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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Even after soldiers get killed, their parents promote the war so their dead kids won't be lonely in heaven 

Ted Rall gets it, too, a lot of the troops enlist and fight in Iraq and Afghanistan because they want to participate in these conflicts. By the way, if you don't want your children or your friends to return from Iraq and Afghanistan with mild traumatic brain injuries, do everything you can to stop them from doing it. After all, if the prospect of brutalizing Iraqis and Afghans is not a sufficient deterrent, perhaps the risk of having their brains scrambled might induce potential enlistees to think twice before entering the US military to perpetuate the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Guantanamo Suicides 

Long time readers of this blog are aware that we have provided extensive coverage of events at Guantanamo. You can access those posts by clicking on the Guantanamo label at the end of this one. Yesterday, Counterpunch posted an excellent article by Andy Worthington, an article that provides a tragic update to the situation there:

The grim story of the Guantánamo suicides--the deaths of three men, Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani in June 2006, and another, Abdul Rahman al-Amri, in May this year--took another turn last week, when, in the absence of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service's long-awaited report into the deaths, Navy Capt. Patrick McCarthy, the senior lawyer on Guantánamo's management team, spoke out in an interview, declaring that all four men had killed themselves with "craftily fashioned nooses."

Speaking as the ridiculous saga of smuggled underwear continued to make waves in the media, McCarthy attempted to highlight the seriousness of the administration's response to ludicrous claims that underwear had been surreptitiously delivered to two detainees, saying, "There was a Speedo in the camp and someone can hang himself with it. The Speedo also has a drawstring on it. The drawstring can be used to tie the Speedo, the noose apparatus up onto a vent.'"

Breaking with protocol, McCarthy also spoke about the deaths in Guantánamo, claiming that he had personally seen "all four men dead--each one hanging--and that the first three men had used sling-style nooses." This is the first time that a representative of the US military has spoken openly about the death of al-Amri, who, McCarthy said, had fashioned "a string type of noose" to kill himself, although Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, who reported the story, added that "he did not elaborate."

The circumstances of the men's deaths have long been contentious. After the 2006 suicides, many former detainees who had known the men spoke of their shock and incredulity at the news. Tarek Dergoul, a British detainee released in 2004, spent three weeks in a cell beside al-Utaybi. He recalled "his indefatigable spirit and defiance," and pointed out that he was "always on the forefront of trying to get our rights." He had similar recollections of al-Zahrani, describing him as "always optimistic" and "defiant," and adding that he "was always there to stand up for his brothers when he saw injustices being carried out."

In a press release shortly after the deaths were announced, former detainees, including the nine released British nationals, "poured scorn" on allegations that the deaths were suicides, and claimed that they were "almost certainly accidental killings caused by excessive force" on the part of the guards. A note of caution, however, was provided by British resident Shaker Aamer, who was told by a guard in Camp Echo, an isolation block where they were held for some of the time (and where Aamer himself has now spent two years and two months without any meaningful human company), "They have lost hope in life. They have no hope in their eyes. They are ghosts, and they want to die. No food will keep them alive now. Even with four feeds a day, these men get diarrhea from any protein which goes right through them."

As the NCIS has, inexplicably, yet to conclude its investigation, it's impossible to know at this point what the official conclusion will be. Clearly, the military has stepped back from its initial response, when the prison's commander, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, attracted worldwide condemnation for claiming that the men's deaths were "an act of asymmetric warfare." As was revealed in documents released by the Pentagon earlier this year, however, which described, in minute and numbing detail, the weights of all the detainees in Guantánamo throughout their detention, all three men had been long-term hunger strikers, and two had been force-fed until days before their deaths. This deliberately painful process, designed to "break" the strikers, is, it should be noted, illegal according to internationally recognized rules regarding the rights of competent prisoners to undertake hunger strikes, but in this, as with almost everything else at Guantánamo, the administration regards itself as above the law.

Al-Zahrani was force-fed several times a week from the start of October 2005, and daily from November 14 to January 18, 2006, during which time his weight fluctuated between 87.5 lbs and 98.5 lbs. Al-Utaybi, who weighed just 89 lbs at various times in September and October 2005, was force-fed several times a week from July to September 2005, and daily from December 24 to February 7, 2006. Crucially, his force-feeding began again on May 30, 2006, and continued until the records ended on June 6, just three days before his death.

Even more disturbing is the chronicle of al-Salami's hunger strike. Although his weight loss did not appear as dramatic -- he weighed a healthy 172 lbs on arrival in Guantánamo -- he lost nearly a third of his body weight at the most severe point of his hunger strike, when his weight dropped to 120 lbs. What was particularly disturbing about his weight report, however, was the revelation that he was force-fed daily from January 11, 2006 until, as with al-Utaybi, the records ended on June 6, just three days before his death.

Given this information, it's unsurprising that those who are suspicious of the administration -- and of Capt. McCarthy's supposed frontline recollections -- might conclude, as the former detainees suggested, that it would not have taken much on the part of the authorities to finish off three men who had persistently aroused the wrath of the administration through their lack of cooperation and their hunger strikes, and who were all critically weak at the time of their deaths.

As for al-Amri's death, Carol Rosenberg noted that suspicions over the circumstances of his death have been exacerbated by the fact that he died in Camp Five, one of the prison's maximum security blocks. She explained that "prison camp tours for media and distinguished visitors emphasize that Camp Five is designed with suicide proofing such as towel hooks that won't bear the weight of a detainee, to prevent him from hanging himself," and that, moreover, "the tours emphasize that each captive, housed in single-occupancy cell, is under constant Military Police and electronic monitoring, which means a guard is supposed to look in on him at least every three minutes."

