Thursday, July 1, 2010

Shakedown

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Summer in Iraq

 

by William Rivers Pitt

photoAfghanistan has been getting all the ink lately, and for good reason. General Stanley McChrystal's act of self-immolation by way of Rolling Stone magazine kicked off a genuine no-bones-about-it constitutional crisis over civilian control of the military, until President Obama sacked him at pretty close to the speed of light. The number of troop deaths has reached 100, making June the deadliest month for the coalition since this war began eight years ago. Civilians continue to die all over the place, the poppies continue to flourish, and there's talk about talks with the Taliban, but nobody really wants to talk about that. The so-called "mainstream" media was kind enough to wait for a Democrat to be in the White House before publicly coming to the conclusion that the war looks unwinnable. Somewhere, George W. Bush is smirking over that one, but that's just par for the course.

So, yeah, every day is a busy day in the dust and mountains of Afghanistan, and June has been exceptionally busy even by that high standard. For the longest time - the better part of a decade, actually - Afghanistan was the war that nobody heard about. People died every day, the Bush-era strategies failed and failed again, but all eyes were focused on the war in Iraq. The script has been flipped, Afghanistan gets the headlines now, and the ongoing war in Iraq has been relegated to the back pages, if it makes the papers at all.

It would be a hell of a thing if this country, its people and its "mainstream" media could focus on more than one thing at a time, wouldn't it? Because we are still at war in Iraq, too. Soldiers are still dying there - 38 this year, seven this month - along with dozens of Iraqi service members and policemen. Hundreds of Iraqi civilians are killed and wounded every month, just like in Afghanistan, but we have somehow allowed ourselves to accept the farcical notion that things are settled enough over there that we can ignore what's going on.

Think again, folks, because it's high summer in Iraq, and tempers are getting very short. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the ugly effect of this ongoing conflict continues to grind the people into the ground:

At least three times a week, Maher Abbas brings one of his two young children or his elderly mother to the hospital to be treated for dehydration, stomach bugs or heat exhaustion. Lack of water and electricity are killing his family and his business, he said. Abbas's comments reflect a wave of fury that has erupted across this country of 30 million as Iraq's sweltering summer begins. Most people are having to deal with electricity shortages that leave them with no respite from the heat and no water when their household electric pumps shut off.

Seven years after the U.S.-led invasion, Iraqis are taking to the streets to demand basic services they have not received, despite many promises and the expenditure of billions of dollars by the U.S. and Iraqi governments. Their anger has forced the hand of Electricity Minister Karim Wahid, who resigned Monday. In a news conference the same day, Wahid said the ministry could not keep up with demand and did not have enough money, adding that the situation was out of its control.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki defended his government and Wahid. He blamed Iraqis for consuming too much electricity, squatters for tapping into and overwhelming the electrical grid, and the previous parliament for not approving billions of dollars for infrastructure projects to be undertaken with several foreign firms, forcing the government to take out about $2.1 billion in bonds this year. He also warned that Iraqis should expect power cuts for two more years.

Two years. Think about that. Americans will be voting in another presidential election before the Iraqi people can even begin to hope for more than a few hours of reliable electricity a day, and they've been dealing with this situation for a very long time already.

http://www.truth-out.org/summer-iraq60901

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LEARNED HELPLESSNESS

by Ted Rall

PORTLAND, OREGON--In 1967 animal researchers conducted an interesting experiment. Two sets of dogs were strapped into harnesses and subjected to a series of shocks. The dogs were placed in the same room.

The first set of dogs was allowed to perform a task--pushing a panel with their snouts--in order to avoid the shocks. As soon as one dog mastered the shock-avoidance technique, his comrades followed suit.

The second group, on the other hand, was placed out of reach from the panel. They couldn't stop the pain. But they watched the actions of the first set.

Then both groups of dogs were subjected to a second experiment. If they jumped over a barrier, the dogs quickly learned, the shocks would stop. The dogs belonging to the first set all did it.

But the second-set dogs were too psychologically scarred to help themselves. "When shocked, many of them ran around in great distress but then lay on the floor and whimpered," wrote Russell A. Powell, Diane G. Symbaluk and P. Lynne Honey in Introduction to Learning and Behavior. "They made no effort to escape the shock. Even stranger, the few dogs that did by chance jump over the barrier, successfully escaping the shock, seemed unable to learn from this experience and failed to repeat it on the next trial. In summary, the prior exposure to inescapable shock seemed to impair the dogs' ability to learn to escape shock when escape became possible."

