31 October 2009

HEALTH / Know Thyself (And Watch Thy Back)

Nancy Kennedy, 20, downs soda and fries. Photo from LA Times, 1965.

A good dose of Healthy Skepticism:
Learn what works for you
Each of us is inside our body and we know what it feels like better than the M.D. ever will.
By Kate Braun / The Rag Blog / October 31, 2009

This writing contains no footnotes. No references or links to studies done or research published. What I write comes from my personal experience and experimentation. It comes from the personal experiences of friends and family. It’s more information to use as needed as we do our best to maintain good health. And caring for our physical body is primarily our responsibility.

We can consult medical professionals, we can do online research, we can canvass friends; ultimately, we have to decide what to do or not do to keep our bodies in good working order. It’s important to keep an open mind about what the possibilities are. Print media and TV ads present a variety of pitches urging us to “take this pill” so we will improve our health so we can dance all night and live happily ever after. What’s needed to balance this image, in my opinion, is a good dose of Healthy Skepticism.

M.D.’s treat symptoms. That’s what they’re trained to do. Each of us is inside our body and we know what it feels like better than the M.D. ever will. Listen to your body. You can learn to recognize the onset of a cold before you ever blow your nose. That’s when you should start treating a cold, as soon as you feel it beginning to work on you. Could be vitamins, could be eating lots of grapefruit, could be a pot of chicken soup, could be whatever works best for you. Experiment. Be your own guinea pig. And keep a diary of what you’ve tried to relieve the various discomforts and how well those things have worked or not.

If you are hospitalized, even if it’s day surgery, and you are anesthetized, Watch Your Tongue, starting from when you regain consciousness, for at least 24 hours. There are some Bad Germs in hospitals. They can Eat Your Tissue. If you notice something unusual on your tongue, a sore place, a dent, something that wasn’t there before you entered the hospital, take action. Don’t call the M.D.’s office and make an appointment for next week, grab the bottle of hydrogen peroxide and apply a drop to that sore spot. Hydrogen peroxide will quickly destroy the bacteria that are busily eroding your tongue tissue.

If sensors were applied to your chest while you were hospitalized, note the location and monitor those sites. There could be tiny sharp points in the sensors that could penetrate your skin, which would give viruses and bacteria a place to enter and grow. Again, applying a drop of hydrogen peroxide to each achy site can help. If you tell your M.D. about it, he might decide to give the O.R. crew a lambasting for improperly or incompletely sterilizing the equipment or he might not, but if you put it in writing and send it by certified mail there will be a paper trail to be followed should it prove necessary.

If you eat healthy food, get enough sleep and enough proper exercise, maintain a positive attitude, take vitamins as needed, explore alternatives in health care, learn to listen to your body, and cultivate Healthy Scepticism, my opinion is that you’ll be OK.

A big problem with trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle is not only the ever-present and ever-tempting fast food but also the fat-laden foods doled out to low-income families, as well as ads on TV that continually encourage us to consume more calories than needed. Supersized is Not Better! Read the labels when you buy food. Say “NO” to high fructose corn syrup, phosphates, artificial color, fake wheat bread, sugared cereals, refined sugar. Eat seasonal items, buy local as much as possible, eat lower on the food chain, read Fast Food Nation and re-read Diet For a Small Planet. Remember: You Are What You Eat.

I don’t claim to have all the answers for all and everyone. I know what works best for my body and I try to stay with that regimen. Not always possible, of course, but mostly possible. Perseverance furthers. When you understand what works for you, persevere.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Photographer Roy DeCarava : 'The Sound I Saw'

Photographer Roy DeCarava. Photo by triggahappy76 / Flickr.

Roy DeCarava : 1919-2009
Photographer Roy DeCarava, who died Oct. 27 at age 89, dedicated his 60-year career to capturing images of African Americans. His subjects ranged from daily life in his hometown of Harlem to the Civil Rights movement, but his most noted work featured photographs of jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong...

The first black photographer to win a Guggenheim Fellowship, DeCarava was also awarded the National Medal of Arts... In 1996, his work was the subject of a major traveling retrospective organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

NPR / October 30, 2009
"pepsi," 1964. Photo by Roy DeCarava.

The Sound I Saw:
Photography from a black point of view

By Carl R. Hultberg / The Rag Blog / October 31, 2009

Pictures of a man leaving the subway, of a saxophone, a black woman’s face. John Coltrane. Langston Hughes. The black New York City photographer who captured this Harlem history in its latter heyday was Roy DeCarava.

Educated at Cooper Union, and struggling to survive working as an illustrator, Mr. DeCarava always managed to find time to photograph ordinary life in his neighborhood. Whether it was the murky view out a dirty window from a cheap room, or the iconic image of a (now) Jazz Giant, Roy had a way of ennobling everything he snapped. But not in the usual style of strictly European art based traditions or sentimentality. It was as if the simple objects portrayed were the same as the faces of the people, of the Jazz musicians -- all possessing a story to tell.

What Roy DeCarava accomplished, and what we now take for granted, is a black point of view. What English word do we use to describe this type of vision? Good question. Perhaps it is better that it doesn’t have a name like “Soul” that could be easily turned into advertising copy and lose all meaning. What Roy DeCarava photographed was the tenderness and quiet pride flowing through everyday Harlem life, the smoldering Jazz solo across a smoke filled club, the structural beauty of a black person’s face.

Included in the seminal photo collection The Family of Man (1955), DeCarava was still mostly intolerant of the white art world. Although he received a Guggenheim Grant in 1952, Roy felt no need to acknowledge that art world or participate in the mainstream art scene. Instead he turned his own apartment in Harlem into a gallery for a few years, exhibiting the work of other art photographers. Instead of working for Life Magazine full time like black photo pioneer Gordon Parks, Roy DeCarava sponsored a protest against the publication.

Roy was also a great photography teacher (at Hunter College), sending hundreds of student camera eyes out into the streets in search of poetic truth. Roy DeCaravara’s great cultural accomplishment was to equate black street life with black Jazz, seemingly in an effort to ensure that one would not rise without the other. It was all about timing, whether it was Jazz, or Photography, or Life.

Asked what he saw in the Jazz performance that made it like photography he said: "I improvise. Improvisation is all about individual interpretations, individual expression. And that's what I'm doing." He also said: “in between that one-fifteenth of a second, there is a thickness.” That was a poet speaking. Roy DeCarava passed on this week, but his photographs are still telling their simple eloquent stories of black life.

Also see:The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Divine Comedy : Joe Lieberman and the Hypocrites

The Hypocrites address Dante, from Canto XXIII of Divine Comedy, Inferno, by Dante Alighieri. Engraving by Gustave Doré from Pantheon Books edition / Wikimedia Commons.

The Eighth Circle of Hell:
Lieberman, Congress and health care reform
Of course, Sen. Lieberman does not stand alone as a hypocrite. In his company are all of those elected representatives in Congress and their families, who receive Federal Employment Health Benefit Programs, the Rolls Royce of health plans.
By Dr. Stephen R. Keister / The Rag Blog / October 31, 2009

Sen. Joe Lieberman's announcement of his complete and absolute opposition to health care for the poorest and sickest of all Americans took me back to when I was trying to understand Dante Alighieri in my early years. I do recall in his Inferno that Dante subdivided Hell into nine circles, the first circle being the widest and progressively the ninth and inner circle being the smallest and reserved for Lucifer.

Last evening I did a bit of research with Sen. Lieberman in mind and found within the eighth circle the hypocrites, and I quote Dante with a minor modification:
Here we see hypocrites, plodding forever around in their circle: And now we see a people decked with paint, who trod their circling away with fear and groan. And slow, slow steps, seemingly subdued and faint. They all wore cloaks, with deep hoods forward over their eyes, and shaped in fashion like the great cowls some monks wear; Outwardly they were gilded dazzling bright, But all within was lead and weighted thereby, an emperors cape would have seemed feather light. O weary mantle for eternity! Once more we turned to the left, and by their side Paced on, intent upon their mournful cry.
It would appear that Joe Lieberman has become the ultimate hypocrite within the modern American political establishment and that takes quite a bit of effort on his part. During the election that introduced Lieberman to most Americans he designated himself as a very "religious" man who didn’t campaign on The Sabbath. Nevertheless, he voted for every war appropriation designated by the Bush Administration, perhaps inspired, in part, by the two billion for each submarine produced in Connecticut and in part by his representation of Israel's Likud Party in The U.S. Senate.