An even more critical approach to al-Amri's death was presented by lawyer Candace Gorman, who reported last week on a visit in July to one of her clients, Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi. A Sudanese shopkeeper, who is married to an Afghan woman and has a child that he has not seen for six years, al-Ghizzawi was "visibly shaken" on meeting Gorman, and immediately told her of his "despair" over al-Amri's death. As Gorman described it, "Al-Ghizzawi knew that Amri had been suffering from Hepatitis B and tuberculosis, the same two conditions from which he himself suffers. Like al-Ghizzawi, Amri had not been treated for his illnesses. Al-Ghizzawi, now so sick he can barely walk, told me that Amri, too, had been ill and then, suddenly, he was dead." Al-Ghizzawi's conclusion, as described on Gorman's website, was that al-Amri had actually died of "medical neglect," although she also noted that al-Ghizzawi "had mentioned that Amri had engaged in hunger strikes in the past but had stopped a long time ago because of his health."

While this was correct, one can only wonder what the effect on al-Amri's health had been of his participation in the mass hunger strike in the fall of 2005, when his weight, which had been 150 lbs when he arrived in Guantánamo in February 2002, dropped at one point to just 88.5 lbs, and he was force-fed, often several times a week, from October 2005 to January 2006. Like the three men who died in June 2006, al-Amri was a non-cooperative detainee, who had refused to take part in any of the sham tribunals and administrative reviews at Guantánamo, and it does not take much imagination to conclude that, with his severe and untreated illnesses, he, like the three men the year before, could actually have died not through medical neglect, but as another "accidental killing caused by excessive force" on the part of the guards.

I do not profess to know the truth of the matter one way or the other, but in revisiting the stories of these men's deaths I hope to have demonstrated that, far from clearing the air, Capt. McCarthy's comments have, ironically, served only to revive Guantánamo's most tragic stories, which, presumably, the rest of the administration hoped had been forgotten. Sixteen months after the first deaths, and four months after the additional death that caused such distress to Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi, it is surely time for the investigators of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to deliver their verdict.

Perhaps, it is the documented record of brutality itself that prevents the closure of Guantanamo. After all, does not the continued operation of the facility preserve a residue of legitimacy that would quickly evaporate upon closure?

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sandra Bernhard, Caustic as Ever 

From the Independent:

Rather than revisit past lives in her latest show, however, Bernhard has her sights firmly fixed on other women, primarily ones she deems to be underperforming. That means Laura Bush and the US president's daughters. As she says in Everything Bad and Beautiful: "I can't believe that this woman is as stupid as she pretends to be... We have a first lady who goes to Africa and tells the people 'to practice abstinence', that 'Aids is an affliction'. Honey, please. Those two daughters – are they practising abstinence? I want to see their gynaecological records, because if they're not they don't get any birth control, they don't get any morning-after pill, and if they contract an STD, too bad. If you live by the sword, you die by the sword you show-ponies..."

"It was hands off the Bush girls for the past seven years," rationalises Bernhard now. "Nobody could say a word about them, they've stood for nothing, they've said nothing, they are flatliners. Their mother is a flatliner – Laura Bush has done nothing to define this country, she's done nothing as a woman."

I've always liked Bernhardt, she possesses a razor sharp sincerity, combined with emotional vulnerability, a willingness to say what a lot of us think, but are afraid to say ourselves for fear of social rejection. If you like Bernhardt, you should click on the link, and read the article in its entirety, it is a good profile of her.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Washington Mutual is in the fight of its life 

James Cramer of thestreet.com sounds the alarm on savings and loan Washington Mutual, which increasingly appears to be the poster child for the catastrophic consequences of the credit crunch provoked by the subprime mortgage crisis. Watch his video interview not only for the incisive analysis of the dire condition of Washington Mutual, but also for the way in which he integrates it into larger anxieties about the financial lifeblood for the US economy.

It is an excellent short primer on what has happened, and, implicitly, what will transpire in the future. Rumor has it that Washington Mutual has been booking interest obligations from negative amortization mortgages as profit. Oh, you say that the problem is just adjustible rate mortgages for people in places like Florida and California? Perhaps, you should consider the following:

US banks have raised reserves for loan losses by at least $6bn over the second quarter and by even larger amounts from last year, indicating financial executives believe consumers will be increasingly unable to make payments on a variety of loans.

Banks are adding to reserves not just for defaults on mortgages, but also on home equity loans, car loans and credit cards.

What started out merely as a subprime problem has expanded more broadly in the mortgage space and problems are getting worse at a faster pace than many had expected,” said Michael Mayo, Deutsche Bank analyst.

On top of this, there is an uptick in auto loan problems, which may or may not be seasonal, and there is more body language from the banks that the state of the consumer was somewhat less strong [than thought].”

Gee, people who can't pay for their houses are having trouble paying for their cars, too? I never would have guessed. The credit crunch, like a virtual, spreadsheet Godzilla, has only begun to devour its victims.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Harder They Come 

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sir, May I Have Another 

Those poor, naive liberals, they are shocked, truly shocked, when they discover that the congressional leadership doesn't run things on the up and up, and will engage in shenanigans against their own, shenanigans that they won't use against their Republican opposition, to preserve bipartisan participation in the erosion of our civil liberties under the pretext of the "war on terror". Have they not yet discovered that the national Democratic Party intends to run against them at every opportunity as a way of trying to win the Presidency, while preserving control of Congress? Hillary, of course, understands this better than anyone, she kicks liberals like they are a pack of hungry, stray dogs, knowing that they will come back, whimpering for more.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Nearly Assassinated 

It goes unreported, however, except in the peripheral, left media, that Bhutto is completely discredited as a political figure in Pakistan, and, hence, incapable of contributing to the future stability of the country, as observed by Tariq Ali in this recent Democracy NOW! interview:

AMY GOODMAN: And how did Benazir Bhutto, his daughter, rise to power?

TARIQ ALI: Benazir Bhutto was, in those days, not very political, but her father's martyrdom, so to speak, brought her into politics. I remember talking to her when her father was prime minister of Pakistan, and she would say to me, “Oh, you know, he’s putting me under pressure to come into politics. I don’t want to be a politician. I want to be a diplomat. I want to be in the foreign office.” But once her father was killed by the army, she and her mother were very courageous. They took the military on. They were locked up. They were in and out of prison. So her role at that time was very honorable.

