30 April 2008

Red Headed Stranger Turns 75

Part of Willie Nelson's appeal has been the lack of certainty about his life, including the exact date of his birth. Some sources say it is April 28, some say it's April 30. Photo by Bill Olive / Houston Chronicle

Friends and fans recall memories of the singer on his birthday
By Andrew Dansby / April 28, 2008 (or is it April 30?)

There was an uncomfortable silence when the subject of Willie Nelson came up. The conversation was about the song Luckenbach, Texas. Waylon Jennings talked about Nelson's proposal that the two of them purchase the town. Jennings said he wouldn't if Nelson had anything to do with the bank or the town's finances. He called his old friend and Luckenbach duet partner a "crook."

I laughed.

"No, I'm not kidding," Jennings said.

Then the silence.

Jennings made a few complimentary concessions to Nelson's unique spirit. But he seemed deadly serious. He said he'd had his fill of business dealings with Nelson.

Seven years later, I brought up that conversation to another Nelson friend, Ray Price, who seemed convinced it was a joke.

"Waylon was pulling your leg," he said. "Willie's no crook. (Pause.) He's just surrounded by them."

Who knows who's right. Certainty would make Nelson less interesting.

He turns 75 today (some sources list his birthday as April 30, but most suggest he was born before midnight on the 29th), which seems remarkable given some of the myth and facts about his life. I could putter on about his discography, which I've owned in every format, from 45s and LPs to 8-tracks and cassettes to CDs and downloads.

Nelson's work has been equally varied. There are the agreed-upon classics — Country Willie, Shotgun Willie, Yesterday's Wine, Phases and Stages, Red Headed Stranger, Stardust, etc. — and others such as Tougher Than Leather and Spirit that reveal their beauty and craft later.

Even uneven albums have gems: Write Your Own Songs on WWII; Reasons to Quit, which gets hidden in Pancho and Lefty's shadow; She's Not for You, which is buried on Across the Borderline. The way his voice nearly breaks on the bridge of Always on My Mind remains sublime.

I'm not about to unravel Nelson's mystique for anybody. It can be partly attributed to the seemingly leisurely phrasing, the reedy voice, the simplicity of the original songs and the comfortable rejiggering of the covers, the underrated guitar playing, the worn-out guitar itself, the loyalty to his band, the pigtails, the laid-back manner, the pugnacious streak that flickered up on creative matters.

Contradictory forces are no small part of his enduring allure, and more than the hillbilly/ hippie thing that prompts musician Jesse Dayton to call him "my spiritual hillbilly guru."

Whether Nelson is a crook or a guy surrounded by crooks wouldn't matter much if the songs weren't great. The One Hell of a Ride box set, released earlier this month, is a great sampler, ranging from the mid-'50s to the present. It's bookended by When I've Sang My Last Hillbilly Song, a version from 1954 and another from 2007. Ninety-eight songs come in-between, but most everybody finds some personal favorites in Nelson's catalog.

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Family, friends and fan favorites

Here, a few musicians, friends and/or fans offer some of their favorite Willie Nelson songs, both covers and originals.

Ray Price
"Willie always had his own way of singing, and I don't see anything wrong with it. In that style, Still Not Over You is a favorite. He don't sing it much, but I do.''

Billy Joe Shaver
"I'd have to say Crazy, it's probably the best song ever written. I also like Healing Hands of Time. That helped me out when I was getting out of a relationship. His songs are healing songs. All of 'em. They'll heal you if you listen.''

Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel
"My favorite is one Willie and I recorded called Write Your Own Songs. We were on the golf course one day, and he said, `Hey I just wrote a song, wanna hear it?' At the time I was without a record deal; Willie was financing my album. There's a line in it about how lousy the music business is. We never got that record deal.''

Johnny Bush
"What do you want from me? To tell you what an old fart he is? I lean toward Opportunity to Cry and Funny How Time Slips Away. He don't write bad songs. In my opinion, he's the greatest songwriter of the 20th and 21st centuries.''

Carolyn Wonderland
"Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain was my grandma's song, so I heard it a whole lot. As you get older the words hit home a little differently. It's so sad and beautiful the way he sings it. There's that great twinge of hope that only he can do, even in that dark, dark corner.''

Jesse Dayton
"The thing I like about Me and Paul is it's so conversational, you feel like Willie's letting you in on it. I should also say that Home in San Antone backed by the Texas Troubadours is the swing-ingest stuff to ever come out of Texas. It's a whole different kind of hillbilly jazz.''

Gene Watson
"I've always been a great admirer of Willie's versatile songwriting ability. Just like he can bend a phrase when he sings, he phrases his songs in a unique way. Darkness on the Face of the Earth has always been one of my favorite Willie Nelson songs.''

Shelby Lynne
"Whiskey River, and the reason is I love the line `feeling the amber currents flowing from my mind.'''

Vince Bell
"Over the years, Willie has covered the writers from the Lone Star State righter'n hell. It's hard to have favorites, but one of my all time favorites will remain his duet of the Townes Van Zandt song Pancho and Lefty with Merle Haggard.''

Leslie Sloan of Miss Leslie and Her Juke Jointers
"My heart has always rested with Willie's early songs - written in the '50s and '60s. I love the hooks he wrote: `But there's more old drunks than there are old doctors so I guess I'd better have another round' from I Gotta Get Drunk. A perfect dancehall song.''

Mary Gauthier
"Nightlife; it's my life too. Willie said it best.''

Todd Snider
"I consider all Willie Nelson songs locked in an infinite tie with themselves for first place. Why? Judging Willie Nelson songs is like trying to figure out whether you should thank God for the oceans or the mountains . . .''

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top
Angel Flying too Close to the Ground . . . it's the incongruous coupling of country and western sounds with the surreal structural content.''
Source. / Houston Chronicle

Also see
Willie, Waylon.. and a Girl. / LincolnLady / Folsum Telegraph
And 75 Essential Willie Nelson songs / MySA.com

The Rag Blog

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New Math from the Sec'y of Defense

New U.S. carrier in Gulf a "reminder" to Iran: Gates
By David Morgan / April 30, 2008

MEXICO CITY -- The U.S. Navy has temporarily added a second aircraft carrier in the Gulf as a "reminder" to Iran, but this was not an escalation of American forces in the region, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters during a trip to Mexico, Gates flatly denied a suggestion that the presence of two U.S. carriers in the Gulf could be a precursor to military action against Tehran.

"This deployment has been planned for a long time," Gates said. "I don't think we'll have two carriers there for a protracted period of time. So I don't see it as an escalation. I think it could be seen, though, as a reminder."

He declined to elaborate on his remarks and provided no details about the deployment.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the second carrier arrived in the Gulf on Tuesday to replace one on duty that was expected to depart the region in two days.

U.S. Navy officials were not immediately available for comment.

News of the second carrier came amid simmering tension between the United States and Iran that has fed speculation about a possible U.S. military strike.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that the Pentagon had military options it could consider against Tehran but stressed that the United States would continue to rely on diplomatic and economic methods to address its concerns.

Iran and the United States have repeatedly clashed over U.S. claims that Tehran is pursuing nuclear arms and aiding Shi'ite militants in Iraq who have recently stepped up attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces.

Tehran maintains it is pursuing a civilian nuclear energy program and blames violence in Iraq on the presence of about 160,000 U.S. forces.

There have also been confrontations between U.S. ships and small boats in the region, including vessels the Pentagon has described as Iranian craft.

Last week, a cargo ship hired by the U.S. military fired warning shots in the Gulf at two unidentified boats that approached the U.S. vessel while ignoring radio communications and a warning flare. The boats left the area after what the Navy described as "a few bursts" of machine gun fire.

(Editing by Chris Wilson)

Source / Reuters / Bad Attitudes

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

A Cacophony of Inanity

Fastened to a Dying Animal
By Phil Rockstroh / April 30, 2008

Here in this crumbling empire once known as the American Republic, here in a nation that, at present, for all practical purposes, only produces Cheetos and killer drones, whose architecture is being winnowed down to thriving rural meth houses and foreclosed upon suburban mchouses, whose corrupt corporate culture has bequeathed upon our suffering planet dying oceans and the hyper-caffeinated tsunami of Red Bull Capitalism -- the essential question confronts us -- how does one retain (not retail) one's humanity amid the catastrophic machinery and inane accouterment of our age?

