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Occupation Unhinged

The US occupation of Iraq is spiraling out of control.

Just when it seems like America couldn't be any more unpopular in Iraq, and around the world, comes the word Haditha. A horrific massacre, and an even more despicable cover-up.

The new Iraqi ambassador to the US, Samir Al-Sumaidaie, claims Marines killed his cousin, a second year engineering university student, in a separate incident in Haditha, his hometown. "I believe he was killed intentionally," Al-Sumaidaie told CNN on Sunday. "I believe that he was killed unnecessarily. And unfortunately, the investigations that took place after that sort of took a different course and concluded that there was no unlawful killing."

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that US troops shot to death a pregnant woman rushing to the hospital to give birth.

The US Army long ago lost control of Iraq's security. Now it's losing a grip on its own soldiers, who are exhausted and demoralized by everything they've seen. According to a study at the Army's own Walter Reed Hospital, nearly twenty percent of soldiers returning from Iraq screened positive for potential mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress syndrome. In a break with past policy, some of these troops are being sent back into combat.

Haditha probably would've remained a secret, to Americans at least, if it wasn't for the repeated warnings of Rep. John Murtha, who's been called a coward, a traitor and worse by right-wing chickenhawks. This week Senator Barbara Boxer joined Murtha's call for a swift redeployment of troops out of Iraq.

We've been told over and over by mindless pundits that the next six months will be "make or break" in Iraq. If ever there was a question of whether the US occupation was doing more harm than good, this week provided a heartbreaking answer. Iraq is brutally broken, and the US is incapable of handling the repairs.

In the next six months, it's time to give Iraq back to the Iraqis.

'The Republic's Most Valuable Subversive'

It seemed right that John Kenneth Galbraith had the last word at his memorial service.

"My father's last book was devoted to the destructiveness of war, the unimaginable cruelty of war" Peter Galbraith told the 1000 friends, colleagues, family members who gathered in Harvard University's Memorial Church on a warm Wednesday afternoon to remember the life of a great public intellectual, economist, thinker who was also a man of generous heart and exceptionally independent mind and spirit. "'War remains the decisive human failure," Galbraith wrote. As his biographer Richard Parker said, "He knew when to fight and what he would fight for, but hated war and the men who sought or encouraged it, whether in Vietnam forty years ago or the middle East today."

He was a man who despised how the military-industrial complex had so terribly skewed America's priorities. Words he wrote for John F. Kennedy's first Inaugural address, at a time when Cold War orthodoxies rode high, resonate today. "We must never negotiate out of fear, but we must never fear to negotiate."

It was a gathering rich in imagery and recollection, with a modicum of sadness. "In another age, " Senator Edward Kennedy said of Galbraith " He would have been a Founding Father." Former Senator and Presidential candidate George McGovern described him as the tallest economist in the world--physically, morally, intellectually. His son Jamie, also an economist, remembered that he and his father ( "my mentor, my coach, my critic and my friend") were always on the same side of history-in 1968, 1972, up until today, He described his father as having "the thinking man's suspicion that the emperor had no clothes." And "in an age of naked emperors, " Jamie observed, "there's a use for that."

The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. sent words which were read by his son Stephen--he was in New York recovering from an illness. He described his closest friend as "the Republic's most valuable subversive." Pointing out their 13 inch height difference, Arthur argued playfully that being the tallest economist in the world, at 6'8", reinforced Galbraith's boldness with which he confronted the status quo. "Salvation," Schlesinger said, " lies in the subversion of conventional wisdom."

Galbraith's brilliant deployment of irony, satire, laughter--one of his favorite phrases, repeated by several speakers was "Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue"--reconnected academic economics with human and social reality.

Longtime friend Gloria Steinem, who offered an exquisitely humane tribute, said, "I believe he was the only person I know kept honest by ego." She spoke of her belief that his generosity of spirit, his love of good conversation showed in his work." His public and private selves were never dissonant."

Galbraith's whiplash wit never faltered, but in the Bush years -- as he grew discouraged by the lethal failures of American leadership--Galbraith told friends that developments made him think thoughts he had never thought himself capable of thinking. "I asked such as? ," Schlesinger remembered. "I begin to long for Reagan," Galbraith replied.

