Wednesday, November 28, 2007

NATO Airstrikes Kill Afghan Civilians (Again)

From the New York Times. This on top of the revelation earlier this year that NATO has killed more civilians than the Taliban.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Iraqi Quislings Rubber Stamp Continuing US Occupation

The New York Times reports that Nuri al-Maliki has signed a pact with the United States agreeing to extend the United Nations mandate permitting US troops to remain in Iraq under international law. What do ordinary Iraqis have to say about this?

In Iraq on Monday, there was little public discussion of the agreement. It is not a popular move politically because many Iraqis view the United Nations mandate as a reminder that they cannot yet control their own destiny and must rely on outsiders.

In the past, members of the Iraqi Parliament have complained that allowing the continued presence of international forces abrogates the country’s sovereignty. While some of the complaints can be labelled political rhetoric, there is also a real underlying resentment that the nation still needs American help.

At the same time, though, many Iraqis say they do not want the American troops to leave right away because they fear the country will drift into chaos.

In other words, the Iraqis are against a continued troop presence not because the Americans go around bombing and murdering them, but because they have the classic sin of hubris. The article seems to be comparing Iraqis to a tragic drug addict, unable to admit he has a problem. Like a stumbling junkie, the Iraqis perpetuate the fiction that they can stop anytime they want, desperately avoiding that painful admission they know in their heart to be true: they need to be occupied. This is a page taken directly from Raphael Patai's The Arab Mind, a rotten old tome filled with hoary representations of Arabs from the mid twentieth century that has since been revived as the Bible of neoconservative ethnology. According to Patai, the main weakness of "the Arabs" is "shame and humiliation." Apparently the Times got the memo.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Where the Fugees at?

Lenin's latest post has led me to do a bit of detective work on the "success" stories being bandied about in the media currently regarding the supposed shininess of the situation in Iraq. Amir Taheri, a sycophant at the New York Post last seen spreading the utterly discredited rumor that Iran forced Jewish citizens to wear special badges, has recently published a piece raising the typical conservative hue and cry over the failure of the media to publish the "good news" from Iraq. One of his claims which has received heavy rotation in recent weeks is the allegation that Iraqi refugees are returning to Iraq in droves thanks to the surge. Taheri claims specifically that "Iraqis who'd sought temporary refuge in neighboring countries are returning home in large numbers - 1,000 a day returning from Syria alone." This claim has also been mouthed by Iraqi governmental officials, eager to secure further American patronage by reporting what the administration wants to hear. Thus Brig. General Qassim al-Moussawi, reported that 46,030 people returned to Iraq in October because of the “improving security situation.”

Before I get to the specifics of this claim, I want to provide some context for the refugee story in general. There are currently about 4.1 million displaced Iraqis, about 16% of the population. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, about 2,000 Iraqis are forced to leave their homes every day. Many flee from fear of ethnic cleansing, a fear made all the more real by US plans to partition Iraq. In an interview with Socialist Worker, Raed Jarrar, an organizer on the Iraq refugee issue for the American Friends Service Committee, noted “It’s very ironic to see how the U.S. has allied itself with al-Qaeda...Al-Qaeda and the U.S. support the same kind of political agenda, which is to split Iraq into three sectarian regions.” The Iraqi refugee crisis has been exacerbated most recently by the four-fold increase in air attacks, an indiscriminate imposition of terrorism from above.

The surge has has dramatically hastened the twin processes of ethnic cleansing and refugee growth. As the chart shows, the number of refugees steadily grew over the course of the surge this year. This growth culminated in September, with a massive 16% increase in the number of total refugees in one month.

Thus framed, it's clear that progress in relieving the refugee crisis will have to be of a rather high order of magnitude in order to count as any sort of improvement at all. Examined closely, the administration's claims don't even come close.

The New York Times actually has a decent article on the mendacity Bush and co. are using to try and promote their fairy tale of thousands of Iraqis scrambling back into a country utterly devastated by occupation. It points out that a plurality (46%) of those returning to Iraq are not returning because of a perceived increase in security, but because they have run out of money with which to stay in a foreign country. Twenty five percent reported that they were returning due to visa restrictions. A puny 14% said they were coming back because of increased security.

The article also points out the wild hyperbole involved in calculating such figures as Aheri's 1,000 a day from Syria alone. Such numbers don't discriminate between refugees, foreign nationals who are entering, or even insurgents. In other words, if I were to hop on the road from Damascus to Baghdad, I could be counted among the "thousands" of Iraqis jubilantly returning home.

Even worse than this sleight of hand, however, is the nature of the Iraq to which the few refugees who are coming back are returning. Many of those whose money has run out in Syria are not returning to their old neighborhoods - US encouragement of ethnic cleansing has made this far too dangerous. A prominent Shi'a leader in Baghdad said “There are no Shiite families moving back to Sunni neighborhoods and no Sunnis moving back to Shiite neighborhoods.” Instead, many are forced into a transitory existence, staying with relatives or finding residence in the rapidly expanding shantytowns on the outskirts of Baghdad.

In sum, Taheri and his fellow boosters of empire are, as usual, dead wrong. It is obscene to try and paint a pretty picture of what is happening in Iraq right now. US crimes have piled one atop the other, crushing one of the world's oldest civilizations under a weight of greed, incompetence, and racism.