"Show your wounds," exhorted the late 20th Century artist Joseph Bueys. The wound becomes the womb, poets tell us.

Out of painful truth, beauty is born. But, antithetical to the orthodoxies of consumer capitalism, there are no shortcuts.

According to legend, Faust sold his soul for a glimpse of eternal beauty and the hidden knowledge of the world. Sadly, we've done likewise (but worse, pathetically) for a glimpse of Paris Hilton's privileged (but hardly gated and guarded) cooter.

Here, now, sprawled upon the detritus of our dignity, we are confronted by the exponential dynamics of decay known as the U.S. Presidential Election cycle. In this, all three corporate candidates are of little use to us.

Although all three have done very well for themselves by the present and prevailing arrangement known as Disaster Capitalism.

What motivation do they have to change the system by which they've thrived? McCain, Clinton, and Obama must serve the interests of the corrupt corporate class -- or else they would be marginalized.

Paradoxically, as we have witnessed, as of late, if they make even the most minute rumblings to the contrary -- as for example, blundering into a steaming pile of the obvious such as the observation that the battered laboring class of the nation might be embittered by their lot --- they risk political immolation by being labeled an elitist.

Of course, Obama is an elitist. (As are Clinton and McCain.)

Read the rest here. / Information Clearing House

The Rag Blog

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Albert Hofman, Who Took Hundreds of Trips, 1906-2008

Dr. Hofmann, date unknown, with a chemical model of LSD.Photo by Novartis, Getty Images

Albert Hofmann, the Father of LSD, Dies at 102
By Craig S. Smith / April 30, 2008

PARIS — Albert Hofmann, the mystical Swiss chemist who gave the world LSD, the most powerful psychotropic substance known, died Tuesday at his hilltop home near Basel, Switzerland. He was 102.

The cause was a heart attack, said Rick Doblin, founder and president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a California-based group that in 2005 republished Dr. Hofmann’s 1979 book “LSD: My Problem Child.”

Dr. Hofmann first synthesized the compound lysergic acid diethylamide in 1938 but did not discover its psychopharmacological effects until five years later, when he accidentally ingested the substance that became known to the 1960s counterculture as acid.

He then took LSD hundreds of times, but regarded it as a powerful and potentially dangerous psychotropic drug that demanded respect. More important to him than the pleasures of the psychedelic experience was the drug’s value as a revelatory aid for contemplating and understanding what he saw as humanity’s oneness with nature. That perception, of union, which came to Dr. Hofmann as almost a religious epiphany while still a child, directed much of his personal and professional life.

Dr. Hofmann was born in Baden, a spa town in northern Switzerland, on Jan. 11, 1906, the eldest of four children. His father, who had no higher education, was a toolmaker in a local factory, and the family lived in a rented apartment. But Dr. Hofmann spent much of his childhood outdoors.

He would wander the hills above the town and play around the ruins of a Hapsburg castle, the Stein. “It was a real paradise up there,” he said in an interview in 2006. “We had no money, but I had a wonderful childhood.”

It was during one of his ambles that he had his epiphany.

“It happened on a May morning — I have forgotten the year — but I can still point to the exact spot where it occurred, on a forest path on Martinsberg above Baden,” he wrote in “LSD: My Problem Child.” “As I strolled through the freshly greened woods filled with bird song and lit up by the morning sun, all at once everything appeared in an uncommonly clear light.

“It shone with the most beautiful radiance, speaking to the heart, as though it wanted to encompass me in its majesty. I was filled with an indescribable sensation of joy, oneness and blissful security.”

Though Dr. Hofmann’s father was a Roman Catholic and his mother a Protestant, Dr. Hofmann, from an early age, felt that organized religion missed the point. When he was 7 or 8, he recalled, he spoke to a friend about whether Jesus was divine. “I said that I didn’t believe, but that there must be a God because there is the world and someone made the world,” he said. “I had this very deep connection with nature.”

Dr. Hofmann went on to study chemistry at Zurich University because, he said, he wanted to explore the natural world at the level where energy and elements combine to create life. He earned his Ph.D. there in 1929, when he was just 23. He then took a job with Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, attracted by a program there that sought to synthesize pharmacological compounds from medicinally important plants.

It was during his work on the ergot fungus, which grows in rye kernels, that he stumbled on LSD, accidentally ingesting a trace of the compound one Friday afternoon in April 1943. Soon he experienced an altered state of consciousness similar to the one he had experienced as a child.

On the following Monday, he deliberately swallowed a dose of LSD and rode his bicycle home as the effects of the drug overwhelmed him. That day, April 19, later became memorialized by LSD enthusiasts as “bicycle day.”

Dr. Hofmann’s work produced other important drugs, including methergine, used to treat postpartum hemorrhaging, the leading cause of death from childbirth. But it was LSD that shaped both his career and his spiritual quest.

“Through my LSD experience and my new picture of reality, I became aware of the wonder of creation, the magnificence of nature and of the animal and plant kingdom,” Dr. Hofmann told the psychiatrist Stanislav Grof during an interview in 1984. “I became very sensitive to what will happen to all this and all of us.”

Dr. Hofmann became an impassioned advocate for the environment and argued that LSD, besides being a valuable tool for psychiatry, could be used to awaken a deeper awareness of mankind’s place in nature and help curb society’s ultimately self-destructive degradation of the natural world.

But he was also disturbed by the cavalier use of LSD as a drug for entertainment, arguing that it should be treated in the way that primitive societies treat psychoactive sacred plants, which are ingested with care and spiritual intent.

After his discovery of LSD’s properties, Dr. Hofmann spent years researching sacred plants. With his friend R. Gordon Wasson, he participated in psychedelic rituals with Mazatec shamans in southern Mexico. He succeeded in synthesizing the active compounds in the Psilocybe mexicana mushroom, which he named psilocybin and psilocin. He also isolated the active compound in morning glory seeds, which the Mazatec also used as an intoxicant, and found that its chemical structure was close to that of LSD.

During the psychedelic era, Dr. Hofmann struck up friendships with such outsize personalities as Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and Aldous Huxley, who, nearing death in 1963, asked his wife for an injection of LSD to help him through the final painful throes of throat cancer.

Yet despite his involvement with psychoactive compounds, Dr. Hofmann remained moored in his Swiss chemist identity. He stayed with Sandoz as head of the research department for natural medicines until his retirement in 1971. He wrote more than 100 scientific articles and was the author or co-author of a number of books

He and his wife, Anita, who died recently, reared four children in Basel. A son died of alcoholism at 53. Survivors include several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Though Dr. Hofmann called LSD “medicine for the soul,” by 2006 his hallucinogenic days were long behind him, he said in the interview that year.

“I know LSD; I don’t need to take it anymore,” he said, adding. “Maybe when I die, like Aldous Huxley.”

But he said LSD had not affected his understanding of death. In death, he said, “I go back to where I came from, to where I was before I was born, that’s all.”

Source. / NY Times
Also see LSD inventor... / Wired

The Rag Blog

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Happy Birthday To You...

MoveOn.Org Celebrates Birthday of 'Mission Accomplished'

The liberal terrorists at MoveOn.org are launching a $1 million ad campaign (heyo!) against John McCain, because who the hell else is gonna do it, JESUS H. CHRIST (Mike Huckabee)? The first ad is running in some states where McCain has been running his own ads unopposed, and it features a birthday cake. Or an anniversary cake. It's an Iraq Birthday-Anniversary Cake, celebrating 5-100 years of fun in the sun! Stupid liberals always miss the point — if you make cake analogous to a vote for John McCain, everyone will vote for John McCain.

Source. / Wonkette / March 30, 2008

The Rag Blog

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Our Hands Are Tainted with Innocent Blood

‘Blood Diamonds’ ‘Blood Oil’ and ‘Blood Food’
By Pablo Ouziel

True commitment to stopping the war in Iraq requires a global human rights strike, in which the working population of the world stops producing, until the governments and the corporations realize that the voice of the people does indeed matter, says Pablo Ouziel.

