Once upon a time Iraq boasted an extensive railway network criss-crossing the country. But like so much else there, trains were a victim of the years of conflict and now only a skeleton service still runs.
Sixty-one year-old Abdul Latif Salman has a unique connection to the railways and a personal history that mirrors the turbulence of recent decades.
In his youth he was one of three drivers assigned to Saddam Hussein's private luxury train.
He was later a prisoner of war in Iran for ten years and his son was killed by a bomb attack on a government building in Iraq.
Today, Salman is a driver once again on the newly-revived passenger service running from Baghdad to the south.
Filmmakers Rashed Radwan and Carmen Marques' take us on a journey with him through the heart of modern Iraq calling at stations once thought to be shut forever, in communities that have been under siege for years.
With Salman's reminiscences of other times and places as a backdrop, we meet the ordinary passengers who have lived through and survived the worst of times in a country struggling to put itself back together.
Approximately 300 people packed the hallway outside the Maine Department of Labor waiting room, as those from throughout the state gathered to express their concerns about Gov. Paul LePage's decision to remove a mural depicting Maine's labor history.
I missed attending a hastily called news conference today in Augusta, Maine, organized by the Union of Maine Visual Artists and the state AFL-CIO, because I was taping the next edition of my TV show. The news confab was speaking out against our reactionary Gov. Paul LePage's decision to take down a mural that is on the wall inside the lobby of the state Department of Labor.
The governor apparently received an email signed by "Secret Admirer" who complained that the mural was inappropriate for the Department of Labor. The photo above is only part of the mural which depicts the history of workers in Maine who have labored in the textile and paper mills and at Bath Iron Works (BIW) among other places. The art piece tells the story of labor strikes and worker victories to bring safe and fair working conditions.
The anonymous email, which precipitated Gov. LePage's rampage against labor history in Maine, is as follows:
February 24, 2011
Dear Governor LePage:
Welcome to Augusta. You are doing a great job. Keep it up.
The purpose of my letter is to express my disbelief of what I saw at the Maine Department of Labor Offices in Augusta during a recent visit. While sitting in the lobby I had the opportunity to study a very large mural which adorns the lobby area. In this mural I observed a figure which closely resembles the former Commissioner of Labor. In studying the mural I also observed that this mural is nothing but propaganda to further the agenda of the Union movement. I felt for a moment that I was in communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses.
Mr. LePage with all due respect I must say: "MR. LEPAGE, PLEASE TEAR DOWN THIS MURAL."
Again, thank you for your candor and fresh approach to State Government. Keep up the good work.
A Secret Admirer......
So obviously all it takes is a complaint from one right-winger and the new Tea Party Republican governor tries to wipe out more than 100 years of gritty worker history in our state. Just one comparison to "communist North Korea" and down the mural comes in the tradition of Ronald Reagan's famous Berlin call on Gorbachev to "tear down that wall."
As I am writing this I got a call from Peter Woodruff, union worker at Bath Iron Works, who took the day off so he could attend the news conference. He was asked to speak by leaders of the Union of Maine Visual Artists and he talked about another 100 workers being laid off today at BIW. He concluded his words with a call for the several hundred people to show up for the April 4 Bring Our War $$ Home rally at the state capital.
The hardcore right-wing is feeling empowered right now in the U.S. They are demanding things like taking down murals - thoughts they'd never have entertained before the recent election - which LePage won with only 38% of the vote in a three-way race. Each week we are seeing more and more evidence that the war on the working class is in full-swing in our state.
It's going to take all of us to hold on to social progress at the rate things are going. We are going to be called on to stand up and speak out even when our knees are shaking from fright.
Think of the struggle and sacrifices people made to build the labor movement and to bring forward social progress. We all need to defend that hard won legacy.
My latest community access TV show features Richard Rhames from Biddeford, Maine. Richard is a small family vegetable farmer and has long been a political activist in the state. He also has a public access TV show called Out in Left Field and I am frequently a guest on his show.
Richard has now been on my show more than anyone else since I began it in December of 2003.
The Japanese and U.S. governments continue to lie about contamination levels released by the Fukushima power station. Why do the people have to suffer at the hands of these corporate fools? Is it because they don't want the people to demand the closer of all existing nuclear power plants throughout Japan and the rest of the world?
Aileen Mioko Smith of Kyoto-based Green Action, one of Japan’s leading voices challenging the production, commerce and transport of nuclear material, and calling for sustainable energy policies is interviewed by Democracy Now.
Developments at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant could cause a catastrophic situation, aggravating damage brought by the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami which hit Japan on March 11. This is a serious emergency which is equivalent to what happened in Chernobyl, but should also be regarded as the first-ever incident of its kind since multiple nuclear reactors malfunctioned simultaneously. The released radioactivity could spread out beyond a 20 or 30 kilometres radius and cause an irreparable damage to human health, the environment and society.
