Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Es Verdad? Spain Steps Forward

Will there be justice at last? It is being widely reported that Spanish courts are soon to indict former Bush (mis)Administration members, Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo, David Addington, Douglas Feith, Jay Bybee and William Haynes II for their part in the torture of persons held in U.S. custody. Gonzalo Boye, the lawyer who filed the suit, submitted a complaint on behalf of five Spanish citizens held in Guantanamo. The case is expected to be heard before Baltazar Garzon, the judge who brought the indictments against Pinochet.

There are two great questions lurking beneath the surface in all of this; why a Spanish court and why not Bush and Cheney as well?

The answer to the question of why a Spanish court is apparently because they take allegations of torture and the disregard of treaties seriously. Under international law it is the duty of the nation involved to investigate war crimes. Since it appears that there is no political will in the U.S. to follow through on these obligations, it seems that the Spanish are merely fulfilling their rightful role as a signatory of the Geneva Conventions given that the nation that should lead this prosecution is unwilling. Note that the Geneva Conventions require investigation and prosecution when credible allegations are made. Clearly, that legal hurdle has been surpassed long ago.

The second question, why not Bush and Cheney too, bears more scrutiny. Cheney has come as close to admitting and bragging about torture as it is possible. Bush has long justified any and all of his actions under the guise of his imperial presidency. Their very actions have destroyed the reputation of the country internationally and have sullied the nature of their offices. Their actions in causing an undermining of the protections of the Constitution on U.S. citizens through their wiretap and spying programs likely rise to the level of treason. Their part in the authorization of torture must be investigated if international law has any meaning.

Could it be that the Spanish courts are giving us our chance to get Bush and Cheney ourselves? Or are they bowing to political pressure in leaving them out of this. Americans who are upset by the Spanish taking these actions against members of the Bush (mis)Administration should demand that these actions be taken here. At present, the Spanish have been forced to take the lead. Will we do the right thing and take over as we should have long ago?

One more question: Why is it that right wingers who have cataleptic fits over the "rule of law," always seem to look the other way when it's their political compatriots who are breaking the law?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Obama's Vietnam

What do all occupations of foreign lands have in common? Answer: they all fail.

It was with great consternation that I learned of Obama's plan to send 4000 more troops to Afghanistan on the heels of the 17,000 he sent last month. This time, the 4000 are labeled as trainers, and a new fanciful strategy that involves letting the Afghans slowly take over has been revealed.

When I heard the word "trainers" bells began to go off like it was the fire of the century. This is how we first began to dig our hole in Vietnam. Support troops who would train the indigenous population to fight for themselves. Like Vietnam, the Afghans are already fighting for themselves. Against us!

Witnessing the French get their behinds whipped taught us nothing about the foolhardiness of the folly in Vietnam. Apparently, the long history of the "graveyard of Empires," has taught us nothing as well. Whether it's 4000 trainers or 17,000 troops or for that matter, 170,000 troops, history shows us that Afghanistan is remarkably resistant to occupation and invasion.

Why then is Obama doubling down on Bush's blunder? I believe that he is aware of history (something I was never sure about with Bush) so this action seems all the more curious. Is it that he is simply playing against the right wing that want so desperately to call him weak on defense? Is it that he really believes he can do something in this place that no one has been able to do before? Or is there some reason that we are not being told?

Whatever the reasons, this seems to be the biggest blunder of the administration. I remember how the Soviets were ridiculed for their efforts to control Afghanistan. Over two thousand years ago the world likely laughed at Alexander the Greats efforts here as well.

Today, I am not laughing and this is no joke. Almost eight years into this futile effort and we are upping the ante. Read history, this is just like Vietnam, only it's Afghanistan, and historically, that's been even worse.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Waging War on the Folks Next Door

That's what the folks in Fargo, North Dakota are doing today. I don't mean that they are shooting them or dropping bombs on them, they probably don't think they're doing anything at all. In fact, some of the people they're waging the war on, may be helping them because they're good neighbors. What am I talking about?

In Fargo, the river is expected to crest today and flood the city. Schools have been released and everyone in the area is filling sandbags to keep the river within its banks. At least, keep it within its banks until it gets further downstream. Therein lies the problem. Sandbagging the banks of the river does not solve the problem, it just passes it along. It's not really waging war on the folks next door, it's really more like waging war on the folks downstream.