RIP Victor Rabinowitz

I just noticed this posting on MRZine today, alerting me to the fact that Victor Rabinowitz died a few weeks ago. Rabinowitz was one of the founders of the National Lawyer's Guild, and a dedicated defender of union and civil rights. I read his autobiography, Unrepentant Leftist, a few years ago, and enjoyed it immensely. It's a first rate memoir, conveying the air of hope Leftists felt in the early 40s, as well as the despair of the 1950s. Here's the obit in full.

Remembering Victor Rabinowitz:
Legal Giant of the Left

by Marjorie Cohn

On November 16, 2007, Victor Rabinowitz, one of the giants of the legal profession and a tireless fighter for social justice, died at the age of 96. One of the founders of the National Lawyers Guild 70 years ago, Victor defended unpopular clients when other lawyers were afraid to touch them. During the McCarthy period, he and his partner Leonard Boudin represented unions that were considered to be left-wing. The firm counted as clients Daniel Ellsberg, Paul Robeson, Julian Bond, Dashiell Hammett, Dr. Benjamin Spock, the Rev. Philip Berrigan, Alger Hiss, the Black Panthers, the Salvador Allende government in Chile, and the Cuban government.

Victor handled several landmark cases. In 1950, he challenged the provision of the Taft-Hartley Act that prevented unions from representing workers unless all union officers swore a loyalty oath that they were not members of or affiliated with the Communist Party. He lost the case 5 to 4 in the Supreme Court. His work in the Supreme Court case of United States v. Yellin was instrumental in the demise of the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In 1964, in a 8 to 1 decision, the Supreme Court held in Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino that U.S. courts cannot review the legality of the Cuban nationalizations of U.S.-owned property under international law. Victor represented the government of Cuba in that case.

John Mage, prominent radical lawyer and an Officer and Director of the Monthly Review Foundation, wrote a review of Victor's book, Unrepentant Leftist: A Lawyer's Memoir, for Monthly Review. Mage recalled his favorite Victor story: "In the Cuban bank litigation, Victor (representing the Cubans) was served with a discovery demand that he forwarded to the Cuban Finance Ministry, at that time headed by Che. Shortly afterwards he was in Havana for an anniversary celebration and was invited to accompany Guevara. Che directed Victor's attention to the confetti being thrown from an office tower and said 'remember that discovery demand? . . . There it is.'"

The Rabinowitz Boudin partnership "constituted the defining invention of radical lawyering," said Northwestern law professor Bernardine Dohrn, a leader of the Weathermen who became the Guild student organizer while Victor was NLG president in 1967. The firm "always represented the most controversial victims of oppressive state power: labor struggles, the Community Party cases, constitutional right to travel and political speech issues, defense of the Cuban revolution, support for the civil rights/Black Freedom Movement, defense of anti-Vietnam War activists, and legal defense of Palestinian political activists," Dohrn added.

In his book, Victor characterized McCarthyism as "the era of Great Fear." In those days, it was the fear of Communism; today, it is the fear of Terrorism that the administration uses as an excuse to decimate civil liberties. Describing the government repression against Communists, leftists, and those suspected of being associated with them, Victor wrote, "It was the worst of times . . . It was a terrible and terrifying time." Even the ACLU "succumbed to the red scare" in those days.

"It became dangerous to utter radical or even progressive thoughts in an audible tone of voice," he added. The motion picture industry, teachers, progressive Congress members, progressive organizations, and those who read books considered "un-American" were targeted. "Thousands of people lost their jobs, with little prospect of finding new ones quickly. Families were destroyed and friendships were wrecked," Victor reported.

Rabinowitz Boudin "probably represented more clients before McCarthy and HUAC than any other law firm in the country, mostly for little or no fee," said Michael Krinsky, a partner in the firm.

Victor wrote, "I was under surveillance by the FBI from the early fifties until the late sixties. The earliest report on me I've found in my FBI files states that on June 23, 1943, I was believed to be a member of the Communist party, and it further described me as an 'agile-minded labor attorney' [Thanks]." Victor joined the Communist Party in 1942 after the Soviet Union and the United States became allies; he remained a member until the early 1960s.

During the Vietnam War, the Rabinowitz Boudin firm represented hundreds of men facing the draft or criminal charges for refusing induction due to their opposition to the war.

Lawyers pick and choose the cases they take for various reasons. Victor's decisions were always based on principle. "I had always adhered to a few basic rules," Victor observed. "I would not represent a landlord against a tenant; I would not represent a drug dealer; I would not represent an employer against a union; I would not represent a fascist or right-wing institution."

Victor helped found the National Lawyers Guild, to, in his words, "counter the anti-New Deal corporation-controlled American Bar Association (ABA), which at that time did not admit black lawyers or Communists to membership." As former Guild president and Yale law professor Thomas Emerson wrote, "The National Lawyers Guild was born in revolt -- a revolt that embraced the entire intellectual life of the times."

Victor's efforts contributed mightily to the Guild's survival after the McCarthy period. He counted his work with the Guild as perhaps his most significant accomplishment. "There are a few things I can point to with some pride," Victor reflected. "The National Lawyers Guild is almost sixty years old, and I played some part in building it. I cannot think of more than a handful of national progressive organizations that have lived so long in this perilous world."

Tributes to Victor are legion. Doris Brin Walker, the first woman president of the Guild and one of its leaders during the McCarthy period, said, "Victor was inspirational, witty, insightful, tolerant/intolerant, humane, didactic -- one of the most important and beloved persons in my life. And he will remain so." Ann Fagan Ginger, another Guild leader in this era, noted, "During the McCarthy/Truman repressive period, Victor played a particularly important role in meeting with other lawyers to figure out the best strategies to defend against, and finally to attack, the Red Baiters. His principles were larger than his ego, and after the meetings, he went back to his office and saw to it that the tasks agreed on were actually carried out." She called the Rabinowitz Boudin firm "a place of refuge and hope for many whose jobs, reputations, and family relationships were under attack."

