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The Daily Journal: January 9, 2007

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The Wages of Escalation
Iraq Toll Gushing Out of Control

As if on cue, in preparation for President (I'm beginning to question whether the title applies anymore; wouldn't a revertion to Mr. be more accurate for a man who's been less than presidential and more than delinquent?) Bush's speech on escalating the Iraq war, the latest tallies of victims from that bounty for the beleaguered is out. From the WPost: “More than 17,000 Iraqi civilians and police officers died violently in the latter half of 2006, according to Iraqi Health Ministry statistics, a sharp increase that coincided with rising sectarian strife since the February bombing of a landmark Shiite shrine. In the first six months of last year, 5,640 Iraqi civilians and police officers were killed, but that number more than tripled to 17,310 in the latter half of the year, according to data provided by a Health Ministry official with direct knowledge of the statistics. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said those numbers remained incomplete, suggesting the final tally of violent deaths could be higher. [...] Last year's spike in casualties occurred despite an ambitious U.S. military operation in the capital, Together Forward, that involved thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops cordoning off some of the deadliest neighborhoods and conducting house-to-house searches.

So: Iraqis are getting killed at a rate of 100 a day, but the Wall Street Journal in its lead editorial on Monday, titled, appropriately for the daily diary of American empire, "A Heavier Iraq 'Footprint'," insisted on snidely putting the words "civil war" in quotes. The Journal was ridiculing those who think that "military victory is no longer possible amid a "civil war" in Iraq," and wants Mr. Bush to "refrains from using the words "surge" or "temporary" to describe his plans this week." The Journal wants a more permanent approach to open-ended escalation. In other words, to crib the words of Gore Vidal, perpetual war for perpetual peace.

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Let's Hear It for the UN
A Chance for a Safer World

It isn't only because I'm an alumni of the UN School in Manhattan that I've always had a soft spot for the United Nations--not only as an idea, but as an institution still, for all its dysfunctions, functioning better than anything American reactionaries and neocons from Jesse Helms (who's still doing his best from the grave to destroy the UN) to the now-bolted Bolton. The world needs the UN. So it's gratifying to see the latest cover of the Economist endorsing the UN, now more than ever. For all the UN's failures, the Economist's lead editorial argues,

It would nonetheless be a mistake to give up on the organisation. There are two reasons for this. One is that the UN already does a far better job than it is given credit for. The second reason is more surprising. Although the world looks to be in a state of dangerous disarray, some aspects of today's global politics make this a good moment for the big powers to work more closely together. If they seize the chance they may be able to breathe fresh vitality into the world body and restore some of the high hopes of its founding charter. To say that the UN is doing better than people think is not to say that it is perfect. Far from it. [...] Today's disorder stems not so much from conflicts between the big powers as from other problems all say they want to solve: failed states, terrorism, proliferation and the chaotic Middle East . Their priorities and tactics differ, but that still leaves room to co-operate [... through the Security Council]. At present it enjoys a good deal of legitimacy. But at some point that will fade unless the Security Council takes at least Japan, India, Brazil, Germany and an African country into permanent membership, so that it reflects today's world rather than the one of 1945. It also needs some military resources of its own if it is to cope with the ever-growing demand for peacekeeping. [...] the permanent five could make the world safer and more orderly by showing a greater willingness to work together using the existing structure. They are not going to turn the UN into a world government, as some Utopians would like. America in particular will not consent to being tied down like Gulliver, especially where it thinks its security is at issue. But at a moment when their rivalries are small, yet most are anxious about the same range of transnational threats, all the big powers ought to see the benefit of making better use of the potential for joint, lawful international action that the UN uniquely provides. If not now, when?