He for all practical purposes defected to the Republican Party and actively supported Sen. John McCain for president. He accepted rehabilitation from a naive Sen. Harry Reid after the election, rejoined the Democratic caucus, and was granted chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee.

Now, after voting for a $1.4 trillion dollar bailout of the insurance giant AIG, it turns out that he thinks the government cannot afford half that amount to provide the American people with decent health care, including health care for the returning veterans’ families, the families of the active military, and the unempowered average American. Once again he plunges a shiv into the back of the Democratic Party and the American people.

Of course, Sen. Lieberman does not stand alone as a hypocrite. In his company are all of those elected representatives in Congress and their families, who receive Federal Employment Health Benefit Programs, the Rolls Royce of health plans. Since this is government insurance, we the tax payers pay 75% of their premiums. Our representatives pay $503 per year for the coverage. Further, if they need an operation they have the option of having it done at a government hospital such as Walter Reed or Bethesda Naval Hospital.

These are the hypocrites who repeat and repeat that socialized medicine is an evil, that the government cannot and should not pay for it. They are protecting us from the government health care which they enjoy. We should also remember that the tax-payer continues to subsidize our elected representatives’ insurance after he/she leaves the congress.

On top of all this we now have Speaker Pelosi introducing health care legislation in the House with a far from "robust" public option. It seems that many of the progressives in the house want payment to physicians to be based on Medicare rates, while the Blue Dogs want these fees to be negotiated. I must admit that I have mixed feelings, as in many geographic areas, Medicare reimbursement is inadequate, and I note that under the Canadian National Health Plan that fees are negotiated yearly at the Provincial level.

It seems to me that the impasse could easily be settled by granting increased fees to primary care physicians -- who are in such short supply -- under the Medicare schedule. As we have noted previously, and as has been underlined by The American College of Physicians, this shortage will not be solved without making the fees of the general practitioner, the internist and for those in internal medicine subspecialties and pediatrics generally on a par with certain of those traditionally overpaid surgical subspecialties.

Any "public option" -- to be effective in reducing insurance costs and providing for the well-being of the public at large -- must provide (1) universal coverage, (2) the ability for any and all citizens to opt for the public plan without restrictions, thus reducing health care costs overall, and (3) must begin to provide coverage at the earliest possible time, and not await 2013, as many Americans will continue to die for lack of health insurance in that interval.

Granted, it will require time to provide a well managed, all inclusive program, but it should be instituted gradually over the next three years to start providing coverage for those without insurance. As Dr. Howard Dean pointed out on MSNBC, it is good politics looking forward to the elections of 2010 and 2012 to make the public aware that the government is exhibiting the ability and compassion to implement the program. As for the proposed right for states to "opt-out,” it is probably harmless to include that within a bill but it appears to be a bit of legislative absurdity.

Yesterday the progressives in Congress met with President Obama and the full context of the discussion has not been made public. The President has been a first class waffler relative to health care reform. It is up to the thinking progressives to keep the pressure on for the next several weeks and to try and offer him guidance. Without his leadership the dream of decent health insurance for all can never be achieved.

We must grant that the President has a full plate with both health care and Afghanastan; however, Mr. Obama is an intelligent human being, and was certainly aware of these problems prior to his election. In my opinion, the well being of the American people takes precedence over the umpiring of tribal feuds and pipe line building in a nation in central Asia that has historically, since the time of Alexander the Great, rejected foreign occupation.

On October 20, Robert Reich wrote on his blog,
Last January, as I understand it, the White House promised Big Pharma, big insurance, and the AMA the moral equivalent of what Joel Halderman allegedly demanded of David Letterman: hush money. The groups agreed to stay silent or even be supportive of health care reform, as long as they were paid off. But now it's time to collect, the bill is larger than the White House expected, and its going to fall like an avalanche on middle class Americans in coming years. That could mean an ugly 2012 election (read Sarah Palin). So the President has to do what Letterman did: refuse to pay.
On October 26 Reuters published an article indicating that our current health care system wastes up to $800 billion per year due to:
  1. Unnecessary care such as overuse of antibiotics and lab tests to protect against malpractice exposure makes up to 37% of health care waste or $200 to $300 billion a year.
  2. Fraud makes up to 22% of health care waste or up to $200 billion a year in fraudulent Medicare claims, kickbacks for referrals for unnecessary services and other scams.
  3. Administrative inefficiency and redundant paper work account for 18% of health care waste.
  4. Medical mistakes account for $50 billion to $100 billion in unnecessary spending each year or 11% of the total.
  5. Preventable conditions such as uncontrolled diabetes cost $30 billion to $50 billion a year.
The same report indicates that the average U.S. hospital spends one quarter of its budget on billing and administration, nearly twice the average in Canada. American physicians spend nearly eight hours per week on paperwork and employ 1.66 clerical workers per doctor, far more than in Canada. Yet, primary care doctors are lacking, forcing wasteful use of emergency rooms.

Yet the On Line Journal reports that
United Health Care's 155% profits on Medicare Plans ("Medicare Advantage") must be a company record, especially in a down economy, and an embarrassing fact, particularly as the conservatives in the Senate Finance Committee fight to preserve the present payment structure of United Health Care and its fellow insurance companies. Private insurance plans in medicare cost up to 19% more than the cost to care for the same people under the public Medicare program.
In other words the taxpayers lost $2.7 billion in 2005 to private medicare advantage plans and their parent insurance companies. Yet the insurance industry and its prostitutes “keep telling innocent seniors that they will suffer (even more) if they lose their Medicare Advantage Plans.” This is not true. “Medicare Advantage Plans can hurt people with Medicare. Two studies found that people could end up actually paying out-of-pocket costs in a private plan than in straight Medicare.”

Congress, in the interest of preserving Medicare, must act on this issue, and must also redo the Medicare prescription plan, in the interest in saving the Medicare Plan for future generations.

I have previously warned the consumer about the purchase of insurance, medical devices, or pharmaceuticals advertised on TV. It does not require an Einstein to recognize that TV ads cost money, and that the consumer pays in the end. The current edition of Consumer Reports discusses Flomax, the highly advertised drug for an enlarged prostate. In 2008 the manufacturer spent $116 million advertising Flomax and racked up sales of $1.2 billion. Flomax can cost up to $246 monthly to the patient; however, one can obtain a generic equivalent, Doxazosin, for approximately $10 per month.

Always ask your doctor about generic equivalents, which are just as good as name brands, and are equally safe. If your physician refuses to discuss the matter, you should be concerned that he MIGHT be getting a kickback on the brand name version, or at the least is poorly informed. It is easy to look up this information in a book entitled the Physicians' Desk Reference.

Unhappily, true health care reform is in the hands of Congress, and that reminds me of a comment by Mary McCarthy:
The American, if he has a spark of national feeling, will be humiliated by the very prospect of a foreigner's visit to Congress -- these, for the most part, illiterate hacks whose fancy vestys are spotted with gravy, and whose speeches, hypocritical, unctuous and slovenly, are spotted with the gravy of political patronage, these persons are a reflection on the democratic process rather than of it; they expose it in its underwear.
[Dr. Stephen R. Keister lives in Erie, Pennsylvania. He is a retired physician who is active in health care reform.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

30 October 2009

Honduras : A Deal is Cut to Reinstate Zelaya

Zelaya supporter shouts slogans outside the National Congress. Photo from AFP.

Compromise deal restores Zelaya
Riot police meet demonstrators with tear gas

By David Holmes Morris / The Rag Blog / October 30, 2009
See Val Liveoak's analysis of the latest developments -- plus more photos -- Below.
After three weeks of negotiations in a Tegucigalpa hotel, representatives of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and de facto President Roberto Micheletti have reached an agreement by which Zelaya may be reinstated to the position from which he was ousted in a coup d’état on June 28.

On the same day the accords were announced, the police and the military attacked the several hundred demonstrators outside the Clarión Hotel, where the talks were held, using teargas and beating and arresting an unknown number of protesters. “This government is committed to dialogue,” Micheletti declared in a press release announcing the agreement, “keeping to its goal of defending fundamental principles for the well being of our homeland.”

