Is the kind of punishment important?

On Democracy Now! today (33 minutes 12 seconds into the show), Kathy Kelley, founder of the anti-war group Voices in the Wilderness, spoke on why her organization won’t pay the US$20,000 fine they have been ordered to pay by Judge John Bates in a Washington, D.C. Federal Court (transcript). But any member of the organization would be willing to go to prison, if that were ordered: (emphasis mine)

“[…] it was interesting that Judge John Bates in Washington, D.C. Federal Court concluded a 17-page opinion by quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. And he quoted from King’s letter from a Birmingham jail in which Dr. King said, “Those who break an unjust law should do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.” And what we want to say to Judge Bates and to the United States government is that if Judge Bates were to choose to put any one of us in jail, then we would go openly and lovingly, but we won’t pay one penny, not one dime, to these war criminals to continue putting U.S. productivity into attacks against Iraq’s people or into the imperial designs to seize Iraq’s oil revenue. It’s something that, relying on Dr. King’s teachings, we in conscience cannot do.”

It’s worth noting that Voices is (in other sections of this interview and in their own statements) quite clear that the corporations which also violated the Iraq sanctions have not paid any penalty for their illegal acts; no fines, no higher-ups or decision-makers have been sent to prison, etc.

With that, is Voices making a distinction between kinds of punishment here—imprisonment is okay, fines are not—even though inaction against corporations virtually gives them the green light to illicitly trade against sanctions?

Couldn’t Voices raise the argument that corporations can’t be imprisoned (as corporations have “no soul to save and no body to incarcerate”, as one of the Barons Thurlow warned), and since none of their leaders have been imprisoned, imprisonment is also unfair?

Peter Jennings on the Iraq War & Why we need national health care in the US

Two articles to read:

  • Peter Jennings on the Iraq War—summaries of articles written by his detractors (supporters of the invasion and occupation of Iraq).
  • Why we need universal health care in the US—”The argument over a national health program is no longer whether it amounts to “socialized” medicine in the capitalist U.S. It’s now whether our refusal to enact a national system – Medicare, for example, for all – is going to wind up devastating our economy.”.

Corporate parties won’t help political minorities on these issues.

Two issues of importance to large groups of Americans with little political power—Blacks and Latinos—have come up in the Leftist press lately and for good reason:

  • The Death Penalty—Justice Stevens condems the Death Penalty. I’ve written about this before, including the racial bias in who is executed by the state, and the situation is only getting worse—” According to the anti-capital punishment Death Penalty Information Center, more than three dozen death row inmates have been exonerated since 2000.”. Kent Scheidegger, advocate for the Death Penalty, claims that there is no systemic flaw in the Death Penalty: “I wouldn’t say that 20 or 30 cases out of 8,000 constitutes a broken system.”.
  • Voting Rights—Today’s Democracy Now! has a number of segments of interest to those who want to preserve their voting rights. We must keep in mind that neither major corporate party cares about insuring the right to vote for non-Whites and the poor (which includes some Whites). In 2000 in Florida, some poor Whites but chiefly Blacks and Latinos were “scrubbed” from the voting rolls because their names coincided with the name of a convict, not because these people were convicts (which is a problem in itself, ex-convicts ought to have their rights restored or else one is arguing for perpetual punishment). The Democrats and Republicans were both able to run a series of campaigns for various offices and not raise the issue of restoring voting rights to those who never should have lost them. In 2006 many of those adversely affected still can’t vote. Not renewing the portions of the Voting Rights Act up for renewal in 2007 means setting up the entire country up for the kind of mistreatment those Floridians have suffered. This should be intolerable.

Jimmy Carter plays the anti-war side now.

During the 2004 US Presidential election, former US President Jimmy Carter was happy to wail about Ralph Nader’s campaign and endorse a pro-war Sen. Kerry.

But now, according to the AP, former US President Jimmy Carter claims the war in Iraq is “unnecessary and unjust”:

“I thought then, and I think now, that the invasion of Iraq was unnecessary and unjust. And I think the premises on which it was launched were false.”

Whatever rationale he brings to support this assertion should be weighed in terms of whether it was true in 2004 in addition to whether it is true today.

Ralph Nader was one of the few candidates you were allowed to hear from every once in a while who took then and maintains now a firm anti-Iraq-war position (I’m not sure where he stands on war in general or on the war in Afghanistan). But, and I hope you’re sitting down, apparently Carter’s partisan views mean more than standing up for the right principles, even when he has nothing to lose by taking positions the DLC doesn’t like.

Keep this in mind the next time he opens his mouth to tell you why you should vote for the upcoming Democrat in 2008. Someone who will probably be another pro-war candidate (perhaps Sen. Hillary Clinton).

And the beat goes on…

With no apologies to Sonny & Cher (the ever-persistent defenders of an infinite term of copyright, damn the public domain and all that they have gained from an unrewarded commons of African-Americans who seeded what is now known as rock music), we get another dose of Democratic party wisdom: pro-war candidate Paul “Hack” Hackett.