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21st Century Sharecroppers
Life on Minimum Wage

A great social and economic crime in 1990s and 21st century America has nothing to do with tax-evasion by the rich or lacking health care for 45 million or punishingly costly health care for most of the rest or CEO pay. Those issues pale compared with the continuing crime of a minimum wage that has remained unchanged, at $5.15 an hour, for ten years. The raise, to $7.15 an hour, that Congress begins considering on Wednesday is at least two or three dollars below where the discussion ought to start. There is no living to be made in the United States if one os a wage-earner below $10 an hour (that would argue for perhaps a different, lower minimum wage for students, and I don't have in mind those students doing their best to pay their way through college, say, but those high school slouches whose jobs are merely means of affording their car insurance, their Mp3 collection and their otherwise dispensable luxuries; paycuts wouldn't be a bad idea in their case). The Christian Science Monitor began a two-day series on the matter on Monday:

Oklahoma doesn't have high living costs, compared with some other states. But to cover the basic needs of a family of four here typically requires an income of more than $33,000, according to an online budget calculator created by the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington. At $5.15 an hour, it would take three full-time jobs for a family to earn that much. Many minimum-wage workers, it's true, don't have children. Often they are young people on their first job. But the Hosier family is not unusual. Of the workers who stand to reap higher pay if Congress raises the wage floor, the vast majority are adults, most work full-time, and about 1 in 4 have dependent children, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Moreover, they are often the sole breadwinner in the household. Of families with children, nearly half of those who would be affected by a minimum-wage hike get all their earned income from one low-wage worker. The issue is important politically. Democrats, now in control of Congress, have made raising the minimum wage a top priority in their 100-hour legislative push for change. It would also have its most significant economic effect - positive and negative - in the South and Great Plains where states generally haven't set their own higher minimum wage. The full story...

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Chris Hedges on the Christian Wrong
Fascism Is a Force that Gives Them Meaning

Jon Wiener reviews Chris Hedges' latest book in the LATimes: "In "American Fascists," Hedges reports in fascinating detail what goes on inside the churches, conventions and meeting halls of the Christian right. He attends a "Love Won Out" conference in Boston, sponsored by James Dobson's Focus on the Family, held to "cure" those who are afflicted by "same-sex attraction." He visits the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., where he finds a display describing evolution as the "big lie." [...] But the key message Hedges and the others are taught to deliver is that conversion obliterates "our fear of death, not only for ourselves, but the fear we have of losing those we love" — for example, children or spouses fighting in Iraq. This, Hedges argues, is "not only dishonest but cruel," because the fear of death cannot be banished. This message is also dangerous, Hedges writes, because the goal of the Christian right is "not simply conversion but also eventual recruitment into a political movement to create a Christian nation," where constitutional freedoms would be replaced by biblical law, as interpreted by evangelical leaders. Kennedy has been clear about this goal: "As the vice regents of God," the Florida-based minister has written, "we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government," as well as "our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors...." [...] Hedges concludes that the Christian right "should no longer be tolerated," because it "would destroy the tolerance that makes an open society possible." What does he think should be done? He endorses the view that "any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law," and therefore we should treat "incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal." Thus he rejects the 1st Amendment protections for freedom of speech and religion, and court rulings that permit prosecution for speech only if there is an imminent threat to particular individuals. Hedges advocates passage of federal hate-crimes legislation prohibiting intolerance, but he doesn't really explain how it would work. Many countries do prohibit "hate speech." Holocaust denial, for example, is a crime in Germany, Austria and several other European countries. But does this mean that Hedges favors prosecuting Christian fundamentalists for declaring, for example, that abortion providers are murderers or that secular humanists are agents of Satan? He doesn't say."