For a while now, I have been thinking about what George W. Bush signifies from a socio-political perspective. Looking at the world from the time of the ‘Big Bang’ of September 11th, 2001, until today almost seven years later, one can clearly observe how monstrous our human interaction has become. After much reading and analysis, I now understand that September 11th was not the starting point of a new world order, but to the contrary, it was purely the end of a specific human state of affairs.

When one grows up in the west, our history books tell us stories about past events in our world. As we grow up, those same stories shape the way in which we look at the world around us. Once this history is indoctrinated into our minds, it frames the scope of our objective judgment. This in turn, leads to a very narrow analysis of our current reality.

As westerners we have the tendency to feel superior to the rest of the human species. Somehow, we have come to believe that our crusades, empires and colonization have led us to a higher understanding of kindness, compassion, love and equality. As westerners, we seem to see ourselves in a higher plane of collective awareness, intellectual and spiritual attainment. I do not doubt for a single minute that in other cultures they have similar prejudices, but I learned from an early age through Christian scriptures, that one must look deep into his or her consciousness, in order to identify mistakes and make corrections. Therefore, for me it is important to focus only on the culture that I know, I live, and that I am an active member of -- the western world, as defined by the politicians of the ‘Axis of Good’ who govern us.

We are very comfortable in the west, all of us. Even the most deprived are not as deprived as the whole of Iraq, and by the whole of Iraq, I do mean everyone including the Al Qaeda terrorists, the international soldiers, the Iraqi militias, the possible Iranian insurgents, the government officials, doctors and nurses, contractors, private army operatives, NGO workers, the rich, the poor, the women, men and the children. Nobody there is as good as we are here. Iraq is just one of the many examples of places where the whole population is on its knees as we in the west enjoy our ‘morally evolved’ societies.

People in Haiti are eating mud cakes because of the soaring food prices, the people in Gaza have no electricity, in Afghanistan, the only royal visit they receive, is of a British prince dressed in military gear going to kill on Afghan soil. In India, the farmers are committing suicide due to failed harvests of genetically modified Monsanto crops. Around the world, people are rioting because of lack of food or basic human necessities. Yet in the west, we can move around freely, we can cross borders and fly our budget airlines from capital to capital, observing the comforts of western existence. Organized streets, clean cars, wonderful shopping malls, great monuments, everything is civilized and could be admired, that is, if it was honest. But it isn’t, it is morally wrong and deep down we all know it. We know it, but we just don’t want to do anything about it, because we are comfortable. Only a very small proportion of the population would truly change their position for that of a person in Iraq. I suppose that is why we choose to keep Iraq as a problem of our governments, and the terrorists whom must be eliminated to protect us from ‘evil’.

Read all of it here. / Middle East Online

The Rag Blog

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"Mission Accomplished" : Five Years and Counting!

White House: We 'paid price' for 'Mission Accomplished'
By Michael Moore / April 30, 2008

WASHINGTON - The White House said Wednesday that it had "paid a price" for the "Mission Accomplished" backdrop to US President George W. Bush's May 1, 2003 Iraq speech, saying it left the wrong impression.

"President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific, and said, 'Mission Accomplished For These Sailors Who Are On This Ship On Their Mission,'" said spokeswoman Dana Perino.

"We have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year," she said.

The "Mission Accomplished" banner hanging behind Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier has become a powerful symbol to his critics of how badly he underestimated the difficulties ahead in Iraq, where more than 4,000 US soldiers have paid the ultimate price.

What has become an annual act of political contrition, mixed with defiance, had special import because of November US presidential elections shaped by the war and its architect -- both hugely unpopular with the US public.

The White House's explanation for the banner repeatedly changed as the insurgency in Iraq revved up, though aides have steadfastly pointed out that Bush never said "mission accomplished" in his speech.

Bush said "major combat operations in Iraq have ended" and declared that "the battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001 -- and still goes on."

But even that has drawn pointed questions, with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying he had fought to have the White House remove the phrase from the remarks. The White House denies Rumsfeld's account.

And one week later, on June 5, 2003, Bush told US troops at Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar: "America sent you on a mission to remove a grave threat and to liberate an oppressed people, and that mission has been accomplished."

The White House says that Bush was plainly referring to the goal of ousting Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the chief aim of the March 2003 US-led invasion.

And the official answer to "who put up the banner" has changed -- as the death toll rose, the White House and Bush himself said the sailors had put it up on their own, even though aides had initially boasted of their stagecraft.

Then Bush aides admitted that the White House designed and built it, but insisted they did so at the sailors' request, and that it celebrated the ship and its crew -- not victory in Iraq.

Source. / MichaelMoore.com
Also see Remembering ‘Mission Accomplished’, / NY Times Political Blog

The Rag Blog

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Wright at the Press Club : A Set Up?

The Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club event Monday, which was organized by Reynolds.Photo by Somodevilla/Getty.

Is Jeremiah Wright a colossal disaster for Barack Obama or a press trick?
By Errol Lewis / April 30, 2008

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright couldn't have done more damage to Barack Obama's campaign if he had tried. And you have to wonder if that's just what one friend of Wright wanted.

Shortly before he rose to deliver his rambling, angry, sarcastic remarks at the National Press Club Monday, Wright sat next to, and chatted with, Barbara Reynolds.

A former editorial board member at USA Today, she runs something called Reynolds News Services and teaches ministry at the Howard University School of Divinity. (She is an ordained minister).

It also turns out that Reynolds - introduced Monday as a member of the National Press Club "who organized" the event - is an enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporter.

On a blog linked to her Web site- www.reynoldsnews.com- Reynolds said in a February post: "My vote for Hillary in the Maryland primary was my way of saying thank you" to Clinton and her husband for the successes of Bill Clinton's presidency.

The same post criticized Obama's "Audacity of Hope" theme: "Hope by definition is not based on facts," wrote Reynolds. It is an emotional expectation. Things hoped for may or may not come. But help based on experience trumps hope every time."

In another blog entry, Reynolds gives an ever-sharper critique of Obama: "It is a sad testimony that to protect his credentials as a unifier above the fray, the senator is fueling the media characterization that Rev. Dr. Wright is some retiring old uncle in the church basement."

I don't know if Reynolds' eagerness to help Wright stage a disastrous news conference with the national media was a way of trying to help Clinton - my queries to Reynolds by phone and e-mail weren't returned yesterday - but it's safe to say she didn't see any conflict between promoting Wright and supporting Clinton.

It's hard to exaggerate how bad the actual news conference was. Wright, steeped in an honorable, fiery tradition of Bible-based social criticism, cheapened his arguments and his movement by mugging for the cameras, rolling his eyes, heaping scorn on his critics and acting as if nobody in the room was learned enough to ask him a question.

Wright has, unquestionably, been caricatured and vilified unfairly. The feeding programs, prison outreach and other social services he has built over more than 30 years are commendable, and his reading of the Judeo-Christian tradition as an epic story of people trying to escape slavery is far more right than wrong - and not something to be caricatured or compressed into a 10-second sound bite.

But Wright should have known - and his friend and ally Reynolds, a media professional, surely knew - that bickering with the press can only harm Wright and, by extension, Obama.

I hope that wasn't their goal.

Source. / NY Daily News

Also see Was Jeremiah Wright's speech set up by a Clinton supporter?. / LA Times Blog

Reynolds Claims No Ulterior Motive, Video / Washington Post

And "Lear on the Heath," commentary on Wright's speech and Obama's response / The Huffington Post

Thanks to Steve Russell and Harry Edwards / The Rag Blog
And a comment:

What's the chance that Wright's latest act was designed to give Obama the excuse to denounce him, which he has now done? We'll see if the denunciation clears the air. Regardless, if Obama gets beyond Wright,it will be only the first of the race cards that will be played against him.

Meanwhile, we should really be talking about Hillary's repeated threats to "obliterate" Iran should they threaten any US allies in the Middle East - like the Saudi royal family. And would someone please fill me in on the "successes of Bill Clinton" that Rev. Reynolds refers to. Maybe she's thinking of Rwanda or welfare "reform".

David Hamilton / The Rag Blog
"Man Overboard!": Obama turns away from a drowning friend
By Mike Whitney April 30, 2008

Obama is "outraged".

