Saturday, December 24

Risk is Passé, Try Wreck the Nation Instead
Xmas Games for a Gitmo World

By DAVE LINDORFF, Counterpunch, Dec 24/25th 2005

Looking for a last minute gift idea for someone who is hard to shop for?

How about a chance to wreck the nation?

That's the idea behind a wacky political board game dreamed up by two California women who watched as Bush and the Republican Congress ran the country into a fiscal hole and started several interminable wars financed on credit and decided to do something about it.

Thinking that what they were watching happen was akin to Monopoly in reverse, they developed their game, where the winner is the one who can destroy the county by a combination of wars, tax cuts for the rich and outrageous budgets for military production, pork-barrel projects and corruption.

Players pick a token representing a politician beholden to one of four special interests, like defense contractor or the oil industry, and move around the board to a pair of thrown dice, plundering the public treasury along the way and trying to spend their $1-trillion share of the national budget.

"The way it works is you pick up fact-based cards along the way-all based upon things that Bush and Congress have really done," says Jennifer McGlynn, one of the co-creaters of Wreck the Nation (they also had consulting help from McGlynn's 12-year-old son). "Although an article in the Chicago Tribune called Wreck the Nation one of the 20 coolest board games, we haven't made it into Toys `R' Us," says McGlynn, "and I suspect we never will. The game is just too anti-Bush."

It's also probably too educational. As an added bonus, when players pick up one of the game's revenue cards, homeland security cards or expenditure cards, they can go to a website and punch in the numbers on that card to find out the true facts behind what the card tells them to do.

A typical card is this one from the Homeland Security deck, which reads, "Supreme Court rules you cannot designate terror suspects `enemy combatants,' declare them outside the US legal system, and imprison them forever at Guantanamo Bay." Go to the website ( and enter the code. This takes the player to a web page that says:

After the tragic events of 9/11, 660 men from 42 different countries were rounded up as suspected members of Al Qaeda & other terrorist networks and sent to a makeshift prison camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.

As "enemy combatants" ... [more]
Friday, December 9

U.S. Coming Around To The Truth
by Robert Fisk, Seattle Post Intelligencer, December 7, 2005

Watching the pathetic, old, lie-on-its-back frightened Labrador of the American media changing overnight into a vicious Rottweiler is one of the enduring pleasures of society in the United States. I have been experiencing this phenomenon over the past two weeks, as both victim and beneficiary.

In New York and Los Angeles, my condemnation of the U.S. presidency and Israel's continued settlement-building in the West Bank was originally treated with the disdain all great papers reserve for those who dare to question proud and democratic projects of state. In The New York Times, that ancient luminary Ethan Bronner chided me for attacking American journalists who -- he quoted my own words -- "report in so craven a fashion from the Middle East -- so fearful of Israeli criticism that they turn Israeli murder into 'targeted attacks' and illegal settlements into 'Jewish neighborhoods.' "

It was remarkable Bronner should be so out of touch with his readers that he did not know that craven is the word so many Americans apply to their groveling newspapers.

But the moment a respected Democratic congressman and Vietnam war veteran in Washington dared to suggest the war in Iraq was lost, that U.S. troops should be brought home now -- and when the Republican response was so brutal it had to be disowned -- the old media dog sniffed the air, realized that power was moving away from the White House and began to drool.

On live TV in San Francisco, I could continue my critique of the U.S. folly in Iraq uninterrupted. Ex-Mayor Willie Brown exuded warmth toward this pesky Brit who tore into his country's policies in the Middle East. It was enough to make you feel the teeniest bit sorry -- though only for a millisecond, mind you -- for the guy in the White House.

All this wasn't caused by that familiar transition from Newark to Los Angeles International, where the terror of al-Qaida attacks is replaced by fear of the ozone layer. On the East Coast, too, the editorials thundered away at the Bush administration. Seymour Hersh, that blessing to U.S. journalism who broke the Abu Ghraib torture story, produced another black rabbit out of his Iraqi hat with revelations that U.S. commanders in Iraq believe the insurgency is now out of control.

When those same Iraqi gunmen last week again took control of the city of Ramadi (already "liberated" four times since 2003), the story shared equal billing on prime time television with Bush's latest and infinitely wearying insistence that Iraqi forces -- who in reality are so infiltrated by insurgents that they are a knife in the United States' back -- will soon be able to take over security duties from the occupation forces.

Even in Hollywood hitherto taboo subjects are being dredged to the surface of the political mire. "Jarhead," produced by Universal Pictures, depicts a brutal, traumatized Marine unit during the 1991 Gulf War.

Report from the Devastated Front Lines of the Lower Ninth Ward - New Orleans
by Mary Beth Appell,, Dec 7, 2005

The residents of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans were finally allowed to return home on December 1, 2005. The neighborhood is home to nearly 20,000 African-American citizens and was devastated by the flooding during and after Katrina. This was the very first time they were legally permitted to visit their homes.

I spent the next day in the Lower Ninth Ward under a big tent staffing a mobile medical clinic set up alongside FEMA, the Red Cross, the EPA, and the Salvation Army.

