
  • Having Foreknowledge of 9-11 activities
  • Organizing and engaging in Mass Murder of civilians
  • Concealing evidence
  • Being Liars, with their pants on Fire

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Links;

America’s Blinders

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America’s Blinders

By Howard Zinn

08/02/08 “ICH” – First Published, April 2006 Issue Of The Progressive Magazine

Now that most Americans no longer believe in the war, now that they no longer trust Bush and his Administration, now that the evidence of deception has become overwhelming (so overwhelming that even the major media, always late, have begun to register indignation), we might ask: How come so many people were so easily fooled?

The question is important because it might help us understand why Americans—members of the media as well as the ordinary citizen—rushed to declare their support as the President was sending troops halfway around the world to Iraq.

A small example of the innocence (or obsequiousness, to be more exact) of the press is the way it reacted to Colin Powell’s presentation in February 2003 to the Security Council, a month before the invasion, a speech which may have set a record for the number of falsehoods told in one talk. In it, Powell confidently rattled off his “evidence”: satellite photographs, audio records, reports from informants, with precise statistics on how many gallons of this and that existed for chemical warfare. The New York Times was breathless with admiration. The Washington Post editorial was titled “Irrefutable” and declared that after Powell’s talk “it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.”

Afghanistan Afghan War by American Soliders

It seems to me there are two reasons, which go deep into our national culture, and which help explain the vulnerability of the press and of the citizenry to outrageous lies whose consequences bring death to tens of thousands of people. If we can understand those reasons, we can guard ourselves better against being deceived.

One is in the dimension of time, that is, an absence of historical perspective. The other is in the dimension of space, that is, an inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism. We are penned in by the arrogant idea that this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally virtuous, admirable, superior.

If we don’t know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives. I am not speaking of the history we learned in school, a history subservient to our political leaders, from the much-admired Founding Fathers to the Presidents of recent years. I mean a history which is honest about the past. If we don’t know that history, then any President can stand up to the battery of microphones, declare that we must go to war, and we will have no basis for challenging him. He will say that the nation is in danger, that democracy and liberty are at stake, and that we must therefore send ships and planes to destroy our new enemy, and we will have no reason to disbelieve him.

Bush Declares War on the World War 4

But if we know some history, if we know how many times Presidents have made similar declarations to the country, and how they turned out to be lies, we will not be fooled. Although some of us may pride ourselves that we were never fooled, we still might accept as our civic duty the responsibility to buttress our fellow citizens against the mendacity of our high officials.

We would remind whoever we can that President Polk lied to the nation about the reason for going to war with Mexico in 1846. It wasn’t that Mexico “shed American blood upon the American soil,” but that Polk, and the slave-owning aristocracy, coveted half of Mexico.

We would point out that President McKinley lied in 1898 about the reason for invading Cuba, saying we wanted to liberate the Cubans from Spanish control, but the truth is that we really wanted Spain out of Cuba so that the island could be open to United Fruit and other American corporations. He also lied about the reasons for our war in the Philippines, claiming we only wanted to “civilize” the Filipinos, while the real reason was to own a valuable piece of real estate in the far Pacific, even if we had to kill hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to accomplish that.

President Woodrow Wilson—so often characterized in our history books as an “idealist”—lied about the reasons for entering the First World War, saying it was a war to “make the world safe for democracy,” when it was really a war to make the world safe for the Western imperial powers.

Harry Truman lied when he said the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima because it was “a military target.”

Iran Coming War with America

Everyone lied about Vietnam—Kennedy about the extent of our involvement, Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin, Nixon about the secret bombing of Cambodia, all of them claiming it was to keep South Vietnam free of communism, but really wanting to keep South Vietnam as an American outpost at the edge of the Asian continent.

Reagan lied about the invasion of Grenada, claiming falsely that it was a threat to the United States.

The elder Bush lied about the invasion of Panama, leading to the death of thousands of ordinary citizens in that country.

And he lied again about the reason for attacking Iraq in 1991—hardly to defend the integrity of Kuwait (can one imagine Bush heartstricken over Iraq’s taking of Kuwait?), rather to assert U.S. power in the oil-rich Middle East.

Given the overwhelming record of lies told to justify wars, how could anyone listening to the younger Bush believe him as he laid out the reasons for invading Iraq? Would we not instinctively rebel against the sacrifice of lives for oil?

Iran Coming War with America Iraqi Women Injured in Suicide Bombing

A careful reading of history might give us another safeguard against being deceived. It would make clear that there has always been, and is today, a profound conflict of interest between the government and the people of the United States. This thought startles most people, because it goes against everything we have been taught.