After weeks of blistering attacks by the media, Barak Obama held a press conference yesterday and made it official; his friendship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is over, terminated, kaput. He would no longer associate with a man who believed that the United States of America could do horrible things to its people or that 9-11 might have been the result of US foreign policy. As Obama said, that's just "outrageous".

Obama"s press conference:
"I have spent my whole life trying to bridge the gap between different human beings.....That's who I am and that's what this campaign is all about. Yesterday we saw a very different kind of vision of America (Rev Wright's speech to the National Press Club) I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle. The Reverend Wright I saw yesterday was not the person I knew 20 years ago. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but they give comfort to those who prey on hate. They do not accurately portray my values and beliefs. If Reverend Wright thinks that is 'political posturing' than he does not know me very well. And based on his comments yesterday I may not know him as well as I thought either."
Blah. blah, blah. The media, of course, is elated with their victory; they've achieved their goal. They "persuaded" Obama to betray a friend. Mission accomplished. 1,816 articles appeared overnight on Google News celebrating the prodigals return to the fold; Barak is back. Hooray. Obama's capitulation may be the greatest media triumph since the shrewish Linda Tripp produced the blue dress with the incriminating splotch. It just doesn't get any better than this. Obama showed that he is not only willing to sacrifice his friends for his political ambitions, but that he's also willing to distance himself from the very traditions and movements which made his candidacy possible. What more could they want?

But this is just the beginning of Obama's political education and Wright is just one of many weapons that will be used to bludgeon the well-meaning candidate into submission. By inauguration day, he'll have been stripped of his dignity, his aspirations, and his identity as a black American. In other words, he should be primed and ready to accept his duties as the next President of the United States.

Read the rest here. / Information Clearing House

The Rag Blog

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George W. Bush Is a Saint?

The Angel of ....

Saint George Dubya Bush!!!!!!

President George W. Bush was scheduled to visit the Catholic Church outside Washington as part of his campaign to restore his pathetic poll standings. He even picked the Pope up at the airport for this latest visit.

His image handler made a visit to the Pope and said, 'We've been getting a lot of bad publicity because of the president's position on stem cell research, the Iraq war, hurricane Katrina, and the Veterans Administration. We'll make a $100,000 contribution to your church if during your sermon you will say that the President is a saint.'

The Pope thought it over for a few moments and finally said, 'The Church is desperate for funding - I'll do it.'

Bush showed up for the sermon, and the Pope began:

"I'd like to speak to you all this morning about the President who is a liar, a cheat, and a low-intelligence numb-nuts who can't put a compound sentence together.

He bugged out of combat service during the Vietnam war and went AWOL to avoid a drug test, then had all reports on the sordid event destroyed.

He is the spawn of a Nazi loving great grandfather who smuggled anti-Americans into this country on his shipping line.

He took the tragedy of September 11 and used it to frighten and manipulate the American people.

He lied about weapons of mass destruction and invaded Iraq for oil and money, causing the deaths of tens of thousands and making the United States the most hated country on earth. It is a three-trillion dollar folly.

He appointed fund-raiser cronies to positions of power and influence, leading to widespread death and destruction due to government paralysis after Hurricane Katrina.

He awarded no-bid cost-plus contracts and tax cut to his rich friends so that we now have more poverty in this country and a greater gap between rich and poor than we've had since the Depression.

He has headed the most corrupt, bribe-inducing political party since Teapot Dome. The national surplus has turned into a staggering national debt of 7.6 trillion Dollars.

Oil rose from $18 to over a hundred per barrel, leading to transportation costs which the people of America cannot afford, with low minimum wages, part time jobs, no health insurance, and outsourcing.

Vital research into global warming and stem cells is stifled because he's afraid to lose votes from religious kooks.

He is the worst example of a true Christian I've ever known, but compared to Dick Cheney...

George W. Bush is a saint."

With many thanks to Jeff Jones / The Rag Blog.

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29 April 2008

A Disturbing Pattern of Military Behaviour

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Is There an Army Cover-Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers?
By Ann Wright, April 29, 2008

The Department of Defense statistics are alarming - one in three women who join the US military will be sexually assaulted or raped by men in the military. The warnings to women should begin above the doors of the military recruiting stations, as that is where assaults on women in the military begin - before they are even recruited.

But, now, even more alarming, are deaths of women soldiers in Iraq and in the United States following rape. The military has characterized each death of women who were first sexually assaulted as deaths from "noncombat related injuries," and then added "suicide." Yet, the families of the women whom the military has declared to have committed suicide strongly dispute the findings and are calling for further investigations into the deaths of their daughters. Specific US Army units and certain US military bases in Iraq have an inordinate number of women soldiers who have died of "noncombat related injuries," with several identified as "suicides."

Ninety-four US military women have died in Iraq or during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Twelve US civilian women have been killed in OIF. Thirteen US military women have been killed in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Twelve US Civilian women have been killed in Afghanistan.

Of the 94 US military women who died in Iraq or in OIF, the military says 36 died from noncombat related injuries, which included vehicle accidents, illness, death by "natural causes" and self-inflicted gunshot wounds, or suicide. The military has declared the deaths of the Navy women in Bahrain, which were killed by a third sailor, as homicides. Five deaths have been labeled as suicides, but 15 more deaths occurred under extremely suspicious circumstances.

Eight women soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, (six from the Fourth Infantry Division and two from the 1st Armored Cavalry Division) have died of "noncombat related injuries" on the same base, Camp Taji, and three were raped before their deaths. Two were raped immediately before their deaths and another raped prior to arriving in Iraq. Two military women have died of suspicious "noncombat related injuries" on Balad base, and one was raped before she died. Four deaths have been classified as "suicides."

Nineteen-year-old US Army Pvt. Lavena Johnson was found dead on the military base in Balad, Iraq, in July, 2005, and her death characterized by the US Army to be suicide from a self-inflicted M-16 shot. On April 9, 2008, Dr. John Johnson and his wife Linda, parents of Private Johnson, flew from their home in St. Louis for meetings with US Congress members and their staffs. They were in Washington to ask that Congressional hearings be conducted on the Army's investigation into the death of their daughter, an investigation that classified her death as a suicide despite extensive evidence suggesting she was murdered.

From the day their daughter's body was returned to them, the parents had grave suspicions about the Army's investigation into Lavena's death and the characterization of her death as suicide. In charge of a communications facility, Lavena was able to call home daily. In those calls, she gave no indication of emotional problems or being upset. In a letter to her parents, Lavena's commanding officer Capt. David Woods wrote, "Lavena was clearly happy and seemed in very good health both physically and emotionally."

In viewing his daughter's body at the funeral home, Dr. Johnson was concerned about the bruising on her face. He was puzzled by the discrepancy in the autopsy report on the location of the gunshot wound. As a US Army veteran and a 25-year US Army civilian employee who had counseled veterans, he was mystified how the exit wound of an M-16 shot could be so small. The hole in Lavena's head appeared to be more the size of a pistol shot rather than an M-16 round. He questioned why the exit hole was on the left side of her head, when she was right handed. But the gluing of military uniform white gloves onto Lavena's hands, hiding burns on one of her hands, is what deepened Dr. Johnson's concerns that the Army's investigation into the death of his daughter was flawed.

Read all of it here. / Truthout

The Rag Blog

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R. Baker on Gas and the Economy

High gas prices here to stay?
By Roger Baker / The Rag Blog

Below are links to two important articles.

The top one is a link and a clip from yesterday's New York Times article that cites a Canadian bank, CIBC, which forsees $7 a gallon gasoline by 2012, only four years from now.

When the New York Times says this sort of thing, it does add credibility. They are citing the CIBC World Markets link here: How Much Higher Will Oil Prices Go?

CIBC, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, are Canadian Investment bankers and top economic analysts managing about $340 billion in assets, with about 40,000 employees: CBC World Markets.

Note the lead article at their site: "High gas prices are here to stay – Canadian motorists should brace for $1.40 litre gas this summer and over $2.25 in 2012".

The NYT translates this as $7 per gallon gasoline, and describes peak oil production without using this term.

This is not just concerning high gas prices in isolation, but at the same time we should understand that the price of energy needed to move all goods would, and is now, leading to more general price inflation.