I am here as a volunteer with Common Ground, a free collective medical clinic in New Orleans set up by residents of New Orleans and staffed by local and out of town volunteers. I am a Nurse Practictioner in Philadelphia where I help coordinate a free medical clinic.

One road was open to let people into the neighborhood. People were met by a military checkpoint in their cars. They had to show proof of residency to be allowed past the checkpoint. Then they were required to stop by the tent to speak with FEMA, the EPA, to get their "shots", masks and booties.

The whole area was guarded by armed men in black fleece jackets and sunglasses who work for Blackwater security, a mercenary group hired by the government. Most are former special op's guys who usually do their thing in developing countries. Blackwater was reported to be there to guard FEMA workers from the residents.

The condition of the houses and roads was shocking. I have NEVER seen such devastation. Every house had severe damage: roofs collapsed, rotting wood, rooms broken off, water lines now over the roof. Trees were down, debris was all over the small roads along with 2-3 inches of dried brown sediment.

No decision has been made to raze the neighborhood versus trying to repair it. In this part of New Orleans most people have lived in the same neighborhood for generations.

We spoke to many people. Most seemed to be in shock. All were polite and grateful. This neighborhood has flooded many times because of breeches in the levee in the Industrial canal nearby.

The people were told a barge broke the canal. Several people related the same story that early in the morning, they heard an explosion. Then the water poured in--before the rains came.

Many believe the levee was dynamited to drain the canal into the Lower Ninth Ward rather than the wealthier neighborhoods. This is not paranoia. The levees have been dynamited before for just that reason. In the 1920s the levees were intentionally dynamited to save other areas of New Orleans and many people still suspect the same thing happened in the 1960s when there were many unexplained levee breaks.

One neighborhood woman told me that her husband sent her and the children to Mississippi while he stayed. He rescued people in his small rowboat for 7 days. She had no contact with him and only found out he was alive by seeing him in the boat on cable TV. She said, "I just wish he had gotten some recognition, I wish someone had asked for his name."

The rest of New Orleans is in bad shape, too. Some parts are worse than others. Some houses are spared between other destroyed homes. The destruction seems almost random. In one park the workers are faithfully mowing the golf course.

Some neighborhoods have gas, some electricity, some neither. Only about one fourth of the stores and gas stations are open.

Everywhere else in New Orleans you can see people fixing roofs, clearing debris, working hard to reclaim their homes. But not in the Lower Ninth Ward which has been officially closed for three months and guarded by heavily armed army and police.

Three months after the floods and hurricane, all the shelters are closed. People are coming back home and have nowhere to go. I heard that at most one quarter of the residents are here, the rest are spread out across the south and the country.

I write because the Red Cross has been saying to potential volunteers, "We don't need you in New Orleans. Go to Pakistan."

My experiences in New Orleans say otherwise. I ask you to put New Orleans and the people of the Gulf coast back in your hearts, back in your prayers, and back on your solidarity and action list.

Mary Beth Appell is a nurse practitioner who co-coordinates a free clinic, the House of Grace Catholic Worker in Philadelphia. This report is based on the author's experiences as a volunteer at Common Ground, a New Orleans community-based grassroots relief effort She can be reached at

What Planet is Bill Clinton Living On?
Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post, Dec 8, 2005

After watching Bill Clinton’s jovial joint appearance with Bush 41 on Larry King last night, I found myself wondering what planet this guy is living on. He seemed utterly disconnected from reality.

The two former presidents were on the show to discuss “the big announcement” of the first major grants from the Bush/Clinton Katrina Fund, but King started the questioning by asking both men about Iraq.

Bush, Sr. begged off, saying: “I don’t get into these things, Larry, anymore, you know that.”

Maybe Clinton should have tried the same dodge, because his response was utterly incoherent -- starting with his claim, “I’m here to do this tsunami work” (hurricane work, Mr. President. The tsunami work was in the spring).

Then he offered up this pearl of wisdom on the war in Iraq: “Whether you were for it or against it or whatever your opinions of it are to date, every American ought to be pulling for this mission to succeed.” What the hell is that supposed to mean?

This is a catalytic moment in the Democratic Party, with its members struggling to define their position on the war (my advice: follow Jack Murtha), and the best Clinton can come up with is an empty bromide about every American pulling for the mission to succeed?

He then backed up his argument by saying: “All you have to do is remember this terrible terrorist attack in Jordan that was launched from the Sunni section of Iraq to know that”. Huh? You lost me there, Bill. Are you suggesting that we need to fight them over there so that they won’t blow up weddings in Jordan?

Just a couple of weeks ago, Clinton told a gathering of students in Dubai that the invasion of Iraq was “a big mistake”. So why didn’t he say that last night? Didn’t want to hurt Poppy’s feelings? Or is he taking a page out of Hillary’s Iraq playbook and calibrating his position depending on who he’s talking to?

Clinton was just as lost in space when the discussion turned to Katrina, the ostensible reason for the ex-presidents’ appearance. There was lots of talk about the $110 million the pair had raised -- including donations from the governments of Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and Trinidad and Tobago -- for Katrina relief, but not one word on the current uproar over the failure of President Bush and Congress to follow through on the promise to rebuild the Gulf Coast.