The agreement, announced late in the night of October 29, results from Micheletti’s concession that Zelaya’s restitution should be ratified by the legislature, as Zelaya had held, and not by the supreme court, as the golpista government had argued. Zelaya and his supporters had claimed that leaving the final decision to the court would constitute an admission that the president was removed from office by due process as a result of the crimes against the constitution that the golpistas have charged him with, while a legislative decision would imply he was removed by decree in a coup d’état.

The accord comes after the direct intercession of U.S. State Department undersecretary Thomas Shannon and follows weeks of efforts by representatives of the Organization of Ameican States.

The agreement would leave the final decision on Zelaya’s reinstatement up to the unicameral legislature, pending approval by the supreme court not of his reinstatement but of the legislature’s authority to decide the question. The court had declared several weeks earlier that it would abide by any decision reached in the talks.

The agreement also calls for formation of a “government of reconciliation,” presumably including at cabinet level representatives of all sectors of society; rejects a proposed amnesty for acts committed in connection with the political crisis; calls for recognition of the results of the November 29 elections; specifies the formation of a truth commission; and calls for asking the international community to remove sanctions imposed on the country as a result of the coup and to send observers to monitor the elections.

Riot police hurling tear gas at a march of Zelaya's supporters in Tegucigalpa, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009. Photo by Arnulfo Franco.

Zelaya had agreed early in the negotiations to abandon efforts to organize a constituent assembly, efforts he had made earlier in response to popular pressure, which had sparked the coup. A national opinion poll on rewriting the constitution was scheduled for the same day he was ousted from office.

If actually reinstated, Zelaya will thus serve with no real power for the few weeks left before his term expires in January. “Returing to power might be symbolic,” a Honduran newspaper quotes him as saying two weeks ago, “but what cannot be permitted is that there be coups d’état in any country.”

Elimination of the question of a constituent assembly, central to the concerns of the resistance movement opposing the coup government, brought about the resignation of resistance leader Juan Barahona from Zelaya’s three-member negotiating team. “I didn’t sign [the agreement], I don’t agree with it,” Barahona told the press. “We are never going to renounce the constituent assembly. But we will continue supporting President Zelaya.” Barahona is a director of the Frente de Resistencia contra el Golpe de Estado.

Rafael Alegría, another director of the Frente, has been quoted in the press as declaring that the position of the group is “to continue demanding a constituent assembly and full democracy for the country.” He added, “Our position remains firm: the resistance will not back down, so we are still in the streets demanding President Zelaya’s reinstatement and demanding democracy."

“Zelaya is a symbol,” Salvador Zúñiga has been quoted as saying, “but he is not the definition.” Zúñiga is director of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras, the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. Writing for La Jornada, journalist Arturo Cano says Zúñiga, part of Zelaya’s team of negotaitors in the earlier San José talks, belongs to a sector of the resistance seeking the formation of a “civilian junta” government which would call a constituent assembly within six months “to carry out the profound reforms the country needs, a possible solution given the deep crisis we are living through.”

Many observers say the golpista plan, as supported and promoted by the United States, is to reinstate Zelaya shortly before the November elections in order to create an appearance of legitimacy for the resulting government. The candidate for the rightist Partido Nacional, Pepe Lobo, is expected to win the presidency. Even with Zelaya back in office, large numbers of Hondurans are expected to boycott the elections. The October 29 agreement, reached a month before the November 29 elections, would seem to fit the alleged plan.

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, with supporters, at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, Friday, Oc.t 30, 2009. Photo by Esteban Felix.

Some reflections on the accord in Honduras:
The elite will still be in control

By Val Liveoak / The Rag Blog / October 30, 2009

The accord as described in the NYT article below is a mixed bag.

If all this had happened months ago it would have been great. Now, it leaves things on a road not only to the status before the ouster of President Zelaya, but actually before some of the progressive moves his government made.

To my knowledge, none of the registered candidates for President in the now to be recognized elections has offered to maintain his changes -- among them almost doubling the minimum wage, ties with ALBA countries, cheaper petroleum from Venezuela, etc. I doubt any will continue the call for a revision of the Constitution, the issue that sparked the ouster -- and was about much more than a change in limitations of presidential terms.

Nor will some of the setbacks instituted by the coup government -- and Congreso -- likely be rolled back. These include privatization of power, water and forest resources which were put into effect, I was told, within a few days of the coup. (There's talk of selling off the Copan Ruins, the jewel of tourism in Honduras, as well.) In fact, it remains to be seen if the ministers/cabinet members that the coup regime replaced will be able to return to any sort of effective administration in the few months left of Zelaya's term.

It will be interesting to see how the Resistance coalition responds. They have been calling for delayed elections in which they have the time and security to mount an effective opposition candidate. If they were able to do this, considering their numbers (I believe 75-80% of the population) they would be able to win considerable power in a new government.

Even assuming the government that is elected in November will protect human rights and provide security to opposition candidates, will they be willing to wait for another election cycle? Will the new government make real efforts to address their concerns?

Roberto Micheletti: "Committed to dialogue." Photo by Tiempo.

An effective Truth commission would be a very good step. We'll see how it resolves the dilemma between a superficial reconciliation and actually punishing human rights violations. We'll also see if the new administration after the elections will rein in the security forces in the face of what I expect to be fairly widespread and likely militant opposition. Will formal "legal" repression via security forces and non-formal repression via death squads or paramilitary forces become the standard operating procedure?

In some accounts of the agreement there was more emphasis on the efforts of the OAS. But it looks to me like the U.S.' efforts chiefly seem to be aimed at legitimizing the November elections (which cannot be the engine for any real change in Honduras unless something changes very fast).

The question is, would an election not accepted by the world have been worse than the one that will return the status quo? Given the reality of the probable results of the elections, it will be extremely important for U.S. and world policy to emphasize protection of human rights of the now large and united opposition.

If the opposition continues to meet violent repression or even finds itself incapable of making changes that Honduras needs to reduce the terrible levels of poverty in the country, the possibility of pressure from some sources for an armed insurgency are likely to increase.

The elite of Honduras will win the election in November, I believe. If they continue to do things as they have done throughout the last four months, Honduras is ripe for revolution.

Here's what the NYT has to say.
Deal Reached in Honduras to Restore Ousted President
By Elisabeth Malkin / October 30, 2009

MEXICO CITY -- A lingering political crisis in Honduras seemed to be nearing an end on Friday after the de facto government agreed to a deal, pending legislative approval, that would allow Manuel Zelaya, the deponed president, to return to office.

The government of Roberto Micheletti, which had refused to let Mr. Zelaya return, signed an agreement with Mr. Zelaya's negotiators late Thursday that would pave the way for the Honduran Congress to restore the ousted president and allow him to serve out the remaining three months of his term. If Congress agrees, control of the army would shift to the electoral court, and the presidential election set for Nov. 29 would be recognized by both sides.

Honduran resistance leaders Juan Barahona (left) and Rafael Alegría. Photo by TeleSUR.

On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the deal "an historic agreement."

"I cannot think of another example of a country in Latin America that, having suffered a rupture of its democratic and constitutional order, overcame such a crisis through negotiation and dialogue," Mrs. Clinton said in Islamabad, where she has been meeting with Pakistani officials.

The accord came after a team of senior American diplomats flew from Washington to the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, on Wednesday to press for an agreement. On Thursday, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, Thomas A. Shannon Jr., warned that time was running out for an agreement.

Mr. Micheletti's government had argued that the Nov. 29 election would put an end to the crisis. But the United States, the Organization of American States and the United Nations suggested they would not recognize the results of the elections without a pre-existing agreement on Mr. Zelaya's status.

"We were very clearly on the side of the restoration of the constitutional order, and that includes the elections," Mrs. Clinton said in Islamabad.

According to Mr. Micheletti, the accord reached late Thursday would establish a unity government and a verification commission to ensure that its conditions are carried out. It would also create a truth comisión to investigate the events of the past few months.

The agreement also reportedly asks the international community to recognize the results of the elections and to lift any sanctions that were imposed after the coup. The suspension of international aid has stalled badly needed projects in one of the region's poorest countries. Negotiators for both men were expected to meet Friday to work out final details. It was not clear what would happen if the Honduran Congreso rejected the deal.