This is currently seen for food but will extend to all other goods moved by truck, which is about everything you now buy in the store. But the truckers are going broke at current fuel prices, and few stores are served by efficient rail.

At the bottom of this post is a Business Week article in full that points out various signs that high gas prices are now causing an actual nationwide drop in miles driven. So, if you understand that current gasoline prices are high enough to affect driving at $3.40 per gallon, just try to imagine the much more serious economic and political effects at $7 per gallon.

Oil Price Rise Fails to Open Tap

"As oil prices soared to record levels in recent years, basic economics suggested that consumption would fall and supplies would rise as producers drilled for more oil.

But as prices flirt with $120 a barrel, many energy experts are becoming worried that neither seems to be happening. Higher prices have done little to suppress global demand or attract new production, and the resulting mismatch has sent oil prices ever higher.

That has translated into more pain at the pump, with gasoline setting a fresh record of $3.60 a gallon nationwide on Monday. Experts expect prices above $4 a gallon this summer, and one analyst recently predicted that gasoline could reach $7 in the next four years...

"What is disturbing here is that things seem to get worse, not better," said David Greely, an analyst at Goldman Sachs. "These high prices are not attracting meaningful new supplies."

The outlook for oil supplies "signals a period of unprecedented scarcity," Jeff Rubin, an analyst at CIBC World Markets, said last week. Oil prices might exceed $200a barrel by 2012, he said, a level that would very likely mean $7-a-gallon gasoline in the United States..."

Source. / Jad Mouawad / New York Times
Gas May Finally Cost Too Much
Highway traffic is falling as pump prices climb.
Are Americans rethinking their auto addiction?
by Christopher Palmeri

For 20 years now, county workers in Palm Beach County, Fla., have been counting cars with sensors at strategic points along its 4,000 miles of roads. Nearly every year traffic volume has climbed at least 2%. But in 2007 there was a slight decline in the number of vehicles on the roads. This year traffic is down 7.5% through March. "We're seeing a very significant change," says county engineer George Webb. "We're having a good time speculating why."

It's not just Palm Beach. Traffic levels are trending downward
nationwide. Preliminary figures from the Federal Highway
Administration show it falling 1.4% last year. Now, with nationwide
gasoline prices having passed the inflation-adjusted record of $3.40 a
gallon set back in 1981, the U.S. Energy Information Administration is
predicting that gasoline consumption will actually fall 0.3% this
year. That would be the first annual decline since 1991. Others
believe the falloff in consumption is steeper than the government's
numbers show. "Our canaries out there tell us they are seeing demand
drop much more considerably than the fraction the EIA is talking
about," says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information
Service, a Gaithersburg (Md.) market research firm.

Is oil-guzzling America changing its ways? Some think so, though it's
worth noting the U.S. still consumes onethird of the world's annual
gasoline output. "It appears we've finally hit the ceiling that's
causing the U.S. population to rethink how and where they use their
vehicles," says Paul Weissgarber, who heads the energy practice at
consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

Just look at the latest auto sales figures. Sales fell 8% overall during the first quarter of 2008, and those of gas-hungry SUVs and pickup trucks dropped off a cliff, down 27% and 14%, respectively. High gas prices are forcing even SUV lovers to shift gears. Fed up with spending $100 five times a month to fill up his Chevy Suburban,
Ron Gesquere, an auto parts executive from suburban Detroit, recently bid $10,000 on eBay (EBAY) for a used Mini Cooper S. "I could make thepayments on the Mini with the savings in gas," he says.

For years analysts have been surprised that gasoline consumption
continued to rise even as prices kept climbing. Now that consumption
has finally slowed, it remains to be seen if Americans are driving
less just because the economy is doing poorly or if they are altering
their behavior in a lasting way. Certainly consumers seem to be at a
psychological turning point. Fuel prices are rising faster than
incomes and show no sign of slowing down. Being green is trendy, and
the war in Iraq has fanned concerns about U.S. dependence on oil from abroad.

Consider, too, that ridership on public transport climbed to a 50-year high in 2007, reports the American Public Transportation Assn., as more companies start to pick up part of the tab for employee commuter costs. (Such corporate subsidies became tax-deductible recently.) And sales of more fuel-efficient cars are up. The shift has not been lost on Detroit's Big Three, which heavily depend on SUV and pickup sales for profits. "Fuel economy Gas May Finally Cost Too Much as a selling point is absolutely here to stay," says James Farley, group vice-president for marketing at FordMotor (F). "Our future plans revolve around the idea that gasoline is going sideways and up from here, not down."


Demographic factors may also be driving down gasoline consumption. When the postwar march to the suburbs was in full swing and the nation's highways expanded, gas consumption grew by an average of 4% a year. In more recent years that rate has moderated to 1.2%. A study released in April by the EIA posited that part of the decline could be attributed to falling population growth and baby boomers exiting their peak driving years. That translates into fewer car sales on a per capita basis. Many analysts have been knocking down their estimates of growth in worldwide oil demand because of weaker consumption in the U.S.

Mind you, it's not yet certain that falling gas consumption is here to stay. Historically, consumption tends to dip during recessions, then rebounds with the economy. "There have really only been a few times Americans have cut back their gas consumption over a long period of time," says Geoff Sundstrom, a spokesperson for the American Automobile Assn. "Those occasions are where you've had high prices and a recession, such as 1974 and 1981. It looks like we're heading into another one of those." EIA researchers expect consumption growth will rise back up to 0.9% next year—though that's still below what the U.S. has averaged so far this decade.

So even if gas consumption does bounce back it's likely to do so at a slower pace. "Consumer habits are pretty sticky," says Adam Robinson, an energy analyst at Lehman Brothers (LEH). "We've seen a long period of high prices that has finally hit the consumer, and now they're going to shift their preferences."

Indeed, some commuters are finding public transport to their liking. Aly Cohen, a 27-year-old financial analyst at Costco Wholesale (COST), first tried taking the bus to work in January. Now, with her employer picking up most of the $63 tab for a monthly bus pass, she has stopped driving to work altogether and cut her gas consumption in half. "It's nice," she says. "I can take a nap or read." Such a shift in commuting habits, if copied on a large scale, may alter U.S. energy consumption in significant and surprising ways.

For more on rising gasoline prices and motorists' reactions, watch a
video report at BusinessWeek.com.

Source. / Business Week

The Rag Blog

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Books and the Culture : The Serendipity Wrangler

Bill Wittliff and the Southwestern Writers Collection
by Stayton Bonner

[This article first appeared in the April 18, 2008 issue of the Texas Observer]

The Southwestern Writers Collection is located on the top floor of the Alkek Library on the Texas State University campus in San Marcos. White walls, wooden doors, Saltillo tile floors and Indian rugs give its exhibit halls and conference rooms the feel of an adobe church. The collection’s archive houses the papers and artifacts of regional writers, filmmakers, musicians, and photographers. Robert Duvall’s Lonesome Dove costumes and Willie Nelson song lyrics jotted on restaurant napkins are among the treasures in its temperature-controlled vault, as are the collection’s newest gems: Cormac McCarthy’s manuscripts and working papers. At the entrance stands political cartoonist Pat Oliphant’s larger-than-life, full-body bronze sculpture of Glen Rose writer John Graves. The piece was commissioned by collection co-founders Bill and Sally Wittliff, and Bill took the photo on which the sculpture is based.

“The collection was set up so writers could be seen as human beings, not as stick figures,” Wittliff says. “J. Frank Dobie’s collection is what essentially started it. We’ve got his pipes, his Stetson, his funny shoes. We’ve got his white suit. We’ve got his typewriter. We’ve got his fountain pen that he used to write the morning he died. But all of those things, I think, add up to an image of the full guy.” Wittliff’s Austin office is a microcosm of the Texas State collection itself. One of John Graves’ paddles from his Goodbye to a River canoe trip hangs on the wall. Crammed bookshelves jostle with soon-to-be-hung paintings for floor space. Wittliff’s black standard poodle and his assistant Amanda’s labrador navigate piles of photographs, manuscripts, and letters.

“There’s all kinds of stuff,” Wittliff says, rummaging in a corner. “My mother said I was a ‘pilot.’ I’d pile it here and then I’d pile it over there.” Abandoning a search for some hidden treasure, Wittliff sits behind his desk and smiles. With his gray hair, beard, and a button-down shirt emblazoned with Royal Wulff fishing flies, his appearance is as august and unkempt as his office.

