So we’ve been hearing for the past couple days now how Republicans are lining up to repeal the 14th Amendent, which guarantees citizenship for those born in the United States (including those born to illegal immigrants). And most of the press has been lining up to report on the issue, but for the most part they’re all failing to report on one thing: this will never never NEVER happen. Changing the Constitution is not the same as just passing any old law. First, to even propose an Amendment, two thirds of both houses of Congress must vote for the proposal. That would mean that you would need Republicans to control two thirds of both houses of Congress (which is basically a mathematical impossibility) and, if you somehow managed to pull that off, you would need 100 per cent of Republican Congressmen and Senators to vote for the proposal (again, not going to happen). But even if the Republicans defied the laws of nature and controlled two thirds of both houses and voted unanimously for the proposal, they would then have to get 75 per cent of either state legislatures or state ratifying conventions to ratify the amendment (again, something of an impossibility given the extremity of the issue). Which means the 14th Amendment is not going anywhere.

So everybody calm down! The Republicans are not going to take away the 14th Amendment and to report on this issue like it is even an issue is to give legitimacy to the morons that come up with these policies. Next time they come up with something this stupid, ignore it! Because there is never going to be any substantive reform of immigration so long as everybody is distracted by non-issues like this.

There was this article in The Independent newspaper last week concerning a report that has confirmed what plenty of people long suspected: in the wake of the 2004 Battle of Fallujah birth defects, infant mortality, and cancer have skyrocketed in the city. From what I can tell, this report received absolutely no coverage in the mainstream American press (and only scant attention in the international press).

Some of what is described in The Independent is pretty horrific: paralysis of the lower limbs; a girl born with two heads; an infant mortality rate eight times the rate of neighbouring Kuwait; a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer; a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer; an 18 per cent drop in male births; and a 38-fold increase in leukemia (which is almost double the 17-fold increase experienced in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb).

The main culprit for all of this? The Independent points the finger at white phosphorous, a chemical agent meant to be used as a smokescreen for camouflaging troop movements, but which can be lethal if it comes into contact with skin. The US initially denied using white phosphorous in Fallujah until it was forced to back peddle when bloggers noted that the Army’s own Field Artillery Magazine mentioned its use in the battle (smart one, guys). Not surprisingly, the military denies using it against civilians, but there is plenty of evidence to show otherwise, particularly from the RAI documentary Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre. White phosphorous is a chemical weapon that, in so many words, causes people to burn to death. So long as it is exposed to oxygen, it will burn anything it comes into contact with, including flesh and bone. If the burning itself doesn’t prove fatal, then the massive organ failure that results when it gets into the blood stream probably will. Under international law, however, it is only banned if the intent is to use it as a weapon against humans rather than for camouflage purposes, which is why the US is insistent that it never targeted civilians. But there’s a problem here: phosphorous is, essentially, smoke. It doesn’t matter one bit where one “intends” it to go, phosphorous blows around and covers a fairly large, amorphous area and anybody who happens to be stuck in that area (like, say, the people of Fallujah) will be exposed to its effects. Thus, any claim by the military that it did not target civilians is at best deceitful. Any use of white phosphorous in a populated, urban area is, by the very nature of the weapon, a targeting of civilians and needs to be seen that way.

There’s another suspect behind Fallujah’s current crisis, however, that is not mentioned in The Independent article, which is the use of depleted uranium (DU) bullets. Because of their comparatively superior armor penetrative capabilities, DU bullets are the ammunition of choice for the US military in Iraq. In three weeks alone, during the start of the war in 2003, between 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of depleted uranium were spread over Iraq in the form of ammunitions, a number that has undoubtedly ballooned since then. DU is a radioactive material and a known carcinogen. As the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) says, “Repeated cellular and animal studies have shown that uranium is a kidney toxin, neurotoxin, immunotoxin, mutagen, carcinogen and teratogen.” So how likely is it that DU is responsible for Fallujah’s current woes? To my knowledge, there have been no reliable estimates of how much DU may be scattered throughout Fallujah, but as the ICBUW says: “It is thought that DU is the cause of a sharp increase in the incidence rates of some cancers, such as breast cancer and lymphoma, in areas of Iraq following 1991 and 2003. It has also been implicated in a rise in birth defects from areas adjacent to the main Gulf War battlefields.” So it seems pretty likely that a mass of radioactive material dumped on a city may have something to do with that city’s soaring cancer and birth defect rates. But that’s just a hunch.

Whether the culprit is white phosphorous or depleted uranium, we should not have to wait for a verdict in this one case to realize that both of these weapons deserve to be banned. With either weapon, the evidence is clear that those who suffer the most from their use are not soldiers and insurgents, but civilians. The price Iraqis have paid and are currently paying because of the US military’s insistence on its right to use these weapons is, at best, a humanitarian disaster and, at worst, a war crime.

