'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Fallujah is the graveyard of Americans

So I'm sure most readers have heard about the contractors who were killed and mutilated in Fallujah today. If not here's this:

In one of the bloodiest and most horrifying days since the end of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, five U.S. troops and four American civilian contractors were killed in separate attacks in the Sunni Triangle west of Baghdad. After an ambush on two vehicles carrying the civilian contractors in Fallujah, jubilant Iraqis burned and mutilated the dead, then dragged two corpses through the streets and hung them from a bridge spanning the Euphrates River.

The brutal treatment of the bodies occurred after the contractors — four American employees of a North Carolina security company — were killed in a rebel attack on their two SUVs in the city about 35 miles west of Baghdad, scene of some of the worst violence on both sides of the conflict since the beginning of the American occupation a year ago.

[ ... ]

U.S. officials, who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity, said that all four contractors were Americans who worked for Blackwater USA of Moyock, N.C. The company later issued a statement confirming that, but said their identities had not yet been established.

[ ... ]

Chanting “Fallujah is the graveyard of Americans,” residents cheered after the grisly assault on two four-wheel-drive civilian vehicles, which left both in flames. Others chanted, “We sacrifice our blood and souls for Islam.”

Associated Press Television News pictures showed one man beating a charred corpse with a metal pole. Others tied a yellow rope to a body, hooked it to a car and dragged it down the main street of town. Two blackened and mangled corpses were hung from a green iron bridge across the Euphrates.

What the mainstream media hasn't really been covering, however, is the occupation of the so-called "contractors". They were mercenaries. Here's Bill Berkowitz, of Z's Conservative Watch fame, discussing Blackwater USA:

With the casualty toll ticking ever upward and troops stretched thin on the ground, the Bush administration is looking to mercenaries to help control Iraq. These soldiers-for-hire are veterans of some of the most repressive military forces in the world, including that of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and South Africa's apartheid regime.

In February, Blackwater USA, a North Carolina-based Pentagon contractor, began hiring former combat personnel in Chile, offering them up to $4,000 a month to guard oil wells in Iraq. The company flew the first batch of 60 former commandos to a training camp in North Carolina. These recruits will eventually wind up in Iraq where they will spend six months to a year.

"We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals – the Chilean commandos are very, very professional and they fit within the Blackwater system," Gary Jackson, the president of Blackwater USA, told the Guardian.

While Blackwater USA is not nearly as well known as Halliburton or Bechtel – two mega-corporations making a killing off the reconstruction of Iraq – it nevertheless is doing quite well financially thanks to the White House's war on terror. The company specializes in firearm, tactics and security training and in October 2003, according to Mother Jones magazine, the company won a $35.7 million contract to train more than 10,000 sailors from Virginia, Texas, and California each year in 'force protection.'

Business has been booming for Blackwater, which now owns, as its press release boasts, "the largest privately-owned firearms training facility in the nation." Jackson told the Guardian, "We have grown 300 percent over each of the past three years and we are small compared to the big ones. We have a very small niche market, we work towards putting out the cream of the crop, the best."

Sibel Edmonds and the Use of Airplanes, etc.

Today on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman interviewed Sibel Edmonds a former FBI translator who claims she's seen documents that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the United States had intelligence prior to 9/11 about a terrorist attack involving airplanes. She calls Rice's claims to the contrary "an outrageous lie". Here's Salon on Edmonds:

Edmonds' charge comes when the Bush White House is trying to fend off former counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke's testimony that it did not take serious measures to combat the threat of Islamic terrorism, and al-Qaida specifically, in the months leading up to 9/11.

[ ... ]

She was assigned to the FBI's investigation into Sept. 11 attacks and other counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases, where she translated reams of documents seized by agents who, for the previous year, had been rounding up suspected terrorists.

She says those tapes, often connected to terrorism, money laundering or other criminal activity, provide evidence that should have made apparent that an al- Qaida plot was in the works. Edmonds cannot talk in detail about the tapes publicly because she's been under a Justice Department gag order since 2002.

"President Bush said they had no specific information about Sept. 11, and that's accurate," says Edmonds. "But there was specific information about use of airplanes, that an attack was on the way two or three months beforehand and that several people were already in the country by May of 2001. They should've alerted the people to the threat we're facing."

According to the Democracy Now interview, Edmonds attempted to get a hold of some of the documents she saw via the Freedom of Information Act, stating she "wanted to get them out and make them public", leading to the gag order mentioned in the Salon piece. Ashcroft circumvented the Freedom of Information Act by citing the state secrets privilege:

To prevent disclosure of certain classified and sensitive national security information, Attorney General Ashcroft today asserted the state secrets privilege in Sibel Edmonds v. Department of Justice. [ ... ] The state secrets privilege is well-established in federal law. It has been recognized by U.S. courts as far back as the 19th century, and allows the Executive Branch to safeguard vital information regarding the national security or diplomatic relations. In the past, this privilege has been applied many times to protect our national secrets from disclosure, and to require dismissal of cases when other litigation mechanisms would be inadequate. It is an absolute privilege that renders the information unavailable in litigation

In the Democracy Now interview Edmonds makes the following statement regarding the Justice Department's invocation of the state secrets privilege:

[The Justice Department says] this privilege is very rare and is asserted to prevent certain information from becoming public or hurting diplomatic relations and I would underline this phrase 'diplomatic relations' several times.

It's not legal for her to elaborate on the content of the relevant documents, but this statement is obviously a clue. She seems to be implying the evidence of the eminent terrorist act implicated or was embarrassing to someone important, probably -- I would guess -- a powerful Saudi.

In a related story, I believe Atrios and Xymphora have both recently mentioned that Rice's statement to the effect that no one could guess terrorists would use airplanes as missiles is contradicted by the rumors about an airplane-based assassination attempt on Bush at the G8 conference in Genoa. Well, just to document this point for readers who don't remember the original story, here's a NY Post story from June 2001:

Bin Laden Plots Bush Hit
by Niles Lathem and Allan Hall

June 13, 2001 -- International security forces are working furiously to thwart a plot by Saudi terror master Osama bin Laden to assassinate President Bush and other world leaders at a major economic summit next month. Italian officials say they've been warned by German intelligence services that bin Laden is secretly financing neo-Nazi skinhead groups throughout Europe to commit acts of violence during the summit, sources told The Post.

The attack could also come from the sky in the form of a bizarre James Bond-style strike by remote-control airplanes packed with plastic explosives, Germany's largest newspaper reported yesterday.

The planes would fly into the compound where Bush and the heads of state of major European powers will be meeting at the July 20 G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy, the Bild newspaper reported.