“On one hand, the collection is a place of preservation,” Wittliff says. “But on the other hand, it’s a place of inspiration. Young writers or people with the itch to write can come in and see that all these guys are just folks who have the urge to create and to work their asses off at it. I absolutely know that if I had gone into a place like that when I was 16 or 17 or 18 and seen John’s manuscript or McMurtry’s or Cormac’s or whatever, and seen them scratched out and struggling to find just the right word, just the right sentence to express their thoughts, I’d have said, ‘Well, shit. These guys are working. I mean, I can do that.’”

As a child who was frequently moved around Central Texas, Wittliff sought out front-porch storytellers. “It was a way of belonging,” Wittliff remembers. “I wanted to belong.”

A love of books was a natural progression.

“Bill had always been interested in books, but not had access to very many of them,” Sally says of her husband. “His mother married a guy who was a retiring cowboy. They moved to Blanco. He had some books. One of them was a Dobie book. Bill picked it up and discovered a story between those hard covers that his grandfather had told him. He said that lightbulbs went off in his head. That was the first time he realized that the stuff of his place and his life might be worthy of being on pages.”

Wittliff earned an advertising degree from the University of Texas and then decided that wasn’t the world for him. After a stint at Southern Methodist University Press in Dallas, he returned to Austin, where he and Sally founded Encino Press in 1964, publishing Southwestern writers and subjects.

“Starting the Encino Press was a way of being involved with books without being at risk personally,” Wittliff says. “Later, when I got more confident, I was willing to take my clothes off and lay down on the table. Which is what it is when you’re writing and really going for it.”

Though Encino Press was successful, Wittliff eventually wanted a change in career.

“We started the press when we were just children, really,” Wittliff says. “Right out of school. It was a little mom-and-pop organization. It was great fun, and it worked. We were actually making a living. Basically, one day I was sitting there and I thought, ‘Well, today is just like yesterday. And tomorrow’s going to be like today, too.’ And then I thought, ‘Jesus, this is stagnant.’”
In 1969, Wittliff traveled to Mexico and photographed vaqueros working in the traditional ways. His pictures eventually added up to a traveling exhibit and book entitled Vaquero. He wrote a screenplay called Thaddeus Rose and Eddie, which was made into a CBS movie starring Johnny Cash. Francis Ford Coppola hired Wittliff to work on the script for The Black Stallion, cementing his career in the industry. Over the years, his screen credits have included Raggedy Man, Lonesome Dove, Legends of the Fall, and The Perfect Storm.

Because Encino Press had specialized in regional material about Texas and the Southwest, the Wittliffs got to know almost everybody in local literary circles, and those friendships played a supporting role in the genesis of the Southwestern Writers Collection.

“We had the relationships with the people,” Sally says. “There’s a certain amount of arrogance in being a writer. They don’t want to think of their archives as going into the garbage heap when they’re gone.”

Read all of it here.
Also on The Rag Blog, see
Molly Ivins Lives at Texas State University.

The Rag Blog

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May Day Rally in Austin

Click on image to enlarge.

[+/-]

A Small (and, No Doubt, Temporary) Victory

The Pentagon public relations program to skew the news about Iraq probably didn't violate any laws. It just violated the spirit of open democracy and offended my sensibilities, another inane example of BushCo manipulation and deep-seated insecurity about itself, despite the apparent arrogance.

Richard Jehn / The Rag Blog

Pentagon suspends retired military analyst program
April 28, 2008

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has suspended a program that fed information about the Iraq war to retired military officers who appeared on U.S. television networks as independent analysts, the Defense Department said on Monday.

The program, uncovered last week in a New York Times investigation, was criticized by Democrats for providing private briefings, trips and access to classified intelligence to influence analysts' comments about Iraq and portray the situation as positive even as violence rose in the war zone.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman called the suspension "temporary" and said the Defense Department would review the program to ensure it did not violate department policy.

"It's temporarily suspended just so that we can take a look at some of the concerns," Whitman told reporters.

The retired military analysts program, also known inside the Pentagon as the "surrogates" program, is run by the department's public affairs office.

That office is also conducting the review, Whitman said. He said he does not think the program violated any laws.

Under the program, retired officers hired by television networks as analysts met with senior defense officials and senior commanders both in Washington and on Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq.

According to The New York Times, the Bush administration sought to use the analysts to shape coverage from inside the networks.

Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, also said some of the analysts appeared to be working for defense contractors, raising a potential conflict of interest. (Reporting by Kristin Roberts, Editing by David Wiessler)

Source / Reuters

The Rag Blog

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Involuntary Contributions to Friends of George

In Juan Cole's words, "A lot of money was wasted on phantom reconstruction projects in Iraq left incomplete because of poor contractor performance. In other words, US tax payers made an involuntary contribution to Friends of George, which would be a good way of summing up the Iraq occupation in general."
Reconstruction project in Samarra

Hundreds of Iraq schemes 'failed'
April 28, 2008

Iraq reconstruction has cost US taxpayers more than $100bn so far

An audit of US-funded reconstruction projects for Iraq has found millions of dollars have been wasted because many schemes have never been completed.

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction blamed delays, costs, poor performance and violence for failure to finish some 855 projects.

Many other projects had been falsely described as complete, found the audit of 47,321 reconstruction projects.
Iraq reconstruction has cost US taxpayers more than $100bn so far.

USAID, the body responsible for overseeing Iraqi reconstruction, has responded that the database used for the review was incomplete.

'Depressing picture'

The audit by Senator Stuart Bowen found US officials had terminated at least 855 projects before completion.

Of this number, 112 were ended because of the contractors' poor performance.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said: "The report paints a depressing picture of money being poured into failed Iraq reconstruction projects.

"Contractors are killed, projects are blown up just before being completed, or the contractor just stops doing the work."

Last year, congressional investigators said as much as $10bn (£5bn) charged by US contractors for Iraq reconstruction had been questionable.

Source / BBC News

The Rag Blog

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Bomb Iran : Is It Time?

Ringo Starr.

Bomb Bomb Iran by Summer's End?
By Steve Weissman / April 29, 2008

When Senator John McCain serenaded reporters last April with his "Bomb Bomb Iran," I had to wonder. Was this a taste of his aging flyboy humor? Or was he telling us what to expect should he ever become president? We may never find out. If Vice President Dick Cheney has his way, he will beat McCain to the punch, possibly as soon as late May, after President George W. Bush returns from celebrating the 60th anniversary of Israel's creation.

The evidence is surprisingly public, though in several bits and pieces that fit together like a jigsaw. I hope that I'm wrong in how I've put the puzzle together, but here's how it looks to me.

On February 25 of this year, Cheney made a surprise visit to the Sultanate of Oman, a longtime military ally just across the Strait of Hormuz from Iran. He had come, an Omani official told The Associated Press, "to discuss regional security issues, including the US standoff with Iran over its nuclear program."

A little over three weeks later, Cheney returned to Oman as part of a ten-day visit to several countries in the region, including Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. While in Oman, he gave an interview to Martha Raddatz of ABC News. "Can you foresee any point where military action would be taken?" Raddatz asked. Cheney tried to downplay the question, but Raddatz persisted, asking specifically about the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which concluded that Iran had shut down its nuclear arms program five years ago.

Cheney read the NIE differently. The Iranians definitely had a program to develop a nuclear warhead, which they apparently stopped in 2003, he insisted. "We don't know whether or not they've restarted." Cheney emphasized that the Iranians were continuing with their uranium enrichment, which - he said - would give them the fissile material to make nuclear weapons. He offered no evidence that the Iranian program would or could produce the highly enriched uranium they would need to make a bomb.

"VP: Iran May Have Resumed Weapon Program," the headlines ran. "Cheney: Iran might be next US target." The Israeli web site DEBKA added that Cheney was specifically talking about possible US military action in the region to shut down Iran's nuclear program.

Punctuating Cheney's remarks, the US Navy continues to build up its forces in the region, which now include two nuclear aircraft carriers and strike groups capable of attacking Iran or defending against missile attacks from Iran. America's military brass are also chiming in. The Pentagon is considering "potential military courses of action" against Iran, warns the nation's top military officer - Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "It would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability."