The decrease in learning ability caused by unavoidable punishment leads to a condition called "learned helplessness."

Battered and bruised, with no apparent way out, the American electorate has plunged into a political state of learned helplessness. They've voted Democratic to punish rapacious Republicans. They've voted Republican to get rid of do-nothing Democrats. They've tried staying home on Election Day. Nothing they do helps their condition. They're flailing.

Go ahead, little leftie: smash the windows at Starbucks in Seattle. It won't stop transnational corporations from raping the planet and exploiting you. Enjoy your Tea Party, little rightie. It sure is cute, listening to you talk about the wee Constitution. "Your" government and the companies that own "your" leaders have your number. And they're listening to your phone calls.

http://www.uexpress.com/tedrall/

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‘Weapons’ seized in G20 arrests not what they seem

Go to The Globe and Mail

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair during a Tuesday press conference in the lobby of police headquarters at 40 College St. in Toronto.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair during a Tuesday press conference in the lobby of police headquarters at 40 College St. in Toronto.
Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

by Jill Mahoney

Toronto Police staged a display of weaponry to demonstrate "the extent of the criminal conspiracy" among hard-line G20 protesters, but several of the items had nothing to do with the summit.

Facing criticism for their tactics, police invited journalists on Tuesday to view a range of weapons, from a machete and baseball bat to bear spray and crowbars.

Chief Bill Blair, who told reporters the items were evidence of the protesters' intent, singled out arrows covered in sports socks, which he said were designed to be dipped in a flammable liquid and set ablaze.

Police said arrows with cloth on the end were intended to be set on fire.
Police said arrows with cloth on the end were intended to be set on fire.
Jill Mahoney/The Globe and Mail

However, the arrows belong to Brian Barrett, a 25-year-old landscaper who was heading to a role-playing fantasy game when he was stopped at Union Station on Saturday morning. Police took his jousting gear but let Mr. Barrett go, saying it was a case of bad timing.

In addition to the arrows – which Mr. Barrett made safe for live-action role playing by cutting off the pointy ends and attaching a bit of pool noodle covered in socks – police displayed his metal body armour, foam shields and several clubs made of plastic tubing covered with foam and fabric.

Toronto Police display some of the items they say were seized during G20 summit protests over the weekend. 
Toronto Police display some of the items they say were seized during G20 summit protests over the weekend.
Jill Mahoney/The Globe and Mail

Mr. Barrett said he was "appalled" at the placement of his chain-mail beneath a machete. He regularly takes public transit from his Whitby, Ont., home to Centennial Park to play the game, called Amtgard, while wearing the 85-pound armour and is worried people will think: "Oh my God, that's one of the terrorists from G20."

Police also displayed a crossbow and chainsaw seized in an incident on Friday that they said had no ties to the summit. When asked, Chief Blair acknowledged they were unrelated, but said "everything else" had been confiscated from demonstrators.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/weapons-seized-in-g20-arrests-put-on-display/article1622761/

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Eisenhower on the Opportunity Cost of Defense Spending

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Gen. Eisenhower speaks with soldiers of the 101st Airborne on the eve of D-Day

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?"

Dwight David Eisenhower, "The Chance for Peace," speech given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Apr. 16, 1953.

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Bulwer-Lytton prize for bad writing goes to 'inappropriate' gerbil sentence

Award for world's worst writing goes to author Molly Ringle's comparison of a lovers' kiss with the sucking of a thirsty rodent

 
A gerbil in a cage
Love rat ... Judges praised Molly Ringle for her gerbil-based lampooning of public displays of affection. Photograph: Paul Brown/Rex Features

A sentence comparing a kiss to the sucking of a very thirsty gerbil has won Seattle-based novelist Molly Ringle the world's worst writing contest.

Ringle, who says she only writes bad fiction when she fails at good fiction, took the Bulwer-Lytton prize for the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels yesterday with: "For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss – a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil."

Given annually since 1982, the competition, sponsored by the English department at San Jose State University, is inspired by the melodramatic first line of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1830 novel Paul Clifford: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents – except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Ringle, the author of the published novel The Ghost Downstairs, in which the romance between a nurse and a houseboy is played out against growing paranormal activity, is the 28th winner of the contest. "I feel quite ridiculous. But there are definitely worse ways to get 15 minutes of fame," she wrote on her blog.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jun/30/bulwer-lytton-worlds-worst-writing

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Airport body scanners 'could give you cancer', warns expert

Full body scanners at airports could increase your risk of skin cancer, experts warn.