The former President of Harvard Derek Bok described Galbraith's quiet acts of kindnesses--a side not often seen amidst the glitter and celebrity of his life. He assigned some of his royalties to the economics department, he asked to retire at age 65 to pave the way for young professors, he and his wife Kitty housed an undergraduate student each year. Bok recalled a letter Galbraith had sent him in the early 1970s, in which he predicted (accurately) that the university would face tough financial times. (He reviewed the university's stock portfolio.) Galbraith asked that he no receive further salary increases. "You may laugh," Bok said as laughter erupted in the church, "but I assure you that letter has never been duplicated since."

There was talk of the books which changed not only the way the country viewed itself, and gave new phrases to the language ("conventional wisdom," private opulence and public squalor," the bland leading the bland"), and there were also amusing anecdotes about Galbraith's celebrity. Bok recounted a story Former Harvard Dean Henry Rosovsky told him many years ago. Rosovsky had stopped at a garage in Hoboken where the local mechanic asked him, "what do you do?" "I teach at Harvard, "Rosovsky replied. "Do you know Professor Galbraith?" asked the mechanic.

In these times when staged foodfights pass for debate, Galbraith's life is a model of how a man can take sides--with intelligence, passion, and wit--while eschewing mean and and petty partisanship.The ecumenical nature of Galbraith's friendships was clear as conservative intellectual William Buckley Jr. delivered a spirited and warmly acerbic tribute to his old friend. (In the local bookstore in Gstaad, Switzerland, where they both went skiing, they would do battle to get their books the best spot in the shop's window.)

"Denounce the Iraq war and your influence as a conservative will soar, " Buckley remembered Galbraith advising him. (Steinem remembered that on one of her last visits to see Galbraith, he announced almost gleefully: "There's still time for Buckley's redemption.")

With Harvard's ex-President Larry Summers sitting in the front pews, Steinem spoke of Galbraith's support--in word and deed--of women economists. He always challenged "the conventional wisdom that women aren't good at math."

In many eyes, Galbraith was America's Great Liberal Economist. But, surprisingly,only George McGovern spoke explicitly of Galbraith's contribution to the creed of liberalism, "the most creative and most uplifting spirit in the American political tradition, though now assailed." (In these times, McGovern added mordantly, "I'd settle for some old fashioned conservatism.")

Instead it was Galbraith's exceptional and reasoned independence that so many spoke of. "To the very end," Parker said, "he was never a synecdoche of a time gone by--but of immense relevance today, a figure or exceptional and independent mind and spirit, a skeptic always of power and privilege." As Richard Parker observed, " I believe that ...what Ken most wanted us to learn... and lived in his life in testimony to it: that we must use--and sometimes oppose--power in order that power not use us."

Galbraith's role as Ambassador to India was remembered by many--but it was the Indian economist Amartya Sen who spoke eloquently of how his longtime colleague and friend "captured the hearts and minds of Indians." Over the years, Sen recounted, many Indians lamented the hostility between the US and India, and spoke of how Americans didn't understand their country. However, Sen noted, they would always add, "with the exception of John Kenneth Galbraith." The Nobel-Prize winning economist's tribute was a polite rebuke to those (economists and others) who never forgave Galbraith for being too readable. Some fifty years ago, Sen said, "I remember reading this captivating book [American Capitalism] in one gulp in a Calcutta coffee house, while a student at the university there, and I had a determination to seek out the wisdom from this John Kenneth Galbraith wherever he might be."

One of the final tributes of the afternoon came from Senator Kennedy, who spoke on behalf of his brothers and his family. "If there were any justice in the world," Kennedy said, "he'd have won the Nobel Prize."

"There might not have been a New Frontier without him."

Kennedy recalled how Galbraith, while Ambassador, routinely bypassed the traditional State Department route when sending missives to the White House. "Going through the State Department," he liked to say, " is like making love through a mattress."

"His words and wisdom resonate today, even as the gap between private opulence and public squalor continues to widen under our misguided leadership." With voice cracking, Kennedy ended, "We love you Ken. We miss you very much."

Before Galbraith's son Peter gave his father the last words, he took a moment to reflect on his father's kindness, the lives he changed through his generosity of spirit and humanity.

Although he was "discouraged by developments in America in these last 25 years," Peter said, "there is a Galbraithian legacy..." Scores of people have worked to make America a less bigoted country, a more just country, and though "we do not have the Good Society my father wanted, he helped bring us closer to one."

A video of the Memorial Service will be available online in June.

In honor of Galbraith's memory, donations may be sent to: Economists for Peace and Security, P.O, Box 5000, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504

McCain Dumps Duke's GOP Successor

There's some ugly trouble for Republicans out here in Southern California. Just days before the June 6 special election to replace jailed former Congressman Duke Cunningham, Senator John McCain has dumped the GOP candidate trying to succeed him.