Mullen presented his threat, he said, as a response to Iranian support for Iraqi militias fighting US forces, as well as their support for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He also repeated as fact Dick Cheney's belief that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons. Mullen raised all this the day after the CIA reported to Congress that North Korea had supplied Syria with a nuclear reactor, which an Israeli air strike had destroyed last September. Mullen's timing added weight to his threat and raised the question of what role Israelis might play in an airstrike on Iran.

Cheney himself touched on the question when he returned from his ten-day trip. In an interview with neo-conservative journalist Hugh Hewitt, he mentioned the widely reported threats that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made against Israel. "I know the Israelis well enough, and I was just there a couple of weeks ago, to know there isn't any way they're prepared to ignore those kinds of statements coming out of Tehran," said Cheney. "They have to take them seriously, given their history. And I think they perceive the possibility of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons as a fundamental threat to the very survival of the state of Israel."

What exactly would the Israelis do? Cheney refused to say. But an Israeli airstrike against Iran would prove far more difficult than the strike against Syria, and the Israelis would likely need American help in clearing the airspace over Iraq, guaranteeing non-interference from Saudi and other Arab air forces, sharing satellite intelligence, blinding Iranian radar, and possibly refueling the Israeli planes. The Israelis would, of course, use long-range F-15s and bunker-buster bombs that the US supplied, while the Iranians have announced that they will respond to any attack as coming from both Israel and the United States. With all this in mind, Cheney might well want the Israelis to make the first strike, and when the Iranians try to retaliate, American forces could intervene "in self-defense" and "defense of our ally Israel."

To be sure, others have previously predicted American and Israeli airstrikes against Iran, and those strikes never happened. Hopefully, my parsing of the tea leaves will fail as well, either because of intervening events or a decision by Bush not to press ahead. But Cheney has clearly started the war drums beating, and unless Congress shows far more gumption than it has on Iraq, I would not plan a late spring or summer trip to Iran or anywhere else in the Middle East or Persian Gulf.

[A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France.]

Source. / truthout

The Rag Blog

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A Majority of Doctors Support National Health Care

Frankly, this is a little difficult to swallow. US doctors have traditionally opposed universal health care in favour of unfettered ability to make money (aka, unrestrained greed), and one wonders what has prompted the change of heart.

Richard Jehn / The Rag Blog

US doctors support universal health care - survey

WASHINGTON -- More than half of U.S. doctors now favor switching to a national health care plan and fewer than a third oppose the idea, according to a survey published on Monday.

The survey suggests that opinions have changed substantially since the last survey in 2002 and as the country debates serious changes to the health care system.

Of more than 2,000 doctors surveyed, 59 percent said they support legislation to establish a national health insurance program, while 32 percent said they opposed it, researchers reported in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The 2002 survey found that 49 percent of physicians supported national health insurance and 40 percent opposed it.

"Many claim to speak for physicians and represent their views. We asked doctors directly and found that, contrary to conventional wisdom, most doctors support national health insurance," said Dr. Aaron Carroll of the Indiana University School of Medicine, who led the study.

"As doctors, we find that our patients suffer because of increasing deductibles, co-payments, and restrictions on patient care," said Dr. Ronald Ackermann, who worked on the study with Carroll. "More and more, physicians are turning to national health insurance as a solution to this problem."


The United States has no single organized health care system. Instead it relies on a patchwork of insurance provided by the federal and state governments to the elderly, poor, disabled and to some children, along with private insurance and employer-sponsored plans.

Many other countries have national plans, including Britain, France and Canada, and several studies have shown the United States spends more per capita on health care, without achieving better results for patients.

An estimated 47 million people have no insurance coverage at all, meaning they must pay out of their pockets for health care or skip it.

Contenders in the election for president in November all have proposed various changes, but none of the major party candidates has called for a fully national health plan.

Insurance companies, retailers and other employers have joined forces with unions and other interest groups to propose their own plans.

"Across the board, more physicians feel that our fragmented and for-profit insurance system is obstructing good patient care, and a majority now support national insurance as the remedy," Ackermann said in a statement.

The Indiana survey found that 83 percent of psychiatrists, 69 percent of emergency medicine specialists, 65 percent of pediatricians, 64 percent of internists, 60 percent of family physicians and 55 percent of general surgeons favor a national health insurance plan.

The researchers said they believe the survey was representative of the 800,000 U.S. medical doctors. (Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Will Dunham and Xavier Briand)

Source / Reuters / March 31, 2008

The Rag Blog

They have enough control now not to worry.
Sickness care will only pay for invasive techniques.

To be defined as a drug by FDA, first you must prove harm.

In the beginning this made sense. If something was harmful, but useful, only a doctor could prescribe it, too dangerous for amateurs to just use.

Now, even if you can prove substances have health benefits, if they cannot be proven to kill half the cats, mice, and rats in the study, you cannot get them approved.

I have studied this the last dozen years, and sadly it is true.

We will not have health care but sickness care.

Janet Gilles / The Rag Blog

Based on my conversations with many young docs, Richard, insurance companies are to them the enemy. They don't believe they are allowed to practice medicine any more.

They have to hire individuals who do nothing but wrangle insurance paperwork. My daughter did it for a while and it used to be ungodly complicated. During the Clinton I administration, the feds honchoed a standardization of paperwork that helped a little.

Still, an honest doc has to have one conversation with a patient and a different one with the insurance company. That does not feel honest, but it is in the patient's best interests.

In addition to viewing the insurance companies as the enemy, the new docs have not been so effectively taught that all socialist institutions are evil. They know, for example, that it's necessary and in everybody's interest to share the cost of an MRI machine. But isn't that what socialists do?

The doctors running things now lack red-baiting DNA and are sick and tired of being told by insurance companies what they can do for their patients.

Steve Russell / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

28 April 2008

The Two Faces of John McCain

McCain Strongly Rejected Long-Term Iraq Presence: "Bring Them All Home"
By Sam Stein / April 28, 2008

When it comes to getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, Sen. John McCain was for the idea before he was against it.

Three years before the Arizona Republican argued on the campaign trail that U.S. forces could be in Iraq for 100 years in the absence of violence, he decried the very concept of a long-term troop presence.

In fact, when asked specifically if he thought the U.S. military should set up shop in Iraq along the lines of what has been established in post-WWII Germany or Japan --something McCain has repeatedly advocated during the campaign -- the senator offered nothing short of a categorical "no."

"I would hope that we could bring them all home," he said on MSNBC. "I would hope that we would probably leave some military advisers, as we have in other countries, to help them with their training and equipment and that kind of stuff."

Host Chris Matthews pressed McCain on the issue. "You've heard the ideological argument to keep U.S. forces in the Middle East. I've heard it from the hawks. They say, keep United States military presence in the Middle East, like we have with the 7th Fleet in Asia. We have the German...the South Korean component. Do you think we could get along without it?"

McCain held fast, rejecting the very policy he urges today. "I not only think we could get along without it, but I think one of our big problems has been the fact that many Iraqis resent American military presence," he responded. "And I don't pretend to know exactly Iraqi public opinion. But as soon as we can reduce our visibility as much as possible, the better I think it is going to be."

The January 2005 comments, which have not surfaced previously during the presidential campaign, represent a stunning contrast to McCain's current rhetoric.

They also run squarely against his image as having a steadfast, unwavering idea for U.S. policy in Iraq -- and provide further evidence to those, including some prominent GOP foreign policy figures in the "realist" camp, who believe McCain is increasingly adopting policies shared by neoconservatives.

Finally, the comments undercut much of the criticism the senator has launched at his Democratic and even Republican opponents.

On the campaign trail, for example, McCain has accused Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton of a "failure of leadership" by advocating a policy of drawing down troops. But in the MSNBC interview, McCain was arguing that U.S. "visibility" was detrimental to the Iraq mission and that Iraqis were responding negatively to America's presence - positions held by both Obama and Clinton.

Somewhere along the way, McCain's position changed. Perhaps twice. As Think Progress reported, in August 2007, as the troops surge was underway, McCain told the Charlie Rose Show that the Korea model was "exactly" the right template for U.S. forces in Iraq. Only three months later, and on the same show, he completely reversed himself.