Passage could mean a bookend to months of international pressure and political turmoil in Honduras, where regular marches by Mr. Zelaya's supporters and curfews have paralyzed the capital.

Latin American governments had pressed the Obama administration to take a forceful approach to ending the political impasse, but Washington had let the Organization of American States take the lead and endorsed negotiations that were brokered by the Costa Rican president, Óscar Arias. But those talks stalled in July.

Demonstrators outside Clarión Hotel. Photo by Indymedia Honduras.

New negotiations began earlier this month but broke down two weeks ago. With the Honduran elections approaching, the United States chose to step up pressure and dispatched Mr. Shannon, along with Dan Restrepo, the senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council.

Some Honduran political and business leaders have argued that the military coup that ousted Mr. Zelaya on June 28 was a legal response to his attempts to rewrite the Constitution and seek re-election. But that constituency was also concerned by his deepening alliance with Venezuela's leftist president, Hugo Chávez.

Mr. Zelaya, who was initially deposited in Costa Rica, still in his nightclothes, sneaked back into the country on Sept. 21 and has been living at the Brazilian Embassy since then. It was unclear when Mr. Zelaya would be able to leave the embassy, which has had Honduran soldiers posted outside. The de facto government had said it would arrest him if he came out.

Source / New York Times
The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Paul Baker : Giant of Texas Theater Dies at 98

Paul Baker in front of Dallas Theater Center, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1960. Photo by Eliot Elisofon / Life Images.

Giant of Texas theater Paul Baker:
Director, educator, firebrand dies at 98
See 'Paul Baker at Baylor: A student remembers,' by Jim Simons, Below.
Texas has lost one of its legendary artistic mavericks: Theater pioneer Paul Baker died Sunday [October. 25, 2009] of complications from pneumonia at his Central Texas ranch.

Mr. Baker, 98, was the founding artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center, which he led for 23 of its 50 years. His unconventional ideas about education nurtured such playwrights as Preston Jones, and his students have been among the most influential Dallas arts leaders...

Mr. Baker was also known for his mercurial moods and his practical jokes. Actor Charles Laughton, whom he directed in the 1950s, called him "crude, irritating, arrogant, nuts and a genius..."
While a professor at Baylor University in the 1950s, Mr. Baker attracted national attention with his experimental productions. His national profile caused Dallas theater backers to invite him to set the initial course for the city's leading theatrical institution. He worked with master architect Frank Lloyd Wright on the design of the Theater Center's home for its first 50 years, the Kalita Humphreys Theater. [This would be Wright’s last building.]

Controversy always lurked near Mr. Baker. In 1963, Baylor University asked him to omit language the school objected to from Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. He, his wife, Kitty (who taught mathematics at the Baptist-affiliated university), and his entire staff resigned -- but immediately set up an even bigger shop at Trinity University, by then in San Antonio.

Lawson Taitte / Dallas Morning News

In the 1950s, Baker invented revolutionary arts training known as “integration of abilities,” which won the attention of theater artists around the world...

...Baker made a crucial voyage to England, Germany, Russia and Japan to observe theater. Insights from this trip helped form a new Baylor theater, Studio One, which placed the audience in swivel chairs embraced by six stages. Over the next decades, Baker would contribute to 10 other Texas theater designs that positioned the dramatic action around the halls, rather than on a 19th century-style picture frame stage.

Michael Barnes / Austin American-Statesman

From left, Burgess Meredith, director Paul Baker, and Charles Laughton at rehearsal for Hamlet, Baylor University. Photo by Myron Davis / Time & Life Pictures /Getty Images.
Paul Baker at Baylor:
A student remembers

By Jim Simons / The Rag Blog / October 30, 2009

In my one year at Baylor University in the late ‘50s, I was not impressed by the quality of education or the professors. Even so, my best college professor at the three universities I attended may well have been Paul Baker at Baylor.

I took two courses he taught: Beginning Playwriting and Introduction to the Creative Process. I quickly confirmed I was no playwright in the making. My heavy-handed play, laden with obvious symbolism and self-consciously intellectual dialogue, earned me a C, generous at that. But the other course was one of the best I ever encountered in
Texas academe. We studied all kinds of art -- literature, painting (I wrote a paper on Joan Miro), architecture, dance and music in one electrifying semester.

It was the process of creating art that Baker was after. We read what artists themselves had written in letters or essays about their work. We read their works (literature) and the analyses of critics. It was, as you can tell, a lot of work. Work undertaken willingly and enthusiastically. In class Professor Baker lectured in his roving and animated style and he brought in a few of the people we studied to lecture in person. Luckily, all my other courses were a cakewalk and so I made an A in this scintillating class.

At the time I did not realize how truly marvelous this course, or Baker himself, was. It was only years later that I came to view this as a significant part of my education. Day dreaming in law school as the teacher droned on about the Statute of Uses or Texas land titles, I found my mind going back to things we learned from Baker, or more accurately, with Baker. His mind seemed always sweeping over the familiar (to him) material and finding new insights which clearly delighted him. He was equally delighted if one of the lunks seated in the Baylor Theater where the class was held came upon a revelation.

At the time it was said that there were about three avowed liberals on the Baylor faculty. I believe Paul Baker was one of them. I knew my great debate coach, Glenn Capp, was one of them and I had heard that Dr. A.J. Armstrong of the English Department (and his wife Anne) completed the courageous Baylor triumvirate. There might have been a few other pretenders or, as we said in other contexts, “LBJ liberals,” not unlike what Sam Rayburn said of Dixiecrats, they were like "new antiques." (Of course, Rayburn never said that of his close ally, Lyndon.)

I was shocked to see that the story about Paul Baker’s death at age 98 that ran in the Austin paper failed to even mention Baker’s resignation from Baylor in 1963 over the attempt to censor a play at the Baylor Theater. I wondered whether Baylor University had succeeded in whitewashing history?

In 1963 Paul Baker mounted a production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Days Journey Into Night” at Baylor Theater and, if I recall, got to perform it once before Baptist ministers in Waco and others incensed by its language and themes put up a righteous howl, as Baptists do so well. Then president of Baylor Abner McCall ordered Baker to excise all the “bad language” and some of the improper themes before going on with the production.

Baker resigned rather than accede to this demand. Virtually the entire Drama Department, including its graduate students, also resigned. Many followed Baker to Trinity University in San Antonio where he kept teaching and producing plays. His principled stand at Baylor had only enlarged the gigantic stature of this man in my eyes.

A few years ago, perhaps in the ‘90s, I saw Paul Baker again when he appeared at the Hyde Park Theater in Austin to support a play written and performed in by Ken Webster. Did I actually speak to Baker and stumblingly try to tell him how he had lit up my young mind back at Baylor University four decades ago? Or, did I so vividly imagine my encounter with him that I had come to believe my fantasy? I am honestly not sure. I hope I did at least try to tell him what he meant to the education of one kid at Baylor.

Growing up in Waco in the ‘40s I had gotten the idea that Baylor was the pinnacle of the college experience, an experience no one else in my family had. Hence, after my freshman year at SMU, I jumped at the full debate scholarship offered to me by Prof Capp (as he was known by all) and took up residence in old Brooks Hall, a gothic five story men’s dormitory without elevators, now gone, replaced by a gleaming 21st century dorm.

Unfortunately, not all of our youthful ideas survive a reality check. Baylor did not live up to the idea I had of it from living in Waco and rooting for the football team on Saturdays when my long dead father took me to the games. Some of the fondest memories of my life. As a student at Baylor in 1958, even I could see how narrow and parochial the school was and how limited its horizons in assessing the human condition through great literature and science. Diversity was something strenuously resisted and so the intellectual climate there was stifling.

Some five years before the dustup that drove Paul Baker away, I left Waco to take up residence at the Campus Guild Coop on the campus of the big state university in Austin. Home at last. But the part of Baylor I took with me was what I learned three hours a week in Paul Baker’s course, perhaps the best one I had in my checkered college life.

The season has been marked by the shaking of the earth as giants have fallen. Before word of Paul Baker there was another giant who passed. The great American and Texas jurist William Wayne Justice was also taken away. It is likely that they never met each other even though close in age. But both men affected my life and the lives of so many others.

[Civil rights lawyer and activist Jim Simons wrote Molly Chronicles: Serotonin Serenade, a memoir about movement law and radical poitics in Sixties Austin.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Afghan Hawks : Make Your Case (And Chill with the Hot Air)

Photo by Michael Yon / Big Hollywood.

