Friday, March 30, 2007

And Justice for all...

It’s amusing, if not astonishing, to hear Republican apologists for the Bush Administration try to explain the recent firing of eight U.S. Attorneys. Their constant refrain is simple: these attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President. Therefore, when he fires one or more, it’s no big deal. He is simply not "pleased" with them.
But what has been apparent from the beginning—aside from the fact that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is a pathetically clumsy liar, definitely a disadvantage in this administration—is that the eight U.S. attorneys were fired for purely political reasons. One way or another, they failed to follow the administration’s directives to investigate and harrass Democrats, while overlooking the crimes of Republicans. And according to the apologists, there’s nothing wrong with that. Happens all the time. Why even Bill Clinton, we are told, fired 93 U.S. attorneys when he entered the White House. The current brouhaha amounts to nothing more than political theater by the Democrats.
Lost in all this discussion, especially by the compliant media which eats up the political explanation completely, is the name of the organization involved here: the Department of Justice. That’s justice, as in "justice for all," from that precious Pledge of Allegiance the Republicans are always trotting out for veneration. These are United States attorneys, responsible for the administration and prosecution of justice in their several states. They are the visible representatives of the Law, of the putatively impartial legal system which makes the United States of America unique in all the world. And which young Americans are expected to defend with their lives if necessary.
And yet. We are told by the apologists that, in truth, these U.S. Attorneys are political appointees serving at the pleasure of the President. We are told that everyone agrees they are political hacks who, in this administration’s eyes, are meant to be simply another arm of the conservative political machinery commissioned to smite the administration’s enemies and cover up for its friends.
And Justice? The impartial application of the law? Why that’s as quaint as the Geneva Conventions were said to be by this same Attorney General when he was the president’s legal counsel.
And the strangest, saddest thing of all is that the media hacks and pundits who present all this for us seem to find the absence of the central issue—justice—completely unremarkable. Am I crazy, or has not a deadly cynicism crept over the land?
Lawrence DiStasi

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Face of Evil

The face of evil appeared on "60 Minutes" last night.

Scott Pelle conducted an interview with Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich about the latter’s role in the Haditha Massacre, the Nov. 19, 2005 killing spree which left 24 Iraqi civilians dead. Sgt Wuterich, a twenty-something marine with the clean, even features of a boy, steadfastly maintained that he had done nothing wrong, that he and his marine squad had followed the standard rules of engagement for the American occupation of Iraq. Slowly and doggedly, Wuterich responded to Pelle’s questions about whether he and his squad had "gone berserk" and whether he felt he owed the families of the slain an apology. "My emotions were put away," insisted Wuterich. "We responded to a threat from those houses."

As the interview and numerous publications laid it out, the incident began when a roadside bomb blew up one of four humvees on patrol in Haditha on Nov. 19, killing Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas. Wuterich then ordered his Kilo Company into action. First, he said, they spotted a car with 5 Iraqi men inside who they surmised were responsible for the bomb. When the marines approached to investigate, according to Wuterich, the Iraqi men tried to escape. "They know the drill," said Wuterich. "They’re supposed to flatten out on the ground, hands up." Since the Iraqis violated this code, the marines shot them all.

Here is the first lesson in evil. Aside from the truth of Wuterich’s account (Iraqis insist the five were students returning to their homes in a cab. With marines approaching, their cab driver tried to back away, whereupon, witnesses said, all were slain inside the car. A photo shown on "60 Minutes" depicted all the dead Iraqis very close to the car.), we cannot avoid the indelible image of the American occupiers as soldiers who expect nothing less than servile behavior from those they are supposed to protect. If, when American authority approaches, Iraqis fail to behave like fearful, belly-crawling dogs, that is evidence of hostile intent, and justifies killing them without further ado.

Pelle asked Wuterich about the rules of engagement covering such encounters. Wuterich responded that troops are, in fact, supposed to positively identify a target before shooting. "You have to see them," he said, explaining that there should be hostile intent or action. Pelle asked this several times, particularly in relation to the next episode, the killing of 19 more civlians in nearby houses. Wuterich insisted each time that even though he and his troops did not see hostile action or even people, they still felt threatened. First they deduced that the nearby houses must have been the source of the IED that killed Terrazas, and then they assumed that one house in particular had been the source of hostile fire. Wuterich added quite calmly that he had told his troops approaching the houses to ‘shoot first and ask question later.’ "Here," he kept insisting, "you can’t hesitate. If you hesitate, you’re dead."