The X-ray machines have been brought in at Manchester, Gatwick and Heathrow.

But scientists say radiation from the scanners has been underestimated and could be particularly risky for children.

They say that the low level beam does deliver a small dose of radiation to the body but because the beam concentrates on the skin - one of the most radiation-sensitive organs of the human body - that dose may be up to 20 times higher than first estimated.

An airport staff member demonstrates a full body scan at Manchester Airport

An airport staff member demonstrates a full body scan at Manchester Airport. Now a U.S expert has said the X-Ray may deliver a higher radiation dose to the skin than first thought

Dr David Brenner, head of Columbia University's centre for radiological research, said although the danger posed to the individual passenger is 'very low', he is urging researchers to carry out more  tests on the device to look at the way it affects specific groups who could be more sensitive to radiation.

He says children and passengers with gene mutations - around one in 20 of the population - are more at risk as they are less able to repair X-ray damage to their DNA.

Dr Brenner, who is originally from Liverpool but now works at the New York university, said: 'The individual risks associated with X-ray backscatter scanners are probably extremely small.

'If all 800 million people who use airports every year were screened with  X-rays then the very small individual risk multiplied by the large number of  screened people might imply a potential public health or societal risk. The  population risk has the potential to be significant.'

Following trials, the airport scanners were officially introduced at Manchester Airport in January, at Heathrow Terminal 4 in February and at Gatwick in May this year.

The most likely risk from the airport scanners is a common type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma, according to the academic.

The cancer is usually curable and often occurs in the head and neck of  people aged between 50 and 70. He points out it would be difficult to hide a weapon on the head or neck so proposes missing out that part of the body from the scanning process.

'If there are increases in cancers as a result of irradiation of children,  they would most likely appear some decades in the future. It would be prudent  not to scan the head and neck,' he added.

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Venice, Louisiana, Boat Captain/ by Catherine Craig

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BP's First "Spill"

by Stephen Kinzer

Only one industry in the world can make Wall Street's earnings look like chump change: Big Oil. This is, after all, a business where a "slump" year for international oil giant ExxonMobil means annual profits of only $19 billion. A few years earlier, on the back of skyrocketing oil prices, the same company had netted $45 billion, the single largest annual profit in history, a sum that exceeded the gross domestic products of more than half the world's nations. And as Exxon was drilling its way into the record books in the U.S. in 2008, Royal Dutch Shell was doing the same in Britain, hauling in $27.5 billion, or a mind-bending $75 million in profits daily. To keep the cash coming in, the five biggest oil and gas corporations have spent nearly $34 billion in the past three years on exploration. To keep American lawmakers off their backs or in their pockets, they've spent $195 million on lobbying over that same period.

Here's what they haven't spent their largesse on: oil-spill response. BP, whose American operations may never recover from its Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, told Congress it spent about $9.6 million in each of the past three years on research into safer drilling technologies. ConocoPhillips spent an even more meager $1.3 million -- and that was over three years. Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has ripped oil companies for their negligence, and called their preparations for future catastrophes "paltry." Given the funding, it's hardly a surprise that oil companies like BP are now stuck with antiquated and ineffective tools when a spill occurs, no less a spill a mile under the Gulf of Mexico's waters. As the Associated Press reported recently, the main technologies being used in the Gulf -- oil dispersants, offshore booms, and skimmers -- are the very same ones employed to clean up the Exxon Valdez spill two decades ago.

Now that it's helped create one of the great environmental catastrophes in history, BP has typically pledged to right its wrongs, including by giving $500 million to fund "independent research" into the impact of the Gulf spill on the marine and shoreline environment. Of course, you don't need millions in funding to know that the effect of BP's spill will reverberate throughout the Gulf coast region and along Florida's white sand beaches for decades, possibly generations. As Stephen Kinzer, the acclaimed author of the newly published Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future, writes in his debut TomDispatch post, the Deepwater spill is hardly the first time BP has wreaked havoc on a nation and its people. Andy

BP in the Gulf -- The Persian Gulf
How an Oil Company Helped Destroy Democracy in Iran

By Stephen Kinzer

To frustrated Americans who have begun boycotting BP: Welcome to the club.  It's great not to be the only member any more!