It seems difficult to believe that people do not understand that forcing water from one area just forces it to another. It is just such an idea, that we can control the forces of nature, that is causing humanity so many problems. The constant degradation of the environment in the name of progress has produced a planet with a changing climate and an ever more uncertain future.

Shortsighted solutions that push the problem down the road (or down the river), are not what we need. Failing to address the larger environmental catastrophe, is only pushing the problem onto future generations.

Will we realize the consequences of our actions and stop forcing the problem onto future generations? Or will we be Fargo, and wage war on the folks down stream?

In Fargo's defense, all cities and communities behave exactly the same way.

The Nano: A Mega Mistake

The Nano, India's $2000 car hits the market today. It is the most basic in transportation and looks vaguely like an egg. Hailed by its developer Ratan Tata, head of the Tata Group, which also includes Jaguar and Land Rover, as the ultimate answer in inexpensive transportation, the car is aimed at those who currently ride motor scooters. As anyone who has traveled in India is aware, scooters are everywhere and comprise a large percentage of traffic.

It is not uncommon to see two or three people, or an occasional family of four on one scooter. It was upon seeing just such a family that Tata claims he decided to develop the Nano. Whether inspiration or marketing story, the decision to develop the Nano may be applauded for its egalitarian nature. However, it is the unintended consequence of additional cars that is the mistake.

Certainly, one of the last things the world needs is a fleet of super polluting cars. The Nano is unavailable for sale in many nations due to its failure to meet even minimal emissions standards. Supplanting scooters will not only directly drive up levels of pollution, the loss in mileage as compared to the same scooters, it will also further increase the demand for petroleum. Compound this with the fact that the substantial increase in cars will only exacerbate India's already moribund traffic. Some officials of the nation also agree. The City of Mumbai and its government, for example, appears absolutely opposed to the car. The sacrifice of emissions standards is deplorable in a nation that is already environmentally distressed.

The largest problem however, is unaddressed. It is also tied to the malaise of the U.S. auto industry. Simply put, creating a demand for more automobiles is not what the world needs. Neither in India nor the U.S. Petroleum is not our future, and anything that encourages its use is selling the future to maintain the past.

Ray Bawarchi, author of The Dirt People, was in India last January when the Nano was announced at the International Auto Show.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Double Standard

In ancient times, the official standard for the length of a foot was determined by the size of the king's foot, or so the legend goes. This had the effect of different standards being applied based on the size of the sovereign. That process seems to have continued to this day, although it is not really a measurement of the leaders foot that is responsible.

George W. Bush, the Connecticut Texan, who got everywhere because of his daddy's name, rose to the top despite his obvious limitations. Failed in business, accused of being a deserter from the Guard during Vietnam, convicted of a DUI, and an accomplished torturer of the English language, Bush got a pass on 9/11 occurring on his watch apparently because he had only been in office for eight MONTHS when it occurred. This, despite a briefing labeled, "Bin Laden determined to strike with airplanes in the U.S." Bush even gets credit for no further attacks. Excuse me, what were the anthrax mailings.

Barack H. Obama, on the other hand, is the child of an interracial marriage who got to where he was in spite of his father's name. An accomplished author, former head of the Harvard Law Review and a dynamic speaker, is currently being skewered over the economic crisis. This, despite the fact that he has only been in office a few weeks.

Is it that the standard being applied relates to intelligence? Did Bush get a pass because he was seen as the village idiot? Is Obama being more closely scrutinized because he is intelligent? Or is it something else? Could it be that the reason Bush got the pass was that he was viewed as part of the entitled elite? Sure he was dumb, but there was never a doubt as to who he represented, his base, "the haves and the have mores." Obama, by contrast, is an intellectual without a doubt, but the attacks are more related to his former status as a community organizer and a people based populism.

Let us extend this beyond the Oval office.

The contracts of rich bankers are sacrosanct and they are awarded large bonuses for failure. Blue collar, middle-class auto workers have renegotiated contracts shoved down their throats because their bosses failed. They are told they should do this for the good of the country.