"In each decade, Victor managed to stay utterly committed to the revolutionary principles of his youth," according to Dohrn, "to work with the highest intellectual and professional standards of the law, and to attract clients of the most urgent issues of the moment. His passionate love of books, his dedicated friendships, and his wry humor abide in our hearts."

The National Lawyers Guild and all justice-loving people will miss Victor Rabinowitz. He was a giant of a man.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and the President of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law. Her articles are archived at

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Plight of the Huddled Masses: A Hard Time for Thanksgiving

by Leonard Doyle

Gertrude Winter, a char lady in her sixties who works at a government office, will have a turkey after all this Thanksgiving. At one stage yesterday, it seemed a close run thing. As she sat in the hallway of the Bread for the City charity a rumour swept the place that they were out of turkeys.

Agitated, another woman said: “The lady says there are no turkeys left, what are we going to do?” In fact the turkeys were already on their way from another warehouse and what might have degenerated into a mini-riot, reverted instead to the good-natured banter of strangers.

Thrown together by poverty and the pinched generosity of the United States, they waited to be interviewed to see if they were eligible for a free turkey and a bag of groceries. Mobile soup kitchens are keeping the homeless on the streets fed, but it is the working poor and those with young and old dependants who patiently line up at Bread for the City. Even with the help of government food stamps, most earn less than $7,000 (£3,400) a year, not nearly enough to survive on. They have long overcome the shame of queuing up every week in public for free food

“I used to come here all the time when my kids were growing up,” said Ms Winter, “and now I’m back because everything is so expensive out there”.

Today as millions of Americans sit down to their turkey dinners with all the trimmings, the safety net of hundreds of food banks and pantries that put food on the table of the nation’s poor is creaking and torn as a result of sharply reduced donations. From New England to California warehouses that should be groaning with surplus foodstuffs are going half empty.

“We’re bracing ourselves for a very tough winter, especially with home heating fuel prices at record highs in the north-east,” said Mark Quandt of the regional food bank in New York. “People living in poverty or near poverty just can’t sustain those types of increases.”

America’s obsession with energy independence from Middle East oil may be to blame. The country’s farmers have brought in the greatest corn harvest since the Second World War, but their surpluses which once were bought by the government and sent to food banks are no longer available. Instead the corn is turned into heavily subsidised ethanol and less land is available to grow food.

And the corn syrup that turns up in almost every product found on a US supermarket shelf is in short supply. A cheap dollar means that food exports are booming and a crippling two-year drought in the south has left fruit and vegetables withered and useless.

Unnoticed by most Americans, as they drop off their old canned goods and surplus food at schools and church halls for the Thanksgiving food drives, the entire system may be heading for collapse.

A visit to three of Washington’s largest charities - a shelter for 300 men, a community kitchen that feeds 4,000 every day and a food bank that supplies the basic needs of 108,000 people a year - revealed sharply reduced donations and a sense of desperation for the future. In the gleaming workspaces of DC Central Kitchen, half a mile from the White House, fresh vegetables were being chopped by volunteers from Georgetown University Law School. DC Central’s culinary institute turns homeless drug addicts into professional chefs and provides hot meals for thousands of homeless people in shelters all over the city. Mike Curtain, its executive director, could pass muster as a US version of Jamie Oliver. “I don’t think as a nation we are who we think we are,” he says. “When I see the money wasted overseas in Iraq and knowing what it could do here, it makes me sick. I think Bush is a criminal for what he is doing.

“People in the world hate us, and rightly so, because of the way we treat our own people,” he continued, “poverty would soon disappear if we invested some of that money on a living wage, healthcare and education. ”

For now he is looking to the future by diversifying the DC Kitchen’s food sources away from hotels and restaurants by negotiating directly with farmers. “I know donors that look at us as a way to keep their trash hauling costs down,” he said. “Of the 80 trays of food we received from the company, 60 went into the dumpster.”

In the south-east of the city, where the murder rate is rising and substance abuse seems uncontrollable, Jarval Green runs a homeless shelter for 300 people that focuses on addicts. It is funded by a Catholic charity and the numbers seeking emergency shelter keep growing.

“Now we are seeing veterans from the war showing up,” he said, ” the real problem here is poverty especially among men who are substance abusers.”

Part of the reason food banks are running low on supplies is the absence of direct government spending. There is a political culture in the America that abhors spending taxpayers’ money on the poor, even as the amount president Bush is spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approaches a trillion dollars.

Many Americans are hurting because of the collapse in the sub-prime mortgage market, but the country has never been wealthier. There has been an explosion in the number of millionaire American households in recent years. Those earning $1m, $10m, $100m have more than doubled over the past decade and the wealthy of America are wealthier than most countries, with the top one per cent controlling $17trn.

But none of this wealth seems to have trickled down to the poor despite the promises from supply-side economists that it would.

George Jones, who runs Bread for the City, says the new rich also seem more interested in donating to the arts and universities than in giving their fellow Americans a leg up. Bread for the City is finding that law firms which once gave generously have cut their donations in half.

This week some 35.5 million Americans lined up at soup kitchens and food stamps offices to feed their families for the holiday. The look of panic that flashed across Gertrude Winter’s face, when she though she was not getting a turkey, is being seen elsewhere in the country.