The Government of Japan has met this crisis only with stop-gap measures and tried to abdicate its responsibility, thereby letting the situation to take an even more serious turn. But at this moment we are not taking the government to task on the whole range of its neglect because the situation is too urgent.
At this critical moment, we demand that the Japanese Government and the mass media tell us the whole truth about what is happening at the Fukushima reactors. The Government of Japan has only released a fraction of the necessary information and has refused to let people know what the worst case scenario is, leaving us completely unprotected. The Government of Japan has not taken any measures to minimize possible damage caused in this scenario. Instead of giving us the truth, the Government, the mass media which follow it blindly, and self-proclaimed “experts” are trting to play down the severity of this situation by, for example, suggesting comparisons with exposure to medical X-rays or radioactivity during an international flight, making the entire situation appear close to what normally happens in daily life. Data about the measured level of radiation is disclosed at random, but it does not contain information about what kind of nuclear materials are being released. Reporters attending the Government's press conferences don't dare to ask questions about this. There is also a lack of systematic warnings about internal exposure to radiation. Meanwhile, most foreign organisations, experts and media have already classed the Fukushima accident close to level seven in the International and Radiological Nuclear Event Scale, and foreign governments have accordingly asked their nationals to evacuate Japan. Where does this huge gap in their acknowledgment of the situation come from?
A favourable interpretation is that the Japanese Government have tried not to cause social panic. But the best way to avoid panic is to give people access to a correct understanding of ongoing events, let them know how to minimize the damage and allow them a variety of methods to do so. Panic occurs when a patient who has been told by their physician that they only have a stomach ache suddenly discovers that they actually have a severe tumour.
The accident at the Fukushima facility requires urgent and coordinated action. We demand that the Government of Japan acknowledge the severity of this situation, make people aware of it, and clarify how this emergency is to be dealt with without delay.
A US soldier has plead guilty to the murders of three unarmed Afghan civilians. Jeremy Morlock faces more than 20 years in prison for his part in a series of incidents that targeted civilians in Afghanistan. He has admitted using illegally obtained Afghan weapons to make it appear that the victims were enemy combatants. Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane reports.
See the new article in The New Yorker on this case by Seymour Hersh here
Here is former Sen. Joseph Biden, now V-P of the U.S., threatening in 2007 to impeach George W. Bush if he attacked Iran without Congressional approval.
But now he, and Obama, have done just that. They have attacked Libya, who is no "immediate threat" to the U.S., without going to Congress and asking for the authority to do so.
Did you notice how the Democrats cheered for Biden's threat against the "bad cowboy" George W. Bush? But now many of those same Democrats are very likely making excuses for Obama-Biden as they wage blitzkrieg in Northern Africa and Central Asia.
It is hypocrisy to pretend to be a peacenik only when the other party is in power. Real peace movement activists oppose war no matter which party is dropping the bombs. Anything else is just blind obedience and servility.
It is situations like this that are killing the Democratic Party with the thinking public. Over and over again we see examples of "say one thing" but "do another".
My mother always used to say, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." In Washington DC that doesn't seem to apply.
Obama's trip to India last October was in part to follow-up on the U.S.-India Nuclear deal (which Obama voted for while in the Senate). A key part of the deal was to expand the development of nuclear power there which would also help them to build more nuclear weapons.
The crisis in Japan has led many countries to review their nuclear plans, but not India. The state of Maharastra is still going ahead with plans to build the world's largest nuclear park in Jaitapur, a region along the Konkan coast that already sits atop a known fault line. The ambitious Indian-French project has not gone down well with those living near the earmarked site. Al Jazeera's Prerna Suri reports from Jaitapur.
As we move closer to the April 4 rally in Augusta it is important to remember that April 4, 1968 was the day MLK was killed. Many, including myself, believe he was killed to a considerable extent because of this speech. King was thinking about running for president along with Dr. Benjamin Spock, one of the leaders of the peace movement as his running mate. The uniting of the civil rights and peace movements was a frightening thought to the ruling oligarchy.
By 1967, King had become the country's most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his "Beyond Vietnam" speech delivered at New York's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 -- a year to the day before he was murdered -- King called the United States "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."
Time magazine called the speech "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi," and the Washington Post declared that King had "diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people."
Let April 4 be the day that we not only remember King but rededicate ourselves to his courageous call for peace and justice.
This ad will appear in three Maine newspapers this week - The Forecaster, the Capital Weekly, and The Maine Edge (Bangor). Combined circulation of these three papers is 100,000 (the entire population of Maine is about 1.3 million.) The ad was paid for by the 350 people whose names are listed.