Conservative politicians and right wing bloviators decry raising the marginal income tax rate on the highest rate from 35 to 39.5 per cent. The super wealthy, you see, must have the country do for them and then their largess will trickle on the rest of us.

The real double standard is that if you want to do something to help the poor or the weak, you're accused of being a bleeding heart liberal who just wants to throw good money away, but if you crush unions and destroy the livelihoods of everyone in the world, you're a hard nosed businessman. Average people are expected to pay their taxes, transnational corporations hide out in off shore tax havens. Corporate bankers, creating a financial crisis to enrich themselves, claim they are too big to fail and ask for even more money. Meanwhile, average people who never miss a payment are seeing credit card rates adjusted upward because the bank has "reevaluated" their credit.

Will we continue to accept this double standard or will we demand that a new standard, one that applies the same to everyone, finally be adopted? Right now, the wealthy are giving us all the finger. For their own good, they need to remember what happened the last time they told the masses to eat cake.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake

American International Group (AIG) has demonstrated an arrogance that only Marie Antoinette could appreciate. After receiving billions of dollars in the bailout, this company has had the gall to award "retention" bonuses totaling $165 million dollars.

Let us address the sheer absurdity that the people who have engineered this financial crisis are somehow "talent" that needs to be retained. These people should be fired at the least and prosecuted if there is any justice. Yet, we are told that running the business into the ground needs to be rewarded. Instead, why are there not investigations into the deals that were made with the government, at the behest of Hank Paulson, that rewarded these abysmally talented individuals?

The big kick from these guys though is that now they are claiming that they "must" be paid due to contractual obligations. Mind you, this is an entire business that has been unable to deliver on its contractual obligations.

But has anyone noticed the contrast to how contracts are viewed when the recipients are millionaires? When Detroit was looking for a bailout, the most important act that needed to occur seemed to be renegotiating the contracts of auto workers. What about their contracts?

This is what America has become, a nation that defends the moneyed and powerful, and demands concession from the average citizen. While we're all tightening our belts, the very people who destroyed the economy continue to gorge themselves at the trough.

The Werewolf Howls: Part 3

Throughout the Bush (mis)Administration, Darth Cheney, the Werewolf of Wyoming, was conspicuously out of sight. Famously hiding in his "undisclosed location," Cheney was rarely seen and could not be coaxed into any sort of appearance with the press. Now that he has left office, he is suddenly all over the media attempting to revise history and deny his crimes.

On the heels of reports that Cheney may have directed assassination squads that operated in at least 10 countries, Cheney appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" where he defended his actions as "lawful," and Constitutional. Listening to Cheney opine on the Constitution is like asking Caligula for a lecture on morality. Constitutional matters aside, Cheney's most ridiculous assertion was that the Bush (mis)Administration bore no responsibility for the economic crisis.

The misstatements above, however, were not the most reprehensible part of the interview. Instead, the most reprehensible moment was when he stated that Obama's actions of attempting to restore the rule of law, would "raise the risk" of future attacks. This statement ignores the plethora of data that suggest the actions of Bush, Cheney and their henchmen actually created terrorists. That their policies served as a catalyst for recruitment by al-Qaeda was conveniently ignored. According to Cheney, Iraq has been a success.

But it is not just the revision of history and the attempt to deflect his crimes that make this so repulsive. It is that Cheney is deliberately trying to make Obama responsible for any attacks that follow. This is to deny 60 years of American foreign policy and eight years of open antagonism towards an entire religion that served to do little more than empower the extremists and marginalize the moderate voices.

Should we be surprised to hear such balderdash from Cheney? Probably not. Anyone who can shoot a lawyer in the face and then get the lawyer to apologize likely thinks he can get away with anything. So far he has. In addition to the already mentioned assassination squads, the subversion of the Constitution, and a shooting, Cheney also engineered the outing of a CIA agent, violated open government laws and authorized torture.

Given all that has occurred, there really is only one question to ask: When do the trials begin? For Cheney, there is only one comment that will do: "Grass mud horse you, Dick Cheney" (see previous column for explanation.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Right to Say "Fuck" (and "Grass-Mud Horse")

I usually try to avoid profanity in my columns, but sometimes an expletive is the only word that will do.

This is about Free Speech.