Experts said bin Laden's organization is known to have a lot of technical expertise and the airplane attack is not necessarily beyond its capabilities.

Officials at the White House and the U.S. Secret Service, assigned to presidential protection, said they are aware of reports of possible threats to the president during the Genoa trip, but declined further comment.

Counterterrorism sources told The Post last night the plot was uncovered after dozens of suspected Islamic militants linked to bin Laden's Al-Qaeda global terror network were arrested in Frankfurt, Germany, and Milan, Italy, in April.

Italian police are said to be taking the bin Laden threat very seriously.

Government and other terror experts believe bin Laden has been looking for an opportunity to launch another terrorist attack at a high-profile American target - his first since the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen last October.

"I have always believed that he would like to try to attack one of these [G-8] meetings," said Kenneth Katzman, a former CIA analyst now with the Congressional Research Service.

I hadn't remembered that Osama bin Laden had been specifically implicated.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

White House Caves to Public Pressure

Rice is going to testify under oath before the 911 commission; here's the AP's account. I like the headline on the AP story, "White House to Let Rice Testify in Public" -- makes it sound like she was chomping at the bit to get in there and give the American people the truth they deserve, under oath no less, but mean Mr. Cheney or someone didn't want to play games with national security -- such steadfastness.

(I think the title of this post more accurately reflects the current state of affairs, but that's just me.)

On Kissing Mad Dog's Ass

Robert Fisk's most recent Independent column chronicles the amusing and somewhat depressing sight of Tony Blair prostrating himself before Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Amusing because Gaddafi is a walking caricature of a power-mad dictator, a caricature Fisk seems to relish elucidating -- we hear about Gaddafi's Amazonian female bodyguards, nutty sense of humor, bizarre literary aspirations, etc. -- but it is depressing because of the realization that this is where Bush's war has led us: cozying up to the regimes of autocratic thugs. The point of Blair's farce is, of course, the implication that Gaddafi is behaving himself recently because of Bush's invasion of Iraq. He behaves himself by no longer pursuing a nuclear weapons program that, as Fisk notes, there's not a lot of reason to believe was ever more than a convenient fiction:

Nor does the narrative of history make our Prime Minister's voyage to the Orient any saner. First of all, he sends our soldiers into Iraq because Saddam has weapons of mass destruction which no longer exist; then he pays a social call on Libya because Gaddafi really has had weapons of mass destruction all along. Or has he?

For one of the strangest elements to the Libyan saga is the newness of all those centrifuges and nuclear gizmos which the UN, the Brits and the Americans have been "finding" in Gaddafistan. Were they really there for decades? When did Gaddafi decide to install them? And how come the US intelligence service - which could identify non-existent railroad chemical weapons labs in Iraq - failed to pick up the radiation from Gaddafi's supposed nuclear programme? It was a humble Independent reader - thank you, Willy McCourt of Manchester - who pointed out to me that Libya has a population of only six million; "imagine Ireland having a nuclear programme and nobody knowing about it," he wrote. Quite so.

Indeed, you can say what you want about Gaddafi but the man has a talent for business and a talent for politics, and it looks like he played Bush and Blair perfectly. Blair's visit to Libya is the final plank in a bridge Gaddafi has been cobbling together for a long time.

In 1988 the UN imposed sanctions on Libya for refusing to hand over two men who were allegedly involved in the Lockerbie bombing. The sanctions, much less severe than the ones imposed on Iraq, were nonetheless a major thorn in Gaddafi's side; a vane showman, he hated being isolated from the world, unable to pursue his lifelong goal of becoming a revered statesman of Mideastern politics, the unifier of the Mideastern world. Eventually Gaddafi relented, extradited the suspected terrorists to the Netherlands, and the sanctions were suspended in early 1999. Gaddafi, unhappy with the lack of support he received from the Arab world during Libya's ten years of isolation, began a campaign to reinvent himself as a non-radical, non-mad-dog leader and as an elder statesman and unifier of Africa, launching a series of high-profile meetings cum photo-ops with Nelson Mandela, seemingly his new idol. Here's a 1999 Reuters article on Gaddafi's transformation:

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is celebrating his 30th anniversary in power this week on a new note of openness to the outside world as the barriers isolating his country from the West begin to come down.

If the first event -- an international investment symposium on Thursday -- is anything to go by there is a new pragmatism in the air Tripoli, the Libyan capital, that under Gaddafi has been a centre for anti-Western invective.

Always capable of springing surprises, the mercurial colonel opened the anniversary celebrations by appearing to reverse years of opposition to foreign investment, telling foreign businessmen at the symposium that foreign investment was now welcome in Libya.

[ ... ]

But this week the usual excited anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, anti-American rhetoric of Libyan anniversary speeches appears to have been replaced by a new low-key caution.

"If you want to invest in Libya, you are welcome,'' Gaddafi said.

"Now we can throw away the rifle and work for peace and development," he recently told a French newspaper.

[ ... ]

He is still a long way from full rehabilitation in the eyes of suspicious Western governments and of Amnesty International which accuses him of human rights violations.

But he is not nearly so isolated as he was a year ago.

Next week Libya hosts a special organization of African Unity summit called at his suggestion to review the 36-year-old OAU charter.

Abandoning his Pan-Arab dream after a series of failed unification pacts with Arab countries, Gaddafi is now looking south and proposing the creation of the United States of Africa.

After 911 Gaddafi joined the rest of the world in supporting the United States and condemning terrorism, calling al-Qaeda members "crazy" and urging Libyans to donate blood for American relief efforts*. Hawks, of course, view such actions as Gaddafi quaking in his boots at the thought of an American attack on Libya, but such an assessment is a pretty big stretch given (a) Gaddafi's ongoing efforts to moderate his image for the past decade as sketched above, (b) the fact that according to a US State Department report from 1999 Libya had not been supporting international terrorism for "a number of years"*, and (c) the fact that none of the fiery rhetoric from the Bush administration following 911 even so much as mentioned Libya. Rather, it makes a lot more sense to view Gaddafi's post-911 behavior in light of his ongoing project to become a dignified African statesman and to bring foreign investment into Libya. Agreeing to put a stop to a nuclear program that didn't exist was Gaddafi's checkmate move in normalizing relations with the West.