An article from the latest issue of The Nation, WikiLeaks in Baghdad, about how civilian casualties are not so much the result of errors or “a few bad apples”, but from a chain of command whose goal is to “out-terrorize the terrorists.”


“When one [IED] went off, you were supposed to open fire on anybody,” says Stieber. “At first I would just fire into a field. Then I wouldn’t fire at all.” He describes an IED that went off near a crowd of teenagers. “I said I wouldn’t fire,” even though “other people were firing,” he recalls. Like Stieber, Corcoles describes incidents in which he purposely aimed his gun away from people. “You don’t even know if somebody’s shooting at you,” he says. “It’s just insanity to just start shooting people.” Stieber pointed out that in incidents like these, it was very rare for US military vehicles to stop to help the wounded or assess how many people had been injured or killed.

Stieber was intimidated and reprimanded by his command for refusing orders to shoot. “One time when I didn’t fire, people in my truck were yelling at me for the rest of the mission. When we got back, one or two leaders got up in my face and kept yelling at me and stuff,” he says. The command eventually stopped sending him on missions as a gunner, and Stieber says he “faced a lot of criticism for it.” Corcoles saw this too. “One night our truck got hit by an IED and Josh didn’t fire, and another soldier didn’t fire,” he says. “And they were getting yelled at: ‘Why aren’t you firing?’ And they said, ‘There’s nobody to fire at.'”

An excellent article in The Nation from everybody’s favourite socialist senator. Quote:

But, perhaps the most outrageous tax break given to multi-millionaires and billionaires happened this January when the estate tax, established in 1916, was repealed for one year as a result of President Bush’s 2001 tax legislation. This tax applies only to the wealthiest three-tenths of 1 percent of our population. This is what Teddy Roosevelt, a leading proponent of the estate tax, said in 1910. “The absence of effective state, and, especially, national restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise.… Therefore, I believe in a…graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.” And that’s what we’ve had for the last ninety-five years—until 2010.

Today, not content with huge tax breaks on their income; not content with massive corporate tax loopholes; not content with trade laws enabling them to outsource the jobs of millions of American workers to low-wage countries and not content with tax havens around the world, the ruling elite and their lobbyists are working feverishly to either eliminate the estate tax or substantially lower it. If they are successful at wiping out the estate tax, as they came close to doing in 2006 with every Republican but two voting to do, it would increase the national debt by over $1 trillion during a ten-year period. At a time when we already have a $13 trillion debt, enormous unmet needs and the highest level of wealth inequality in the industrialized world, it is simply obscene to provide more tax breaks to multi-millionaires and billionaires.

There’s a petition over at to get police in NYC, DC, and San Francisco to stop using condoms as evidence for prostitution. Obviously, most people are not at risk of being charged with prostitution if they’re caught with a couple condoms, but given that all three of these cities have HIV/AIDS rates above the national average, discouraging sex workers from using condoms is just plain stupid.

White man on shooting African Americans during Katrina: “It was great!  It was like pheasant season in South Dakota!”

What the fuck?

[Update:] The media also played a part in this. As one vigilante notes here, he heard on the news that people were looting and decided to start piling up on ammunition and guns to defend himself. By simply portraying the looters as ruthless thugs and not as people who actually needed food and supplies to survive, the media stoked an already dangerous situation and dehumanized those who needed help the most, leading many people in the city to feel justified to start shooting at the first black person they saw in the street.

Thank you to Amy for bringing this to my attention.

Jonathan Pollard has now spent 9001 days in a U.S. prison. Pollard was a secret agent for Israel back in the 1980s, a fact that both Pollard and the Israeli government admit to being true. The Pollard case is a strange one. For those most stridently advocating for his release, he is a martyr, a man who gave Israel information that was vital to its survival. To his enemies, he’s an egotistical traitor and one of the most dangerous spies ever working in America. The truth seems to lie somewhere in between.