McCain was slated to host a fundraising event on Wednesday for Brian Bilbray, the Republican candidate in the San Diego-area 50th Congressional District, left vacant after The Duke was hauled off to jail for accepting bribes.

But at the last minute, McCain pulled out citing differences with Bilbray over the immigration issue. Bilbray has dissed McCain's immigration reform proposals as an unacceptable "amnesty." Bilbray's Democratic opponent by the way, Francine Busby, supports McCain's plan.

"Senator McCain has canceled his appearance on behalf of Brian Bilbray to avoid distracting from the overall message of the Bilbray campaign," Craig Goldman, executive director of McCain's political action committee, said in a statement.

Right. McCain, who is a possible 2008 presidential contender, might also just want to keep his distance from the whole Duke stench. Latest polls show Bilbray in a very and unpredictable race. McCain's withdrawl can't be considered much of a boost, can it?

Former Bush AIDS Czar Slams US Policies

Five years ago Scott Evertz headed the US delegation to UNGASS where 189 member countries signed the historic Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS. In the glacial bureaucracy of the UN, that declaration was fairly progressive. It committed governments to specific targets for AIDS treatment, embraced comprehensive HIV prevention efforts and spoke openly of condoms, gender equality and vulnerable populations. But today the world is only incrementally closer to universal access to treatment by 2010 -- one of the major goals to emerge from UNGASS in 2001. And the US and its unlikely family values allies in the Middle East are working behind the scenes of UNGASS +5 to roll back even those commitments.

According to Evertz and AIDS activists privy to draft declarations, Islamic countries and the US have diluted references to condoms, replaced "evidence-based" prevention measures with "evidence-informed" measures and struck references to vulnerable populations [men who have sex with men, IV drug users and commercial sex workers].

As the lead US negotiator at the original UNGASS, Evertz is speaking out. "Even in 2001 there were many sticky issues, one of which was that my government didn't want to talk about vulnerable populations, people at risk for HIV. So even then my government found a willing audience and receptive friend in some of the Islamic states that are on our terrorist list. I find that appalling, and we're doing it again," Evertz said at a press conference this morning.

Appointed by Bush as director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy in 2001, Evertz is no radical; he's not even a Democrat. A clean-cut, former President of the Wisconsin State Log Cabin Republicans, Evertz was recommended by then Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson with whom he had worked with on faith-based social services. But apparently, the Bush administration's emphasis on abstinence and fidelity has turned his stomach. When asked if U.S. AIDS policy has been hijacked by the far right, Evertz replied, "I'm not entirely sure, but they are certainly on the plane." "If the tax payers knew how ideology and politics are driving the U.S. response to AIDS, they'd be alarmed," Evertz added.

Now a private citizen, Evertz says he "appreciates not having to be an apologist for some of those [Bush administration] policies."

The Center for Selective Facts

In response to accusations fromWake Up Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart denies funding the far-right Center for Union Facts (CUF), whose creepy and misleading anti-union ads you may have seen in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post. A press release from CUF amusingly registers some distress over the company's denials; acknowledging that Wal-Mart isn't funding the group, CUF spokeswoman Sarah Longwell says, "Come to think of it, why aren't they?" CUF is now calling upon Wal-Mart to remedy this oversight.

Wal-Mart would be wise to give this organization a wide berth. In addition to the newspaper ads, the group maintains a website, clearly aimed at union members and undecided workers, dedicated to smearing the labor movement. Of course, there are plenty of bad things to say about unions and their leadership, many of them true; the Center is certainly not hallucinating the race and sex discrimination, corruption and lack of democracy within many of these organizations. But the website, and the ads, dishonestly imply that because unions have failings, workers would be better off with no representation at all. What CUF doesn't mention is that workers who belong to unions enjoy higher wages, better benefits, and often, despite the "pale, male and stale" leadership -- a characterization first used by Andy Stern, more recently deployed in a CUF ad -- less race and sex discrimination on the job.

CUF urges readers to decertify their unions. But if CUF were really a campaign for democracy, justice and the interests of workers, unionfacts.com would instead encourage people to fight for better unions, by getting more involved in their own, ousting bad leaders by running against them in elections, and joining Teamsters for a Democratic Union, Members for Democracyor any number of other reform-minded groups within the labor movement. Or by subscribing to Labor Notes, a newsletter which has been crusading for union democracy and greater rank-and-file participation for years. But despite CUF's slick rhetoric, democracy is not what its business and right-wing funders have in mind.