The big problems began when she -- after General Zia was blown up in a plane with the US ambassador, there were elections again, and Benazir won. But she was unable to do anything the first time. And the second time she came to power, her government was incredibly corrupt, and the military then, when Musharraf came to power, charged her with corruption. The evidence is there; it’s irrefutable. And as part of the deal now, this corruption is being ignored, which is making people incredibly cynical. . . . . .

AMY GOODMAN: Right now, the situation in Pakistan, where does Bush's allegiance lie, and what could you see happening?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I think Bush’s allegiance lies to the military ruler of Pakistan. They’ve made that very clear. They’ve given him $10 billion. Every time the Pakistani military goes in and carries out actions on the Afghan border, they send an invoice directly to Centcom in Florida, which pays them directly. So all these actions are being paid for by the United States, which is well known in Pakistan and is well known here, as well. So the United States is totally tied into the military leader. And the cosmetic changes they're proposing by this arranged marriage, a marriage arranged by the State Department between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, a political marriage, I don’t think is going to work. It is creating mayhem within her own party. And there’s nothing she can do, because she’s quite a discredited politician.

AMY GOODMAN: In what way?

TARIQ ALI: In the way that she’s -- everyone knows that she and her husband went in power incredibly corrupt. The evidence is there. And in a country where the ordinary people are already alienated from the political process, to inflict this on them isn’t going to improve matters.

It is hard to imagine how this transparent manipulation of the Pakistani political system by the US, Musharraf and Bhutto is going to accomplish anything other than further empowering al-Qaeda and its allies within Inter-Services Intelligence.

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Lieutenant Ehren Watada 

From AsianWeek:

In January 2005, Watada received orders to Fort Lewis, Washington, in anticipation of deployment to Iraq. Watada felt neither frightened nor anxious, but extremely unprepared. “I was detailed to be a fire support officer with an infantry company,” Watada explained.

Watada applied his “insatiable appetite for knowledge” to his future duties in Iraq. He felt it was his obligation and duty as an officer to know what to anticipate. “I did this to better prepare myself and my soldiers. That’s what I was taught in Korea.”

He haunted the Fort Lewis library, which contains an extraordinary number of military documents, archives and databases, and scoured volumes on military history, particularly in Iraq. “I read the history of units that have gone during the initial invasion to gain a broader knowledge of what I could expect,” he said.

At the time, it was more than the war that was making headlines; the Valerie Plame case, Supreme Court nominations and the country’s heightened surveillance, all questioned the legitimacy of the war in Iraq. “I was looking at who was trying to protect us,” Watada said. “Who is standing up and speaking out for the soldiers” I told myself that nobody is.

“I just felt so saddened by what was going on and so frustrated, so disheartened,” he continued. “And yet I told myself there was nothing I could do.”

Watada recalls one radio show that especially touched him. “This guy calls, and he was pretty hysterical. His brother was being sent to Iraq again, and he was really scared for him. He asked ‘Why isn’t anybody doing anything? Where are all the protests and the rallies like there was in the Vietnam War?’”

Watada reevaluated his stance on the war in Iraq. “I just snapped. I said, ‘I can do something about it.’ Though I may suffer for it, though it may just be a blip on the radar, at least I know that I can do something about it.”

After being denied two resignation requests, Watada publicly announced his refusal of deployment orders in Tacoma, Washington, on June 7, 2006. Two weeks later, Watada was officially charged with three violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice on six counts.

AsianWeek is a mainstream magazine directed, obviously, to Asian Americans. The publication of such a sympathetic portrayal of Watada is significant, and I encourage people to read it in its entirety.

Of course, Watada should be supported without hesitation by those of us against the war in Iraq and a possible attack upon Iran. Anyone interested in doing so should go here, Thank You Lt. Ehren Watada for refusing an illegal war, or here, Thank You Lt. Ehren Watada. The second site provides an opportunity to contribute to defray the costs of his legal defense. Increasingly, only the soldiers themselves can stop these current and contemplated future conflicts.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pseudo-Scientific Imperialism 

From today's Independent:

One of the world's most eminent scientists was embroiled in an extraordinary row last night after he claimed that black people were less intelligent than white people and the idea that "equal powers of reason" were shared across racial groups was a delusion.

James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner for his part in the unravelling of DNA who now runs one of America's leading scientific research institutions, drew widespread condemnation for comments he made ahead of his arrival in Britain today for a speaking tour at venues including the Science Museum in London.

The 79-year-old geneticist reopened the explosive debate about race and science in a newspaper interview in which he said Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when "testing" suggested the contrary. He claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade.

The newly formed Equality and Human Rights Commission, successor to the Commission for Racial Equality, saidit was studying Dr Watson's remarks "in full". Dr Watson told The Sunday Times that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really". He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".

It is a slick, icy slope. Deny the role of the European powers (and, later, the US) in destabilizing Africa, and you have to start searching for other reasons why the peoples of the continent are in such distress. Doctrines of racial inferiority that go back to Elizabethan times, if not earlier, remain well-suited to justify the continued economic exploitation of the continent by the G-8.

Most political analysts, though, balk at Watson's crude invocation of lesser intelligence for blacks. Instead, they characterize the peoples and governments of Africa as incorrigibly corrupt, a subtle, less offensive variation on the old, purportedly instinctive licentiousness associated with dark skin. It is really quite brazen, given the innovations in the practice of governmental corruption attributable to Bush and Blair.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Putin Draws a Line in the Sand? 

From today's New York Times:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia told a summit meeting of five Caspian Sea nations in Iran today that any use of military force in the region was unacceptable and in a declaration the countries agreed that none of them would allow their territories to be used as a base for launching military strikes against any of the others.

Mr. Putin’s comments and the declaration come at a time when France and the United States have refused to rule out military action to halt Iran’s nuclear energy program, which they believe masks a desire to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is solely for peaceful purposes.