Now the homeless poor are having their ranks swelled further by war veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 200,000 veterans were homeless on any given night last year and their numbers make up a quarter of the US homeless population - a figure that has been called “shockingly disproportionate”.

Life below the poverty line is seen almost as boot camp for the shiftless. But if American taxpayers have been conditioned to reject any form of social welfare, they seem to accept that they cannot ignore hunger.

As a result a vast and complicated system has grown up over the years - part private charity, part government aid - to help the neediest get fed. The US social welfare system is miserly at best. Food stamps - a maximum of $3 per person a day - are given to the needy. In all it has 15 separate food assistance programmes which go though some $53bn a year, making it America’s largest welfare programme

Now Congress is arguing with President Bush over a farm bill, which both unlocks cash to buy food for the poor and guarantees million-dollar cheques for some food producers.

“We have food banks in virtually every city in the country, and what we are hearing is that they are all facing severe shortages with demand so high, ” Ross Fraser, a spokesman for America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest hunger relief group, “One of our food banks in Florida said demand is up 35 per cent over this time last year.”

At the Society of St Vincent de Paul food pantry in Cincinnati, clients now get three or four days’ worth of food instead of six or seven. “We are trying to stretch our resources to help more people,” said Liz Carter, executive director of the society. “But it’s so difficult when you see the desperation and have to tell them you just don’t have enough to give them what they need.”

When George Bush pitched up in southern Virginia this week there was nothing to indicate that food banks were in trouble. The food bank he visited, the media were blandly informed, sends millions of pounds of groceries to needy families each year. Mr Bush walked past stacks of peanut butter, green beans and tinned soup. Then for the cameras he lifted a few crates of oranges, potatoes and macaroni and cheese on to a cart, telling the pastor: ” C’mon man, let’s go.”

Then it was off to the banks of the James river and site of America’s first official Thanksgiving. In 1619 Captain John Woodlief and his crew of 37 men fell to their knees and read a proclamation stating that the day of their ship’s arrival should be “yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God”.

Presidents typically make light work of the Thanksgiving holiday, but Mr Bush decided to dedicate an entire speech to it: “Our nation’s greatest strength is the decency and compassion of our people,” he said. ” As we count our many blessings, I encourage all Americans to show their thanks by giving back.”

America’s working people are increasingly unable to say where their family’s next meal is coming from and demand is so outstripping supply that many food banks have had to cut back on portions. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I can’t believe how much worse it gets month after month,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, of Second Harvest.

The shortages being experienced indicate a burgeoning crisis in feeding the poor, caught in a vice of rising food prices, rent, healthcare and petrol. Another problem, says Mr Curtain of DC Central Kitchen, is that food manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers are getting better at managing their surplus food and are donating less to charity.

Mark Winne, author of Closing the Food Gap, says many dump unwanted inedible food on shelters. He recalls his days running a food bank when “no food donation was too small, too strange or too nutritionally unsound to be refused”.

“I remember the load of nearly rotten potatoes that we gratefully accepted at the warehouse loading dock and then shovelled into the dumpster once the donor was safely out of sight.”

At this time of the year Americans are at their most giving. The annual Thanksgiving turkey drive at a food bank Mr Winne founded in Connecticut has had its annual appeal for “A turkey and a 20 (dollar bill)”. It collected 14,000 turkeys and $400,000 from the public in the richest state in the union. “At least at this time of the year they are prepared to give generously but the worry is that a system based on charity will mean that the supply of donated food will always ebb and flow,” he said. ” We may be entering one of those perfect storms where everything goes wrong but if we depend on food charity rather than ending poverty, this is what is bound to occur.”

© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

Monday, November 19, 2007

Iraqi Resistance: Know Your History

Recently there have been some blitherings in the comment boards about supporting the insurgency in Iraq. I just thought I'd make the terms of the debate clear to folks by presenting the Department of Defense's own data on the issue. This graph is from the DoD's very own "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," a quarterly report last issued in September. As you can see, in every single month of the insurgency, the majority of the attacks have been directed against coalition troops, aka the occupiers. There is a myth that Iraq is simply a nest of sectarian violence, but the truth is in fact far simpler. People don't like to be occupied, and are willing to use violence to secure their freedom.

This particular report is interesting because, as the DoD wonks note, "[a]ttacks against Coalition forces reached record levels in June, and the proportion of total attacks against Coalition forces increased to their highest levels since December 2005, accounting for 73% of all attacks." Thus the truth is actually the opposite of the dominant image of Iraqis growing ever more sectarian and spiraling downwards into a pit of blood feuds and terrorism. The surge has actually served to unite Iraqis even tighter against their imperial overlords. I've dealt elsewhere with the implications this has had for the different segments of the resistance, but suffice to say for now that one doesn't have to look far for the data with which to debunk the war machine's myths about Iraqis. In this instance, you only have to go to the Pentagon's webpage.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Vulgar Propaganda

This article must be the most ham-fisted propaganda attempt I've ever seen. I suppose Iraqi insurgents also deliberately target little old grandmothers. They probably stomp on kittens in their spare time.

Meanwhile, our boys are basically Santa Claus with sniper rifles. They are the epitome of virtue, bringing toys to the children of Iraq. They love those kids, and would never do a thing to harm them. Except blow them up, give them cancer with depleted uranium, destroy the public health infrastructure so they get cholera, and facilitate ethnic cleansing so they have to flee their homes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New York's Finest Protect and Serve

Murder is murder
Why're they confused?
Another man dead
I read it in the news
Who gave them the fucking right
To run around like they own the night?