A suggestion to the Afghan hawks:
Give us facts, not just hot air

By Sherman DeBrosse / The Rag Blog / October 30, 2009

The supporters of Joe Biden seem to be on the defensive in the debate over what to do in Afghanistan even though the hawks have not advanced a strong case for escalating our involvement there. There seems still to be a basic assumption abroad that Americans must police the world, blindly follow the Pentagon, and apply more force when in doubt.

Those were clearly the assumptions of Dick Cheney, our most outspoken hawk, when he accused President Barack Obama of “dithering,” claiming taking time to deliberate about Afghanistan policy amounted to putting American lives at risk. In conjured images of a surrounded unit waiting for reinforcements. The former vice president has the right to criticize Obama, but we have a right to expect solid arguments rather than loaded words and appeals to emotion. If he had good arguments to offer, he did not bother to make them.

Of course, the greatest hawks are in the military. On October 13, Sy Hersh told a Duke University audience that the Pentagon was at war with the White House, and he bluntly stated that some of this was racially motivated. He added that the struggle is about control of policy and that it was calculated that President Barack Obama will lose support no matter what he does. All of this is reminiscent of the insubordination of Douglas MacArthur, the bad information the Pentagon fed LBJ in 1965, and the Navy’s theft of Nixon documents in 1971-1972.

When Pentagon staffers said they could not prepare a report on the advantages of a counterterrorism-only option because there were none, any serious observer could see that the military was in danger of exceeding its constitutional role. Hersh, a famous investigative reporter whose reports have been consistently well sourced, predicted that the Pentagon would get Obama to accept its will.

The Afghanistan hawks are talking about putting many more Americans in harm’s way. Those lives are precious. We have also reached the point where more care should be taken with the money we spend. By a conservative estimate Bush’s wars will cost between three and five trillion. Who knows how much more McCrystal’s proposed escalation will cost?

There is also the matter of priorities. Conservatives are outraged that almost $900 billion will be spent over ten years to extend health care to almost all Americans. They do not begrudge spending any amount on war and destruction.

Some might remember that the Pentagon strategists used game theory in the Sigma simulations to test various strategies for winning the Vietnam War. They never found one that would assure victory. Nevertheless, we slogged on because it was inconceivable that the commitment of massive forces and resources would not work.

The hawks have not offered compelling reasons to wade deeper into the Afghan morass, nor have they offered a strategy that promises success.

Before committing more troops to Afghanistan, the hawks should be sure that all or almost all of the following are true.

1. There should be a government in place in Kabul that will win the confidence of the great majority of the people.

This is what we know. The Afghans had a disputed election, and the UN sacked Peter Galbraith for revealing that there was a great deal of cheating on behalf of President Hamid Karzai. There were “ghost polling-stations” and far fewer people voted than were claimed. Bitterness against Karzai’s election tactics is intense. No one believes bitterness over the recently rigged election will dissipate soon. A third of the ballots cast for Karzai were tossed out and he now must face a run-off election. It is estimated that again there will be a low turnout due to Taliban threats and the widespread opinion there that the IEC favors Karzai. That may be why the Sirai Haqqani Taliban faction, operating out of North Waziristan in Pakistan, targeted the UN guest houses.

Few think we can be successful in Afghanistan without a government that commands the allegiance of most Afghans. Almost all admit that the Karzai government is impossibly corrupt. It is widely claimed that Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother, is involved with a drug trafficker who also does business with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Yet many think this regime will be a solid and useful partner in ending the insurgency there. No one believes bitterness over the recently rigged election will dissipate soon.

In eight years, Karzai has made little progress in building up the army and police forces. The Afghan National Army stands at 94,000 and has had a little success in the north. It will take two years to increase it to 134,000. That is still far short of the 300 or 400 thousand that are needed. Who can remember that there were 91,000 when George W. Bush began to rebuild the ANA.

Counterinsurgency is really about keeping the Taliban from gaining control of any large part of Afghanistan so that they will not give Al Qaeda a safe haven. Richard Barrett, coordinator of the U.N.’s Al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee, quotes remarks by Mullah Omar to the effect that the Taliban will focus on consolidating power, not bringing in Al Qaeda. The Taliban realize that giving bases to Al Qaeda got them kicked out in the first place. Doing so again would result in tremendous punishment and probable loss of power.

Any extended commitment that looks like imperialism or occupation will fail. To battle that perception, the administration should talk in terms of an expeditionary force that will remain around two years, more or less. Less, if the Afghan government does not appear to improve. . That puts the Karzai regime on notice that it must quickly put its house in order, and it precludes an open-ended war.

2. Pakistan will stop assisting the Afghanistan Taliban and will prevent its Taliban from entering Afghanistan.

Pakistan will continue playing a double game -- doing enough to get aid while keeping the Afghan Taliban alive. Pakistan has a vital interest preserving great interest in Afghan affairs. They distrust Karzai because he is too close to India and is permitting Indians to invest in Afghanistan. India is doing many good things there to help the Afghan people; the trouble is that their presence is one reason Pakistan still helps the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistan also complains that the Karzai regime is top heavy with Tajiks and that the Pashtuns are seriously underrepresented. The Pakistanis put the Taliban in power in the mid-1990s and learned that they are not ideal clients. For the moment, they are a useful tool. Pakistan would prefer to broker a new power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan that would give the Pashtuns the upper hand while keeping the Taliban from the main levers of power.

The second problem with Pakistan is control of its border. It is true that Pakistan has sent 30,000 troops to deal with the Mehsud Taliban. The Nehsud insurgents no longer have much public support, but they will prove to be difficult to handle on the battle field.

It is a battle between troops trained to battle Indians in conventional warfare against guerillas. So far, that army has not shown skill in dealing with civilians in Taliban-infested areas or in helping refugees from the fighting.

The Pakistan Army managed to crack the alliance between the Mehsud and the Pashtun Pakistani Talibans led by Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur. The army has repeatedly failed to deal effectively with them and has had to resort to bribery. Now Major General Athar Abbas promises to deal with those two, as soon as the Mehsud are crushed: “If you get the biggest bully in [the tribal lands,] all the other guys will fall into line.” If this were believable, Zazir and Bahadur would not have let the alliance with the Mehsud dissolve.

There is also another Pakistani Pashtun Taliban under Sirajuddin Hawwani, which is thought responsible for the Kabul bombings. In the past he had close ties to the ISI, Pakistan’s CIA. Now the Pakis tell us they have no idea where he is. The United States has evidence that he is operating out of North Waziristan. All three of these Paki Pashtun Talibans are Afghanistan-oriented and likely to be sending troops across the border with greater frequency.

Hilary gets an earful. Secy of State Clinton talks with Pakistani tribal people in Islamabad, Friday, Oct. 30, 2009. Photo by Irfan Mahkmood / AP.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confronted Pakistan on the matter of Siraj Hawwani and other Taliban who have been hiding out in Pakistan since 2002. Her charge that Pakistan has been colluding with these terrorists offended the Pakistanis, but it was important that she confront them on t his. The Pakistanis are willing to fight home-grown Taliban when those people threaten the regime. So far they have not moved against the Afghan Taliban in the tribal areas.

So long as these units are not attacking the Pakistani army, it is not in the army’s self interest to move against them. Similarly, there is no good reason to injure the Taliban in Afghanistan so long as Karzai pursues the same policies with respect to India and the Pashtuns.

It would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that the Afghan Taliban might eventually obtain shoulder mounted missile launchers from people in the Pakistani military. The Pakistanis have a large store of them, which they have manufactured. Though the military was once thoroughly secular, Islamic fundamentalism jihadism is common among the rank and file and is growing in the officer corps. We know that the Pakistani Taliban is using heavy weapons against the Pakistani army. How did they obtain them?

3. The “surge” techniques used in Iraq will be successful in Afghanistan.

The surge in Iraq focused on urban areas, and there are far fewer of them in Afghanistan. In Iraq, it involved buying off Sunni tribal leaders and their followers. It would be a step toward realistic thinking if advocates of escalation in Afghanistan admitted that purchasing support was a big part of the surge’s success. Bribery is worth trying in Afghanistan, where insurgent fighters get about $10 a month. We should try that in any case, but it is necessary to realize that the tribal structures in Afghanistan are not as powerful and coherent as in Iraq.