Asked this morning about Mr. Putin’s remarks, Tony Fratto, the deputy White House press secretary, said simply, “That sounds like a good policy.”

Mr. Putin arrived in Tehran today for meetings with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and leaders from three other nearby Caspian Sea nations that have rich oil and gas resources, promising to use diplomacy to try to resolve the international debate over Iran’s nuclear program.

He was the first Kremlin leader to travel to Iran since 1943, when Stalin attended a wartime summit meeting with Churchill and Roosevelt. His statements, which were consistent with his past positions cautioning against military action against Iran, were nonetheless stark in their setting and firmly emphasized his differences with the United States over the extent of Iran’s threat and the means to counter it.

“Not only should we reject the use of force, but also the mention of force as a possibility,” Mr. Putin said. “This is very important. We must not submit to other states in the case of aggression or some other kind of military action directed against one of the Caspian countries.”

Would the Russians and the Chinese covertly ship weapons to the Iranians in the event of a conflict with the US? One wonders.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

African Americans Abandoning the US Military Revisited 

UPDATE: Remember, if you are in the US military, and get orders to attack Iran, disobey them. You will find yourself in good company.

INITIAL POST: Last Monday, I linked to a Boston Globe article indicating that African Americans are abandoning their historic levels of participation in the US military. I had intended to comment further about it on the following day, but got distracted. There is a significant implication to the development which has been overlooked.

Most importantly, it appears that increasing numbers of African Americans are refusing to enlist, regardless of their economic situation:

Eager to bolster its stretched-thin ranks - and meet a congressional mandate to increase its force by about 65,000 troops within five years - the Army has launched an aggressive recruiting campaign targeted at young black people like Daley and his friends, with ads featuring a young black man convincing his parents that enlistment is a good choice. The Army has also raised its enlistment bonuses, highlighted its access to college tuition money, and loosened its age and physical fitness standards.

But Damon Wright, a senior at Anacostia High School in Southeast Washington, was not impressed. "There's no guarantee I wouldn't have to go over there," he said. "I'm trying to play football in college. I might go over there and lose a leg?"

The Pentagon and military analysts say the downturn in enlistments partly reflects the fact that young African-Americans have broader options, pointing to the growing number of black students in college. But the decrease in enlistment also comes amid high dropout rates among African-American youths and a 7.7 percent unemployment rate in the black community, almost twice that of whites.

Negative opinions about Iraq - and attitudes like Wright's - have overshadowed the military's efforts to highlight the positives about military service.

A recent CBS News poll showed 83 percent of African-American respondents said the Iraq invasion was a mistake. In addition, the president's approval rating has hit rock-bottom with black voters at about 9 percent, according to a 2006 Pew Research Center poll.

Liberals have often sought to rationalize the willingness of Americans to enlist in the military and perpetuate the horrors of the occupation on the ground that it is an understandable response to economic duress. For a typical example, consider a dialogue that I related here about a couple of years ago:

During a discussion on the DC indymedia website, I engaged in a dialogue with a purportedly antiwar woman who said the following:

Not everyone is privileged enough to be able to spend their time protesting. Many people have to make hard economic choices, and joining the military is one of them.

And, then later, after I disagreed, inquiring about her attitude about the loss of Iraqi life, and the harshness of the occupation:

I OPPOSE the war. That is a separate issue and I should not have muddied the water. I stand by my belief that my brother's choice to serve his country as a way to feed and clothe his kids is honorable but I abhor the war as much as he does.

Let's get this straight: she opposes the war, but publicly supports a family member who made a hard economic choice to feed his kids by volunteering to go to Iraq and kill people there. Now, I could understand if she privately expressed this within her family, but to publicly do so, and expect others to empathize with it . . . well, as I said there, it's morally myopic, a failure to hold someone accountable for their actions. Nowhere in this dialogue, despite being prompted to do so, did she ever express any sadness for the loss of Iraqi life, and the brutalities, like the torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. For her, the allegedly "hard economic choices" of Americans are more important than the Iraqis who are subjected to American military violence every day.

African Americans have apparently come to a different conclusion as their rate of enlistment has fallen 58% since 2001. Objecting to the war itself, and legitimately alarmed at the prospect of being injured or killed there, they are consciously refusing to facilitate the occupation through enlistment. Such a refusal implicitly suggests, contrary to the empathetic liberal perspective, that many of those who do enlist either support the occupation, or, alternatively, have no moral issues achieving other personal ends by enforcing it through violence.

Despite facing an economic situation more dire than the one facing white Americans (an unemployment rate twice that of whites), African Americans are voting with their feet and refusing to enlist, rejecting the financial incentives of the military, looking to other ways to survive that do not entail killing Iraqis. Why is this? Are they more empathetic to people in non-Eurocentric cultures, capable of humanizing them in ways that mainstream American culture cannot?

Or, are they, person by person, engaging in a different risk-benefit calculation, and deciding that, unlike others, being sent over to Iraq is just too dangerous? It is certainly plausible, after all, as the article notes, there is a history of subjecting African Americans to either demeaning assignments, or, conversely, extremely hazardous ones:

In World War II, African-Americans were again assigned mostly to support duty, but they made up 75 percent of truck drivers for the Red Ball Express - a dangerous, nonstop supply convoy that fueled General George H. Patton's sweep across Europe.

When President Harry S. Truman desegregated the military in 1948, African-Americans saw the Army as a key avenue for advancement. Joining up became "a way out of a worse situation," said Gregory A. Black, a retired Navy dive commander and creator of blackmilitaryworld.com, a website devoted to the history of African-Americans and the military.

By the Vietnam War, the Army had a full complement of black combat troops, including Colin Powell, who did two combat tours as a captain and major and later became secretary of state. But civil-rights leaders complained about the disproportionately high casualty rate among black soldiers, arguing that the Pentagon was drafting young black men and sending them directly into combat.