Which brings us to a serious question. If not Wal-Mart, then who is funding CUF? According to the website, the campaign is supported by "foundations, businesses, union members, and the general public." When I asked for further clarification, CUF's Sarah Longwell demurred, explaining the group's "policy not to offer specific information on any of our supporters" -- not a very transparent policy for a group claiming dedication to "showing Americans the truth" and professing not to be "part of a political effort" but "about education." If anyone has any idea who CUF's sugar daddies are, let me know. I would enjoy inflicting some pain and grief upon them, and I know I'm not alone in this.

Constitutional Contrarianism

I don't profess to be an expert on constitutional law. But it doesn't take a genius to note that the outrage coming from both parties over the FBI's raid of Rep. William Jefferson's office has less to do with principle and more to do with self-preservation. At a time when corruption probes are intensifying on Capitol Hill, no one wants his or her office to be the next one searched.

The one person who seems to get this is Barney Frank, the eccentric 13-term Democrat from Massachusetts who's regarded as one of the smartest, and funniest, members of the House. Frank first broke with his colleagues over the raid during a one minute speech on the House floor on May 25.

"What we now have is a Congressional leadership, the Republican part of which has said it is okay for law enforcement to engage in warrantless searches of the average citizen, now objecting when a search, pursuant to a validly issued warrant, is conducted of a Member of Congress," Frank said.

Last night, he sharpened that message on the always-superb MSNBC show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann. As Frank told guest host Brian Unger, "There's more irony here than in the collected works of George Bernard Shaw."

Here you have a Republican Congress which has been enthusiastic about the disregard of any kind of reasonable strength on law enforcement for almost everybody in the country, and now they overreact when it‘s a member of Congress.

To put it very tersely, they have generally, the Republicans in particular, approved of warrantless intrusions into the privacy of average citizens. That is, they‘ve said it‘s OK to go in and get into what people read in the libraries or what they‘ve said on the phone without a warrant.

Here, a warrant issued. So we ought to be very clear, this is not a unilateral executive decision to do it. A judge issued a warrant. And I must say, having seen the evidence, I don‘t know what the ultimate answer is, guilt or innocence, and that‘s to be decided later, if, in fact, there‘s a trial. And there hasn‘t even been an indictment.

But it does seem to me that based on what we saw, there was sufficient basis for a warrant. This was not an imprudently granted warrant. And the notion that we would object when a search is conducted of one of our officers pursuant to a warrant, when people don‘t conduct when there are searches without warrants of average citizens, yes, that‘s pretty ironic.

Act Up Against AIDS

It's been 25 years since the first diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS, and as world leaders gather at the UN to assess the state of the epidemic, people will be taking to the streets to demand action. Don't let the overly optimistic article in today's New York Times fool you, the epidemic is still very much a crisis. If you're in the area, take your lunch hour to call for universal access to treatment, more funding for HIV/AIDS and an end to ideologically driven campaigns against condoms, sex workers and IV drug users.

I'll post more on the march later, but hope to see you there.

RALLY AND MARCH at the UN General Assembly Special Session on AIDS (UNGASS)

On Wednesday, May 31, demand that the leaders of rich countries and the most affected countries listen to people most directly affected by HIV and fulfill their commitments to fighting AIDS.

12:30pm: Gather at Dag Hammerskjöld Plaza(47th Street between 1st and 2nd Aves)

1 pm: Rally with Emcees Rosie Perez and Amos Hough

2:00pm: March stopping at the UN missions of Uganda, India, Nigeria and the U.S.

Speakers at the rally and march will include:Vineeta Gupta (India) - Stop HIV/AIDS in India Initiative; Sipho Mthathi (South Africa) - Treatment Action Campaign; Violetta Ross (Bolivia) - Bolivian Network of People Living with AIDS; Waheedah Shabazz (U.S.) - ACT UP Philadelphia; Raminta Stuikyte (Central/Eastern Europe) - Harm Reduction Network; Beatrice Were (Uganda) - ActionAid.

A Failing Policy's Last Argument

Having lost all positive reasons for the Iraq War, the Bush administration and its allies have fallen back on the last argument of a failing policy: We can't afford to lose in Iraq. But as the stories about U.S. troops executing innocent Iraqi children emerge other questions come to mind: What if we have already failed? What if our continued presence only makes the situation worse not better?