Oh bang! bang!
Oh oh bang! bang!
Oh oh bang! bang!
Oh oh bang! bang!

Wrong fucking time
Wrong fucking place
There is no fucking way
this is not about race
Who's gonna call 9-1-1
When they can't tell a wallet
from a mother fucking gun?

Bang bang daddy I want you dead
Bang bang daddy get out of my head
Bang bang daddy I want you dead
Bring me Giuliani's head
-Le Tigre

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Weekly Dave: Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Donald Kerr

Testifying before congress, Mr. Kerr told Americans they would have to rethink their definition of privacy. Elaborating on his point, he said:

that he finds it odd that some would be concerned that the government may be listening in when people are "perfectly willing for a green-card holder at an [Internet service provider] who may or may have not have been an illegal entrant to the United States to handle their data."
Well, let's see. An undocumented immigrant who has my data is not going to use it to kidnap me and send me to Egypt to be tortured. The government will. That's difference enough for me.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Free the Airlines!

Following-up on a previous post: USA Today has a story today examining the causes behind the unexpectedly high number of airline safety regulation violations. Though NASA initially sought to hide the safety data, fearing it would affect airline profits, the article reveals that fatigue is a key factor in many of the mistakes. This should come as no surprise. Ever since Reagan crushed the PATCO strike in 1981, airline employee unions have been fighting a losing battle against the bosses. Since 9/11, the airline execs have been able to raise the specter of bankruptcy as a bogeyman to scare off any demands for higher wages or lower hours. This study reveals just how crucial the demands for lower hours are, not just to the workers, but to all of us. As for the hue and cry over bankruptcy, it seems to me that if the private sector is unable to provide an essential good profitably, isn't it then the duty of the government to nationalize it?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Weekly Dave

We here at the Tank may be a bit slap dash in remembering to give out our 'Weekly Dave's but this week's recipient takes the cake in true Halloween/racist fashion. The winner is Julie Meyers, Bush's Migra czar (the head of ICE) who, while judging a costume contest at the Dept of Homeland Security Halloween Bash commented that a man dressed in dread locks, black face, and prison stripes displayed "originality".

The real clincher is that Meyers ONLY apologized after she find out the guy was white. Where's Sharpton?

A Coup by Any Other Name...

I was perusing CNN tonight before I went to bed, and couldn't help but notice the discrepancy between its coverage of Pakistan's coup and its coverage of Venezuela. CNN essentially hands a megaphone to disgruntled Chavista Raul Baduel, who describes Chavez's proposed constitutional amendment as a coup. The amendment in question would remove the term limit for Venezuelan presidents. Making it a country just like England or Germany, neither of which has a term limit for its chief political figure. The proposed amendment also has to be approved in a popular referendum. Not to mention, of course, that Chavez has to actually be re-elected for the amendment to mean anything like the right wingers are construing it as, and his re-election is far from a foregone conclusion.

It would, however, be such a conclusion if he acted like President Musharraf in Pakistan. When the Mush got word that the Supreme Court would likely invalidate his re-election last month (due to a constitutional conflict between his holding of positions as both President and Chief of Staff of the Army) he simply declared martial law and arrested everyone who had a word to say otherwise. Compare such treatment with how Chavez handled a massive protest against him today. CNN, however, never uses the term coup in its article on Pakistan. President Bush merely urges Musharraf to hold elections. Undoubtedly he would call on Chavez to hold elections if he weren't sure that the Bolivarian revolution would win yet again.

Understanding Pakistan

As Chuck D once said, "Don't believe the hype." While Condi Rice may make a few noises about Pakistani President (and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces) Perez Musharraf "taking off his uniform," the dictator is content to sit back with a simple Shakespearean reply: the lady doth protest too much. Indeed, President Musharraf is well aware that while Secretary of State Rice may be compelled to raise a squeak here and there about "democracy" and such, his regime is utterly assured of its continuing support from the United States. As Pakistani information minister Tariq Azim Khan put it, “They [the US] would rather have a stable Pakistan — albeit with some restrictive norms — than have more democracy prone to fall in the hands of extremists. Given the choice, I know what our friends would choose.” So while Rice may voice a complaint here or there, everyone should be aware that this coup has implicit US support. As M K Bhadrakumar of the Asia Times points out, Admiral William Fallon, the head of United States Central Command, was at the headquarters of the Pakistani armed forces while the coup was being announced. Bhadrakumar tells how Fallon attempted to dissuade Musharraf from going ahead with the coup, but ultimately failed.

The reason the US has to continue supporting the Pakistani regime even if they disagree with a particular tactical move at this juncture is that Pakistan is a key US ally in a region where that species is becoming rapidly endangered. US puppet governments in Afghanistan and Iraq are violently unstable. The American proxy torture regime in Egypt is facing a two front war against the Muslim Brotherhood's movement for increased democracy and the rise of a new militant trade union movement. Turkey, incensed over US favoritism towards the kurds in Northern Iraq, has been taking moves to demonstrate a larger degree of independence from Bush and co. The US simply cannot afford to lose a friendly regime in Islamabad.

Nonetheless, I'd imagine that Musharraf's handlers in Washington are quite upset with him at the moment. For months they had been working to mend the rift between the army (represented by Musharraf) and the rest of the Pakistani ruling class, who were growing quite tired of the General's heavy handed rule and his inability to deal with the rising support for radical Islamic groups. Tariq Ali, in a very useful column, describes how the return of Benzair Bhutto last month was engineered by Washington as a way of throwing a life preserver to Musharraf's regime. The bombing which interrupted her return only serves as a reminder of the impracticality of thinking that there is a simple political solution to the kind of deep rooted social crisis Pakistan is facing.