"A lot of African-Americans are still messed up over Vietnam," said Black. Yet Defense Department statistics show African-American soldiers today are more likely to work in clerical or support jobs than fight on the front lines.

Perhaps, African Americans are more persuaded by the past, by Vietnam, and even, say, Port Chicago, than by contemporary Pentagon statistics, especially as these statistics do not exclude the possibility that African Americans are still more likely to serve in combat than other ethnic groups.

African Americans may be taking a leadership role in rejecting service in the occupation of Iraq. The article also states that white enlistment is down 10% and Hispanic enlistment is down 7%. Instead of providing liberal rationalizations for enlistment, we should instead encourage all Americans to follow the exemplary example of the African American community.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

US Military: Blackwater Shootings a Criminal Event 

From the Washington Post:

Blackwater USA guards shot at Iraqi civilians as they tried to drive away from a Baghdad square Sept. 16, according to a report compiled by the first U.S. soldiers to arrive at the scene, where they found no evidence that Iraqis had fired weapons.

"It appeared to me they were fleeing the scene when they were engaged. It had every indication of an excessive shooting," said Lt. Col. Mike Tarsa, whose soldiers reached Nisoor Square about 20 to 25 minutes after the gunfire subsided.

His soldiers' report - based on their observations at the scene, eyewitness interviews and discussions with Iraqi police - concluded there was no enemy activity involved and described the shootings as a "criminal event." Their conclusions mirrored those reached by the Iraqi government, which has said the Blackwater guards killed 17 people.

The soldiers' accounts contradict Blackwater's assertion that its guards were defending themselves after being fired on by Iraqi police and gunmen.

Tarsa said they found no evidence to indicate the Blackwater guards were provoked or entered into a confrontation.

"I did not see anything that indicated they were fired upon," said Tarsa, 42, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.

He also said it appeared that several drivers had made U-turns and were driving away from Nisoor Square when their vehicles were hit by gunfire from Blackwater guards.

But will anything be done? Doubtful.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Our future, the future of our children and their children, rests in your hands 

UPDATE: There is a war about the war going on inside the building.

INITIAL POST: Apparently, there are a lot of others who agree with what I said here last week, namely, that it is imperative that we urge US troops to disobey the President if he orders an attack upon Iran. Daniel Ellsberg, Thom Hartmann, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Rabbi Steven Jacobs, Cynthia McKinney, Willie Nelson, Cindy Sheehan, Norman Solomon, Elizabeth de la Vega, Gore Vidal, Ann Wright and, currently, almost 1800 others, have issued such an appeal to the US military. Please consider adding your signature by going here, creating an account and signing it.

Here is the text of the appeal, in its entirety:

ATTENTION: Joint Chiefs of Staff and all U.S. Military Personnel:

Do not attack Iran.

Any preemptive U.S. attack on Iran would be illegal.

Any preemptive U.S. attack on Iran would be criminal.

We, the citizens of the United States, respectfully urge you, courageous men and women of our military, to refuse any order to preemptively attack Iran, a nation that represents no serious or immediate threat to the United States. To attack Iran, a sovereign nation of 70-million people, would be a crime of the highest magnitude.

Legal basis for our Request – Do not attack Iran:

The Nuremberg Principles, which are part of US law, provide that all military personnel have the obligation not to obey illegal orders. The Army Field Manual 27-10, sec. 609 and UCMJ, art. 92, incorporate this principle. Article 92 says: "A general order or regulation is lawful unless it is contrary to the Constitution, the law of the United States …"

Any provision of an international treaty ratified by the United States becomes the law of the United States. The United States is a party and signatory to the United Nations Charter, of which Article II, Section 4 states, "All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state…" As Iran has not attacked the United States, and as the U.S. is a party and signatory to the Charter, any attack on Iran by the U.S. would be illegal under not only international law but under the U.S. Constitution which recognizes our treaties as the Supreme Law of the Land. When you joined the military, you took an oath to defend our Constitution.

Following the orders of your government or superior does not relieve you from responsibility under international law. Under the Principles of International Law recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, complicity in the commission of war crime is a crime under international law.

Background:

The Bush Administration's charges against Iran have not been proven. Neither the development of nuclear weapons, nor providing assistance to Iraq would, if proven, constitute justification for an illegal war.

An attack on Iran might prompt the formidable Iranian military to attack U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. Thousands of our soldiers might be killed or captured as prisoners of war. A U.S. attack against Iranian nuclear facilities could also mean the deaths, from radiation poisoning, of tens of thousands of innocent Iranian civilians. The people of Iran have little control over their government, yet would suffer tremendously should the U.S. attack. Bombing raids would amount to collective punishment, a violation of the Geneva Convention, and would surely sow the seeds of hatred for generations to come. Children make up a quarter of Iran's population.

Above all, we ask you to look at the record of our actions in Iraq, which U.S. intelligence admits is “a cause celebre for jihadists” – a situation that did not exist before we attacked. We must face the fact that our rash use of military solutions has created more enemies, and made American families less safe. Diplomacy, not war, is the answer.

Know the Risks Involved in Refusing an Illegal Order or Signing This Statement:

We knowingly and willingly make this plea, aware of the risk that, in violation of our First Amendment rights, we could be charged under remaining sections of the unconstitutional Espionage Act or other unconstitutional statute, and that we could be fined, imprisoned, or barred from government employment.

We make this plea, also aware that you have no easy options. If you obey an illegal order to participate in an aggressive attack on Iran, you could potentially be charged with war crimes. If you heed our call and disobey an illegal order you could be falsely charged with crimes including treason. You could be falsely court martialed. You could be imprisoned. (To talk to a lawyer or to learn more about possible consequences, contact The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, Courage to Resist, Center on Conscience and War, Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild 415-566-3732, or the GI Rights Hotline at 877-447-4487.) **

Final request:

Our leaders often say that military force should be a last resort. We beg you to make that policy a reality, and refuse illegal orders to attack Iran. We promise to support you for protecting the American public and innocent civilians abroad.

Our future, the future of our children and their children, rests in your hands.