To the extent that Gaddafi's new moderate image is a good thing, it is largely a result of the success of the framework of international law that BushCo belittles at every opportunity and of the success of the general strategy of treating acts of terrorism as crimes to be dealt with by the world's police apparatus rather than acts of war best stopped by military aggression, the neoconservatives' preferred remedy for all ailments. The UN security council, the Dutch international criminal court, sanctions, and banal multi-lateral diplomacy worked in this case, leading to a man Reagan called a "mad dog" making public statements against radical Islamicists. Still, the Bush administration offers up Gaddafi as a victory of its failed policies hoping the world will simply ignore the facts of the matter -- these people seem to be immune to many things; one of them is irony.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

For Keeps and a Single Day: The Tin-Whistle of American Letters

The hard necessity of bringing the judge on the bench down into the dock has been the peculiar responsibility of the writer in all ages of man. -- Nelson Algren

Today is Nelson Algren's birthday. If he was alive he'd be ninety-five. Although best known now for a crummy Otto Preminger movie made from his most famous work and for his affair with Simone De Beauvior, in his day Algren was considered one of the greatest novelists of his generation; Hemingway said that he was better than Faulkner, etc. But Algren never had a lot of luck and wouldn't have known what to do with success anyway, a champion of underdogs and lost causes--he was always something of a lost cause himself.

The son of Swedish immigrants, he grew up on Chicago's west side, hoboed his way through the South during the depression, and ended up entering the world of literature by way of a WPA program. Algren went to jail for a little while because he stole a typewriter to finish his first novel -- he was an American's American. He was also, as per the name of this blog, a leftist of the American-persuasion. Here's how De Beauvior described him in her fictional account of their relationship:

At first, I had found it amusing meeting in the flesh that classic American species: self-made leftist writer. [ ... ] Through his stories, you got the feeling that he claimed no rights on life and that nevertheless he had always had a passionate desire to live. I liked that mixture of modesty and eagerness."

His greatest work was The Man with the Golden Arm, a bitterly beautiful account of the life and death of a junkie in the slums of 40's Chicago. Algren depicted a world of junkies, pimps, petty thieves, cynical bartenders, drug dealers, drunks, gamblers, thugs, freaks, corrupt politicians, and prostitutes who "just want to settle down with a nice pick-pocket" with tremendous lyricism and compassion; he wrote, as someone or other said of Raymond Chandler, like a slumming angel.

Anyway, I've made it a minor mission in my life to evangelize on behalf of the genius of Nelson Algren. He, afterall, more so than anyone else, was responsible for my conversion to the good side of the political spectrum when I encountered his writing in college, more than a decade ago now. So the next time you're in some dive somewhere, have a boiler-maker for Nelson Algren, and if you're looking for a novel try The Man with the Golden Arm.

Here's a short film by Warren Leming and Carmine Cervi featuring narration lifted from the man's writing and interviews.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

March 20th, East Timor

Of all of the demonstrations that took place last Saturday I think this one was the most courageous given the history of East Timor.

The East Timorese activists read the following statement outside the US embassy:

The United States Must Respect Iraqi Sovereignty and Global Peace

One year ago today, the United States, supported by the United Kingdom, Australia and so-called Coalition Forces, invaded Iraq to find Saddamâ??s weapons of mass destruction which they claimed threaten the peace and stability worldwide. However by invading Iraq the United States and its allies refused to respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi people, especially the right of the people to determine their own future. The invasion and subsequent illegal occupation of Iraq took place after the U.S. and its allied forces ignored the cries of more than 10 million people around the whole who protested the impending invasion. They also defied the United Nations that did not agree to use force in Iraq, but suggested the continuation of peaceful negotiations and inspections to see if Iraq had any weapons of mass destruction.

Hans Blix, chief of the UN investigation team prior to the U.S. invasion, said his team had not found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, removing the reason the United States used to support their invasion. However the United States and its allies went on to oppress and kill the people of Iraq, especially their innocent children and women. Recently, U.S. president George Bush admitted that the occupying forces have not found any weapons of mass destruction, but he continues to argue that Saddam Hussein supported and protected terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda, even though there is no evidence to support this statement.

After the occupation forces in Iraq arrested Saddam, Bush said that he had saved the people of Iraq from Saddam's regime and therefore he assumed responsibility to free the people. But how can a war-monger liberate the people of Iraq?

The current situation in Iraq is that many people have already died from the occupation, and many more will die. The people who suffered with the invasion will suffer even more. In Iraq, the United States has killed with its economic embargo, which starved hundreds of thousands of children to death, and the current foreign occupation denies people their right to determine their own future.

The United States talks about democracy, liberty and human rights, but in reality the U.S. has installed and supported many dictatorships around the world, like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Suharto in Indonesia, closing its eyes to human rights violations inflicted by these governments, including against the people of East Timor. For many decades, the United States trained soldiers from military dictatorships in Latin America, Indonesia and other countries how to better torture their people.

Because of all this, we understand the United States' concept of liberation. Using this concept, the United States supported Suharto's invasion of our country on 7 December 1975, and continued its support throughout the occupation by his brutal military regime until 1999. During 24 years of illegal occupation, more then 200,000 people were killed or disappeared; many children lost their parents and other members of their families. Today we see our friends in Iraq suffering the same fate.

Last year, we East Timorese joined people around the world who love peace and justice in our cry not to invade Iraq. The United States refused to listen, and pursued its disastrous invasion. Today, we again join with people worldwide to demonstrate that we are still against the illegal and deadly occupation of Iraq.

We are angry that the United States will not leave Iraq by June 2004, because we know that there will be many more victims. Therefore, in order to promote true democracy and peace in Iraq, and to stop the ongoing killing of Iraqi and other people, we demand:

* The United States and its coalition to immediately withdraw from Iraq, allowing the people of Iraq to decide their own future.

* The United States to abandon its illegitimate policy of pre-emptive war, and to respect international laws against aggressive or invasive war, and help to create a peaceful world environment.

* The International Community, through the United Nations, to create an international tribunal to prosecute and punish those who directed the invasion of Iraq, similar to the international tribunal which needs to be created to try Suharto and others for their crimes against humanity in East Timor.

King & King

Lynn Kendall at Unnatural History has posted a Publisher's Weekly article about the controversy surrounding a socially progressive picture book:

King & King, a 2002 picture book in which a prince rejects a series of princesses and marries another handsome prince, has aroused an angry challenge in Wilmington, N.C., and brought a mixture of scorn and kudos upon the book's publisher, Tricycle Press.

After first-grader Olivia Hartsell brought the book home on March 1, her parents Michael and Tonya Hartsell complained to administrators at Rachel Freeman Elementary School. The Hartsells objected to the book's acknowledgement of homosexuality and also of divorce ("When I was your age, I'd been married twice already," the prince's mother tells him, in encouraging him to find a mate). The Hartsells have since threatened to enroll their daughter in a different school and refused to return the book to the Freeman school library, for fear some other child might check it out. The book's due date is March 30.