Update: Paul Hackett was interviewed about his loss on Democracy Now!. Hackett mentions his military service as if that gives him special privilege to escape the accusations of being murderous thugs, accusations that Progressives call higher-ups in power. For a fuller examination of the electoral picture in that special election, the Counterpunch article linked to above does a better job of illuminating salient concerns.

One can convey a much stronger anti-war message by not joining a war or endorsing others join war. One should not criticize on the basis of being a “chickenhawk” or “mismanaging” the war (as Hackett does in his DN! interview) without mentioning the real problem at hand—should we have invaded and occupied Iraq in the first place and is war & occupation an ethical response.

Hackett sees military recruitment as a “choice that you have made”, with no mention of economic disenfranchisement or economic coercion; it’s no secret that the poor are targeted for military recruitment. Hackett also raises the false spectre of Iraqi civil war as a reason to stay in Iraq. Apparently he doesn’t acknowledge the consequences of what he sees as a losing battle turning into civil war due to our presence (Iraq is “in a terrible condition today as a result of the insurgency phasing into civil war”). “Phasing into civil war” is proof that our presence did not forstall civil war and it further highlights the insanity of continuing our occupation of Iraq another instant.

Another issue involving Hackett’s campaign: the election results. Interesting suspicions on Whiskey Bar. Thanks to Carl Estabrook for the link.

How easy it is to delude: GNN on Al Gore’s new TV channel.

Al Gore is starting a new TV channel called “Current”.

Anthony Lappé of the Guerilla News Network wrote about what he saw on Current. Right now, Current’s format is a series of shows (called “pods”) which are, ostensibly, what young people shot and edited.

  • “I’m looking forward to watching more “pods” from young people about what they think is important, not some jaded 50-year-old network hack.”—What reason is there to believe that these “hacks” aren’t in the editor seat? Or vetting what “pods” make it to air? There’s a lot of power in the editor seat and in merely selecting pre-fabricated clips to show.
  • “Current […] is best decribed as a participatory (mostly) apolitical youth-targeted short documentary network.”—Even if that’s a fair description of how it is now (which I doubt), networks often start with something very different than how they end up. TV networks use an audience (often minorities of some kind) to build an audience and name recognition and switch to serve the elite later. ABC, FOX, and UPN are examples of this pattern: FOX and UPN started by having shows featuring predominantly Blacks. FOX gained an audience and then switched to feature predominantly Whites. UPN started well after FOX and failed with its first attempt to feature primarily Whites, but will switch back when they get better ratings numbers.
  • “On election night 2000, Gore explained, Bush’s cousin was in the control room at Fox News talking on the phone to the candidate and his brother Jeb.”—But what’s more important is that:
    • Gore’s policies were virtually indistinguishable from those of Bush giving the public no reason to care about Gore or Bush (in fact roughly half of the eligible voters didn’t vote in that election);
    • the Florida scrub lists had gone unmentioned in the US despite Greg Palast talking about them in detail to reporters. CBS news bosses actually went to Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris to confirm what Palast had to say, but CBS accepted a simple blanket denial from Bush & Harris, and summarily dropped the story;
    • even Ralph Nader acknowledges that Gore actually won the election. This doesn’t stop Gore from despising Nader for daring to leverage his right to run, nor does it inspire Gore to push for a ranked voting system (like instant-run off voting or some Condorcet vote counting system) where so-called “spoilers” are eliminated.

    and nothing Gore wants to talk about addresses any of these far more salient points. Gore’s maligning of the corporate media comes off as whining because the Democrats are pursuing the same pro-corporate strategy that the Republicans are. But right now the Republicans are doing the work of legislating and the Democrats are following along, challenging very little of what the Republicans offer up.

Lappé does mention a host of important issues, none of which Gore addresses:

“We live in a time of unprecedented global crisis. Nearly one billion people on Earth live on one dollar a day. Each day, 40,000 children die of hunger or hunger-related diseases. The ice caps are melting. Over the last 50 years, nearly 50% of the oceans species have disappeared. The oil is running is out and we haven’t come close to figuring out what to do about it. The U.S. is fighting a multi-front war around the world. Yet few Americans seem overly worried about any of it, thanks in large part to a news media that devotes hour after hour to missing blondes, celebrity hijinks and partisan bickering.”

and Lappé links to Paul Jay’s attempt to get Independent World Television going but then chides IWT for “[being] overly populated with the usual suspects from the academic left”. So Phyllis Bennis, Salih Booker, Jeff Cohen, Laura Flanders, Linda Foley, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, Bob McChesney, and Joanne St. Louis (who are all part of a video distributed by IWT on their homepage) are to be criticized because they’re commonly featured together in leftist works? This sounds to me like someone who isn’t terribly interested in what these people have to say (what should be the basis of criticism).

This should not get lost in the shuffle of Fahrenheit 9/11 Bush criticism.

