Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wrong Again! Twice! Another Look At Azizabad And Wall Street

I've made a few mistakes lately and it's time to 'fess up. I was wrong about the Azizabad massacre, and I was wrong about the Wall Street bailout, too. Oops.

The Azizabad Massacre

On August 22, an American airstrike killed more than 90 innocent people in Afghanistan. Most of them were sleeping children.

At the time, I assumed the Pentagon would write off the victims as "collateral damage" and I wrote a piece to that effect. But that didn't happen; instead our military spokesmen denied the story, saying that the airstrike had killed at least 25 "militants" and that at most five civilians had been killed.

Investigators from Afghanistan and the UN went to the scene, interviewed the survivors, looked at the graves, and confirmed the original reports. But the Pentagon stuck to its story. I wrote a second post on the attack in which I mentioned that the damage to civilians was even worse than what had been reported; I also mentioned that the word was being leaked: the Americans had been deceived. An unidentified spokesman blamed the attack on misinformation that the Americans had been given by the Taliban. But the US still didn't admit killing all those people.

Instead Pentagon spokesmen insisted that the UN and Afghan inspectors had been fooled by the survivors of the attack, who (according to the Pentagon) had made up the story about all their relatives being killed. The US even accused the survivors of fabricating evidence -- dead children in graves, and so on. No American investigator ever visited the scene, no Pentagon representative asked any questions on the ground. Instead they just told us what they wanted us to believe. And it was all a pack of lies, of course.

I say "of course" because this is only the latest in a long series of events in which Americans have killed innocent people on the ground in Afghanistan and then lied about it repeatedly. The civilian casualties and the lies intended to cover them have even caused a strain in the Afghan-US "relationship".

If this strain ever got serious it could jeopardize the entire US occupation of Afghanistan, which would be a very good thing in my opinion because the US has no business occupying Afghanistan. The bombing, invasion and subsequent occupation are war crimes and crimes against humanity, just as our crimes against Iraq have been -- though very few will say so.

But I'll say it: the war in Afghanistan would be entirely unjustified, even if the official story of 9/11 were true, which it obviously isn't.

I was still following the Azizabad story when my computer began to break down, and I didn't get a chance to follow up on my two early stories. But Carlotta Gall, veteran war reporter for the New York Times, traveled to the scene, looked at the evidence, talked to the people, and filed a report that left no doubt that the UN and Afghan investigators had been right all along, and that the Pentagon had been blowing smoke up our backsides once again -- with enormous assistance from the American "news" media.

The Times of London posted a graphic cell-phone video from the scene of the atrocity, and reported:
As the doctor walks between rows of bodies, people lift funeral shrouds to reveal the faces of children and babies, some with severe head injuries.

Women are heard wailing in the background. “Oh God, this is just a child,” shouts one villager. Another cries: “My mother, my mother.”

The grainy video eight-minute footage, seen exclusively by The Times, is the most compelling evidence to emerge of what may be the biggest loss of civilian life during the Afghanistan war.

These are the images that have forced the Pentagon into a rare U-turn. Until yesterday the US military had insisted that only seven civilians were killed in Nawabad on the night of August 21.
The Times has much more to say, including:
In the video scores of bodies are seen laid out in a building that villagers say is used as a mosque; the people were killed apparently during a combined operation by US special forces and Afghan army commandos in western Afghanistan. The film was shot on a mobile phone by an Afghan doctor who arrived the next morning.

Local people say that US forces bombed preparations for a memorial ceremony for a tribal leader. Residential compounds were levelled by US attack helicopters, armed drones and a cannon-armed C130 Spectre gunship.
That's a C130 in the photo, and for the war-porn shot shown here it was shooting flares. For the sleeping children, they used live ammo.

Chris Floyd picked up on Carlotta Gall's report and wrote an excellent post about it, and Glenn Greenwald read Chris and wrote a good piece about it too. Here Greenwald quotes Floyd:
The mass death visited upon the sleeping, defenseless citizens of Azizabad encapsulates many of the essential elements of this global campaign of "unipolar domination" and war profiteering: the callous application of high-tech weaponry against unarmed civilians; the witless attack that alienates local supporters and empowers an ever-more violent and radical insurgency; and perhaps the most quintessential element of all -- the knowing lies and deliberate deceits that Washington employs to hide the obscene reality of its Terror War.
Greenwald drew attention to the amazing fact that the Pentagon's story had been broadcast into America's living rooms on a daily basis by FOX News, which was featuring reports from an "independent journalist".

It turned out that the "independent journalist" was none other than Oliver North, the convicted serial liar who was a useful tool of evil back in the days of the "Iran/Contra Scandal".

How quaint: a scandal!

To think there could even be one of those in these post-9/11 days. Sigh.

Greenwald also quoted Dan Froomkin quoting George Bush:
"Regrettably, there will be times when our pursuit of the enemy will result in accidental civilian deaths. This has been the case throughout the history of warfare. Our nation mourns the loss of every innocent life. Every grieving family has the sympathy of the American people."
Froomkin's comment:
It's a bit hard to convince people that our nation mourns the loss of every innocent life when we don't even acknowledge them.
He's playing on understatement, of course. It's not "a bit hard". It's impossible.

The photo of the injured Afghan boy comes to us courtesy of the AP via Froomkin's post at Nieman Watchdog.

Now I'm thinking back to the Bush quote:
Regrettably, there will be times when our pursuit of the enemy will result in accidental civilian deaths.
He didn't actually use the term "collateral damage" but he said virtually the same thing. So maybe I wasn't entirely wrong after all. But all those people are still dead.

And, unless I am much mistaken, they're dead because Americans called in an airstrike based on a tip they got from the "enemy". It's utterly preposterous, and despicable, and much worse than I originally thought it could be. Fool me once ...

