Friday, August 31, 2007

New GAO Report on Iraq

A new report from the Government Accountability Office seems to support what most objective observers of Iraq have long realized: the country as a whole has fallen apart and there is little reason to believe that the so-called "surge" can doing anything to turn it around. The GAO report itself finds that the Iraqi government has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated "benchmarks" -- after the White House claimed earlier this summer that eight had been met. Of course, as University of Michigan professor and Middle East expert Juan Cole points out at his blog, the debate over the these ambiguous benchmarks and the accompanying argument over whether the "surge" is "working" is rather absurd considering how little it has to do with actual conditions on the ground for the Iraqi people.

I personally find the controversy about Iraq in Washington to be bizarre. Are they really arguing about whether the situation is improving? I mean, you have the Night of the Living Dead over there. People lack potable water, cholera has broken out even in the good areas, a third of people are hungry, a doubling of the internally displaced to at least 1.1 million, and a million pilgrims dispersed just this week by militia infighting in a supposedly safe all-Shiite area. The government has all but collapsed, with even the formerly cooperative sections of the Sunni Arab political class withdrawing in a snit (much less more Sunni Arabs being brought in from the cold). The parliament hasn't actually passed any legislation to speak of and often cannot get a quorum. Corruption is endemic. The weapons we give the Iraqi army are often sold off to the insurgency. Some of our development aid goes to them, too.

The average number of Iraqis killed in 2007 per day exceeds those killed in 2006. Independent counts by news organizations do not agree with Pentagon estimates about drops in civilian deaths over-all. Nation-wide attacks in June reached a daily all-time high of 177.5. True, violence in Baghdad has been wrestled back down to the levels of summer, 2006 (hint: it wasn't paradise), but violence levels are up in the rest of the country. If you compare each month in 2006 with each month in 2007 with regard to US military deaths, the 2007 picture is dreadful.

Iraq as a country has ceased to exist. By any reasonable measurement it is a failed state. But turn on any Sunday talk show and the same discredited pundits and think-tank ideologues are there, obfuscating and distorting the painful reality on the ground for political reasons. If you're instead looking for a realistic view of conditions in Iraq look to people like Professor Cole, British journalist and reporter for the Independent (UK) Patrick Cockburn, and one of the few outlets to not buy into pre-war hysteria about Iraq WMD's, McClatchy news service -- not cable news. Not only will you save money on your utilities, but you might actually learn something.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dick Cheney argues against invading Iraq

Oh, how time changes everything. In this 1994 interview with the American Enterprise Institute, Vice President Dick Cheney explains why he and President George H.W. Bush decided against overthrowing Saddam Hussein and occupying Iraq after the first Gulf War.

Cheney: "Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families, it wasn't a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? Our judgement was, not very many, and I think we got it right."

(Via Jon Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ron Paul Interview

With the GOP Straw Poll currently taking place in Ames, Iowa, now seems a good time to shamelessly promote this June interview I conducted with Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul. We discuss everything from why he is running for president, to his relationship with antiwar Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich.

The interview was cited by Reason magazine's Brian Doherty in an article on Ron Paul's strong online presence and his potential appeal to Democrats.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Propaganda Then and Now

On August 6th, 1945, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb nicknamed "Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima, instantly killing more than 70,000 people -- the overwhelming majority civilians. Three days later, the nuclear bomb “Fat Man” was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, killing at least another 70,000 civilians. The anniversary of the bombings serves not only as a reminder of the of the indiscriminate destruction wrought by nuclear weapons -- particularly relevant in light of recent political disputes -- but also of the complicity of some media outlets in spreading and perpetuating U.S war propaganda. As Amy and David Goodman discuss in this article from 2005, "The Hiroshima Cover-Up," the U.S. government desperately wanted to block any information regarding the devastating consequences of the nuclear attacks on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “More than 200,000 people died in the atomic bombings of the cities,” write the Goodmans, but because of an embargo placed on the media by General MacArthur, “no Western journalist witnessed the aftermath and told the story. Instead, the world's media obediently crowded onto the battleship USS Missouri off the coast of Japan to cover the Japanese surrender.”

Yet as the article notes, there were a few intrepid reporters willing to break the U.S. military’s blockade. One was William Burchett, whose account of the devastation was published in the September 5, 1945 issue of the London Daily Express: “In Hiroshima, 30 days after the first atomic bomb destroyed the city and shook the world, people are still dying, mysteriously and horribly - people who were uninjured in the cataclysm from an unknown something which I can only describe as the atomic plague." He continued: "Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city. It looks as if a monster steamroller has passed over it and squashed it out of existence. I write these facts as dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as a warning to the world."

Naturally, U.S. military authorities were displeased with his account, and attempted to smear Burchett as a purveyor of Japanese propaganda. To counter his article, the military turned to one of their own: William Laurence, lead science reporter for the New York Times -- and a paid employee of the U.S. War Department.

Here’s how the Goodmans describe the relationship: “For four months, while still reporting for the Times, Mr. Laurence had been writing press releases for the military explaining the atomic weapons program; he also wrote statements for President Harry Truman and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. He was rewarded by being given a seat on the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki, an experience that he described in the Times with religious awe.”
Just days after the damning account of “the atomic plague” was published in the London Daily Express, Laurence wrote a front-page story in the New York Times “debunking” the article. “The Japanese are still continuing their propaganda aimed at creating the impression that we won the war unfairly,” wrote Laurence, “and thus attempting to create sympathy for themselves and milder terms. ... Thus, at the beginning, the Japanese described 'symptoms' that did not ring true."
While Laurence’s atomic reporting for the Times won him a Pulitzer Prize, it since has become yet another black mark on “the paper of record.” From Walter Duranty -- another Pulitzer winner -- shilling for Stalin in the 1930s, to Judith Miller’s breathless, alarmist reporting on nonexistent Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction,” the Times is a case-study in what happens when journalists allow themselves to become uncritical conduits for government misinformation and propaganda.

Friday, August 03, 2007

State and local officials lobby against war

In this piece for Vermont Public Radio, I speak to Vermont state legislator Mike Fischer, the author of a resolution passed earlier this year by the Vermont state legislator calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. He was in Washington as part of a "Cities for Peace" effort to present Congress and President Bush with more than 300 state and city resolutions expressing opposition to the war.

To listen to the story, click here.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

I recently filed a piece for KGOU in Norman, Oklahoma, regarding the disparity in sentencing between the crack and powder forms of cocaine. Under current federal law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine is punishable by a mandatory five year sentence. Yet it would take 100 times that amount in powder cocaine to receive the same sentence.

To listen to an MP3 of the story, click here.

From KGOU's website:

Let’s say you’re an African American, you live in Oklahoma, and you’re caught possessing five grams of crack cocaine. According to mandatory sentencing guidelines, you’d receive a ten year prison sentence, even if it was your first offense. On the other hand, if you’re white, affluent and you’re charged with possessing powder cocaine – which is chemically identical to crack, albeit more concentrated -- you’d need to have nearly six times as much to receive a similar sentence. The Oklahoma Sentencing Commission has called for the elimination of the disparity between the sentences, and Senators Joe Biden (D-DE) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have teamed up to reduce the disparity on the federal level. Charles Davis reports from Capitol Hill.

Guests include former State Senator and Sentencing Commission member Ged Wright, Ethan Nadelman of the sentencing reform group the Drug Policy Alliance, Senator Tom Coburn and State Senator and Sentencing Commission Chair Richard Lerblance.