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Schwarzenegger for President?
Judgment Day for Health Care in California

Next target: health care's crime

Somehow this plan sounds more progressive than its inspiration in Massachussetts, where it's now the law to be insured; the Massachussetts plan is written by the insurance industry, for the befit, primarily, of the insurance industry. The Schwarzenegger plan seems to demand more all-around responsibility from business and taxpayers, although the fine print isn't yet clear. Regardless: Arnold is more liberal than some of the nation's Democratic governors. From the LATimes:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today proposed upending just about every portion of the healthcare industry in one of the country's most elaborate efforts at holding down medical costs and expanding insurance to those who don't have it. Schwarzenegger's plan, which he publicly unveiled at noon, would require employers with 10 workers or more to buy insurance for their workers or pay a fee of 4% of their payroll into a program to help provide coverage for the uninsured. Schwarzenegger would tax doctors 2% of their gross revenue and place a 4% tax on hospitals. He campaigned for reelection on an anti-tax platform, but his administration argues that so many more people would have insurance that medical providers would make more money. The governor also wants to ban insurers from refusing to offer coverage to some individuals because of their prior medical conditions. Insurers would also have to spend at least 85% of their premium revenues on patient care, a move that would limit the amount companies spend on administrative costs and profits. In an effort to cover all Californian children, including ones in the state illegally, Schwarzenegger's plan would expand the state's Healthy Families program, providing insurance to children whose parents make less than three times the poverty level. That works out to about $60,000 for a family of four. And Schwarzenegger said his plan would require every Californian to have health insurance. "If you can't afford it, the state will help you buy it," he said, "but you must be insured." Schwarzenegger called the delivery and payment of healthcare in California "disastrous," noting that nearly 1 in 5 residents is uninsured.

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Tyrant's Attorney Tells All
The Saddam He Knew

Curtis Doebbler was one of Saddam Hussein's atttorneys. This piece, which he called an obituary of the old tyrant, appears in Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly; it's being reproduced here not as an endorsemenet of the views it projects (although some of those views are eminently endorsable, including the fact that for all his atriocities, Saddm's trial and assassination were atrocities all their own), but because no one has ever died from hearing perspectives entirely opposed to one's own—and there's more to gain from hearing those perspective than the losses incurred from keeping one's eyes shut, smug and superior:

Rarely has a single killing epitomised more clearly American aggression towards Arabs and Muslims around the world. The Iraqi president understood this and in his final days made it known to those around him that he was willing to be sacrificed to expose the ill intentions of the United States towards Arabs and Muslims worldwide. The Western press understood this message and began, even before the body of the former Iraqi president was buried, to desecrate his memory with a barrage of unproven allegations to which he could no longer respond. Every one of the dozens of obituaries I have seen from the Western press focuses on the president's alleged brutality and the unproven cases of his violation of human rights. None absolutely none focused on the man who had held Iraq together better than the US and its billions of dollars and Iraqis they could buy. None absolutely none focused on the man who against all odds stood for the justice of the Arab and Muslim cause around the world, especially in Palestine, and even against the world's most expensive, most powerful and most deadly army. And none absolutely none focused on the fact that the capture, trial and the execution of the Iraqi president were illegal and unfair, according to the almost unanimous opinion of the international community and international legal experts. As one of the president's lawyers and counsellors in his final days I came to know a very different Saddam Hussein than that which the Western press portrayed. The image I saw is one the West is scared to confront. The full piece...

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Photo of the Day
Veiled Certainties
When I originally posted this picture, cribbed from Sabbah's Blog, the women were entirely veiled. It was, as Moussa Bashir kindly informed me, a trick job. Photoshop's work. The humor of the shot was tainted by the banality of the stereotype, pointless as the stereotype was. The joke is on the trickster. This original is taken in Beirut's Place de l'Etoile, by a Proustian lens.
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Crumbs & Quickies

In the Blogosphere

From Ohdave's Into My Own: “Along with a few other brave souls, I've been engaging in a full-bore pissing contest with a couple of trolls over at Candide's Notebooks for well onto a couple of months now. At various times I've tried to reason with them, call them names like ass munch and fuckface, ignore them completely, and point out their factual mistakes, too numerous to count. In the final analysis, who cares. These clever warmongering bigots will never change my mind, and I will never convince them of how hateful and degraded they are. These guys for all their persistence (have to give them that) and masochism (they come to the Notebooks to get pummelled on a daily basis) merely represent the wider rhetorical strategies of the Republican Party. You don't have to look very far to see it...” Read the rest at Into My Own...


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