Only Bob Woodward has openly discussed another reason why the surge worked. Special Forces in Iraq, under McCrystal, carried out something like the Vietnam War’s Operation Phoenix and eliminated thousands of the insurgent cadre. It seems that that technique may not work in Afghanistan. Black ops there seem to convert people into Taliban supporters. That is partly why pilots and drone operators must get permission from a superior officer and a JAG lawyer before firing missiles. There is also concern about the negative consequences under international law if too many civilians are injured.

A U.S. counterinsurgency program will require far more troops that McCrystal is now requesting, in part because there are fewer urban concentrations and because of disadvantages presented by weather and terrain. Afghans in the south and east already see the U.S. as an occupying power, and the presence of more troops is certain to deepen that impression in those places and possibly spread it to the rest of the country. The McCrystal strategy would be an occupation, and foreign occupations of that country since the time of Alexander the Great have been failures.

Simply put, occupations breed anger, and long occupations breed still more anger and violence. Many experts claim that raising the number of U.S. troops there will simply provoke a great nationalist backlash. The Carnegie Institute concluded earlier this year that the coming of additional American forces actually helped the insurgency as Afghans saw them as occupiers. Success will require substantial forces in remote, mountainous places, where we have not always had great success.

Pakistan has 32 different linguistic groups, a mountain chain that extends 300 miles, and only 11,000 miles of roads -- less than a fifth of them paved. This will be an extremely difficult environment for effective counterinsurgency activity by foreign forces.

The battle of Wanat, Afghanistan, lasted only two hours on July 13. The base was up in the mountains at a place where we could disrupt the flow of Taliban fighters coming in from Pakistan. Nine Americans were killed and 29 were injured, amounting to a casualty rate of 75%. Warfare is the number one sport in Afghanistan, and these illiterate warriors are smart when it comes to tactics. They know that frequent bad weather inhibits airpower and they first go after heavy weapons and communications. They look for windows of opportunity to attack.

On that day they attacked at 4:20 a.m., firing rocket grenades at anti-tank rocket launchers and a 50 caliber machine gun. It took time for the choppers to arrive, and visibility was tough. The aircraft took some hits, but we retained the base.

Two weeks ago, at a base north of Wanat, we lost eight soldiers in a bloody day-long battle. They were killed by a well-armed force that dwarfed them in size. Their mission was to try to stem the flow of Pakistani Taliban fighters over the border to join their allies in the Afghan Taliban. Indeed, a number of the fighters were Pakistani Taliban expelled from the Swat Valley by Pakistan’s army.

The guerilla force that confronted the Americans numbered about 300. In Iraq, the guerilla forces seldom exceeded 30, with the possible exception of the fighting in Fallujah.

We found it necessary to abandon both those bases in Nurestan province.

Even General Stanley McCrystal admits we have not mastered the math of counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan. Sometimes 20-2+0. That is we take out 2 insurgents and the other eighteen might just quit and go home. Good. But sometimes 20-2= 47. We take out two important insurgents and their male relatives join the Taliban or some groups using that name.

Economic aid is a good thing, but we still have not mastered how to administer it. We have only learned recently that using non-Afghan contractors almost always alienates people. But now we learn that we have to be careful which Afghan contractors should be used.

4. Our allies are prepared to soldier on in Afghanistan for at least several more years.

Afghanistan has become a NATO mission, and our president would be well advised to invite NATO to join in these deliberations. Otherwise, it will appear that we are continuing the Bush policy of dictating to others. Obama was selected for the Nobel Prize in part because he turned away from unilateralism and opted for engaging our allies and others.

Obama asked Germany for more troops, and the Federal Republic refused. Now we learn that Italian troops in Sarobi area of Afghanistan bribed the Taliban not to attack them. This left the French vulnerable to attack because the Italians had not warned the French that they were bribing the Taliban.

The mood in Europe is clearly against sending more troops. France, Germany, and Great Britain have asked for an international conference to discuss how NATO forces can be phased out in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Gordon Brown upped his contribution by 500 troops and said counterinsurgency efforts were necessary. But he tied his commitment to more troops from other NATO countries and Afghan commitments to be more inclusive, fight corruption, and deploy more soldiers.

In view of the growing sentiment in Europe against the Afghanistan operation, it would be wise to learn how much support we could count on if we ramp up the effort to provide population security. Already some writers fear that extended involvement in Afghanistan could be the rock on which the NATO vessel breaks. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has endorsed Obama’s decision to review the policy and has said that it is more important to get the right strategy than to rely on putting in more troops.

1. The escalation plan has a diplomatic component that will contribute to success on the ground.

There are diplomatic options, but they do not promise success. Some of them may not be acceptable to the American people.

Hillary Clinton, supported by Henry Kissinger, has suggested that we call for a regional conference to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. It should include Iran, China, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia. Our nervous NATO allies should also be represented. Maybe nothing will come of a conference, but Iran, Russia, China, and India have many reasons to want stability in Afghanistan. The last thing they need is a state that exports terrorism. This would be a remodeled version of the old UN sponsored six plus talks of the 1990s and 2001. The U.S. should be represented by experienced diplomats from both parties.

Talks on Afghanistan might somehow be coordinated with talks about Iran. Russian Foreign Minister Sergi Lavrov told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that Russia and China opposed more sanctions against Iran at this time and favored multilateral talks with Iran. The U.S. has previously said it favored talking to the Iranians. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is in China arranging for the building of a refinery there in return for loans to Russian banks. He is probably also discussing Afghanistan.

Russia and China have been drawing closer to one another and, through the Shanghai Cooperation Council, are demonstrating that they do not want to see U.S. hegemony in Central Asia. They will not stand for Iran being crushed, but they oppose a nuclear armed Iran. It is possible we could work out a broad deal for Central Asia with them.

Our internal discussion of the Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan questions takes place as though they are not related. But they are interlinked. Many Afghans who are now on our side speak Persian and are strongly influenced by Iran. Iran could make things even worse for us in Afghanistan, but it has no reason now to want an unstable Afghanistan. By the same token, Iran could make the Iraq situation much worse if it supplied Shiite insurgents with ground to air missiles or even simply the devices the mujahedeen used against the Russians.

Our dealings with Iran can impact upon what goes on in Afghanistan. So far, they have gone tit for tat. For each black op and insurgent activity we sponsor in Iran, they have answered in kind. By appearing to be more reasonable than Bush, President Obama has obtained some important concessions from Iran and may be able to do more. But if Israel were to move against Iran, we could expect Iran to use its influence against us among its Afghan clients.

These are all important and relevant questions. The debate over what to do in Afghanistan could be improved if the hawks attempted to answer these questions. So far, the hawks have advanced nothing but macho appeals, emotionalism, and distortions. Years ago, this sort of thing was dismissed as “foreign policy fundamentalism” and was identified with Strangelove types like Curtis LeMay and unsophisticated politicians from the most remote provinces. Today, we hear it from a former Vice President, and it seems to represent the foreign policy of a party once respected for its real politik in foreign policy.

[Sherman DeBrosse is a retired history teacher. Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go here.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

29 October 2009

Sudanese Journalist : Seven Years at Guantanamo was 'Living Hell'

Above, supporters of Sami Al'Hajj unfurl banner during Al'Hajj's 2008 hunger strike. Below, Al Jazeera interviews Sami Al'Hajj at the Doha International Airport in Quatar, May 30, 2008. Photo by omar_chatriwala / Flickr.

Journalist Al'Hajj describes Guantanamo detention
Before international war crimes conference

By Maria J. Dass / October 29, 2009

A journalist from Al Jazeera who was detained in Guantanamo Bay for seven years described his detention as a living hell.

Sami Al’Hajj, a Sudanese who was released on May 1, 2008, told the Criminalise War International Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, of beatings, water boarding, being striped naked, sleep deprivation, degradation of religion and being force-fed through a tube that he endured throughout his detention.

“There were psychiatrists who were part of the programme to psychologically break us,” he said.

He claimed five of the detainees were driven by American soldiers to their death.

Sami was detained by Pakistani authorities at the Afghanistan border on Dec 15, 2001, mistaken for his colleague Tassir Alony who was wanted by the United States for information on Taliban and Osama bin Laden whom he (Tassir) had interviewed after the Sept 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

Sami believes he was a victim of the Pakistani authorities who were eager to hand over people to the US for a bounty of US$5,000 (RM17,129) for each person.