You know the horrors of war. You can stop the next one.

Again, you can add your name to the request by going to AfterDowningStreet.org.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

They Are Advocates, We Are Leaders 

Somehow, one suspects that this is one of those firsts that is going to be conveniently deemphasized, if not forgotten, given her abysmal performance and tin ear for public relations. The increasing appearance of tokenism, while representatives like Steny Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel dictate collaboration with the neoconservatives, must be especially humiliating for her.

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It's Not Just Blackwater 

Why is it that private security contractors seem to be drawn to killing women and children?

A company statement said the shooting occurred after a car failed to heed warnings to stop while approaching a Unity convoy.

"The first information that we have is that our security team was approached at speed by a vehicle which failed to stop despite an escalation of warnings which included hand signals and a signal flare. Finally, shots were fired at the vehicle and it stopped," the company said in a statement.

Unity Resources, which is run by former Australian army personnel, was investigated last year in connection with the shooting of a 72-year-old agriculture professor at the University of Baghdad, according to Australian media. The Australian Foreign Ministry at the time said the professor, Kays Juma, was shot because his vehicle failed to stop at a checkpoint in the capital.

Some witnesses confirmed that a flare was fired, but at least two said guards fired into the vehicle after it had been partially disabled by warning shots. One witness said the vehicle, which carried at least three women and one child, had rolled to a halt when the women inside were shot.

. . Tuesday's incident was seen by residents as another case of Iraqis paying the price for the foreign presence in their country.

"I saw two foreigners step out of their SUVs just 10 meters away from the victims' vehicle after it had come to a stop, and then they opened fire," said the owner of a plumbing supply store near the scene. He asked that his name not be used for security reasons.

He and others interviewed about two hours after the 1:40 p.m. shooting described a chaotic chain of events that began when a convoy of four SUVs came down a street at high speed, zigzagging among cars.

The convoy overtook a white 1990 Oldsmobile driven by a woman. Witnesses said a younger woman sat in the passenger seat. Another woman and a child were in the back.

A 27-year-old laborer who would not give his name said one guard fired at the Oldsmobile's radiator in an apparent attempt to force it to stop after it had come within a few yards of the convoy. The car continued moving, dragging the radiator along the ground, he said.

"Then, two guys came out, approached the vehicle and shot for almost 10 seconds before returning to their SUVs and fleeing," he said. "The woman in the back started screaming. She had two kids with her, I think."

The plumbing shop owner estimated the car was about 30 feet from the SUVs when the guards fired the fatal shots.

Witnesses said the driver was shot in the face and head and that she and the front-seat passenger were killed.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Forty Year Ago Today in Bolivia 

Subsequent social movements in South America abandoned his foco based approach to igniting revolutions throughout the region, as well as the Soviet inspired centralized state socialism adopted by Cuba, but they revere him as someone who kept alive the hope, no matter how dark the horizon, that American imposed neoliberal policies could be successfully resisted.

Back in his day, of course, he described it as straightforward imperialism, but no matter, the subsequent substitution of the symptom, neoliberalism, for the disease, imperialism, has merely sharpened the understanding of the nature of the conflict. Hence, in Venezuela, in Bolivia, in Brazil, in Argentina, indeed, throughout the continent, he retains his mythic stature, even after the leftists inspired by him put down their arms, and embarked upon a generational effort to build a social alternative from the ground up, an effort that required the most intense faith to be sustained, because, after all, how could they be sure that decades of activism, of relatively non-violent confrontation with the state, its affiliated labor unions and paramilitaries, would come to fruition?

But it did. As with any transformation, the results are uneven, with success in Venezuela, enthusiasm in Bolivia, increasing cynicism in Brazil, and an anti-capitalist, non-hierarchical social movement struggling to survive in Argentina. Thus, the incongruity of Chavez and Morales, two men who achieved power non-violently through democratic means because of the failure of structural adjustment policies, sharing murals with Che, the man who walked out of the party bureaucracy and into the jungle to arm the peasants for the coming revolution.

Che failed, but it was a failure that educated others about what was necessary to ultimately prevail. He was consistently and unabashedly with the victims of US imperialism, even though his methods of armed resistance and bureaucratic socialism were repudiated. Chavez, Morales and millions of others understandably identify with Che for this reason, as they are likewise irrevocably aligned with the impoverished and exploited of their countries, recognizing the great debt they owe him for educating them about the difficulties of confronting global capitalism.

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The Invisible Iraqis 

Interestingly, over the course of the war and the occupation, network news anchors worried about a great many things, but the horrific consequences for the people of Iraq never seemed to penetrate their consciousness. Apparently, the Iraqis have not been dehumanized, in the manner of fascism, but rather, ignored to the point of invisibility.

US news coverage of this conflict will be remembered for an ethnocentric narcissism that emphasized that deaths of Americans in thousands, while diminishing the importance of the deaths of Iraqis in the hundreds of thousands. Perhaps, there is cruel equation here: the death of one American is more important, more of a loss to be mourned, than the deaths of a hundred Iraqis.

After all, the loss of an American is the loss of someone who sits at the epicenter of the global neoliberal system, a recipient of its privileges, and, potentially, even a captain of it, while the Iraqis are merely, like millions of others in the lesser developed world, part of that great reserve of surplus labor that facilitates the expropriation and exploitation that makes it all possible.

As we face the prospect of unleashing another grotesque wave of violence upon the neigboring people of Iran, with possibly even more nightmarish outcomes, one must ask the impertinent question: how many deaths must be inflicted by the US before the finance capitalists who run the world become fearful about the loss of sufficient excess labor to generate their speculative profits?

Obviously, 600,000 to 900,000 Iraqis (and, maybe, if current estimates are correct, over 1,000,000) are not enough. Would deaths in the tens of millions cause them to hesitate in their support for military neoliberalism? Or, would it have to be over a billion? Or, do they profit sufficiently from militarism that there is no number that would generate even momentary concern?