From today’s Democracy Now!, a point worth hearing because it gets lost when people see Fahrenheit 9/11 which exclusively focuses on Bush family ties to Saudi Arabia. The following passage is from the transcript of the third segment, 29 minutes 31 seconds into the show.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to As’ad AbuKhalil, Professor at California State University, Stanislaus. Can you talk about the Bush family and their relationship with Fahd and the whole family in Saudi Arabia?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: You see, this is one area where I am in dissent to some of the left wing coverage here in America about the Bush and the El-Saud family, as in Michael Moore’s movie. I take the view that it is well beyond the Bush family. This is not a family connection. This is a connection between this oppressive family in Saudi Arabia and successive U.S. administrations since the days of F.D.R. Why should we single out the Bush family, for example, and not the self-designated human rights president, like Jimmy Carter, who was as fawning around King Fahd as was any other president.

This is something that is beyond familial connection. It is one that entails a relationship that covered not only coordination about the pricing and the production of oil, but we should also remember so many covert operations that now we realize were so foolish and so deadly and dangerous to world peace and security. When we speak about the legacy of this man, we have to say that he was without a doubt quite close at some point to the bin Laden family and to Osama bin Laden, like everybody else in the senior members of the Royal Family, met with him, coordinated with him, and they cultivated ties with the kind of fanatical groups in Afghanistan that produced the likes of Zarqawi and al Qaeda. And they did so, we should always remember, with close association with the United States.

But there is something also being left here. This is a man that is also responsible for the menace of Saddam Hussein. For much of the 1970s and 1980s, this guy, King Fahd himself, was somebody who sputtered something in Saddam Hussein and arranged for a very wide Arab governmental financial support in order to arm and finance the adventures of Saddam Hussein and his deadly invasion of Iran back in 1980. Because he miscalculated assuming that he was going to take over the entire Iranian state and end the export of revolution, so to speak, and the result, he was the one who financed this cultivation of the personality cult of Saddam, which was responsible for the kind of Napoleonic complexes that triggered all these adventures and even invasion of Kuwait later on.

The cost of our war.

IraqBodyCount.net has an important analysis of civilian deaths in Iraq which is very much worth reading.

Of course, be sure to keep up with the death count itself. Unfortunately, there is no fallback in place if you visit the site without Javascript turned on.

As I write this, IraqBodyCount.net says there are between 23,140 and 26,189 deaths. These deaths are on our hands.

Also worth hearing is this week’s Counterspin which features an informative interview with IraqBodyCount.net and the latest on how corporate-funded “news” harms you (both in headlines and the segment after the IraqBodyCount.net segment). Sadly, this archive only hosts copies in the patent-encumbered MP3 and the proprietary RealAudio formats. For those of you who run free software systems in countries which are saddled with software patents, perhaps a friend of yours would help you transcode the MP3 into a format you can play on your free software system. I remain hopeful that FAIR will host copies in Ogg Vorbis or upload copies of shows to The Internet Archive so that FAIR doesn’t bear the burden of paying for the bandwidth bill.

Democrats give Bush CAFTA by 1 vote.

The Boston Globe quotes Nancy Pelosi:

“It is a step backward for workers,” Pelosi said. “If the president wins this vote, he will have expended enormous resources to do so. He has all the power of the presidency, and all we have on the House Democratic side is the fact that we are right.”

CAFTA, like NAFTA, is a step backwards for workers in all the countries covered by CAFTA—no worker will come out of this deal earning a living wage.

But all it would have taken is for one Democrat to vote in opposition for the Democrats to have stuck by their words and possibly to have blocked CAFTA from passing. But again we see how corporate owned and operated this “opposition” party is.

Progressives hate CAFTA. Will progressives remember this when election time rolls around?

Update: There is some controversy about the CAFTA vote (skip to 47m38s into the show), but Democracy Now! did a particularly poor job of explaining why the 15 Democrats should not be held to their line about standing with the workers. Instead, the interview focused on a few Republicans whose votes were not counted properly or who were not able to reach the floor for the vote. The self-satisfied interviewee, Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, spent no time describing how these 15 Democrats sold out the public image of their party (note, the image of their party, not the reality which is right in line with multinational corporate interests to exploit the cheapest labor the world has to offer).

Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader, had an interestingly self-destructive quote which DN! failed to explain:

“The Republicans turned the floor of the House of the Representatives into a “Let’s Make a Deal” set that was reminiscent of what happened at the time of the medicare prescription drug legislation that evening and again this time they kept the vote open a long time. But many of the overtures that were made to members was made before even going to the floor. So this is about again an abuse of power, an unethical way of passing legislation and depending on what members decide to do, may require further attention.”

This vote was reminiscent of a previous contentious vote. This vote’s “overtures” were made prior to going to the floor. So, why, exactly, didn’t the Democrats see this coming? Why didn’t they complain about this behavior last time it occurred?

Again, I have to wonder if this really considered to be important by the Left. Given the discussion the Left is making of this bill, will they vote in line with their stated ethics? Or will this be yet-another-issue to blow over come election time?

Do find the time to read Liza Grandia’s summary of congressional debate on CAFTA.