The protection of free speech is what differentiates a free society from a repressive one. In the United States, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution unequivocally guarantees its citizens the right to free speech. All speech, with no exceptions. It is about the protection of offensive speech and the most extreme cases. That is the whole point. No one has a problem with polite, happy speech. It is impolite, offensive speech that upsets others that requires protection. It is also impolite and offensive speech that garners attention and forces change. Polite speech gets one ignored and pushed to the back of the bus.

In China, there is currently a phenomenon surrounding a creature known as the "grass-mud horse," that is squarely aimed at censorship. The Chinese government, in an effort to suppress dissent, is actively involved in efforts to censor what its' subjects send or receive on the Internet. The grass-mud horse, a mythological creature, is completely innocuous in written Chinese and therefore evades the censors. However, in spoken Chinese it apparently sounds similar to "fuck mother." This phrase has become the rallying point for many dissidents in the country and a nationwide joke. Would the phrase be so effective it it sounded like "gosh darn?" HELL NO!

In the U.S., speech that criticizes government has long held the greatest level of protection. Those who founded this nation were aware that the speech deemed most offensive is that directed towards those in power. As a result, protection of the right to speak against power is a necessity. This protection extends to all speech, sacred and profane. Agreeable or disagreeable. It has been said that a measure of ones dedication to free speech is the willingness to defend the right to be heard even of a point a view with which one vehemently disagrees.

When individuals begin to pull their verbal punches because they are worried about being offensive or impolite, the whole point of free speech has been lost. The very fact that there are certain words banned from use on radio (thank you George Carlin) television, and the Internet demonstrates their very power. Again sometimes only an expletive will do.

The late comedian/social critic Lenny Bruce said it best: "When you take away my right to say 'fuck,' you take away my right to say 'fuck the government.' " And that my friends, is the point of free speech.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Where Were Our Leaders?

On the same day that it was revealed that the CIA had destroyed 92 tapes of interrogation of detainees, nine (9) secret legal opinions of the Bush (mis)Administration were revealed by the Justice Department. Taken together, these reveal a culture of lawlessness, and contempt for the Constitution and the basis of common law.

George Bush apparently claimed powers not seen since King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. In addition, his administration's obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence made Nixon's men look like a bunch of schoolgirls.

First the destruction of evidence. The CIA's torture tapes have been the source of numerous lawsuits filed by the ACLU and other groups trying to penetrate the wall of secrecy of the Bush (mis)Administration. At first denied to exist, we now find that 92 of these tapes were destroyed. If the destruction of 92 pieces of evidence is not a sign of knowingly committing wrongdoing, what is?

More frightening than the destruction of evidence, are the purported legal opinions under which the Bush-ites operated. To catalog these rulings here would be prohibitive, but just this one quote is horrifying enough, "First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully." In other words, dissent would be suppressed. Other opinions swept aside the Posse Comitatus Act, suggested that Congress had no power to limit the president, justified warrant-less arrests and domestic spying. In essence, these rulings effectively suspended the U.S. Constitution.

To believe that no one in Congress, that no one in the Justice Department, that no one at all was aware of what was in these memos strains credulity. Everyone was informed. This was official operating policy. Where was the outcry? Members of Congress, such as Nancy Pelosi, are now hiding behind the idea that to have blown the whistle would have been a violation of national security.

Subversion of the Constitution is a violation of national security. Would that politicians were as interested in preserving the principles of our nation as they are at preserving their political careers. All those who knew and did nothing: treason would seem to be the appropriate charge.

And where were the Republicans in all this? Bush, after all, was a member of their own party. It was their duty, especially as the party in power at the time, to stop him. Instead, they acted with complicity. To hear some off them howl now that they are out of power that they are concerned about the Constitution is just sheer hypocrisy. Where were they when the country needed them?

This aggression must not stand. Leaders of this nation have committed crimes against WE, THE PEOPLE. Hearings and commissions are not enough. They must be held accountable. Otherwise, the Constitution must be viewed as it has become, a nice fiction that we once made real. What hath George Bush wrought?