That Musharraf would interrupt this attempted reconciliation with a virtual declaration of war on the dissident bourgeoisie explains why Bhutto is now so angry with her one time political partner. The scale of the repression the General has inflicted against elements of the middle class illustrates just how insecure his rule is at the moment: all communications are blacked out, including cell phones; the chief justice of the Supreme Court has been arrested; the president of the bar association has been arrested; over 5,000 journalists and lawyers have been detained.

The roots of this paranoia lie in Musharraf's lack of confidence in his support from the Pakistani bourgeoisie, represented by the Supreme Court. Tariq Ali points out in a different column that the Supreme Court had recently contested Musharraf's decisions on treatment of prisoners and rushed privatizations. Most importantly, however, was the Supreme Court's upcoming decision which would rule on the legitimacy of Musharraf's re-election as President. Afraid that he could not control the outcome of this decision, he reacted by repressing those opposing him.

And while Washington (and its sycophant Banazir Bhutto) may express discontent with Musharraf's chosen course of action, they are ultimately unable to oppose it in any real fashion. Pakistan's military is fighting a losing battle against forces allied with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The US needs all the military assistance it can get at a time when its supporters are dropping like flies. Bhadrakumar sums up the results of a recent meeting of NATO countries' defense ministers:

The US failed to extract any increased troop commitments at the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense ministers meeting. German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her first-ever visit to Kabul on Saturday flatly refused to deploy German troops in the volatile southern provinces of Afghanistan. The new government in Tokyo has cut back on Japan's involvement by stopping refueling of US ships servicing the war in Afghanistan. The new government in Poland is reviewing its association with Bush's war.
As Musharraf has effective control over the Pakistani army, the US simply cannot risk alienating him, even if the course he pursues leaves a different ruling class constellation presiding over the country than the one they would prefer.

As the crusty old colonialist Lord Palmerston once said, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” Right now, the US interest is in having a military puppet in Pakistan, and they'll take whatever friends they can get to provide it.

I'll take: The Pen is Mightier for $500 Million

Today at 12:01 am the Writer's Guild went on strike for the first time in 20 years (Here and here.) The major issue is that since writer's often go for long periods without work, they depend on residuals from reruns and DVD sales etc (from which, people like Jerry Seinfeld makes millions for doing nothing at all). For each DVD the writers recieve only $.04. Now in the age of internet streaming, I Tunes downloads, etc, the writer's are getting even less, especially since their last contract was negotiated in 1988, years BEFORE DVD sales overtook VHS sales.

Already, the WGA has amassed a $12.5 million strike fund to help the picketing writers who have organized over 300 captains to lead the actions outside of studios around the country. Also, in a move that could be pivotal for the success of the strike, WGA leaders are reaching out to the Teamsters whose disruption would put the studios in a major crunch. This act of solidarity would be a huge step in building confidence in a labor movement reeling from major concessions from the UAW over recent months.

The last strike lasted over 5 months and cost the industry some $500 million.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Another disgusting case of Hate Crimes in the US

I don't know how many of you have seen this , case of the kidnapping and torture of a 20 year-old Black women in West Virginia by six white people, but it is stomach turning. Apparently the prosecutor didn't include a hate crime charge in his case (only sexual assault and kidnapping which carry heavier penalties) so earlier today hundreds of anti-racist activists and supporters rallied at the capitol to support Megan, the victim, and demand that the hate crime charged be added. Despite the fact that this was obviously a hate crime, the NAACP and the prosecutor say it would be 'difficult' to prove this charge because she had been in a relationship with one of her white torturers for several months. Are you shitting me?

From the case of the Scotsboro Boys in the 1930s until today, the NAACP has usually sided with a legalist approach while shunning activism and rallies (in the Scotsboro case the massive rallies organized by the Communist Party ultimately turned up the pressure on the government and the courts to either pardon or parole all nine and which lead to a huge upsurge in Black and white collaborative activism). Interestingly enough, the NAACP refused to defend Black CP members from the McCarthyist witch-hunts in the 50s (as in the case of NAACP founder W.E.B. Dubois). Despite the success of their legal strategy in the case of Brown v Board, which, remains to this day unenforced, the national has shunned activism historically despite the fact that some of it's locals have spear headed such campaigns as the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Rosa Parks was the local secretary). But with this case the strategy seems absurd. With the momentum built up through the victory in the Kenneth Foster Jr case and the mobilizations in support of the Jena Six, how can the NAACP say that activism and rallies will damage their chances of victory? This cuts to the core of how a legalistic and lobbying strategy by themselves are a dead end for winning civil rights. Without the attention brought by the struggle to save Kenneth Foster, he would have been another statistic in Texas' death machine. Covering ones eyes to the rise in hate crimes (nooses in the South AND the North, as well as shit like this case of torture) won't make them stop.

By the way, Al Sharpton was NOT present at this rally.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Defending Late Term Abortions

The Untold Stories
In the debate over late abortion, one voice is rarely heard - that of the women who have actually had one.

by Karen Dugdale

Eight years ago, when I was 32, I went for a routine scan. I was 20 weeks pregnant, and looking forward to bringing home the first grainy photo of our much wanted second baby. I can only recall snippets of the conversation the consultant and radiographer had as I lay on the bed. Various “anomalies” in my baby were pointed out on the screen, and discussed. They spoke to each other, not to me, and most of what they said I couldn’t understand. “Neural tube defect” meant nothing; spina bifida did. EastEnders had just run a storyline in which a character had terminated her pregnancy following a similar diagnosis. What I remember clearly is the utter desolation I felt as the future I had mapped out was left in tatters.