Further, the Hartsells contacted the national media and received coverage through AP, CNN and ABC. Tricycle Press publisher Nicole Geiger arrived at work yesterday to find a deluge of messages. "There's a lot of vitriol in this country right now, and hate mail is very much outnumbering the letters of support," Geiger says. "But I wouldn't say we've been directly threatened, and many wonderful organizations have come to our defense."

Tricycle has received support from the Lambda Literary Foundation, along with the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. "The book is there as information for kids who are curious about the subject," says ABFFE president Chris Finan. "It's First Amendment-protected, and they can't go pulling books out of the school library just because some parents are offended by the material."

Beverly Becker, associate director of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, concurs, saying, "Libraries are there to serve the entire community. It's important that they have books that address the issues of the day. The very reason this book is getting so much interest is that it addresses an issue that's important right now. To me that argues as to why it belongs in the library--it's in the public debate, and kids are part of that wider world too."

Z Enters the Blogosphere

Well ... I've got two new interesting additions to the blogroll:

Goodbye Maggie
Turning the Tide

Both are affiliated with the radical left site Znet. Goodbye Maggie is going to be a multi-author blog focusing on alternatives to capitalism, in particular Michael Albert's participatory economics, a socialist economic model that seeks to allocate resources within a society according to the democratic principles America is supposed to value and to eliminate all instances of illegitimate hierarchical authority from the society. It looks like Michael Albert is going to be posting personally, which will be a great addition to the blogosphere. Michael is a longtime activist of the Vietnam protest generation, which is probably apparent from the blog's title, a reference to Dylan's "Maggie's Farm". He was one of the founders of Z Magazine and South End Press, still run according to participatory economic principles to this day, and is currently the primary moderator/sysop of Znet.

Turning the Tide is Noam Chomsky's blog. Before you get too excited, understand that Chomsky is pretty much a technophobe, so I don't think Noam is going to be posting personally. Rather, some Z-affiliated person, possibly whoever is currently posting Chomsky's replies to the Z sustainer forum ChomskyChat, is going to cull Chomsky's writings and post relevant pieces to the blog. If nothing else it should be a good source of ChomskyChat posts for people who aren't Z sustainers.

Looks like there's going to be a few other Z blogs that aren't up yet:

Another World
Hotel Satire
Thought Dreams

Hotel Satire is a column by Lydia Sargent in Z Magazine, so it's pretty clear what that's going to be. Another World is a reference to the slogan of the World Social Forum, "Another world is possible" so maybe it will have something to do with globalization. And the phrase "Thought Dreams" is another Dylan reference.

[Thank to The Bone for the tip]

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Not So Obscure At The Moment...

Dick Cheney said the following on the Limbaugh show a couple of days ago:

So I guess, the other thing I would say about Dick Clarke is that he was here throughout those eight years, going back to 1993, and the first attack on the World Trade Center; and '98, when the embassies were hit in East Africa; in 2000, when the USS Cole was hit. And the question that ought to be asked is, what were they doing in those days when he was in charge of counterterrorism efforts?

Here's a Washington Post article answering Cheney's question, in which Clarke gets criticized for being too focused on the possibility of catastrophic terrorism: (from "An Obscure Chief in U.S. War on Terror", WP, 4/2/00)

Richard Clarke witnessed the dawn of the millennium in a top-secret government communications vault, monitoring intelligence traffic for any sign of activity by Islamic terrorist groups loyal to Osama bin Laden. It was not until midnight in California--3 a.m. Washington time--that the Clinton administration's counterterrorism chief finally permitted himself a celebratory sip of champagne.
Four weeks before, Clarke had sketched out a plan on the whiteboard in his office at the National Security Council for neutralizing the latest threat from the Afghanistan-based Saudi exile. Approved by President Clinton and his top foreign policy advisers, Clarke's plan became the basis of administration efforts to prevent bin Laden supporters from ringing in the New Year with what officials believed could be dozens, perhaps hundreds, of American deaths in a series of simultaneous attacks from the Middle East to the West Coast.

Central to Clarke's strategy was a major disruption effort, orchestrated by the CIA and implemented by friendly intelligence agencies around the world, aimed at harassing members of bin Laden's al Qaeda organization and forcing them onto the defensive. Other moves included putting the FBI on a heightened state of alert, dispatching counterterrorism teams to Europe and having the State Department issue an informal ultimatum to Afghanistan to keep bin Laden under control.

U.S. officials credit these countermeasures--and what many acknowledge was sheer "good luck"--with a peaceful start to the new year. But the millennium alert--initially triggered by reports of a plan to attack American and Israeli tourists in Jordan--also underlined the influence of one of the least known but most controversial members of Clinton's national security team.

Operating from an Old Executive Office Building suite once inhabited by Col. Oliver North, Clarke has played a key role both in defining the new post-Cold War security threats to the United States and coming up with a response. But he also has come to personify what some critics, particularly abroad, view as an unhealthy American obsession with high-tech threats and a "Fortress America" approach to dealing with them.

As the national coordinator for infrastructure protection and counterterrorism, Clarke has presided over a huge increase in counterterrorism budgets over the past five years to meet a wide array of new--and some would argue, still hypothetical--challenges, such as cyber warfare or chemical or biological attacks in New York or Washington. Last month, the administration submitted an $11.1 billion request to Congress to strengthen "domestic preparedness" against a terrorist attack. In the meantime, by contrast, security assistance to the former Soviet Union to tackle proliferation problems has been stuck in the region of $800 million a year.

"In America, there is a morbid fascination with greater-than-life technological threats, which you don't see in other countries," says Ehud Sprinzak, a terrorism expert at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "Clarke has an ax to grind. It makes him big. If nobody talked about catastrophic terrorism, what would people like Dick Clarke be doing?"

Such talk irritates national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, Clarke's direct supervisor, who insists that the threat of large-scale terrorist attacks on U.S. soil is "a reality, not a perception." "We would be irresponsible if we did not take this seriously," he says. "I hope that in 10 years' time, they will say we did too much, not too little."

Clarke's warnings about America's vulnerability to new kinds of terrorist attack have found a receptive ear in Clinton. With little fanfare, the president has begun to articulate a new national security doctrine in which terrorists and other "enemies of the nation-state" are coming to occupy the position once filled by a monolithic communist superpower. In January, he departed from the prepared text of his State of the Union address to predict that terrorists and organized criminals "with increasing access to ever more sophisticated chemical and biological weapons" will pose "the major security threat" to the United States in 10 to 20 years.