"Do you think that this - Korea, South Korea is an analogy of where Iraq might be," Rose asked in November 2007.

"I don't think so," replied McCain.

"Even if there are no casualties?" Rose chimed in.

"No," said McCain. "But I can see an American presence for a while. But eventually I think because of the nature of the society in Iraq and the religious aspects of it that America eventually withdraws."

Then, in the lead up to the New Hampshire primary, the senator famously said that he wouldn't mind seeing the U.S. in Iraq for a hundred years, "as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed." And when his political opponents used that statement against him, McCain responded by saying he was drawing an analogy to the current military presence in Japan, Germany and South Korea.

And yet, when he was asked by Matthews in 2005, if he "would you be happy with [Iraq] being the home of a U.S. garrison" like Germany, McCain again said no.

The McCain campaign did not return a request for comment.

Source. / The Huffington Post
Also see McCain Camp is Neocon Redux: It's Official.

The Rag Blog

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John McCain - How Absurd Can It Get?

John McCain's Serious Foreign Policy
By Glenn Greenwald / April 26, 2008

John McCain was on a conference call with right-wing bloggers yesterday and boasted:

I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas's worst nightmare.
What possible reason would a U.S. President have for turning himself and our country into a "nightmare" for Hamas, let alone its "worst nightmare"? Hamas is a single-issue Palestinian group, focused exclusively on its "territorial dispute" with Israel (and, in light of its victory in the U.S.-demanded election, is also now preoccupied with governing the Palestinian Authority). Is there anyone who thinks that Hamas has tried to, will try to, or ever could attack the U.S.? Hamas is an enemy of Israel, not the U.S. Is that a distinction we even recognize any more?

What exactly is the point of feeding Israel billions of dollars every year in military aid if we're going to deem every one of its fights to be our fight, and every one of its enemies to be our Enemy? Is that actually what Americans want to do: insinuate ourselves even more into other endless, intractable religious and ethnic conflicts in the Middle East?

More disturbingly still, this chest-beating threat from McCain is merely the latest in a long line of adolescent, mindlessly belligerent war cries emanating from the Serious foreign policy candidate. In a GOP debate in May of last year, he bellowed that he would "follow [Osama bin Laden] to the gates of hell" only thereafter, according to ABC News, to then "crack[] a smile which gave the impression to some viewers that perhaps he viewed his own answer as being over the top." But he's since repeated that demonic formulation on numerous occasions, followed by the same creepy, self-satisfied smirk:

And here was McCain's sober, Serious prescription in 2006 for ending sectarian warfare in Iraq:
One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, "Stop the bullshit."
Add to that his merry singing of the joys of dropping bombs on the Iranian people, and it's clear that McCain's foreign policy approach seems even more childishly bellicose than the current occupant of the Oval Office. There's a reason that Bill Kristol and Joe Lieberman are such ardent supporters.

Is there anyone outside of Lieberman and John Bolton who thinks that what we need are more cartoon-like imperial threats to the world about how we're going to pummel and smash everyone if they don't step into line? Is that mentality going to reduce complex religious and geostrategic threats or severely worsen them? McCain's foreign policy approach actually seems to be a less restrained and less complex rendition of Bush's "Bring-em-on" swagger that has really worked miracles in Iraq. Whatever adjectives might describe McCain's barren, cliched tough guy decrees, Serious -- or "moderate" -- isn't it.

UPDATE: Also, it would be great to know what McCain plans to do, exactly, to turn himself into Hamas' "worst nightmare." Will he invade Gaza? Bomb targets in the not-yet-settled-by-Israel-parts of the West Bank? Have the CIA engage in covert "regime change" efforts to remove Hamas, the democratically elected government, and replace it with rulers whom McCain likes better? Will we be an even more active participant in the endless Israeli-Palestinian dispute? What are McCain's plans specifically for unleashing new "nightmares" on Hamas?

Source / Salon / Information Clearing House

The Rag Blog

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C. Loving : Buy American!

Your Tax Rebate:

The federal government is sending us a $600 rebate... some more & some less. However, if we spend that money at Wal-Mart, the money will go to China. If we spend it on gasoline it will go to the Arabs. If we purchase a computer it will go to India. If we purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. If we purchase a good car it will go to Japan. If we purchase useless crap it will go to Taiwan... and none of it will help the American economy.

The only way to keep that money here at home is to buy prostitutes, weed, beer, and tattoos since these are the only products still produced in the USA.

Thank you for your help & please support the USA.

Charlie Loving / April 28, 2008 / The Rag Blog

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A Fundamental Breach of International Law

‘Western Leaders Are War Criminals’
By Mick Meaney / April 26, 2008

The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, has echoed calls for Western leaders to be charged with war crimes over the illegal invasion of Iraq.

Speaking at Imperial College in London Mahathir, who was in office from 1981 to 2003, singled out US President George Bush, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australia’s former prime minister John Howard as he wants to see them tried “in absence for war crimes committed in Iraq”.

The event was organised by the Ramadhan Foundation which is a leading British Muslim youth organisation working for peaceful co-existence and dialogue between communities.

Mohammed Shafiq, spokesman for the group said: “It was an opportunity for students to put a range of questions about war crimes and the international situation. He said that people have to stop killing each other and use arbitration, negotiation and discussion as an alternative to violence, war and killing.”

Speaking about the Iraq war, Mahathir focused on “the thousands dying, the economic war, the power of oil and how we could utilise some of these tools to have a leverage against the people who commit countries to war”, Shafiq said.

The event was incredibly well attended with over 450 people and 200 more had to be turned away.

Among the mountain of war crimes Western leaders are guilty of include:-

The illegal use of napalm and other chemical weapons

Intentionally torturing and abusing detainees

Blocking aid convoys

Killing unarmed civilians, including shooting into family homes

Western leaders are also guilty of many other violations of the Geneva Convention, the Charter of the United Nations, the Nuremberg Charter, International Law and the Constitution of the United States, including crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.

International law professors have called the attack against Iraq “a fundamental breach of international law (that) would seriously threaten the integrity of the international legal order that has been in place since the end of the Second World War.”

Mahathir Mohamad’s statement appears to be valid as the International Criminal Court defines the following as international crimes:

(a) Crimes against Peace:

Namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing:

(b) War Crimes:

Namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity:

(c) Crimes against Humanity:

Namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.

Source / RINF.com / Information Clearing House

The Rag Blog

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Bush is Most Worsest


Bush's disapproval rating worst of any president in 70 years
By Susan Page

WASHINGTON — President Bush has set a record he'd presumably prefer to avoid: the highest disapproval rating of any president in the 70-year history of the Gallup Poll.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken recently, 28% of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing; 69% disapprove. The approval rating matches the low point of his presidency, and the disapproval sets a new high for any president since Franklin Roosevelt.

The previous record of 67% was reached by Harry Truman in January 1952, when the United States was enmeshed in the Korean War.

Bush's rating has worsened amid "collapsing optimism about the economy," says Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies presidential approval. Record gas prices and a wave of home foreclosures have fueled voter angst.

Bush also holds the record for the other extreme: the highest approval rating of any president in Gallup's history. In September 2001, in the days after the 9/11 attacks, Bush's approval spiked to 90%. In another record, the percentage of Americans who say the invasion of Iraq was a mistake reached a new high, 63%, in the latest poll.

Assessments of Bush's presidency are harsh. By 69%-27%, those polled say Bush's tenure in general has been a failure, not a success.

Low approval ratings make it more difficult for presidents to maneuver, limiting their ability to get legislation passed or boost candidates in congressional elections.

"The president understands war and the slowdown in the economy weigh down public opinion, but the situation in Iraq is improving, and the economy is about to get a big boost from the stimulus package," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

Bush has had dismal ratings through most of his second term. His approval rating hasn't reached as high as 50% since May 2005. He has been steadily below 40% since September 2006.

Views of Bush divide sharply along party lines. Among Republicans, 66% approve and 32% disapprove. Disapproval is nearly universal — 91% — among Democrats. Of independents, 23% approve, 72% disapprove of the job he's doing.

Source. / USA Today / April 22, 2008

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