Not hesitating was, according to Wuterich, how the subsequent killings took place. The troops approached the first house, kicked the door down, and seeing movement, rolled a hand grenade inside. When they entered after the explosion, they found bodies splattered over the room, many of them women and children. They also saw another room with the door closed. Again, they broke down the door and rolled a grenade inside. They realized, said Wuterich, that they had created some "collateral damage," but then noticed a back door open. Figuring that the combatant must have fled that way, they proceeded to the next house and repeated their operation. Again, nothing but women and children inside. By the end of their afternoon-long operation, no less than 24 residents of Haditha, none of them insurgents, had been slaughtered.

Before going on, it must be noted that eyewitnesses from Haditha flatly contradict Wuterich’s account. First of all, the initial Marine report by Capt. Lucas M. McConnell, Kilo Company commander, claimed that only 15 civilians had been killed, either in response to an attack from a house, or because of the IED. But Haditha residents had a different story. They described an intentional massacre, with marines entering homes filled with cowering women and children, many in nightclothes, all begging for their lives. Most were shot, deliberately, at close range. The Washington Post on May 27, 2006 reported that one resident, Aws Fahmi, heard his neighbor, Younis Khafif, pleading for his life. "I heard Younis speaking to the Americans, saying: ‘I am a friend. I am good,’" Fahmi said. "But they killed him, and his wife and daughters." Death certificates identified five slain girls in Khafif’s house, their ages being 14, 10, 5, 3 and 1.

This wanton killing is the focus of the investigation now going on. But even aside from its results, the incident as described by Sgt. Wuterich clearly trying to justify himself, speaks volumes. Why did the marines not wait to identify the residents cowering inside their homes, residents they supposedly killed with grenades without even seeing them? Because, says Wuterich, even in the absence of evidence, they felt threatened: "It’s kill or be killed here; if you hesitate, you’re dead."
When Scott Pelle, focusing on the dead women and children, asked Wuterich if he felt sorry for what he had done, Wuterich again insisted that he and his troops had done the right thing for the situation, admitting slowly that he did regret the loss of innocent life. But he again insisted that he and his men had not lost control, and would probably do the same thing again. His lawyer reiterated this, saying that when American troops are threatened, they have an inherent right to respond with deadly force.

So we have what comes to this: First, Americans troops and Americans leaders (and many Americans in general) expect people in the rest of the world to grovel when confronted by American power. If they refuse, they deserve to die.

Second, in an occupation, occupying forces simply assume that everyone is a deadly threat. Therefore, they must kill first, and ask questions later. The rightness or wrongness of an occupation, the fact that American Marines in Haditha are foreign invaders in the country of the residents they terrorize, does not enter into such decisions.

This is exactly the logic that Bush & Co. applied in attacking Iraq in the first place. ‘Iraqis may have Weapons of Mass Destruction. Therefore, we have the right to invade and decimate an entire nation.’ When confronted with the evidence that Iraqis had no such weapons, the answer becomes: ‘We could do no other. We had to save ourselves from what appeared to be a threat.’ But wait. Did you see evidence of WMD, or any attack threats, or anything threatening the U.S. at all? ‘No matter. We could not take that chance. And once in country, neither we nor our troops can take that chance even today. It’s kill or be killed.’

Israeli troops occupying the Palestinian territories operate by the same logic. So do urban police departments in many cities. Indeed, it is civilians, in our world, who most often risk mortal danger in their own homes, villages, neighborhoods. Imperial power, State power, Civic power has become the face of evil in our time.Though it often appears to be a handsome, clean-cut, boyish face without a blemish or a snarl marking its features, it is nonetheless the true face of evil.

Lawrence DiStasi

Friday, March 16, 2007

Toxic Cosmetics

During the 1940s and 1950s, my father, trained as a hairdresser, conducted endless experiments in our basement to find a cold wave solution that would be non-toxic. Toni and Richard Hudnut had recently marketed cold wave solutions, but those companies were being sued regularly by woman whose scalps were literally burned off by the toxic chemicals in their products. My father’s holy grail was to find a permanent wave with a non-toxic neutralizer. And when he tried to sell the formula he finally found to the major companies, he was stunned to find that they essentially ridiculed his concern over toxicity: they could fend off the lawsuits with their lawyers, they said, and meantime, they were making billions.

This story rushed back to me when I heard on this morning's radio about the toxic chemicals that are pervasive in beauty products to this day, and which many environmental groups believe pose a serious risk to women, developing fetuses, and anyone who uses them regularly. The same ridicule that was once directed at my father is today directed at those who warn of the health effects of these toxic compounds. Since the FDA allows such products to be widely used, most Americans believe they must be safe.