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Monday, October 08, 2007

African Americans Abandoning the Military 

I will have more to say about this tomorrow. There are some interesting implications to this story that aren't commonly discussed.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Disobey 

With each passing day, there are more and more reports about the planning of airstrikes against Iran. Over the weekend, Seymour Hersh published a comprehensive article on the subject, with a retired CIA official observing: They're shifting everyone to the Iran desk.

More troubling was his description of the anticipated air campaign itself:

The revised bombing plan for a possible attack, with its tightened focus on counterterrorism, is gathering support among generals and admirals in the Pentagon. The strategy calls for the use of sea-launched cruise missiles and more precisely targeted ground attacks and bombing strikes, including plans to destroy the most important Revolutionary Guard training camps, supply depots, and command and control facilities.

“Cheney’s option is now for a fast in and out—for surgical strikes,” the former senior American intelligence official told me. The Joint Chiefs have turned to the Navy, he said, which had been chafing over its role in the Air Force-dominated air war in Iraq. “The Navy’s planes, ships, and cruise missiles are in place in the Gulf and operating daily. They’ve got everything they need—even AWACS are in place and the targets in Iran have been programmed. The Navy is flying FA-18 missions every day in the Gulf.” There are also plans to hit Iran’s anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile sites. “We’ve got to get a path in and a path out,” the former official said.

A Pentagon consultant on counterterrorism told me that, if the bombing campaign took place, it would be accompanied by a series of what he called “short, sharp incursions” by American Special Forces units into suspected Iranian training sites. He said, “Cheney is devoted to this, no question.”

A limited bombing attack of this sort “only makes sense if the intelligence is good,” the consultant said. If the targets are not clearly defined, the bombing “will start as limited, but then there will be an ‘escalation special.’ Planners will say that we have to deal with Hezbollah here and Syria there. The goal will be to hit the cue ball one time and have all the balls go in the pocket. But add-ons are always there in strike planning.”

This is a shockingly sanguine perspective about the consequences of undertaking any military action against the Iranians. It assumes that the Iranians have no military capability, conventional, assymetrical or otherwise, to respond to the air strikes. It additionally assumes that there will be no public hostility in the Middle East and elsewhere. As usual, it is based upon the arrogant belief that the US has the ability to decide when the conflict begins and when it will end. Saddam Hussein displayed a similar arrogance when he invaded Iran in 1980 before being humbled over the course of an eight year war.

Others are much more pessimistic, as reported here previously. Jorge Hirsch, a physicist at UC San Diego, believes that such a conflict has a high probability of escalating into one the will induce the US to use tactical nuclear weapons, with frightening consequences. Philip Giraldi, a retired CIA officer, asserts that the conflict could rapidly spiral out of control, resulting in the use of nuclear weapons by the US, India and Pakistan. Conservative retired military officer William Lind maintains that the world is approaching the precipice of a catastrophic conflict like World War I, a conflict in which tens of millions died as it shattered the existing global order.

There are some encouraging signs that, contrary to Hersh, there is resistance within the military to going forward. According to Dana Priest of the Washington Post during a live discussion last week:

West Chester, Pa.: History seems to be repeating it self as the drumbeat for war with Iran, based on accusations not backed up by any facts, intensifies. Do you think the Bush administration will launch a war (perhaps sending only the bombers) against Iran and if they do what are the likely consequences for the Middle East?

Dana Priest: Frankly, I think the military would revolt and there would be no pilots to fly those missions. This is a little bit of hyperbole, but not much. Just look at what Gen. Casey, the Army chief, said yesterday. That the tempo of operations in Iraq would make it very hard for the military to respond to a major crisis elsewhere. Beside, it's not the "war" or "bombing" part that's difficult; it's the morning after and all the days after that. Haven't we learned that (again) from Iraq?

Glenn Greenwald, over at Salon, the person who noticed Priest's starting comment, has described a couple of instances of internal opposition to the attacks within the US military.

As I have said here previously, a rebellion within the military against the commander in chief, President Bush, is the only thing that can stop this war with certainty. Last week, an overwhelming coalition of Republicans and Democrats provided Bush with the justification for attacking Iran.

Liberals, and people within mainstream politics generally, are frightened by the prospect of military disobedience. If forced to choose between the war going forward, or a refusal by the soldiers within the military to carry out the orders of President, they would choose the war. They would allow the US to launch a conflict that could result in the deaths of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people, and the destruction of the fabric of Iranian society, if not others within proximity, as has already transpired in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In other words, when the order is given to put the planes in the air, it is essential that, from top to bottom, from generals to majors to sergeants to privates, the recipients disobey. And, upon doing so, they must make their disobedience publicly known. It will no doubt be very difficult, as they face the prospect of ostracism, expulsion from the military, personal hardship and possible criminal prosecution.

The alternative, however, is to align oneself with the violent, homicidal policies of a messianic sociopath. This is one of those instances where individuals, one by one, through the accumulation of their personal, moral decisions to disobey the President, can, literally, change the course of history for the better. By doing so, they can encourage all of us to reject that pervasive sense of powerlessness that enables this President and his associates to act to dominate and destroy others without restraint.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Blackwater Contractor 

From the New York Times:

The events in the square began with a short burst of bullets that witnesses described as unprovoked. A traffic policeman standing at the edge of the square, Sarhan Thiab, saw that a young man in a car had been hit. In the line of traffic, that car was the third vehicle from the intersection where the convoy had positioned itself.

“We tried to help him,” Mr. Thiab said. “I saw the left side of his head was destroyed and his mother was crying out: ‘My son, my son. Help me, help me.’”

Another traffic policeman rushed to the driver’s side to try to get her son out of the car, but the car was still rolling forward because her son had lost control, according to a taxi driver close by who gave his name as Abu Mariam (“father of Mariam”).

Then Blackwater guards opened fire with a barrage of bullets, according to the police and numerous witnesses. Mr. Ahmed’s father later counted 40 bullet holes in the car. His mother, Mohassin Kadhim, appears to have been shot to death as she cradled her son in her arms. Moments later the car caught fire after the Blackwater guards fired a type of grenade into the vehicle.

