Today, just before 10am EDT, you can watch the astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS) begin a six hour long Extra-Vehicle Activity (EVA), or space walk. In orbit over 200 miles above the earth, Thomas Reiter and Jeff Williams will be continuing planned construction activities for the ISS.
You can read about the specific tasks they will be performing here. You can watch the space walk online with NASA's live video feed here. When I watched the last EVA, conducted by crew members of the STS-121 Discovery mission, it was very impressive. It was also very human and funny to hear the communications between the astronauts, ISS, and Houston when an astronaut realized he had lost a spatula tool and it was now likely floating out in space. Then again, the space spatula might have landed in Texas.
When STS-121 left Thomas Reiter from the European Space Agency on the ISS, it increased the number of residents on the station from two to three. This was a welcomed improvement to get back on schedule for ISS construction activities.
The next shuttle flight, STS-115, is getting ready to launch near the end of the month. The Atlantis shuttle crew is going to be bringing up major truss sections for the ISS.
Check out the video made by alphamonkey from the NASA Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) video footage. It's hippie-mesmerizing stuff when viewed full-screen, if you like David Bowie music.
This may seem simple-minded, but I think in order to begin to get answers to some of these questions concerning Iraq, you have to care enough about the issue to ask the questions in the first place. After that, the difficult work of actually pursuing the answers can begin.
On a personal level, when it was apparent that the U.S. was going to invade Iraq, I had two basic thoughts. My first reaction was that this wasn't actually a new war, but simply an extension of the Gulf War. After the official end of the Gulf War, the Iraqi government basically lost control of two-thirds of the country through the implementation of the "No-Fly Zones" in the northern and southern regions. Years of U.N. sanctions also had an effect on the Iraqi government to provide for its people.
My second thought was that the escalation from a cold war style containment operation to a hot war in Iraq was going to distract from the mission in Afghanistan. It was as simple as thinking, "finish what you start before you go off on another project." Then, the Bush administration started publicly stating its reasons for going into Iraq and I honestly thought that anyone even paying a little attention to the dynamics of the Middle East will see these arguments as total bullshit.
The U.S. Congress authorized the use of military force, anyway. How could hundreds of supposedly intelligent people do this, I wondered. Despite my opposition to the Iraq War, or Operation Iraqi Freedom, I can understand why some may have thought it would be easy to do, militarily. I still believe it was the wrong thing to do. I deeply despise the people in power who sold apples to the American public, when they wanted to steal oranges.
It's failure of leadership at the highest levels when people among them who asked the tough questions, or opposed the core neo-con group in the administration, were marginalized, ostracized and ultimately ignored. In order to move forward as a country, though, it is helpful to understand how we got where we are.
Recently, I found some PBS Frontline specials that I had never seen before. I was amazed at the level of investigation in these programs. The details and interviews of personnel in the administration, intelligence and defense are extremely eye-opening.
If you wish to understand more fully why we are where we are today in Iraq and in the prosecution of the so-called War on Terror, make a little time to watch these shows online with Windows Media or RealVideo, high speed or dialup:
Look, I understand you are a busy person with a busy life. There are hours of video listed above. Make the time to watch one video at a time. It's the least you can do when people are dying horrible deaths everyday. We all need to be able to move forward and find answers to the difficult and troubling questions facing all of us. That's why I think the most important question in my Pop Quiz is "Will Americans care enough to demand answers?"
Well, do you care? Feel free to discuss the general topic or specific PBS Frontline programs in the comments. We need to find a way forward.
U.S. President George Bush has often said he makes decisions based upon advice from his commanders on the ground, rather than basing his policies on public opinion polls or political in-fighting in Washington. That strategery has apparently served him in Iraq and Afghanistan, since things are going so well in those conflicts. So, whatever. He's the Decider.
When it comes to Israel and foreign policy, I believe Dubya not only ignores the international opinion on the situation, but also reports from boots on the ground. Perhaps he doesn't get all the reports. Perhaps he only pays attention to the reports he likes to hear. Perhaps his mind is occupied with plans to clear the brush on his Crawford ranch during his upcoming vacation. I don't know.
I found this link on Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog under a little paragraph:
A Christian Bishop in Jerusalem would get a better hearing among American Christians than would non-Christian leaders, right? Wrong.