A quick look at some valuable websites will convince you otherwise. Two of the best are:, and Both provide a series of reports and news articles that detail the problem with chemicals like phthalates and 1-4 dioxane. Once the names and effects of these cuddly petroleum products enter your consciousness, they are not likely to be forgotten.

Consider 1-4 dioxane. This cancer-causing chemical, that readily pentrates the skin, contaminates as many as 22% of all cosmetics. One new products test found its presence in "18 of more than two dozen products, including 15 products for babies and children." 1-4 Dioxane is found in 97% of hair relaxers, 82% of hair dyes and bleaches, and 57% of baby soaps, among many others. Nor is this all. Other petroleum-based chemicals are also found in combinations whose effects no one really knows. What is known is that up to one in every five Americans is probably "exposed every day to all of the top seven carcinogenic impurities common to personal care product ingredients — hydroquinone, ethylene dioxide, 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde, nitrosamines, PAHs, and acrylamide." The top contaminant, hydroquinone, is a "potential contaminant" in products used by 94% of women and 69% of men every day. [all quotes from feb. 2007 release: "EWG Research Shows 22 Percent of All Cosmetics May Be Contaminated With Cancer-Causing Impurity"].

Despite these dangers, the FDA does not regulate the use of such products and counts on the manufacturers to police themselves. In light of this, the EWG report suggests that consumers avoid all products containing the chemical "sodium laureth sulfate" [found in almost all dandruff shampoos], and any ingredients using the words ‘PEG,’ ‘xynol,’ ‘ceteareth,’ and ‘oleth.’

As to phthalates, "widely used in industry and commerce…in personal care products (e.g., makeup, shampoo, and soaps), plastics, paints, and some pesticide formulations," you will not find it listed on most products. Recent studies, however, have found it to be particularly dangerous to pregnant women, and subsequently, to their male babies. A University of Rochester study ["Decrease in Anogenital Distance among Male Infants with Prenatal Phthalate Exposure," Shanna Swan et. al., 25 May 2005;] found that its presence in pregnant women was significantly correlated with the incidence of male children born with genital abnormalities such as undescended testes. The ubiquitous phthalates may also be implicated in the increased number of males worldwide with low sperm count.

All of which comes to this: be wary of all cosmetic products except those which have been given a clean bill of health by organizations like And to the extent that you can, be wary of all plastic products used by children. The time may come when the years since the introduction of plastic and the other ingredients of our chemcial age will be seen as a huge industrial experiment on the people of the world, using their own money to assess the extent to which their health can be compromised.

Lawrence DiStasi

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Mad World

Madmen. The world is run by madmen these days. Arab fundamentalists, as portrayed in Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, humiliated to the point where they’re willing to justify slaughtering innocents to create public terror. White CEO’s in Bush’s White House enriched and self satisfied to the point where they’re willing to slaughter whole countries to protect their privileges. Madmen on both sides. And we the people in the middle, mainly wanting to live out a life. Put some bread on the table. Not be accosted by insanity. And even that is impossible. Watching some tv last night before Lost at 10. Turned to Bones: not bad froth in the past, forensic anthropologist working with FBI to solve crimes. Hardly into it when assaulted by a repulsive shot of a decaying cadaver being roamed over and eaten by dozens of black rats. Ugggh! turn it off; refuse to be accosted by this pretend, pretentious "realism." Switch to stupid sitcom, According to Jim. Whose episode turns on the puerile notion of Jim, on anniversary, wanting to fulfill his wedding dream of screwing the wife in all 10 surrounding states, and lamenting because after 15 years, they’d missed Indiana. So wifey (of course; women these days are liberated) suggests they cancel dinner plans and drive across the nearby border in their van to do it. They get to a motel, are about to run to the room after several dumb obstacles, when sister calls from home: pregnant, she’s gone into labor and desperately needs them home right away. They hightail it back. Arrive breathless, find her moaning with labor pains until, about to rush to hospital, she explodes this thunderous fart. Ho ho, that’s the problem, not labor. Big belly smiles with relief, and booms another. And to really hammer home the point for all the adolescents, Jim’s fat guy buddy rips one of his own. Ho ho.

THIS is American entertainment. The mental assault, exactly parallel to the physical one by military madmen, by the venal, profit-mad moguls who run Hollywood. With all the real drama in the world, our obscenely-rewarded creative minds can come up only with farts, and rats eating cadavers. Fake humor and fake horror to divert the masses from thinking about the real horror: the gross exploitation of the many by the few. With the trashing of the planet and the rest of life as its inevitable concomitant.