Yesterday I went to Portland to do a 30-minute radio interview on WMPG and then did a 5-minute interview on the public access TV Channel 5. Both interviews promoted the April 4 Bring Our War $$ Home rally at the state capital. Word is getting around quite well about this event.
Also this week our radio spots on WBACH (three stations) and WERU will begin airing.
Our goal has been to reach out beyond our usual small circles of activism with this campaign and I can say that we've had good success in doing so. We've noticed that each time we hear our Congresswoman Chellie Pingree talk lately in Washington about war spending she states that she is hearing from the people back home and she always mentions the $3.4 billion that people in our state have paid toward the wars since 2001.
Obama ordered the firing of 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libya in the first blitzkrieg. Each of these satellite-directed missiles cost up to $1.5 million. That’s $168 million for one night’s assault. Estimates to maintain the no-fly zone, depending on how much of the country Obama wants to dominate, can cost $30 million to $100 million per week.
Rather than us banging our heads against the wall trying to talk with our elected officials we've switched it up a bit. We recognize that if we increase the public consciousness about the links between war spending and economic crisis at home the politicians will begin to hear the demand to Bring Our War $$ Home every where they go across the state. So far it seems to be working.
Bahrain is an island country in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Saudi Arabia with a population of 753,000 and capital city of Manama. Headed by the al-Khalifah family since 1783, the country was a British protectorate between 1861 and 1971. The king is the supreme authority.
The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet has its headquarters in the port of Manama, Bahrain, the headquarters of CENTCOM's navy and marine corps leaders. The downtown area of Manama, the capital city, devotes 79 acres of land to the U.S. Naval Support Activity. Elsewhere in Bahrain is the Sheik Isa Air Base.
The U.S. began its military relationship with the country in 1949 when it stationed three naval warships there. The Federation of American Scientists writes, "Since then, Bahrain has allowed an increased U.S. military presence and facilitated U.S. access to the Middle East in times of crisis, such as the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and Operation Desert Storm. In 1995, Bahrain became the headquarters for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
"The U.S. is the dominant arms supplier to Bahrain; according to the U.S. State Department, over 95% of Bahrain's arms imports from 1995-97 came from the United States.
"The 2000 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices describes Bahrain as a "hereditary emirate with few democratic institutions and no political parties," and warns that Bahraini "security forces committed serious human rights abuses." Although national law prohibits torture, the U.S. State Department stated there are "credible reports" that incarcerated prisoners have been "beaten, both on the soles of their feet and about the face and head, burned with cigarettes, deprived of sleep for long periods of time, and in some cases subjected to electrical shocks." Public demonstrations are rarely permitted, and individuals suspected of opposing the government have been detained for long periods without a trial.
Joseph Gerson, the Director of Programs for the American Friends Service Committee, writes, "U.S. bases serve interventionist aircraft carriers, destroyers, nuclear armed submarines and other U.S. warships. This includes bases in Spain, Italy, Israel, Bahrain, Qatar, Japan, and "access" agreements in Israel, the Philippines, Singapore, and other countries.
For those of you who are wondering: "What's a Draw-In?" I'll tell you...it's fun, easy and will get your artistic and political juices flowing! Basically we park ourselves in the rotunda of the State House (we have permission!) with a table, some signage and plenty of (dry) art materials. We then wait for the public to pass by (usually on their way to speak to legislators) and solicit from them any ideas they might have on how we could better spend the huge sums of money that go into war spending. It's actually a very easy task and you don't have to be proficient at rendering Abrams tanks as, for example if you created a drawing of flowers in a vase, you would be making a perfectly effective political statement about a better way to spend our war dollars.
The other great thing about this action, we found from our last Draw-In, was that people are truly dis-armed when it comes to live artists! They get very excited to see their ideas visualized before them and be able to take their drawing away with them. For me as an artist, my favorite part is hanging out with other artists, making art and exchanging thoughts and ideas. It's a win/win in my book! So, will you come join us? I hope so! See you there. [Monday, April 4 at 11:00 am in the Hall of Flags]
Last night I attended a public meeting at my city hall that was called by the politicians who represent this area in the state legislature. They wanted public input on how they should react to the governor's proposed cutbacks in the state budget. The cutbacks will largely fall on public education and social programs. The governor wants to give tax cuts for those at the top. About 50 people from surrounding towns turned out.
While in Washington DC I had received an email from one of the legislators inviting the public to the meeting so I forwarded it around to a couple key people. Five members from the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign showed up and each of us stood up during the meeting and made statements. I also passed out flyers to everyone about our upcoming April 4 rally inside the state capital.
As usual the politicians were cold and made no comments about what we had to say about cutting war spending as one way to deal with our fiscal crisis here in Maine. As it turns out Maine's share of war spending since 2001 is now $3.4 billion - the same amount that our state will spend this year. One of our supporters last night told the state officials that our congressional Rep. Chellie Pingree in Washington was trying to bring our war $$ home and that she could use some help. (Last Thursday she voted for the Kucinich resolution in the House of Representatives that called for a withdrawal from Afghanistan. It lost badly.) This did not seem to phase them one bit.