Why Condi roiled Europe
By Chris Mullin. Los Angeles Times, Dec 9, 2005

MANY AMERICANS will be puzzled, and perhaps even a little hurt, that Europeans reacted with such incredulity to this week's denial by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the U.S. has been ghosting suspected terrorist prisoners to countries where they are likely to be tortured.

Let me explain. First, Rice's statement appeared to have been very carefully lawyered. On the face of it, an assertion that the U.S. has not transported anyone to a country "when we believe he will be tortured" looks pretty watertight. But "will be" is the key phrase. She should have said "may be."

Second, she said: "Where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that the transferred persons will not be tortured." This is risible. Just how much weight should we attach to a piece of paper signed by a member of, say, the Egyptian, Syrian, Libyan or Moroccan security services promising that the suspect will not be tortured? Even a cursory knowledge of the human rights situation in the countries concerned suggests the answer is: not much.

Third, it has recently become apparent that many Americans have a different definition of torture than that which prevails in Europe — and indeed in much of the rest of the world. Europeans have watched with incredulity what appears to be a serious debate in the United States about whether "waterboarding" (immersion just short of drowning) constitutes torture.

Fourth, Rice's protestations of innocence have to be matched against the known facts. There are witnesses. A small number of people have emerged alive from this secret gulag, and the stories they tell are wholly at odds with the bland assertions in her statement.

Fifth, if cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment isn't being applied, then what's it all about? Why has this vast, secret web been constructed, if not to ensure that whatever is happening takes place beyond the reach of U.S. law?

Finally, of course, some of us have long memories. We have been here before — in Chile, El Salvador, Iran under the shah, Vietnam … you name it. [...more]


Hot Air: Summit Heads to a Close with No Sign of Progress
by Andrew Buncombe, Independent,UK, December 9, 2005

They came promising to talk and hoping to agree to more talks. And they have talked and talked. And by tonight, if all goes well, they will have secured an agreement requiring them to come back and talk some more.

At the United Nations climate change talks in Montreal it seems the urgent task of tackling global warming is a long and slow process. But officials claim, perhaps as you might expect, that important progress is being made.

The US has refused to adopt legally binding targets to cut the emission of greenhouse gases, and has insisted it will not agree to any binding commitments for the post-2012 periods. It has said it will not agree to "negotiations" on such an issue and refuses to agree that it involved in such a "process".

The Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, who is representing the presidency of the EU, said yesterday that most of the obstacles stopping the Kyoto protocol along have been overcome. She said she had experienced "false euphoria" before, but said the mood at the talks was positive.

That is partly because expectations on entering these negotiations were so low. Officials said they were not expecting to come away with any new targets for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases once the first stage of the Kyoto process ends in seven years, but simply a commitment to continue negotiations about that process post 2012.

"Gone Fishing," How the President Got a Life

Shark-bit World
By Tom Engelhardt,, December 2005

The "usually disengaged" President, as columnist Maureen Dowd labeled him, had just returned from a prolonged, brush-cutting Crawford vacation to much criticism and a nation in trouble. (One Republican congressman complained that "it was hard for Mr. Bush to get his message out if the White House lectern had a ‘Gone Fishing' sign on it.")

Democrats were on the attack. Journalistic coverage seemed to grow ever bolder. Bush's poll figures were dropping. A dozen prominent Republicans, fearful of a President out of touch with the national mood, gathered for a private dinner with Karl Rove to "offer an unvarnished critique of Mr. Bush's style and strategy."

Next year's congressional elections suddenly seemed up for grabs. The President's aides were desperately scrambling to reposition him as a more "commanding" figure, while, according to the polls, a majority of Americans felt the country was headed in the wrong direction. At the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld had "cratered"; in the Middle East "violence was rising."

An editorial in the New York Times caught the moment this way in its opening sentence: "A simple truth of human existence is that it is vastly easier to amplify fear than it is to assuage it."

Now, there was a post-9/11 truth -- except that the editorial was headlined "The Statistical Shark" and its next sentence wasn't about planes smashing into buildings or the way the Bush administration had since wielded the fear card, but another hot-button issue entirely. It went: "Consider the shark attacks that have occurred in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina this summer."

Murtha Returns to the Attack: Flays Commander-in-Chief's Claims
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN, Counterpunch, December 9, 2005

On the heels of the second in Bush's series of four speeches on the war in Iraq, Rep John Murtha returned to the attack in a press conference, responding to Bush's claims. Armed with graphs, bar charts and intimate knowledge of what is actually happening on the ground in Iraq, the former US Marine shredded Bush's claims, blazing a path for his fellow Democrats, which most of them continue to shun.

Once again Murtha relayed what the four star generals are telling him. Among his disclosures.

Logistical planning and supplies for US forces has all but disintegrated. Murtha:

"We had National Guard security people without radios -- couldn't talk to the front, the back of the convoy, endangering their lives... Forty thousand troops didn't have body armor."

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