According to recent reports, what's happening in Iraq is worse than a civil war; it's sectarian cleansing. And not only are American troops training the soldiers who are executing innocent civilians, but they are actually participating. They were given an impossible mission and this is the result.

And for what? The Iraqi Parliament can't decide who should run the Defense or Interior ministries but they want to spend $50 million to buy themselves armored cars.

Bush claims the only mistakes he can think of were rhetorical, but this whole war was a mistake. It's time to stop asking our young men and women to continue to die for a mistake.

Suffering in Haditha

Just over a week ago, Rep. John Murtha stated that a military investigation will confirm that over a dozen Iraqi civilians were murdered in Haditha by U.S.Marines.

Today, a New York Times cover story reveals far worse: the military report finds that 24 Iraqi civilians were "killed during a sustained sweep by a small group of marines that lasted three to five hours…." Murder charges are a possible outcome.

The victims include women and children killed in two houses, as well as 5 men standing near a taxi at a checkpoint.

A separate military investigation is determining whether a deliberate cover-up led to initial false reports that the victims were killed by a makeshift bomb or caught in the crossfire between marines and insurgents.

Congressional, military, and Pentagon officials all spoke under the condition of anonymity.

John Sifton of Human Rights Watch put it plainly, "Here we have two dozen civilians being killed--apparently intentionally. This isn't a gray area. This is a massacre."

According to the Times, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael Hagee, flew to Iraq to lecture the troops on adhering to the Geneva Conventions and rules of engagement.

But why would the troops respect the rules of engagement when the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense are hell-bent on reserving the right to torture? When the Attorney General refers to the Geneva Conventions as "quaint"? When the Administration recklessly asserts that it can do whatever it wants to do so long as--in its opinion--it is acting to protect the American people?

What we see unfolding before our eyes, sadly, is exactly what Nation Institute Fellow Chris Hedges writes happens all too often in war: "One of the frustrating things for those of us who have spent so much time in war zones is to come back and see how those who are guiltiest – those who pushed the country into war, who told the lies that perpetuated the war – are never held accountable. And those who suffer the most, those who endure the trauma and have to live with the memories for the rest of their lives, are blamed unjustly."

The New York Times called those allegedly involved in the killings "a small number of marines." But just because those who sit-on high didn't pull the trigger, it doesn't make them any less guilty. In fact, they aren't the ones facing the unfathomable stress of war made worse by their own poor planning and poor allocation of resources.

They just sit in judgment of the soldiers who will end up paying the price for it. And tell the families of slain Iraqis that we are bettering their lives.

What Do Laura and Barbara Bush Know About AIDS?

This week the UN will hold a high level meeting on AIDS to review what -- if any -- progress has been made since the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS) in 2001. I'll be writing more about UNGASS +5 in the days to come, but advance reports are not promising.

Heading the U.S. delegation will be First Lady Laura Bush, who's been making the rounds in Africa lately on behalf of her husband's controversial AIDS plan (PEPFAR). Joining her will be first twin Barbs, who's apparently taking a break from partying hard at Bungalow 8 with socialite Fabian Basabe to pursue her secondary interest: global AIDS. Yes, post-Yale, post-campaign, post-hangover, Barbs has been working with Baylor College of Medicine's International Pediatrics AIDS Initiative. Her volunteer work last year at a clinic in Cape Town was so shrouded in mystery that newspapers could only report at the time, "Bush daughter is said to volunteer" in South Africa. And lest Barbs get bored, she's dragging along party pal Maggie Betts (daughter of Bush "pioneer" Roland Betts); both are official members of the 47-person delegation. Thankfully, Jenna is nowhere in sight.

The ideological heavy-lifting, however, will be executed by stalwart Christian conservatives. As Esther Kaplan reports, the U.S. delegation includes abstinence pusher Anita Smith (Co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS), Melissa Pardue (a former policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation who promotes abstinence-only education) and Baptist minister Herb Lusk (who advises Bush on faith-based community development). (Kaplan also notes a spike in Uganda's HIV infection rate, which has doubled over the past two years as it implemented Bush's prevention plan.)

None of this bodes well for UNGASS +5. While much will be decided in the days to come, according to Naina Dhingra, Director of Public Policy for Advocates for Youth, "the U.S. is sending a signal that it is not taking the meeting as seriously as it should by putting a non-political person at the head of the delegation and by filling it with people with no experience in HIV/AIDS or who don't agree with the goals of the 2001 UNGASS declaration."

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