A consultant talked my partner and me through the best- and worst-case prognoses for our baby, and set out our options, one of which was termination. Had I chosen to continue with the pregnancy, I was told that, at best, our child would have a range of handicaps that would restrict mobility and cause ongoing bladder and bowel problems, and at worst, the outcome would be paralysis and permanent brain damage - hydrocephalus (water on the brain) was also clearly visible from the scan. In this instance the chances of survival beyond early childhood would be slim and quality of life seriously impaired.Would it have been easier if we had been told there was no compatibility with life? The short answer is no. This wasn’t about having a “perfect baby”, but about making the right decision for our unborn child, myself and our family. The decision was probably the hardest I will ever make, but one I remain convinced was right.

Over the 40 years since the Abortion Act became law, repeated attempts have been made both to repeal and restrict it, and in recent years late abortion has been systematically targeted. Objections to late abortion centre on foetal viability and the brutal mechanics of the process - medical induction, foeticide, labour and birth - cited by anti-abortionists as reason enough for reform. Although the Commons science and technology select committee this week said that the 24-week limit should not be reduced because the survival rate of children born below that age is still extremely low - a view upheld by the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Nursing - ultrasound images of “walking babies” in the womb continue to fuel a groundswell of opinion favouring a reduction in the legal limit. In one recent survey, 68% of people thought the limit should be reduced to 13 weeks.

Ongoing scaremongering by anti-abortion groups - in the form of stories of botched abortions (babies being born alive) and allegations that terminations are routinely performed for “trivial” medical conditions, such as cleft palates - is rife. There is pressure from certain quarters to come up with a “tick list” of foetal abnormalities that would be seen as justifying late abortion - even though a study by the Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge, looking into the decision-making experiences of foetal medicine professionals, concluded that such a list would be both “unworkable” and “unhelpful”. Meanwhile, emotive terminology such as “partial birth” and “eugenics” keep the debate on late termination focused on foetal viability and rights.

And throughout all this, one crucial voice has been overlooked: that of the women who have excercised their right to choose, and have had late abortions.

Our experiences can be extremely upsetting, so perhaps it is not surprising that people don’t want to hear them. Julie (not her real name) had a termination at 36 weeks. A 20-week scan indicated there might be some complications but these were attributed to a newly installed ultrasound machine. It was only a further scan, at 32 weeks, that detected a serious medical condition in her unborn child.

“It was like entering a black hole,” she recalls. “The radiographer wasn’t prepared to discuss it, and I then had to wait for three hours in a room full of other happily fat pregnant women for a consultant. The consultant also refused to say anything and I was told I would have to wait until after the weekend to see a specialist.”

Julie overheard medical staff openly discussing her situation before being subjected to a further scan with around half a dozen people in the room, including several students. “It was as if I wasn’t there,” she says. “The consultant was brutal, likening babies in special care units to ‘little rats tied to machines’.” Three weeks later, when the severity of her baby’s condition was eventually confirmed, Julie had a termination.

Stories like Julie’s and mine are not often told. The silence is partly because late abortion remains taboo; even those who are “pro-choice” often feel uncomfortable being seen to support a woman’s right to choose this. About three months after my own abortion, I remember publicly - and loudly - berating a group of close female friends who had avoided the subject. Their defence was that they were taking their lead from me - that they thought I would have broached it, had I wanted to discuss it - but I felt they were deliberately ignoring what had happened. Meanwhile, I found myself being selective with the truth with everyone other than immediate family and my closest friends, not wanting (or able to cope with) being judged. Allowing people to believe that I had “lost” the baby through a late miscarriage was easier than having to justify my actions. The guilt I felt over those first few months, despite my conviction that what I did was right, was immense.

Over time, I felt more willing to talk about what I had been through and discuss the decision I had made. It wasn’t always easy, and people’s reactions were not always predictable; someone I had known for a long time, and counted as a friend, was so shocked that our friendship eventually ended, whereas a deeply religious colleague, to whom I had been dreading telling the truth, was incredibly sympathetic and supportive.

But it is not only other people’s disquiet that makes late abortion difficult to discuss. Beth, who terminated a pregnancy at 24 weeks after antenatal screening picked up a condition in her baby that was incompatibile with life, acknowledges her own difficulties in coming to terms with her decision. “As a Christian, [abortion] challenged my beliefs greatly,” she says. “I had studied eugenics and was working at that time with adults and children with learning difficulties. I felt I was going against them and everything I worked for.”

“It has taken me three years to be open with some of my closest friends, although recently I have been telling people.” Beth does not regret her decision, though: “I’m proud of the decision I made out of love for my unborn baby - and not a day goes past when I don’t think of him.”

Such ambivalence was common among the women I spoke to; while talking candidly about their decisions, they also mentioned some associated doubt and guilt, which was made more acute by the wider societal disapproval. Marketing manager Debby Cooper, 30, had an abortion four years ago. She believed strongly that no one had the right to judge her, and so was open about the fact that she had terminated her pregnancy at 21 weeks. Nevertheless, she still felt she had to justify her “choice”.

“I could never just say, ‘My baby had brain abnormalities and I had a termination at 21 weeks,’ ” she confides, “I always had to go on to explain that the baby would have died within a few hours of his birth.