But these politicians were not our real target. The people we were actually trying to reach were the 50 people sitting in the hearing - the taxpaying citizens who are having everything dumped on their shoulders by the corporate oligarchy.
As I was walking out to my car after the meeting was over I joked with an older couple, who I had never seen before, that our latest snow storm was not a good sign of spring. They laughed and then the woman said to me in her strong Maine accent, "We'll see ya in Augusta on April 4."
This was a wonderful gift as this woman was letting us know that she truly heard our appeals in the meeting to connect the dots between endless war spending and fiscal collapse at home.
The superintendent of schools, who I had met with last year to explain the campaign, also shook my hand and thanked me for being there before I left city hall. The former chief of police in Bath, who was there to speak against cutting treatment programs for drug addicts, did the same.
It feels good to know that our message seems to be breaking through the ice. Build it and they will come.
More war for control of oil. NATO is the military arm of the U.S. imperial effort to control access to oil around the globe on behalf of corporate globalization.
A few members of Congress are saying that Obama violated the constitution by not going to Congress for permission to attack Libya. The Arab League, who supported the "No Fly Zone," says this attack is beyond defending the skies and is an illegal intervention.
As Daniel Ellsberg said in Washington this past weekend - Obama might have once been a "constitutional scholar" but he no longer is. He is now an international law violater just like George W. Bush. They both work for the CIA.
I've long been a fan of Dennis Trainor (No Cure for That) who narrates this video. (I've posted some of his more creative bits on here a couple of times.) I got to talk with him at the White House protest and after being arrested on Saturday and learned he lives in the Boston area. He is a dad and a trained actor who uses his skills and his heart to help push this movement along. I look forward to meeting him again.
From the left side David Swanson (holding sign) Mark Roman, me, and Peter Woodruff (with camera) at the White House fence. Bottom left in photo is Ruth Zalph an old friend from Florida days. We are chanting "Go home and organize".
University of Maine-Farmington student activist Nicole Moreau - one of the best young activists I have ever met during my days along the dusty protest trail.
I made it home just after 1:00 am this morning and am lying in bed typing this post. Can't find the energy to get up. Sadly Peter Woodruff had to get up at 5:00 am this morning to go to work. Mark Roman and Lisa Savage, who drove us back to Maine from the Boston train station, likely didn't get home til 3:00 am and Lisa had to get up early to teach school this morning. So I know I have it easy compared to them.
I have a zillion emails I've got to sort through. Our train, the non-express cheaper one, didn't have wireless. It would have been nice to have been able to spend those eight hours on the train doing some needed work.
Instead though I was reading a fascinating book called Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America's Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years by Russ Baker. It should be required reading for every citizen. It's the full story of how the Bush family was heavily involved in the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, the destruction of democracy, and the outsourcing of foreign policy to the CIA and corporate interests while heavily funded by the oil-rich Saudi empire. It's a mind blower. This book will help complete the picture about who runs the nation and how they have taken control. It connects all the dots for me.
You can see Baker, a mainstream journalist, on C-SPAN talking about his book here
There were about 1,500 people at the Veterans for Peace protest at the White House yesterday. (More than 100 local protests were held yesterday across the nation.) Following the rally in Lafayette park we marched nearly one mile in a big circle through the streets and ended back up in front of the White House. We quickly climbed onto the fence and waited for the park police to give us our warnings before they started to make the arrests.
These photos are by Peter Woodruff, who was also arrested, and in all there were 113 of us put on buses and driven to the park police headquarters where we were processed in record time and released.
Fellow Mainers Mark Roman and Lisa Savage were arrested and University of Maine-Farmington students Nicole Moreau and Jade Forester were there to cheer us on.
I'll write more later about the day - need to get packed and head to train station for the return trip home.
The Washington Post coverage amounted to a photo of a person's two feet standing next to two empty combat boots with flowers in them. The caption reads: Boots belonging to a soldier who was killed in action were on display Saturday as anti-war protesters rallied in front of the White House to mark the 8th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
And that is all they wrote. The "free press" in action.
Correction: We later discovered that the Post in fact did have an article about the protest in another part of the paper. See it here
Francis Boyle is a Professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign.
Boyle said: "Without authorization by the United Nations Security Council and express authorization from the U.S. Congress pursuant to the terms of the War Powers Resolution, for President Obama to establish any type of so-called 'no-fly zone' over Libya would be illegal and unconstitutional."
While serving as the lawyer for the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993, Boyle procured the NATO no-fly zone over Bosnia. He is author of "The Bosnian People Charge Genocide."