The taxi driver was a few feet ahead of Mrs. Kadhim’s car when he heard the first gunshots. He was aware of cars behind him trying to back out of the street or turn around and drive away from the square. He tried frantically to turn his car, but ran into the curb.

Unable to escape, he pulled himself over to the passenger side, which was the one not facing the square, opened the door and crawled out, flattening his body to the ground.

“The dust from the street was coming in my mouth and as I pulled myself out of the area, my left leg was shot by a bullet,” he said.

Accounts in the initial days after the event described Mrs. Kadhim as holding a baby in her arms. It now appears that those accounts were based on assumptions that the charred remains of Mrs. Kadhim’s son were mistaken for an infant.

By then cars were struggling to get out of the line of fire, and many people were abandoning their vehicles altogether. The scene turned hellish.

“The shooting started like rain; everyone escaped his car,” said Fareed Walid Hassan, a truck driver who hauls goods in his Hyundai minibus.

He saw a woman dragging her child. “He was around 10 or 11,” he said. “He was dead. She was pulling him by one hand to get him away. She hoped that he was still alive.”

Someday, the Iraqi resistance will prevail, and bring this brutality to an end. We can only hope that they don't replace it with equally reprehensible violence. Conditions in Basra, after the departure of British troops, might justify a feeling of cautious optimism.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More on Blackwater 

From today's New York Times:

Guards working in Iraq for Blackwater USA have shot innocent Iraqi civilians and have sought to cover up the incidents, sometimes with the help of the State Department, a report to a Congressional committee said today.

The report, based largely on internal Blackwater e-mail messages and State Department documents, depicts the security contractor as being staffed with reckless, shoot-first guards who were not always sober and did not always stop to see who or what was hit by their bullets.

In one incident, the State Department and Blackwater agreed to pay $15,000 to the family of a man killed by “a drunken Blackwater contractor,” the report said. As a State Department official wrote, “We would like to help them resolve this so we can continue with our protective mission."

It is important to note several things about this. First, the report was primarily based upon internal Blackwater e-mail messages and State Department documents. As usual, the experiences of the Iraqis themselves were treated as irrelevant, another instance of erasing the personal experiences of the victims themselves.

Accordingly, the report did not describe episodes like this one described by Laila Fadel of McClatchy last week:

The following Sunday, Blackwater guards opened fire as the State Department convoy they were escorting crossed in front of stopped traffic at the al Nisour traffic circle.

While U.S. officials have offered no explanation of what occurred that day, witnesses and Iraqi investigators agree that the guards' first target was a white car that either hadn't quite stopped or was trying to nudge its way to the front of traffic.

In the car were a man whose name is uncertain; Mahasin Muhsin, a mother and doctor; and Muhsin's young son. The guards first shot the man, who was driving. As Muhsin screamed, a Blackwater guard shot her. The car exploded, and Muhsin and the child burned, witnesses said.

Afrah Sattar, 27, was on a bus approaching the square when she saw the guards fire on the white car. She and her mother, Ghania Hussein, were headed to the Certificate of Identification Office in Baghdad to pick up proof of Sattar's Iraqi citizenship for an upcoming trip to a religious shrine in Iran.

When she saw the gunmen turn toward the bus, Sattar looked at her mother in fear. "They're going to shoot at us, Mama," she said. Her mother hugged her close. Moments later, a bullet pierced her mother's skull and another struck her shoulder, Sattar recalled.

As her mother's body went limp, blood dripped onto Sattar's head, still cradled in her mother's arms.

"Mother, mother," she called out. No answer. She hugged her mother's body and kissed her lips and began to pray, "We belong to God and we return to God." The bus emptied, and Sattar sat alone at the back, with her mother's bleeding body.

"I'm lost now, I'm lost," she said days later in her simple two-bedroom home. Ten people lived there; now there are nine.

"They are killers," she said of the Blackwater guards. "I swear to God, not one bullet was shot at them. Why did they shoot us? My mother didn't carry a weapon."

Downstairs, her father, Sattar Ghafil Slom al Kaabi, 67, sat beneath a smiling picture of his wife and recalled their 40-year love story and how they raised eight children together. On the way to the holy city of Najaf to bury her, he'd stopped his car, with her coffin strapped to the top. He got out and stood beside the coffin. He wanted to be with her a little longer.

"I loved her more than anything," he said, his voice wavering. "Now that she is dead, I love her more."

Second, nothing is going to be done as a result of the hearings, nothing, even if Jane Hamsher is, quite admirably, blogging them live over at firedoglake. Just another political masturbatory opportunity for people to act as if something is being done, when it isn't, although, strictly speaking, that's a bit of an exaggeration, they will, after all, be used by Democrats for partisan purposes.

But, do something more, like cutting off funding for private military contractors like Blackwater? Forget about it. Don't you understand? Congressional Democrats are helpless until a Democrat becomes President. Fortunately, the Iraqis have this tendency to take matters into their own hands without waiting for the Democrats to help them.

Lastly, people may be much too sanguine about Blackwater and the political consequences of allowing the company to survive. After all, what is to prevent Blackwater operatives from being deployed domestically? Nothing. They were brought into New Orleans after Katrina, and Blackwater, as part of a consortium of military contractors, just obtained a contract with the Department of Homeland Security for global counter narcotics operations, potentially even within the US, and seeks others as well.

Jeremy Scahill described Blackwater as the Praetorian Guard of the Bush Administration's war on terror. We shouldn't ignore the possibility, however, that it could become a Praetorian Guard of a more familiar, disturbing political kind.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Nappy Head 

Don't drop a piece of birthday cake on the floor in junior high school if you're black. Otherwise, you might get injured as a result of an assault by a security guard, with both you and your mother getting arrested. Oh, and your mother's job with another school district? Don't worry, she's now fired. (Hat tip to Lenin's Tomb)

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