He was first detained at the Bangram detention centre in Afghanistan for six months before being transported to Guantanamo.

“We were shackled in a hunched position with hoods placed over our heads and ear plugs to cut us off completely from what was happening around us.

“My legs were numb from having to hunch for several hours during the journey from Pakistan, and then I was forced to stand up and pushed out of the plane, causing me to fall and break my legs at the knee,” said the 40-year-old who depends on a walking stick as a result of that injury.

The 20-hour journey from Kandahar to Guantanamo was as harrowing.

Sami said although the Americans realised that he was not the person they wanted, they were reluctant to release him probably because they fear he would expose the atrocities he witnessed at the detention centres which held children as young as 11 and men as old as 95.

He appealed to representatives of countries attending the conference to take in prisoners released from Guantanamo who have nowhere to go.

“I appeal to all of you to find homes for men who were tortured and detained without trial, so that they can lead normal and meaningful lives.

“The torture has not ended. The reality is there are 212 detainees at Guantanamo still suffering under the Obama regime,” he said.

He said many of those released were sent home only to be imprisoned in their own countries, such as Tunisia, Libya and Morocco.

“This is despite the fact that they were detained without any sound reason without trial for so many years,” he said.

“Those who have to return to China face the possibility of being imprisoned and tortured worse than they were in Guantanamo Bay.”

According to Sami, the largest group of people at the detention centre at the moment are 97 Yemenis.

Source / Malaysian Sun / Media Channel

Also see When We Torture By Nicholas D. Kristof / New York Times / Feb. 14, 2008

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Rabbi Arthur Waskow : Some Cockamamie Ideas about Afghanistan

Afghani women: Offer micro-loans for economic development. Photo from UNHCR.

Remembering Pharaoh, Plagues and Exodus...
Afghanistan: There has to be a better way

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow / The Rag Blog / October 29, 2009

When some of us outside Washington (and even some inside) say there must be some other way of dealing with Afghanistan, Good Old Official Formal U.S. (GOOFUS) says this is a cockamamie notion. So The Shalom Center is going to put forward four cockamamie plans. Read on!

Present U.S. plans for Afghanistan and present/past U.S. behavior toward fossil fuels and the world's climate share four factors:
  • Both are based on top-down control over the "weaker" communities of human beings and the web of life on earth;
  • These "weaker" beings turn out to be able to fight back in unexpectedly effective and destructive ways;
  • For a moment, decision-makers in the White House (Afghanistan) and Congress (climate) are shuddering as they see the precipice before them and are trying to imagine change. But the pull of "Top-Down" habit is very strong.
  • In this moment, We the People can make a difference.
This pattern is a very old story. In the Bible, it is called Pharaoh, Plagues, and Exodus.

On Sept. 10, 2009, Matthew Hoh, a senior U.S. diplomat and former Marine resigned from the U.S. Foreign Service after serving more than five years in Iraq and five months in Afghanistan.

This week the Washington Post published his letter and reported he has been invited to meet with Vice President Biden's staff.

Hoh said:
I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war. The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency.
The Shalom Center offers four cockamamie ideas for U.S. policy in Afghanistan, two of which are already under official consideration inside the Washington Beltway.
  1. ("Counter-insurgency") Send 500,000 U.S. soldiers to occupy the most ornery anti-occupation people on the craggy face of earth, killing thousands of Afghans and Americans along the way and bankrupting any hope of social reform in America;

  2. ("Counter-terrorism") Keep flinging lightning bolts from the sky to kill bands of "terrorists" who we then discover are wedding guests, thereby multiplying the reserve army of "terrorists" a thousandfold after every wedding.

  3. ("Bribery") Fire all U.S. generals and diplomats in Afghanistan. Send five women U.S. Senators to negotiate with Afghan women and all male Afghan factional leaders (including the varied Taliban factions) with two promises: (a) Any governance agreement they unanimously agree to will be backed up by one billion dollars a month in U.S. "economic aid," delivered as five-dollar bills in suitcases, if requested, and by the withdrawal of all US troops; (b) If no such agreement is reached, or if the agreement breaks down, the money and all other U.S. involvement in Afghanistan ends at once.

  4. ("Wild Far Far West," also known as "Grass-roots gamble") Call a conference of the independent women's organizations in Afghanistan. Offer micro-loans for grass-roots economic development to any group of ten women who apply as a group (loans ranging from $1,000 to $5,000). And -- offer ten revolvers and 1000 bullets to each group of women: one gun and 50 bullets for each woman for target practice, 50 bullets for defense against anyone who comes to assail them for being uppity. If any women's group chooses not to receive the guns but to take their chances on nonviolence, their micro-loan doubles. Then the U.S. leaves -- Generals, Predators, Drones, and all -- except for continuing contact with the micro-loan organizations.
Of the four, which plan is least cockamamie -- most likely to save American lives, benefit American society, save Afghan lives, and help self-government grow at the grass roots in Afghanistan?

The Shalom Center is posting this letter on our website at www.theshalomcenter.org and welcomes you to write your own comments there. On the website you will also find a "take action" memo for writing your Senators about Afghanistan, as well as a longer note about urging your Senators to act on global scorching and the climate crisis.

Remember: both issues are at a crossroads, a crucial choice point. We the People can make a difference.

Shalom, salaam, peace!


P.S. – For David Hoh's full letter of resignation from the Foreign Service and his analysis of present failures in Afghanistan, go here.

[Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center. He can be reached at awaskow@shalomctr.org.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Afghanistan : Tom Friedman's 'Cronkite Moment'?

Tom Friedman's "Walter Cronkite Moment"?

Times columnist reverses field on Afghanistan.

By Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / October 29, 2009

The Iraq war's chief New York Times cheerleader has reversed field on Afghanistan. Does it mean there will be no escalation?

In early 1968, after the devastating Tet Offense, CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite pronounced the Vietnam War unwinnable. Lyndon Johnson knew he had "lost middle America" and soon declined to run for a second term. The war dragged on for seven more hellish years. But the hearts and minds of the American public had been lost.

Tom Friedman is no Walter Cronkite. His Times column is influential in certain circles, but has nowhere near the nationally unifying force as Cronkite's evening broadcasts.

On the other hand, his admonition to "Don't Build Up" in Afghanistan indicates that the Pentagon PR blitzkrieg demanding more troops has failed in key corporate circles.

Friedman's arguments are both strategic and monetary. "We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interest to justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan," he warns.

Ceding (finally!) the inability of the United States to dictate to countries that don't like us, Friedman manages to make the whole argument without mentioning Vietnam. He never even hints at the possibility that the US might not actually have the RIGHT to interfere in the politics of other nations.

But in this case he says the military's plan to pour troops into "stabilizing" Afghanistan "is a 20-year project at best, and we can't afford it."

This stunning admission comes alongside Friedman's signature assertion that "we are the world. A strong, healthy and self-confident America is what holds the world together and on a decent path."

What he fears is that "a long slow bleed in Afghanistan" could doom the United States, and thus the planet. "Shrinking down in Afghanistan will create new threats," he concedes. "But expanding there will too. I'd rather deal with the new threats with a stronger America."

Above all, we "desperately need nation-building at home."

Thomas Friedman is nothing if not a megaphone for the corporate elite. He supports atomic power and consistently pumps global trade agreements, U.S. military adventurism and top-down decision-making in ways that can draw howls of outrage with a single smarmy sentence.

His Times cohort Roger Cohen has been selling the war as hard as he can. Puff pieces on hawk General Stanley McChrystal's global campaign to build military support for a massive escalation have been filling the Times's pages for weeks now. It recently concocted a non-story about the "impatience" of the military brass awaiting tens of thousands of new troops. It gave front page billing to McChrystal's completely inappropriate campaigning with NATO commanders who love McChrystal's demand for more troops but likely won't be sending more of their own any time soon.

It's impossible to assign tangible value to Friedman's loss of faith in escalation. But those of us hoping to avoid a catastrophic dive off the Afghani abyss have expected nothing but grief from this mainstay of the Iraqi catastrophe.

That a key cheerleader for that war is now waving his editorial pompoms for de-escalation can only be good. Let's make sure the White House gets the message.