It was linked to a website that I wouldn't normally ever visit because of the obvious lack of any porn on it -- the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. The Gaza Report July 2006 describes the dire situation for the diocese since Israel's military offensive called "Summer Rains" began. Then, in the following diocese news item, this Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem finally spoke out about the current Israeli / Lebanese situation:
We have seen and we have been the recipients of the generosity of our American and British friends. We cherish the support of everyone throughout the world who stands with us in solidarity. Daily, I hear from many of them who express outrage at the arrogant and aggressive positions of President Bush, Secretary Rice, Senator Clinton, and Prime Minister Blair. I am saddened to realize just how much the deserved prestige of the United States and Britain has declined as a result of politicians who seem to devalue human life and suffering. And, I am disturbed that the Zionist Christian community is damaging America's image as never before.
Little more than a week ago, we were focused on the plight of the Palestinian people. In Gaza, four and five generations have been victims of Israeli racism, hate crimes, terror, violence, and murder. Garbage and sewage have created a likely outbreak of cholera as Israeli strategies create the collapse of infrastructures. There is no milk. Drinking water, food, and medicine are in serious short supply. Innocents are being killed and dying from lack of available emergency care. Children are paying the ultimate price. Even for those whose lives are spared, many of them are traumatized and will not grow to live useful lives. Commerce between the West Bank and Gaza has been halted and humanitarian aid barely trickles into some of the neediest in the world.
Movement of residents of the West Bank is difficult or impossible as "security measures" are heightened to break the backs of the Palestinian people and cut them off from their place of work, schools, hospitals, and families. It is family and community that has sustained these people during these hopeless times. For some, it is all that they had, but that too has been taken away with the continued building of the wall and check points. The strategy of ethnic cleansing on the part of the State of Israel continues.
This week, war broke out on the Lebanon-Israeli border (near Banyas where Jesus gave St. Peter the keys to heaven and earth). The Israeli government's disproportionate reaction to provocation was consistent with their opportunistic responses in which they destroy their perceived enemy.
In her recent article, "The Insane Brutality of the State of Israel," American, Kathleen Christison, a former CIA analyst says, "The state lashes out in a crazed effort, lacking any sense of proportion, to reassure itself of its strength." She continues, "A society that can brush off as unimportant an army officer's brutal murder of a thirteen year old girl on the claim that she threatened soldiers at a military post (one of nearly seven hundred Palestinian children murdered by Israelis since the Intifada began) is not a society with a conscience." The "situation" as it has come to be called, has deteriorated into a war without boundaries or limitations. It is a war with deadly potential beyond the imaginations of most civilized people.
Now, that may not make sense to you if you watch American TV news, but there it is. I just included an excerpt of this man's plea to the western world at-large, so I encourage you to read his entire piece here.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki spoke to a joint session of Congress Wednesday. With Speaker Dennis Hastert and Vice President Dick Cheney sitting behind the speaker's podium, Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki addressed the joint session in his native tongue while the audience carefully listened to a translation on their headsets. About ten minutes into his speech, al-Malaki was heckled from the upper gallery for about a minute before Speaker Hastert called for the Sargeant-at-arms to remove the protesting woman. She was carried off, screaming.
You can watch Nouri al-Malaki's entire speech with RealVideo via C-SPAN here. I was actually embarrassed to hear supposedly grown men and professional politicians boo this woman. These Bush Rubber-Stampers loudly booed.
By regulation, C-SPAN cameras are not allowed to pan around very much. Commercial news media cameras caught the action though, as security personnel yanked the woman out of the gallery. She was arrested for disrupting Congress. You can watch a short 2-minute clip via YouTube here.
Now, I'm sure mainstream media had fun playing video clips of this incident on nightly news, but they probably didn't bother telling you the backstory. Who is this woman and why did she do this?
Medea Benjamin, 54, is from California and founder of the outspoken anti-war group called Code Pink. She is also heading up the Troops Home Fast effort that has people all over the country participating in various forms of protest, including a hunger strike.
The reason Medea Benjamin decided to disrupt al-Malaki's speech was because her group had been promised a meeting with al-Malaki previously at the Iraq Embassy by the ambassador, but had been ultimately blown off. She tells the whole story in a video interview via Democracy Now!here. [transcript]
In other news, two other women were removed from the Senate committee hearing considering the formal confirmation of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Senator Dick Lugar chairs the hearing. Like any politician, he plods along, ignoring the voice of the people. I fiddled with the C-SPAN link to fast-forward you to the action, since the entire video clip is over 3 hours long. Both women stand up and start yelling within about two minutes of each other. Watch it here.
I applaud all these vocal women who stand up for peace. Sadly, I honestly think the only thing that is ever going to change things in Washington is the next election, unless Jesus arrives in Santa's sleigh with a presidential impeachment sooner.