“Mainly people were very supportive. I wanted someone to argue, I wanted someone to challenge me so I could justify why I did it.” Debby even logged on to anti-abortion forums to try to “bait” someone into an argument as a way of assuaging her own guilt, although she found “pro-lifers” surprisingly tolerant. “I never met anyone who totally disagreed with what I’d done. They may not have done it themselves, but they couldn’t disagree.”

It seems that, when confronted with the reality of an individual’s experience of late-term abortion of a profoundly disabled foetus, even many “pro-lifers” find it hard to condemn the woman. But while a significant number of late-term abortions are carried out following a diagnosis of abnormality, not all are. Many people - and even some medical professionals - differentiate between these and so called “social abortions”, a tag that angers pro-choice campaigners.

“One of the concerns is that as soon as you start saying that disability is a separate issue there is a danger of going down a slippery slope,” says Anne Quesney of the national pro-choice organisation, Abortion Rights. “Access to late abortion is a right that should be upheld for whatever reason.”

Women who have experienced this type of late-stage abortion speak of disapproval even from some of the medical professionals who treat them. Marion, who had a termination at 24 weeks in the 1970s, received little in the way of sympathy or support. She was 19 at the time. Thirty years on, she still remembers the unfriendly manner of one of the doctors and open hostility from an attending nurse. “They made me feel horrible,” she says. “Nobody explained what would happen to me and in those days you didn’t ask questions. I wish I’d had a lot more support, just in terms of what was going to happen.” Marion didn’t know she was pregnant until 16 weeks, and then had to wait weeks for an appointment. “It was my first pregnancy and I was very young.”

With access to early home pregnancy tests now readily available, and sex education part of the national curriculum, it may be hard for some people to understand why a woman wouldn’t realise she was pregnant until four or five months down the line, yet a study by Marie Stopes International (MSI) in 2004, examining why women present late for abortion, found it to be one of the primary reasons behind many later-term abortions in private clinics - often because early signs of pregnancy are masked by the onset of menopause or the irregularities of teenage menstrual cycles.

This is what happened to Zoe, who, at the time, was 17 years old and studying for her A-levels. Showing no visible signs of pregnancy or any related symptoms, Zoe, who was using contraception, was reassured by her GP that she was not pregnant, despite having missed several periods. However, an early test taken by her GP turned out to be a “false negative”. Zoe’s pregnancy was only confirmed at 19 weeks, on a return visit.

“The doctor had done such a good job of reassuring me first time around,” she says, “that I didn’t think I could be.” Aside from her GP (who expressed some guilt about the late diagnosis), Zoe had little in the way of support from medical professionals during the termination process, which took place two weeks later. “It was just this hideous situation where the doctors and most of the nurses were hostile and judging me,” she recalls. Zoe cites a midwife asking her if “she had thought about contraception”, despite the fact that at the time she was on the pill.

Despite her experience in the hospital afterwards - “I couldn’t stop screaming and was told to be quiet” - Zoe believes the long-term effect of her decision has been a positive one. “I took everything for granted before then,” she says. “It’s made me make the most of situations - like when I didn’t feel like revising, a voice in my head would say, ‘Well, you might as well have had that other life if you’re not going to make the most of your opportunities.’

“My life would have taken an entirely different course and I have no idea how I’d have coped with that or who I would now be.”

When I had my abortion, I was lucky to recieve very good care. So did Carrie McMillan, who was 32 when she had an abortion at 22 weeks after a diagnostic scan revealed serious problems. She describes the medical staff who treated her during her late abortion two years ago as “absolutely brilliant”. She recalls the moment the consultant delivered the news. “We couldn’t believe something was seriously wrong, but then the consultant said that in his opinion, given the severity of our daughter’s condition, she was unlikely to survive.”

If a woman is more than 13 weeks pregnant, labour has to be induced, and normally takes less than six hours. Carrie’s labour was much longer because the baby was breech. Afterwards, she says, “We stayed with her for a few hours and the midwife left a camera and dressed her in a premature nappy and cardigan and filled in the card you get given with other births.” When Carrie felt ready to go to the ward, “The midwife said she would stay with [the baby] for the rest of her shift; she acted as if she was an important baby, which she was to me.” Despite the trauma of the birth, Carrie says she is glad she went through labour as it helped her to come to terms with what had happened. When she got pregnant again only months later, she was once again impressed by the care she received. She was offered numerous scans as reassurance - unnecessary, in the event, as her daughter, Kizzy, “scared the crap” out of her by arriving two months early.

Anecdotally, it seems that women like Zoe who have late abortions on so-called social grounds are more likely to be treated as undeserving of compassion when in hospital than those of us who terminate because of foetal disability. Certainly, there is a huge variation in the standard of medical care and treatment received by women during and after late abortions. Christoph Lees, a consultant in obstetrics and foetal medicine, says that this is a “Cinderella area” of medicine that could benefit from proper national training standards. “Care in these situations is well-meaning but haphazard,” he allows. “It would be nice to make it more consistent. It doesn’t take huge resources to get it right, but it probably takes more thought.”

Late-term abortion remains rare - 89% of all abortions in the UK are carried out at 12 weeks or below; only 1.5% take place after 20 weeks. The process can be physically and emotionally traumatic, and is never undertaken lightly. Those of us who have had late abortions have felt the force of moral outrage - we know that people who have never been in a situation like ours can be all too easily persuaded that the law should change. This is why it is important that our stories are heard.

– Karen Dugdale