The Wall Street Bailout

... fool me twice!

I was also wrong about the Wall Street bailout. On Sunday, I wrote a brief post congratulating my fellow citizens on our purchase of "toxic waste" "worth" $700 billion, and now it turns out that the purchase is off, or at least it has been delayed, after the House of Representatives refused to pass a bill backed by the President and the House leaders of both parties.

The vote was 228 to 205 against the bill, and the bipartisan breakdown is instructive: 65 Republicans and 140 Democrats voted for the bailout, while 133 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted against it.

In other words, more than 67% of the Republicans voted against the measure, while nearly 60% of the Democrats voted for it.

The Republicans have usually voted together, especially when the twice-unelected president has expressed firm views. And Bush has made his support of this bailout proposal very clear.

So there's no question that the president has been rebuffed by his own party on this matter. But -- as Chris Floyd points out -- this is not news; last month the big elephants didn't even let the little chimp speak at their convention.

Meanwhile, the donkey house leadership -- exemplified by Miss Impeachment-Is-Off-The-Table, Nancy Pelosi -- despite their best efforts, could only muster 60% of their "colleagues" in support of this obviously criminal president. So Pelosi has not only shown her truly treasonous colors once again; she's been rebuffed by a significant portion of her own party as well.

Nonetheless, House leaders and presidential mouthpieces say, they will try again to get this bill passed, perhaps later in the week. So the deal is not undone yet, and my reporting may have been more "premature" than "wrong".

Or it could be that, like the Azizabad story, the reality is much worse than my early reports indicated.

As it was becoming evident that the congress would not pass the bailout measure, the Federal Reserve announced that it
will pump an additional $630 billion into the global financial system...
There's no congressional vote on that, my friends, and we're not getting any toxic waste in return. It's just the first of many donations that will be made in rapid succession, unless I am very wrong.

The purpose of this particular transfusion is to
settle the funding markets down, and allow trust to slowly be restored between borrowers and lenders
as Bloomberg helpfully explains.

And that's the end of reality as a motive force, as far as I can tell.

The best way to restore trust between borrowers and lenders would be to resume the enforcement of laws against predatory lending practices, and to let the firms that have made too many bad investments disappear.

Arthur Silber, who has been digging very deeply into this story lately, reports that "the crisis" may cost as much as $5 trillion before they stop throwing money at it. Of course, by that time, things will be much worse than they are now.

And there's the rub.

The bailout is not a solution to the problem. It could never be a solution and it could never be taken seriously as a potential solution, for the simple reason that the problem is insoluble.

It's not even one problem. It's a tangled mess of problems, some of which were almost certainly created deliberately by our government and its best friends, primarily in order to separate us from our money.

The problems include: an insane level of military spending; repeated cuts to the funding of our social systems and physical infrastructure; excessive tax cuts, especially for the excessively rich; extreme deregulation, especially of the financial "industry"; the movement of formerly American industries to foreign countries; increasing global population; limited global resources; increasing destruction of our natural environment; and the strain of committing multiple war crimes simultaneously. All these forces acting together mean that things are getting more expensive, and that we are becoming less able to afford them.

We can't change any of this by giving hundreds of billions of dollars to the banks that have done the worst job of managing their investments, no matter how many hundreds of billions of dollars we give them.

Thus the "solution" cannot work; it doesn't even begin to address the problem; its only possible purpose is to steal your money and give it to some of the people who are most responsible for the mess we're in today.

So why would we do it?

Gimme an "F". Gimme an "E". Gimme an "A". Gimme an "R". What's that spell?

Some of the details in this NYT piece could be classified under "blackmail" ... or "extortion" ... or "terrorism". Like this:
Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., appearing at the White House late Monday afternoon, warned that the failure of the rescue plan could dry up credit for businesses big and small, making them unable to make payrolls or buy inventory. Vowing to continue working with Congress to revive the rescue plan, Mr. Paulson said it was “much too important to simply let fail.”

Supporters of the bill had argued that it was necessary to avoid a collapse of the economic system, a calamity that would drag down not just Wall Street investment houses but possibly the savings and portfolios of millions of Americans. Moreover, supporters argued, a lingering crisis in America could choke off business and consumer loans to a degree that could prompt bank failures in Europe and slow down the global economy.
And this:
Stock markets plunged as it appeared that the measure would go down to defeat, and kept slumping into the afternoon when that appearance became a reality. By late afternoon the Dow industrials had fallen more than 5 percent, and other indexes even more sharply. Oil prices fell steeply on fears of a global recession; investors bid up prices of Treasury securities and gold in a flight to safety. [...]

House leaders pushing for the package kept the voting period open for some 40 minutes past the allotted time at mid-day, trying to convert “no” votes by pointing to damage being done to the markets, but to no avail.

and this:
The United States Chamber of Commerce vowed to exert pressure, warning in a letter to members of Congress that it would keep track of who votes how. “Make no mistake,” the letter said. “When the aftermath of Congressional inaction becomes clear, Americans will not tolerate those who stood by and let the calamity happen.”
I've got news for you: The calamity is already happening, Americans have stood by and watched it develop for years without doing anything about it, and it's going to continue regardless of whether or not the federal government gives a few criminal banks more of our money than anyone can possibly imagine.

I've got more news for you: a scoop before its time, if you will...

Electing John McCain won't solve the problem.

Electing Barack Obama won't solve it either.

Now What?

I can't shake the feeling that these two stories are tied together in ways that transcend the obvious "WP was wrong".

For instance, I wonder whether a nation which tolerates -- not to say thrives on -- deliberate lies about the people it has killed, could possibly deserve anything other than a full-spectrum economic meltdown.

The USA has been attacking defenseless countries for generations.

What goes around, comes around.

And it's been a long time coming.

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