"We should have a very low barrier in terms of acting when there is a threat of weapons of mass destruction being used against American citizens," says Clarke, brushing aside suggestions that a preoccupation with bin Laden has caused errors in judgment, such as the decision to retaliate for the attack on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 by bombing a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan, suspected of producing chemical agents. "We should not have a barrier of evidence that can be used in a court of law," Clarke says.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Kucinich on Letterman

Dennis read the top ten list on Letterman two nights ago:

"Top Ten Ways Dennis Kucinich can still be president of the United States."

10. Keep doing what I'm doing — I'm winning, right?

9. Constitution is amended stating presidents must be 35 or older, a natural-born citizen and named "Dennis."

8. Act like a boob so people will perceive me as more presidential.

7. You want crazy campaign promises — fine! If I'm elected, everybody gets a million bucks.

6. Enter and win next "American Idol."

5. Announce your running mate will be a plate of fudge — people love fudge.

4. Just wait till I unleash my new campaign slogan: "Kucizzle in the hizzle!"

3. According to the order of presidential succession, if George W. Bush were to resign today, along with Dick Cheney and about 300 other people, the presidency passes to a congressman from Ohio.

2. Get the governors of every state to rig the election.

1. I'm praying for a sex scandal.

All of which, I suppose, are more likely than a majority of Americans finally getting behind the candidate who best serves their interests rather than the interests of the very rich.

Studies designed to address such questions are the ones that were not conducted

In his most recent column, the hardest working man at the New York Times while providing us with his insightful-as-ever take on Clarke's book tangentally refers to industry insiders "writing their own regulations" regarding mercury pollution. I hadn't heard about this story, poked around and found it. I believe this is what Krugman's talking about: (from "EPA staff say mercury proposal was politicized", LA Times, 3/17/2004)

Political appointees in the Environmental Protection Agency bypassed agency professional staff and a federal advisory panel last year to craft a rule on mercury emissions preferred by the industry and the White House, several longtime EPA officials say.

The officials say they were told not to undertake the normal scientific and economic studies called for under a standing executive order. At the same time, the proposal to regulate mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants was written using key language provided by utility lobbyists.

The Bush administration has said that the proposed rule would cut mercury emissions by 70 percent in the next 15 years, and is tied to the president's "Clear Skies" initiative. But critics say it would delay reductions in mercury levels for decades at a risk to public health, while saving the power and coal industries billions of dollars.

Studies designed to address such questions are the ones that were not conducted.

EPA veterans say they cannot recall another instance when the agency's technical specialists were cut out of developing a major regulatory proposal.

The administration chose a process "that would support the conclusion they wanted to reach," said John A. Paul, a Republican environmental regulator from Ohio who cochaired the EPA-appointed advisory panel and who says that its 21 months of work on mercury was ignored.

"There is a politicization of the work of the agency that I have not seen before," said Bruce C. Buckheit, who served in major federal environmental posts for two decades. He retired in December as director of the EPA's Air Enforcement Division, partly because he felt enforcement was stymied. "A political agenda is driving the agency's output, rather than analysis and science," he said.

Studies designed to address such questions are the ones that were not conducted -- lo! behold!, comedy.

Clarke, The Weekly Standard, and al-Shifa

60 Minute's interview with Richard Clarke was a serious broadside at the Bush campaign's major asset, the perception that Bush is "strong on security". However, despite the ruckus it's caused, for those of us who have been paying attention, given such facts as the stone-walling of the 911 commission, O'Neil's statement regarding Rumsfeld's desire to invade Iraq the day after 911, general knowledge of the motives of neoconservatives, and so forth, the interview added little that is new. Yet, it is interesting to see how apologists for the Bush administration are dealing with this bombshell...

Take for example Stephen F. Hayes's "On Richard Clarke" in the Weekly Standard. After making the usual ad hominem attacks on Clarke's character and/or motives, Hayes launches into the meat of his argument: Clarke says that there is no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda but, in fact, there is a significant connection, and further Clarke was involved in the decision to destroy the al-Shifa plant in Sudan during Clinton's tenure, the motivation of which was the alleged link between Hussein's Iraq and the shadowy network of fundamentalist Muslim terrorists. The proof Hayes offers to establish this connection is the following: a statement made by the Clinton Justice Department regarding the attack, a statement made by George Tenet, and a statement in a letter by George Tenet to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Three assertions do not make a fact. Readers of this blog probably do not believe there was ever a significant connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but for the record let us remember that George Tenet recently-- not half a decade ago or two years ago -- disavowed the memo that Dick Cheney called the "best source of information" documenting a link between Hussein and al-Qaeda, saying

[The CIA] did not agree with the way the data was characterized in that document. I learned about [Cheney's quote calling Feith's memo the best source on the subject] last night when I was preparing for this hearing, and I will talk to him about it.*

Furthermore, Tenet has made it clear that the Pentagon also does not agree with Feith's memo*. If Hayes has some other evidence that Hussein was in bed with bin Laden perhaps he should share it with us.

As for Clarke, the al-Shifa bombing, and a statement made by the Clinton Justice Department, Hayes's essay assumes that the al-Shifa plant really was producing weapons of mass destruction; it was not -- or at least there is no compelling reason to believe that it was. Once again if Hayes's has such evidence perhaps he should provide it to the proper authorities; the plant's owner's assets were unfrozen years ago, and no legal action against him was ever pursued. Here's the Boston Globe on the subject: (from "Year later, US attack on factory still hurts Sudan", BG, 8/22/99)

The bombing was ordered a week after terrorist bombs destroyed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

But now, a year later, there is not a shred of evidence suggesting that the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan produced nerve gas.

After months of waiting, with little fanfare the US government indirectly vindicated Salah Idris, the owner of the factory, and the Republic of the Sudan. While the government didn't admit its guilt or confess its blunder, last May 4 it did remove the freeze it had placed on Idris's assets. (Had the United States not done so, it would have been forced to reply to the factory owner's lawsuits to lift the freeze.)

While this retreat suggests the United States had no evidence to support its claim that the missile attack was to combat terrorism, it brought to light a whole new spectrum of meaning to the phrase "crimes against humanity."

Here is the BBC on the same subject: (from Africa Factory Bombing: A Matter of Evidence", BBC News, 5/5/99)

The owner of the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory destroyed by US cruise missiles last August, Salah Idris, has won a key victory in his campaign to win an admission from the US authorities that they bombed his factory in error.