[Harvey Wasserman's Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth is at www.harveywasserman.com, along with Harvey Wasserman's History of the United States.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

28 October 2009

Dick J. Reavis : SDS and the Great Divide

Image from Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History.

Today’s Red Book and the demise of SDS
Nobody present had repudiated Leftism, but everyone seemed to have reached a consensus that the heedlessness of youth had been our common flaw.
By Dick J. Reavis / The Rag Blog / October 29, 2009

A few years ago, the Southern Student Organizing Committee, a white-folks group chartered by SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), held a reunion in Nashville. SSOC was integrationist and anti-war, but generally speaking, less flamboyant than the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

Because I had been on its staff for a semester, and because old friends urged me, I attended the reunion. Its most-awaited speaker was Gregg Michel, a professor at UTSA, younger than all of the veterans, who had authored a manuscript on SSOC’s history, now available as a book, The Struggle for a Better South. Conference organizers assigned to him the topic that everyone else dreaded to take: the downfall of SSOC.

Michel spoke at a workshop which about 40 of us attended. In unsmiling terms he blamed SSOC’s demise on the Progressive Labor Party, or PL -- then a Maoist outfit -- and October League, OL, a Maoist party founded by Mike Klonsky, once a leader of the Revolutionary Youth Movement, or RYM faction of SDS. PL had introduced a resolution at a March 1969 national conference of SDS in Austin, calling for breaking fraternal ties with SSOC. The OL, for reasons of its own, later that year persuaded its leaders to disband.

A few SSOC figures had aided in the dissolution, two of whom were present in the room: me, one of the signers of the PL-SDS resolution, and an Atlanta comrade who, on orders from the OL, had burned SSOC’s records. Michel thought we and our ideological comrades were villains, and had written his final chapter in that vein.

Once he recapitulated SSOC’s demise, fearlessly castigating its liquidators, his audience drew its breath. Somebody raised a hand and in a tentative voice said, “Dr. Michel, I think there’s something you don’t understand. You see, in one way or another, we were all crazy in those days!” Laughter followed. Nobody present had repudiated Leftism, but everyone seemed to have reached a consensus that the heedlessness of youth had been our common flaw.

Michel revised his chapter about the End. His villains became more nearly young fools.

SSOC button, 1965. Use of the Confederate flag led to controversy.

In reading recent histories of SDS, with the possible exception of Mark Rudd’s memoir, I have not detected that same let-bygones-be-bygones approach. I last encountered you-guys-were-to-blame bitterness in Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History, in which at least three contributors to The Rag Blog had a hand. Their book was apparently compiled to tell members of the new SDS what the organization’s heritage might be.

A Graphic History lays the blame for the August 1969 collapse of SDS at the feet of both PL and the RYM. The book’s heroes are those upon whom it bestows the title “SDS Regulars,” a formerly unnamed group which for awhile kept on keeping on, even after the final SDS convention, held in Chicago. Several prior books took a similar view, and it’s apparently catechism in the SDS of today.

I haven’t given much thought to SDS for several years. But lately I’ve been reading about Depression-era Leftism in the South, and some explanatory ideas have come to mind.

One of them is that in times of upsurge, left-wing factions tend to merge instead of split. Communists gave up their independent unions and joined the CIO when it started rising to its feet, and in turn, the CIO hired red organizers. The Communist and Socialist parties and even a couple of Trotskyist front groups for the unemployed merged when the New Deal christened its job-creation programs, whose employees they brought into a single unionish group, the Workers Alliance.

But when war preparations began restoring the American economy in 1939-40, membership in the Workers Alliance dropped -- and the Socialists and Communist quarreled to its bitter end. When the CIO lost ground to an anti-labor crusade that followed World War II, it started purging its reds, a factional or sectarian move, even if the offending sect was labor’s mainstream.

One conclusion I drew was that in organizations that aren’t conquering new territory, faction fights easily take root. Decline invites blame.

In reading Southern history, I have also noted that groups that don’t accomplish their ends soon wither. Committees to free the Scottsboro Boys, initially formed by the Communist Party and the NAACP as rivals, even after agreements to cooperate, became moribund when the accused weren’t set free. Several anti-lynching groups surged during the ‘30s, only to collapse by the decade’s end because they couldn’t get Congress to pass an anti-lynching law.

The Southern Negro Youth Congress pioneered the struggle to dismantle Jim Crow, but its victories were few, and in the end, it was eclipsed by the patriotic fervor of World War II. No organization is given an open-ended lease on life, and if it doesn’t win, it fades, even when sheltered from the blazing sun of factional hatred.

SDS by early 1969 faced several problems, the chief of which was that it wasn’t ending the war in Vietnam. In less than five years, with teach-ins, demonstrations, and draft resistance, it had developed a wide following. In the process it also produced -- an experienced leadership!

Early on, SDS leaders had seen that politely asking the nation’s rulers to end the war, by petitioning, for example, would not bring peace. Some of them raised the Frederick Douglas slogan, “Power concedes nothing without a demand!” -- but that only underlined their initial innocence: even with Abolition, it had taken a demand -- and a civil war. By 1969, most SDS honchos were convinced that keeping on, keeping on, wouldn’t bring results. Concluding that American democracy was a sham, many, and maybe most of them, began to toy with the idea of revolution.

Of course, they could have maintained a big movement by bringing naive freshmen and high-schoolers into new rounds of demonstrations, but perhaps they were too honest to do a thing like that: what’s the point, if it doesn’t accomplish the goal? Even today, how many of us can believe that we would have ended the war had we merely kept on as before?

In the event, something else happened. In November, 1969 the federal government instituted the draft lottery. Its first drawing was held on Dec. 1. Within a day, the anti-war movement lost thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of supporters, those whose numbers had not been called, their parents and girlfriends. From December 2 forward, SDS faced a tougher task, even at keeping on, keeping on. Like the Scottsboro and anti-lynching committees or the Southern Negro Youth Congress, it was not accomplishing its goal, and its base was sliding away, just as Workers Alliance members did when the Depression economy improved.

The downturn in activity that A Graphic History notes as the SDS split approached -- which it blames on PL and RYM- -- was no doubt owed in part to faction-fighting. But its deeper impetus was probably talk of the lottery draft and the lack of headway towards any peace.

A Graphic History lauds the Keeping On faction, but as I read the record, the war did not end because of their stick-to-it-ness, even despite the record numbers at demonstrations to protest the invasion of Cambodia. Perseverance, sometimes a virtue, can also be a symptom of insincerity or cluelessness.

When I look back on the history of the Dixie Left, it does not concern me that the Southern Tenant Farmers Union was Socialist and the Sharecroppers Union was Communist, nor do I feel afflicted because groups like these did not merge and live happily ever after. What I see in the pages of history is that people who built the Depression-era movements were our forerunners. We might today differ with much of what they advocated, but in their time and in our common place, they were what I would hope we would have been. They were defeated, as we were, because in politics, insurgent movements do not always survive, or win.

I do not think that losing is always attributable to lack of, or betrayal of, the “correct line,” “The Great Helmsman” or anything or anybody of the kind. Failure is not something for which its participants can always be blamed. Were people or factions whom we could name chiefly responsible for the multitudinous setbacks of the Left, we could hope to learn from their errors, and to rebuild a mass Left -- tomorrow!

I suppose that those veterans and scholars of SDS who think we still stand a chance of leading the nation will probably continue laying blame; A Graphic History was published last year. And if none of those who admit that we were all crazy in those years is lucky enough to see the Revolution, I suppose it will be because we’ve given up Maoism even in its contemporary form. If we still believed, we’d take A Graphic History as our Red Book -- and a few surviving “Regulars,” with the help of the new SDS, would erect grandiose marble statues on our graves.

[Dick J. Reavis -- an award-winning journalist, educator and author -- was active with SDS and the New Left in the Sixties. He wrote for Austin’s underground newspaper The Rag, and later was a senior editor at Texas Monthly magazine. Dick Reavis’ book, The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation, about the siege and burning of the Branch Davidian compound, was published by Simon and Schuster and may be the definitive work on the subject.]

Also see: And find
on Amazon. com: The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Only a few posts now show on a page, due to Blogger pagination changes beyond our control.

Please click on 'Older Posts' to continue reading The Rag Blog.