In a world dominated by such madness, such continuous assault, is there any response that would suffice?

Lawrence DiStasi

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

About Supporting Our Troops

The recent news about the failings at Walter Reed Army Hospital are enough to make any American sick and ashamed. Bob Herbert, in the New York Times of March 8, expressed it about as well as anyone:

"There is something profoundly evil about a country encouraging young men and women to go off and fight its wars and then shortchanging them on medical care and other forms of assistance when they come back with wounds that will haunt them forever."

One could add that the wounds from the disgusting hypocrisy involved—-the President constantly berating his opponents for not supporting the troops, while at the same time refusing to attend even one soldier’s funeral, and short-changing them all on real care when it counts—-will haunt this nation forever. Indeed, as Tom Engelhardt has argued, Bush has used the troops as political pawns: by conflating them in the public’s mind with the hostages in the long-ago Iranian hostage crisis (yellow ribbons first used for the Iran hostages are now routinely used as symbols of support for the troops in Iraq), the President has literally taken American troops hostage for his own political purposes. [Tom Engelhardt, "Hostages to Policy," 6 March 2007,]

It is for this reason that we should refuse to be baited into supporting the biggest military debacle in American history with the "support our troops" ploy. American troops, however decent they may individually be, are engaged in an illegal and immoral war. All justifications for the war have proved false--lies perpetrated by an administration of war criminals. The Nuremberg precedent established the fact that neither citizens nor soldiers can be excused from criminal actions because they were "ordered" to commit them. The burden on soldiers and civilians alike is clear: they must resist orders that violate international laws and standards. By virtue of the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and the violations of the duties of an occupying power to protect the civilian population it occupies, the American invasion of Iraq qualifies as criminal several times over. To support such a crime is itself a crime. And the crime shows no signs of abating. Rather it is increasing, as this conclusion, from Prof. Michael Schwartz ["Surge and Destroy," 13 March 2007,] on the current "surge" testifies:

"The architects of American policy in the Middle East tend to keep escalating the level of brutality in search of a way to convince the Iraqis (and now the Iranians) that the only path that avoids indiscriminate slaughter is submission to a Pax Americana. Put another way, American policy in the Middle East has devolved into unadorned state terrorism."

"Indiscriminate slaughter." "Unadorned state terrorism." This is what American troops, willingly or not, are now engaged in. It makes you wonder why all the Senators and Representatives, all the public figures and commentators, all the protestors with their signs, even, keep up their sincere and solemn drumbeat of WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS no matter what. And more critically, perhaps, what the Iraqi version of the Nuremberg Trials will have to say about that.

Lawrence DiStasi

Monday, March 12, 2007

The United States of Israel?

Of all the responses to the much-anticipated Iraq Study Group’s report, none is so stunning as that emerging from the neocon factory that brought us such hits as the Iraq war. In fact, even before the report was issued, neocon organs like the Weekly Standard and the pages of conservative publications like the Wall Street Journal and the National Review were ringing with denunciations of ISG co-chair James Baker. This is the same Jim Baker who engineered George W. Bush’s theft of the 2000 election, the same Baker who served both George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan as Secretary of State and Chief of Staff. And yet, he is now characterized as an appeaser in the mold of Neville Chamberlain, someone whom Frank Gaffney, for example, attacks as "hostile towards Jews":

"Jim Baker’s hostility towards the Jews is a matter of record and has endeared him to Israel’s foes in the region," wrote Gaffney, suggesting that the ISG…would recommend a regional approach that would "throw free Iraq to the wolves" and "allow the Mideast’s only bona fide democracy, the Jewish State, to be snuffed in due course."
(Jim Lobe, "Neocons Move to Pre-empt Baker Report," Dec. 6, 2006, Inter Press Service.)

But wait. Why this anti-Israel tirade against Baker? Clearly, it derives from the report’s recommendations 1) that any comprehensive plan for Iraq must include a major American push towards a plan to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; and 2) that a diplomatic initiative must be developed to include talks with Syria and Iran. Both of these recommendations are anathema to Israel, which has long sought to break up any nation in the Middle East that gains even a hint of power that might threaten Israeli dominance. Talk with Syria? Talk with Iran? Israel seeks to cripple both (as the invasion, and now imminent breakup, of Iraq did to that one-time rival. In which regard it is worth noting that that other champion of Israel, Senator Joe Lieberman, both supported the Iraq war in full, and has now attacked the ISG’s ideas about talks with Iran and Syria.). Solve the Palestinian conflict? That could only mean concessions by Israel, something it has vowed never to do.