In response to a law suit brought by Mr Idris's Washington lawyers, the US Treasury has unfrozen Mr Idris's US bank accounts, implicitly acknowledging that they do not have evidence to justify their action against him.

Why would the Clinton Justice Department issue a statement implicating Hussein in the production of weapons of mass destruction at al-Shifa? Well, the question is irrelevant given that there were no WMD's being produced at al-Shifa. But, anyway, the answer is obvious: for the same reason that it is convenient for Bush to link al-Qaeda to Iraq, to provide political cover for unsavory actions and policies of the favored state. Hayes writes "Clinton administration officials repeatedly cited Iraqi support for Sudan's Military Industrial Corporation and al-Shifa in their defense of the targeting" -- yes, they did; the Clinton administration had committed what amounted to a war crime and it was convenient to characterize the attack as a strike against a man who had been very successfully demonized for the past decade, Saddam Hussein. Remember, at the time, the name Osama Bin Laden didn't ring any bells.

Hayes concludes his article with five questions, four of which are about the issues I have just discussed:

(1) Is George Tenet wrong about Iraqi support for al Qaeda?
Depends on which George Tenet you mean. The George Tenet of more than half a decade ago was wrong. The current George Tenet is right.

(2) Why did the Clinton administration cite an "understanding" between bin Laden and Iraq in its indictment of bin Laden for the 1998 embassy bombings?
For propaganda purposes. As stated above, it was convenient to characterize actions such as the al-Shifa bombing as a military strike against a hated enemy with name recognition. If there is proof to the contrary, I'd like hear it.

(3) Did Iraq support al Qaeda's efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction in Sudan?
There is no evidence of support. There is no evidence of al-Qaeda's efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction at the al-Shifa factory. We must base our assessments of the world on facts and evidence, not statements made by public officials.

(4) Clinton administration officials, including Clarke's former boss Sandy Berger, stand by their decision to target al-Shifa. Does Clarke?
He shouldn't on moral grounds, of course, but Clarke's support for the al-Shifa attack would only be grounds to discount his statement, "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda, ever," if he supported the al-Shifa attack based on his belief that Iraq was somehow involved, which isn't a necessary corallary of supporting the bombing. Indeed, if the assumptions made by writers for the Weekly Standard are any guide, one would be hard-pressed to find a commentator in the mainstream media who doesn't support the al-Shifa bombing -- but then I guess that's why they're commentators for the mainstream media.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Why Does Canada Hate John Ashcroft?

Well ... hold on to your hats, folks ... our enlightened neighbor to the north is about to make marijuana available in pharmacies:

Health Canada plans to make government-certified marijuana available in pharmacies, a move that could boost the number of registered medical users.

Officials are organizing a pilot project in British Columbia that would allow medical users to buy marijuana at drugstores.

Currently, 78 medical users in Canada are permitted to buy Health Canada marijuana, which is grown in Flin Flon, Man. The 30-gram bags of dried buds, sold for $150 each, now are sent by courier directly to patients or their doctors.

The department will allow participating pharmacies to stock marijuana for sale to approved patients without a prescription

Mmmm... government-certified marijuana. So I guess if their society crumbles to the ground in a few years the United States' current drug policy will be proved a success and otherwise a failure, no?

Ahmad Yassin

Lawrence of Cyberia has posted a number of striking images from the funeral of Ahmad Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of the Islamic resistance movement Hamas, the protests of his killing, and so forth.

Fun for the Whole Family

At the request of Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the Special Investigations Division of the minority staff has attempted to completely document all of the on record misstatements and exaggerations made by the major players in the Bush administration regarding Iraq. Their results are now online in the form of a searchable database.

Afghanistan More Than A Year On

A lot of articles about Iraq last week because of the anniversary of the invasion ... not too much about the United States' other nation building project, lately however. Yesterday, the Afghani Minister of Aviation got killed: (from "Fighting in Western Afghanistan Ends, At Least 100 Dead", VOA, 3/22/04)

Violent factional clashes that erupted in western Afghanistan on Sunday have ended, leaving at least 100 people dead, including the country's aviation minister.
Tank and gun battles flared in the western city of Herat Sunday after unidentified gunmen assassinated Mirwais Sadiq, Afghanistan's civil aviation minister, and the son of powerful provincial governor Ismail Khan.

The fighting in Herat pitted the forces of a local militia commander, Zahir Nayebzada, and Governor Khan after the commander said his forces were responsible for the killing.

Sources at the defense ministry in Kabul say the governor's forces have taken control of commander Nayebzada's militia barracks and have detained some of his fighters, but the commander himself escaped. The sources say some 1,500 newly U.S. trained Afghan National Army soldiers are due to arrive in the troubled region by Tuesday morning to assist in efforts to maintain peace.

Afghanistan is about fifteen to twenty times smaller in population than the US so a hundred people translates to on the order of a thousand relative to its population. Job well done there, Uncle Sam -- at least there's not a fascist fundamentalist ideology waiting in the wings to step in and provide some order to this violent war-ravaged anarchy... oh, wait, nevermind.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Wolfowitz on the News Hour

Wolfowitz was on Jim Lehrer's show yesterday, transcript here. Lehrer actually didn't roll over quite as much as usual. Here's a snippet in which Lehrer [gasp!] asks a follow-up:

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Okay. Also today the president of Poland said, we just had it in the news summary, that while Iraq is a better place because Saddam Hussein is gone, he said "I also feel uncomfortable due to the fact that we were misled with the information on weapons of mass destruction." Poland has 2,400 troops in Iraq. Does he have a right to be uncomfortable over this?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I don't think he has a right to say they were misled. I mean, let's take an example from I guess it's 15 years ago before the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Iraq was supposed to have no nuclear weapons. They signed a nonproliferation treaty. The U.N. inspection agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that Iraq has no nuclear weapons program. They were wrong. They weren't misleading the world. They just were wrong.

People make mistakes in this business, and one thing that's important and I hope somebody will tell the president of Poland this. Iraq was in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441. It was the 17th and supposed to be last resolution after 12 years of Iraq defying the United Nations. They did not comply with that. They lied in their declarations. They obstructed the inspectors.

JIM LEHRER: He's talking specifically, he had a news conference, he's talking specifically that he was told by the United States and Britain that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and then after the war proved that there were not. That's what he's talking about.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I don't know specifically what he was told. I know what I was told and it was the best judgments of our intelligence community at the time. Were they all accurate, no, they weren't all accurate, but nobody was misleading anybody.