We have been led to believe that, from the beginning, as our Founding Fathers put it in the Preamble to the Constitution, it was “we the people” who established the new government after the Revolution. When the eminent historian Charles Beard suggested, a hundred years ago, that the Constitution represented not the working people, not the slaves, but the slaveholders, the merchants, the bondholders, he became the object of an indignant editorial in The New York Times.

Our culture demands, in its very language, that we accept a commonality of interest binding all of us to one another. We mustn’t talk about classes. Only Marxists do that, although James Madison, “Father of the Constitution,” said, thirty years before Marx was born that there was an inevitable conflict in society between those who had property and those who did not.

Two Children with American US Soldiers

Our present leaders are not so candid. They bombard us with phrases like “national interest,” “national security,” and “national defense” as if all of these concepts applied equally to all of us, colored or white, rich or poor, as if General Motors and Halliburton have the same interests as the rest of us, as if George Bush has the same interest as the young man or woman he sends to war.

Surely, in the history of lies told to the population, this is the biggest lie. In the history of secrets, withheld from the American people, this is the biggest secret: that there are classes with different interests in this country. To ignore that—not to know that the history of our country is a history of slaveowner against slave, landlord against tenant, corporation against worker, rich against poor—is to render us helpless before all the lesser lies told to us by people in power.

If we as citizens start out with an understanding that these people up there—the President, the Congress, the Supreme Court, all those institutions pretending to be “checks and balances”—do not have our interests at heart, we are on a course towards the truth. Not to know that is to make us helpless before determined liars.

The deeply ingrained belief—no, not from birth but from the educational system and from our culture in general—that the United States is an especially virtuous nation makes us especially vulnerable to government deception. It starts early, in the first grade, when we are compelled to “pledge allegiance” (before we even know what that means), forced to proclaim that we are a nation with “liberty and justice for all.”

Barbara Bush Quote on War in Iraq and Afghanistan

And then come the countless ceremonies, whether at the ballpark or elsewhere, where we are expected to stand and bow our heads during the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” announcing that we are “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” There is also the unofficial national anthem “God Bless America,” and you are looked on with suspicion if you ask why we would expect God to single out this one nation—just 5 percent of the world’s population—for his or her blessing.

If your starting point for evaluating the world around you is the firm belief that this nation is somehow endowed by Providence with unique qualities that make it morally superior to every other nation on Earth, then you are not likely to question the President when he says we are sending our troops here or there, or bombing this or that, in order to spread our values—democracy, liberty, and let’s not forget free enterprise—to some God-forsaken (literally) place in the world. It becomes necessary then, if we are going to protect ourselves and our fellow citizens against policies that will be disastrous not only for other people but for Americans too, that we face some facts that disturb the idea of a uniquely virtuous nation.

These facts are embarrassing, but must be faced if we are to be honest. We must face our long history of ethnic cleansing, in which millions of Indians were driven off their land by means of massacres and forced evacuations. And our long history, still not behind us, of slavery, segregation, and racism. We must face our record of imperial conquest, in the Caribbean and in the Pacific, our shameful wars against small countries a tenth our size: Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq. And the lingering memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is not a history of which we can be proud.

Bush Declares War on the World

Our leaders have taken it for granted, and planted that belief in the minds of many people, that we are entitled, because of our moral superiority, to dominate the world. At the end of World War II, Henry Luce, with an arrogance appropriate to the owner of Time, Life, and Fortune, pronounced this “the American century,” saying that victory in the war gave the United States the right “to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.”

Both the Republican and Democratic parties have embraced this notion. George Bush, in his Inaugural Address on January 20, 2005, said that spreading liberty around the world was “the calling of our time.” Years before that, in 1993, President Bill Clinton, speaking at a West Point commencement, declared: “The values you learned here . . . will be able to spread throughout this country and throughout the world and give other people the opportunity to live as you have lived, to fulfill your God-given capacities.”

What is the idea of our moral superiority based on? Surely not on our behavior toward people in other parts of the world. Is it based on how well people in the United States live? The World Health Organization in 2000 ranked countries in terms of overall health performance, and the United States was thirty-seventh on the list, though it spends more per capita for health care than any other nation. One of five children in this, the richest country in the world, is born in poverty. There are more than forty countries that have better records on infant mortality. Cuba does better. And there is a sure sign of sickness in society when we lead the world in the number of people in prison—more than two million.

A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some other part of the world. It might also inspire us to create a different history for ourselves, by taking our country away from the liars and killers who govern it, and by rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join the rest of the human race in the common cause of peace and justice.

A People's History of the United States

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