British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill Costs

  • 11 workers killed in initial blast
  • Damage to Ocean Ecosystem
  • 35,000 to 60.000 Barrels of Oil Per Day. That's somewhere between 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 gallons a day or 150 to 300 million gallons already spilled into the ocean as of July 27th by that estimate.
  • Gulf Fisheries Industry
  • Gulf Tourism (ongoing costs)
  • Long Term Health Effects to Humans and Wildlife (to be determined)

Worst Oil Spills

  • Kuwait 1991 - 520 million gallons: Gulf War I
  • Gulf of Mexico 2010 - 206 million gallons: BP Oil
  • Mexico, Bay of Campiche 1979 - 140 million gallons: Pemex Oil
  • Trinidad & Tobago 1979 - 90 million gallons: Greek Oil Tanker Atlantic Empress
  • Russia 1983 - 84 million gallons: Leaky Pipeline collapsed into Kolva River
  • Iran 1983 - 80 million gallons: Tanker collided with Oil Platform
  • South Africa 1983 -79 million gallons:Tanker Castillo de Bellver sank
  • France 1978 - 69 million Gallons: Amoco Cadiz ran aground and broke in half.
  • Angola Coastal Waters (700 miles at sea) 1991 - 51-81 million gallons: ABT Summer exploded at sea.
  • Italy 1991 - 45 million gallons: M/T Haven Oil Tanker exploded.
  • Source: Mother Nature Network. mnn.com. The 13 largest oil spills in history. by Laura Moss. Friday July 16, 2010.

Nuclear Accidents (Under Construction)

  • 1957 Windscale, UK
  • 1961 Idaho Falls, Idaho, US
  • 1979 Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, US
  • 1984 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1985 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1986 Plymouth, Masachusetts, US
  • 1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, USSR
  • 1996 Waterford, Connecticut, US
  • 1989 Griefwald, Germany
  • 1999 Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
  • 2002 Oak Harbor, Ohio, US
  • 2004 Fukui Prefecture, Japan
  • Source: Benjamin Sovacool

Mining Disasters (Under Construction)

  • China 1942 - 1549 deaths
  • France 1906 - 1100 deaths
  • Japan 1963 - 447 deaths
  • Wales 1913 - 438 deaths
  • South Africa 1960 - 437 deaths
  • Source: Epic Disasters Website
  • Note: Do not look at the dates herein and conclue that mining disasters are a things of the past. Every year thousands of miners die worldwide in largely unreported accidents.

OIL IS OVER! - Resources

  • Hibbert's Peak - "The" source that explains why Oil is Over.
  • Tragedy of the Commons -Garrett Hardin
  • The Land Ethic - Aldo Leopold
  • Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight - Thom Hartmann
  • Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching


  • The Dirt People - Ray Bawarchi (yes, that's me)
  • The Razor's Edge - Somerset Maugham
  • Demian - Herman Hesse
  • Black Elk Speaks - Black Elk (as told to R. Neimur)
  • The Quiet Don - Mikhail Sholokov
  • Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
  • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
  • 1984 - George Orwell
  • Delicious Laughter - Jallahudin Rumi
  • The Sybil - Par Lagerksvitz
  • The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
  • Spirits Rebellious - Khalil Gibran
  • The Quiet American - Graham Greene
  • Midaq Alley - Nagib Mafouz
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Farenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
  • We - Yevgeny Zamyatin


  • John Coltrane - St. John the Divine
  • Patti Smith
  • The Clash - the only band that matters
  • Billy Bragg
  • Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band
  • Art Blakey
  • Death - pre-punk visionaries from Detroit
  • PJ Harvey - Polly Jean, Polly Jean
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Michael Franti (Spearhead)
  • Public Enemy
  • Ray Charles - the Genius
  • Bob Dylan
  • Velvet Underground
  • Flaming Lips
  • John Doe & X
  • The Beatles

opiate of the masses

  • God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. - Voltaire
  • I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and inellect has intended us to forgo their use. - Galileo Galilei
  • The ink of a scholar is worth far more than the blood of a martyr.- Mohammad
  • If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. - Sheldon Kopp
  • No one will be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. - Louisa Mae Alcott
  • When it is a question of money, everyone is of the same religion.- Voltaire
  • If God were alive today, he'd be an athiest. - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The god I worship is not short of cash, Mister. - Bono
  • Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine. My sins they only belong to me. - Patti Smith
  • God sure baked a lot of fruitcake baby, when Adam met the Eden lady. - Joe Strummer