You know, to beat a dead and buried horse that is currently residing in horse heaven eating some nice hay, what's wrong with Wolfowitz's response is the extent to which the Bush administration--not Tenet, not the CIA, not anyone else--characterized the inaccurate intelligence as fact, and the extent to which they manufactured "intelligence" with their propaganda apparatus, specifically the Office of Special Plans, that's whole reason for existing was to construct an alternative view of Iraq's threat to the US to counter the view explicated by the CIA.

Later on, we get

JIM LEHRER: You have no concern over the fact that one of the primary premises for the war has turned out not to be valid?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Obviously one is concerned. This isn't the only time I've encountered intelligence -- as I mentioned, before the Gulf War in 1991, our intelligence was wrong the other way. We didn't know how big a nuclear program it turned out -- we later found that he had.

But I don't think there's any doubt as I said that he was in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution that was supposed to be the last and final resolution, and I think the fact that we made it clear that these resolutions mean something, and that when you're caught in violation of the resolution, you're in real trouble if you don't comply, that's had consequences for Iran, it's had consequences for North Korea. I think it's a major part, if not the major part of the reason, why Qaddafi has now surrendered his nuclear weapons. It's a remarkable achievement.

JIM LEHRER: But '91 and 2002 or 2003 are kind of apples and oranges, are they not? I mean in, that case in 1991, Iraq invaded another country called Kuwait, and that was the reason for going to war. In 2003, the main reason for going to war was the intelligence said they -- Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: The reason for going to war was because Iraq was in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution. In fact, there were three major reasons, and if you go back and read Secretary Powell's speech to the U.N. in February of last year, he said specifically it is weapons of mass destruction, It is their support for terrorism, and it's the oppression of their people and we had agreed in fact with Resolution 1441 to limit it to weapons of mass destruction and give them one last and final chance to come clean and he did not come clean.

It's nice to see that Wolfowitz is such an advocate of honoring UN resolutions. He's going to have to have a stern talking to with his colleague Richard Perle who wrote that a positive outcome of Bush's war was that it would take down the United Nations and has stated publicly that Bush's war violated international law. And I guess Wolfowitz is in favor of a forceful regime change for Israel given that Israel has been in violation of resolution 252, resolution 262, resolution 267, resolution 271, resolution 298, and many more for decades now and resolutions 1402 and 1403 from two years ago*.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Al-Qaeda Backs Bush

In the statement making the rounds in which the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades declare a truce with Spain, they also endorse Bush, saying they're not likely to get a stupider president and, I kid you not, accuse Bush of being a religious fanatic:

The statement tells American voters that Abu Hafs al-Masri supports the re-election campaign of U.S. President George W. Bush: "We are very keen that Bush does not lose the upcoming elections."

Addressing Bush, it says: "We know that a heavyweight operation would destroy your government, and this is what we don't want. We are not going to find a bigger idiot than you."

The statement said Abu Hafs al-Masri needs what it called Bush's "idiocy and religious fanaticism" because they would "wake up" the Islamic world.

Comparing Bush with his Democratic party challenger, John Kerry, the statement tells the president: "Actually, there is no difference between you and Kerry, but Kerry will kill our community, while it is unaware, because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish infidelity and present it to the Arab and Islamic community as civilization."

Strange times...

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Rachel Corrie

Today is a National Day of Action for Rachel Corrie.
Tip via Eli over at Left I on the News

Just Saying ...

One would think if you're going to resurrect the Total Information Awareness idea of data mining to spy on citizens, it would probably be a good idea to not name the new initiative off of the ultra-totalitarian tool used by a nefarious race of super-evil robots bent on enslaving the human race ... but I could be wrong.

Across the Pond

Here's a couple of pieces about the effect of the socialist party victory in Spain on the rest of Europe and the world.

This one makes the interesting point that Aznar's defeat was not the first European election effected by Bush's war:

After September 2002's unexpected re-election victory of anti-war German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, this is the second major European election in which the result has been significantly influenced by the conflict in Iraq. Ironically, while Bush's Iraq policy may not succeed in its stated aim of redrawing the political map of the Middle East, it is definitely having a huge impact in Europe.

And this Guardian editorialspeculates that Europeans generally view Bush's war as a fabulous recruiting tool for terrorists rather than an effective way of stopping terrorism:

Two full-scale wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and countless anti-terrorist operations have failed to convince most Europeans that this war, as now conceived, is winnable. Western intelligence agencies were blindsided by the Madrid attacks. They had expected "chatter" or warnings of an imminent strike from communication intercepts. There were none. They had told us al-Qaida was so weakened it could only mount attacks soft targets in Bali, Istanbul and Tunisia. That too was a dangerous miscalculation. And what happened to the " fly paper" theory - the idea that the front line in Iraq would draw all jihadists to a sticky end? Al-Qaida, or those who act in its name are alive and kicking, and so probably is Osama bin Laden. Madrid has shown that Osama's "crusader" targets are as vulnerable to the fundamentalist wrath of his followers as they were two-and-a-half years ago, when the Twin Towers were levelled.

Mr Blair may be shielded from the political fate suffered by his closest European ally, because Britain has no distinct repository for anti-war feeling. The British anti-war mood runs across the political spectrum from Kenneth Clarke to Louise Christian, but there is no one big enough along the way to pick up the cudgels. Robin Cook could have been its leader but wasn't. Mr Blair may argue that events in Madrid prove him right. But he still has to convince the British people, as Mr Aznar failed to convince the Spanish, that the pursuit of the war in Iraq has not proved to be al-Qaida's greatest recruiting sergeant.

The media so effectively hid the extent to which the world was against Bush's war a number of American right commentators viewed the spontaneous protests after the Madrid bombings as supportivce of their position, instead of drawing the obvious parallel to the February 15th demonstrations, which were huge in Spain. It was amusing the way in which the mainstream media presented the defeat of Aznar as sort of a man-bites-dog story when, in fact, given that 91% of the Spanish population was against supporting Bush's war and given how dismally the war is turning out, it would have been more surprising if Aznar had won.

Monday, March 15, 2004

A Big Day Coming Up

Only five more days until March 20th. Mark your calenders and what not. I'm looking forward to another good old global day of action; I was a little bit disappointed we all didn't do something on Februray 15th again. It would have been nice to see February 15th turn into a new leftist holiday like May Day or Labor Day. One can never have too many excuses for a shindig ... especially in the winter.

Also, as long as I'm on this subject I've been meaning to put up a plug for the Boston Social Forum in July, which I might be going to:

On July 23-25, 2004 at the University of Massachusetts at Boston—just before the Democratic National Convention—a coalition of Boston area, progressive community organizations, non-profits, and unions will be hosting what promises to be an exciting event—the Boston Social Forum (BSF).