Pollard, an American citizen, worked as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy in the 1980s, gaining access to highly classified documents. Starting in 1984, he handed over some amount (precisely how much is still secret) of these documents to Israel in exchange for jewellery and  large sums of cash until he was arrested in 1985. Following Pollard’s arrest a plea agreement was struck between Pollard’s defense and the government: basically, Pollard would cooperate with the investigation, would not divulge information concerning his case to the public, and would plead guilty to conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government. In exchange, the prosecution would not seek the maximum life sentence. At first, everything was going swimmingly and Pollard cooperated fully with the investigation. And then, Pollard did something stupid. Instead of cooperating with the conditions of his plea agreement, he gave an interview to Wolf Blitzer (who was then a Washington correspondent for The Jerusalem Post) in which he presented himself as a crusader for Israel who was handing over information not to harm the U.S., but to protect Israel. To prove his point, he gave a list of information, ranging from “Soviet arms shipments to Syria and other Arab states” to “Pakistan’s program to build an atomic bomb.” Pollard’s strategy was to turn his case into a political one and to pressure U.S. and Israeli diplomatic circles into working on his release. The plan backfired. Pollard’s violation of his plea agreement incensed not only government prosecutors, but Judge Audrey Robinson, Jr., who was presiding over the case, as well as his own defense attorney Richard A. Hibey. He also didn’t do his case any favors when he described his African-American cell mates as “the most degenerate group of subhuman individuals collected under one roof.” Judge Robinson happened to be one of the most respected African-American judges in Washington at the time.

All of Pollard’s bumbling aside, the prosecution, still intent on not having further classified information revealed through a drawn out court case, decided to stick to the plea agreement and asked only for “a substantial number of years in prison” for Pollard. Seeing as though Pollard’s espionage had not endangered the lives of American agents and that he was working for a U.S. ally (an important distinction, as treason itself  involves cooperation with an enemy state), it was reasonable to expect that the judge would follow the prosecution’s advice (although he was never under any legal obligation to do so). In similar cases involving such friendly countries as Great Britain, Egypt, the Philippines, and South Africa, offenders typically received sentences of two to four years. The outcome might have been the same for Pollard if it wasn’t for then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who, at the judge’s request, submitted a secret affidavit of the damage caused by Pollard. In his affidavit, Weinberger told the judge, “It is difficult for me, in the so-called ‘year of the spy’ to conceive of a greater harm to national security.” The “year of the spy” remark was a reference to John Walker, Jerry Whitworth, and Ronald Pelton, all of whom had received life sentences that year for handing over secrets to the Soviet Union. The difference in Pollard’s case, though, was that Israel, unlike the Soviet Union, was a U.S. ally, yet in drawing the comparison to these previous cases and declaring Pollard’s case of having caused “greater harm to national security,” Weinberger was essentially asking the judge to disregard the plea agreement and sentence Pollard to life. The judge, to everybody’s surprise, did just that and Pollard has been locked up in a North Carolina prison ever since.

That might have been the end of the story, except for what happened afterwards. Pollard’s defense attorney, Hibey, who would be expected to make a notice of appeal given the severity and controversy of the punishment, inexplicably failed to file such a notice within the requisite 10 days. Because of this error, Pollard can never file for an appeal now.

Furthermore, in 2002 Defense Secretary Weinberger told reporter Edwin Black, “the Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance.” Such a statement appears to contradict his earlier affidavit wherein he decried the great damage caused by Pollard to national security. Because Weinberger’s affidavit was so vital in Pollard receiving his life sentence, to now describe the case as “comparatively minor” calls into question the fairness of that sentence.

Because he could not appeal his sentence, Pollard’s one hope was a habeas corpus petition, which, if successful, would grant him a retrial on the basis that his constitutional rights were violated (in this case, due process because of “ineffective assistance of counsel”). This was attempted in 1990 when Pollard’s then attorney Hamilton Phillip Fox III attempted to withdraw Pollard’s guilty plea, citing the government’s breach of his plea agreement. The case, however, required Fox to show that Pollard was denied “effective assistance of counsel”—in essence, that Hibey had failed Pollard as his attorney. Instead, Fox praised Hibey, thus completely undermining Pollard’s petition for a new trial. As former federal Judge George Leighton, who has studied the Pollard case, put it, “I doubt that the bar in the District of Columbia is any different from … other cities. Certain lawyers will simply not attack or criticize another member of the bar, especially one who practices in the same specialty. … Many such lawyers will not … risk ostracism within their professional community, by accusing a fellow lawyer of ineffective representation in any case—much less a high profile case, as this one was.” Pollard’s petition was denied two to one.

Pollard’s only options then are another habeas corpus petition (which, even without having to contend with the “Old Boys” club of D.C. lawyers, is notoriously difficult to obtain) or a commutation from President Obama. Given the recent strain in American-Israeli relations, an act of this sort on Obama’s part is not out of the question as a goodwill gesture towards Israel.

The issue here is not whether Pollard committed a crime (he clearly did), but whether he was given a fair trial and sentence. Pollard may not be the most noble or tactful of men, but to lock him up for life for a crime that typically gets offenders a sentence of two to four years is absurd. As such, he deserves a new trial or, in light of the 25 years he has already served, a commutation to time-served from Obama.

For instruction on how to petition Obama for Pollard’s release, go here.