Does boycotting BP really make sense?  Perhaps not.  After all, many BP filling stations are actually owned by local people, not the corporation itself.  Besides, when you're filling up at a Shell or ExxonMobil station, it's hard to feel much sense of moral triumph. Nonetheless, I reserve my right to drive by BP stations. I started doing it long before this year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

My decision not to give this company my business came after I learned about its role in another kind of "spill" entirely -- the destruction of Iran's democracy more than half a century ago.

The history of the company we now call BP has, over the last 100 years, traced the arc of transnational capitalism.  Its roots lie in the early years of the twentieth century when a wealthy bon vivant named William Knox D'Arcy decided, with encouragement from the British government, to begin looking for oil in Iran.  He struck a concession agreement with the dissolute Iranian monarchy, using the proven expedient of bribing the three Iranians negotiating with him.

Under this contract, which he designed, D'Arcy was to own whatever oil he found in Iran and pay the government just 16% of any profits he made -- never allowing any Iranian to review his accounting.  After his first strike in 1908, he became sole owner of the entire ocean of oil that lies beneath Iran's soil.  No one else was allowed to drill for, refine, extract, or sell "Iranian" oil.

"Fortune brought us a prize from fairyland beyond our wildest dreams," Winston Churchill, who became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, wrote later. "Mastery itself was the prize of the venture."

Soon afterward, the British government bought the D'Arcy concession, which it named the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.  It then built the world's biggest refinery at the port of Abadan on the Persian Gulf.  From the 1920s into the 1940s, Britain's standard of living was supported by oil from Iran.  British cars, trucks, and buses ran on cheap Iranian oil. Factories throughout Britain were fueled by oil from Iran. The Royal Navy, which projected British power all over the world, powered its ships with Iranian oil.

After World War II, the winds of nationalism and anti-colonialism blew through the developing world.  In Iran, nationalism meant one thing: we've got to take back our oil.  Driven by this passion, Parliament voted on April 28, 1951, to choose its most passionate champion of oil nationalization, Mohammad Mossadegh, as prime minister.  Days later, it unanimously approved his bill nationalizing the oil company.  Mossadegh promised that, henceforth, oil profits would be used to develop Iran, not enrich Britain.

This oil company was the most lucrative British enterprise anywhere on the planet. 

http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175267/

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US lawmaker: Not ‘one more dime’ for Afghanistan until corruption cleaned up

By Agence France-Presse

hamidkarzaiafghanistan20091012 US lawmaker: Not one more dime for Afghanistan until corruption cleaned upA senior US lawmaker on Monday angrily blocked billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan, vowing not to give "one more dime" until Afghan President Hamid Karzai acts against corruption.

Representative Nita Lowey, who sits on the powerful committee in charge of the budget, said she would hold hearings into allegations that top Afghan officials flew suitcases full of cash from US aid to foreign safe havens.

"I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that US taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan governmentofficials, drug lords and terrorists," she said.

An aide to Lowey said that President Barack Obama's administration requested 3.9 billion dollars in aid for Afghanistan in the 2011 fiscal year.

Lowey, a member of Obama's Democratic Party from New York, said she would refuse to consider any assistance for Afghanistan other than "life-saving humanitarian aid" when her subcommittee meets on the budget on Wednesday.

http://rawstory.com/rs/2010/0628/lawmaker-blocks-afghan-aid-vows-one-dime-corruption-cleaned/

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ACLU Study Highlights U.S. Surveillance Society

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Welcome to the surveillance society.

That's what the American Civil Liberties Union concluded Tuesday with a report chronicling government spying and the detention of groups and individuals "for doing little more than peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights."

The report, Policing Free Speech: Police Surveillance and Obstruction of First Amendment-Protected Activity (.pdf), surveys news accounts and studies of questionable snooping and arrests in 33 states and the District of Columbia over the past decade.

The survey provides an outline of, and links to, dozens of examples of Cold War-era snooping in the modern age.

"Our review of these practices has found that Americans have been put under surveillance or harassed by the police just for deciding to organize, march, protest, espouse unusual viewpoints and engage in normal, innocuous behaviors such as writing notes or taking photographs in public," Michael German, an ACLU attorney and former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, said in a statement.

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