All of which brings us to the nub of the issue: America’s corridors of power and influence now include large numbers of policy makers and pundits who seem to think—and would like us to think—that Israel is part of the United States. Or vice versa. The neocons who brought us the Iraq war exemplify this attitude. They have no reservations about arguing, publicly, that a policy such as that suggested by the ISG would be harmful to Israel’s interests. But what about the national interest of the United States of America? Where do American policymakers and elected officials get off arguing for the national interest of a foreign power? Since when does "What’s good for Israel" take precedence over "What’s good for America?" This is precisely the point made by Anthony Sullivan in a December 8, 2006 article in The National Interest online. Commenting on a Foreign Affairs article by neocon Joshua Muravchik urging President Bush to bomb Iran before he leaves office, Sullivan writes:

But Muravchik deserves our thanks for making the neoconservative position crystal clear. Some might even conclude that Muravchik’s and the neoconservatives’ real concern is not the United States but Israel. Apparently, American national interests are threatened both by numerous enemies abroad and some fifth columnists at home.

How refreshing that someone finally calls it as it is: "the neoconservatives’ real concern is not the United States but Israel," which makes them, literally, "fifth columnists."

There was a time when "fifth columnists" and those who put a foreign government’s interests above their own would be arrested and tried for treason. Perhaps that day, long overdue, is coming again.

Lawrence DiStasi
Dec. 2006

Daylight Scam Time

I don't know about you, but I'm having more than a little trouble with this new three-week-early shift to Daylight Savings Time (DST). My atomic clock hasn't changed automatically, as it should. My computer hasn't changed either-- having been programmed in the days when DST occurred three weeks later into the Spring. And I know that if I change my computer clock manually, it will only advance automatically in three weeks, and I'll be off by an hour again. So far, I'm leaving things be.
Unfortunately, those who govern us can't, or won't let things be. The U.S. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, decided two years ago that giving us commoners more daylight to play in would be a wonderful gift: not only would we be able to stay out later at night, but the increased hours of daylight would save energy. There would be, experts assured us, less need for electricity in the evening hours. Those in attendance no doubt applauded, congratulating themselves, and America itself, for its practical genius.

Now, however, we learn the real facts behind this tinkering. It turns out that Australia has already tried this for a year or so, and experts there have found that the savings in energy are all smoke and mirrors. In fact, though there is some small reduction in electricity use because of the increased daylight in the evening, there is a corresponding increase in electricity usage in the morning hours, when people must rise in more darkness. Further, due to the increased light in the evening, people are out and about more, and hence use more fuel in their cars to get around.

So the energy savings are really a cover story for the real scam. That scam involves commerce. Shopping malls and other retail businesses have long been eager to increase the duration of DST because when there's more light after work, Americans are more likely to stop and shop on their way home. Three weeks at either end may mean billions in increased sales for the useless products retail businesses thrive on. Even more nefarious, among the biggest lobbies pushing for the new bill to increase DST were candy manufacturers. Why? Because the new DST hours will now encompass Halloween! This means that American Mommies will now be able to keep their little darlings out later in the increased light, which in turn will mean that homes will have to buy more candy to accommodate the increased number of trick-or-treaters coming to beg. Candy manufacturers stand to make a killing. And the fact that more candy in little hands will cause more sugar problems in a nation already reeling from epidemic sugar diabetes among children is, of course, beside the point.

Concern for the health of Americans seems to be beside the point for the U.S. Congress as well. In fact, this yielding by lawmakers to pressure from business lobbies, in defiance of any concerns about the health or well-being of their constituents, perfectly represents the sickness at the heart of American politics. Instead of casting votes based on what is good or healthy for the people they are paid to represent, American legislators increasingly vote on behalf of those with the money to finance their continuing election. In this case, the money lay in the hands of candy manufacturers and Chamber of Commerce types who represent shopping malls. In far too many other cases,the money sits in the hands of arms manufacturers and others in the military-industrial complex, or in the hands of polluters like coal-powered energy plants, massive oil companies, and their ilk. The result in almost all cases is a stench of self-serving and wealth-serving corruption emanating from the halls of Congress that now threatens to overwhelm even the sugared justifications of our well-fed lawmakers.

Of course, such a revolt would depend on a citizenry with a healthy nose for the stench of excrement, and in America, where the suppression and repression of odors has become an almost religious duty, any hope for the revival of such olfactory acuity might already be drowned beneath the sickly sweet smell of candy.