A regional forum within the World Social Forum process, the BSF has been called to help progressive activists to begin to answer some very basic questions: What kind of future do we want for Boston? For our region? For our nation? For the world? What is our vision of a better society?

Through a series of workshops, cultural events, plenary sessions, and giant convocations of the entire forum, we are encouraging progressive organizations of all kinds to showcase their best analysis of the present, and their best ideas for the future, across the breadth of human knowledge—politics, economics, science and technology, culture and faith—in the context of corporate globalization.

A Banal Comment About the Bombing in Spain

Despite the analysis of other commentators on the left and the right, the rejection of Aznar from Spain was a setback for al-Qaeda, not a victory, if indeed al-Qaeda was responsible. It is the stated goal of Bin Laden, and these radical rightwing fundamentalists generally, to ensnare the West in a costly world war. Given this stated goal, the fundamentalists succeed to the extent that Western governments aid and support Bush's wars.

Center and right commentators respond to this argument by saying that, yes, Islamic fundamentalists are trying to draw the West into open war but their goal is to win that war -- that they believe Western nations are a cowardly and fickle opponent that will be defeated as the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan (Bin laden, you see, believes the expense of the Afghanistan campaign took down the Soviet Union) -- and then with the West defeated reform the world in the image of the Taliban. So therefore, you know, we must not falter, we must stay the course, etc, etc. The above is a pretty mainstream belief, but is nonetheless rather silly.

Does anyone really think that Osama Bin Laden is going to defeat the US in all out war? Does anyone believe Bin Laden believes this? Of course not, not even the hard right. When we say Bin Laden won a war against the Soviets what we mean is that there are no longer Russian soldiers in Afghanistan, not that Russia is now being run by mullahs. The easiest way for the Soviets to have won their campaign in Afghanistan would have been to never have begun it. Similarly, the easiest way for the US to defeat Osama Bin Laden is to stop answering his fondest prayers, to stop giving him exactly what he wants.

The goal of Bin Laden and those like him is what Bush's handlers call "The War on Terrorism". It shores up support for repressive ideologies and institutions like the Taliban. It provides a convenient demon to scare people into supporting organizations and regimes they would otherwise have no reason to support, makes it easy to indoctrinate people into an us-versus-them worldview that explains away the very real hardships people face as a result of these oppressive ideologies and institutions, etc. Any of this sound familiar?

If the West is afraid of the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism, it should pursue policies that will lead to economic prosperity, self-determination, and modernization in the Mideast, rather that supporting repressive regimes and a regressive economic dynamic left over from the days of out-and-out colonization. Look at the economic structure of New Iraq: basically all the assets of the entire country will be owned by (mostly) America-based corporations. Throw in a couple US military "mistakes" and who can fail to understand why the resistance to the US's occupation of Iraq is generally a popular resistance?

Friday, March 12, 2004

Mohammed Horton

BushCo just went negative already with a series of ads attacking Kerry, shockingly admitting the weakness of their current position. Usually incumbent presidents campaigning for reelection coast along above the fray acting presidential until well into the summer but, I guess, such a strategy doesn't fly when you're 5 to 10 points down in the polls.

An ad called "Forward" features voice-over narration by Bush repeating the "dangerous illusion" catch-phrase that I think made its first appearance in Bush's not particularly well-received state of the union speech a few months ago.

Another spot, "100 Days", is a Willie Horton-esque attempt at fear-mongering complete with a swarthy Arab boogie man. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, has already spoken out against this blatant race-baiting:

This is the very thing that the president warned against after 9/11. He was so wise to tell the country not to fall prey to the negative stereotypes that exploit fear. Now the president seems to be doing what he warned against. If they wanted to put Osama bin Laden up there that's fine, but using just a face stereotypes."

I guess the Bushies have just written off getting many votes from Arab Americans. According to Zogby,

This community's vote is decidedly moving in a direction that is not in favor of Bush's re-election. Bush's numbers now are as low as we've seen a Republican president's be.

Billmon has a good post about the negative ads (and I stole the Mohammed Horton joke from him)

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Secret Weapon Blues

The Pentagon is about to test a new non-lethal weapon that uses super loud sounds to injure its targets, says the LA Times. The scary thing about experimental non-lethal weapons is that since no one gets killed you get the feeling they're itching to use the things and will do so without much cause -- never mind that this device can cause deafness and "cellular damage." As the LA Times story concludes

Is actual combat in a foreign country the appropriate place to test a new weapon? Apparently, we are about to find out.

Lazy Blogging Wednesday Continues ...

See here's the type of story the Penatgon's DVIDS program won't be covering:

Gunmen posing as police at a makeshift checkpoint south of Baghdad killed two American civilians and their Iraqi translator — all employees of the U.S.-led coalition, the Polish military said Wednesday. In another southern area, four Iraqi policemen died in a shootout with a local militia.

Chomsky on Haiti


The Pentagon Papers: Part II

Salon has up the most extensive exposé by Karen Kwiatkowski yet. It pretty much covers the same ground as her three part series in American Conservative (that I linked to here, in a post about a week and a half ago), but hopefully she will reach a broader (lefter) audience in Salon.

For those not following this story... Kwiatkowski is a conservative Republican career military analyst who resigned from a high-level position to protest the rampant politicization of policy that she witnessed.

Credit Where Credit is Due ... (Knight Ridder Still Kicking Ass)

In a functioning democracy, when the population is asked to make a hard and important decision, such as whether to go to war, the role of the media is to facilitate a national discussion, presenting various sides of the issue, relevant commentary and analysis, providing a forum for debate, etc. In the case of the run up to the Iraq war this simply did not happen. The media served as a middleman between the American people and the Bush administration's propaganda department, notably the neoconservative HQ, the Office of Special Plans, see for the example "Now They Tell Us" from the NY Review of Books for documentation about the OSP's influence on the media or the LA Times recent "Special Pentagon Unit Left CIA Out of the Loop" for general information regarding the OSP's role and power.

Throughout this whole sordid affair only the Knight Ridder news service (and maybe the LA Times) has even come close to doing its job. This fact has been noticed and commented upon by a number of sources; for instance, here, in Editor & Publisher, and in the NYRB article cited above.

Anyway, today there was another nice KR piece, this time about Cheney's lies: (from "CIA says Cheney was wrong")

CIA Director George Tenet on Tuesday rejected recent assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney that Iraq had cooperated with the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Tenet also rejected Cheney's statements that the administration had proof of an illicit Iraqi biological warfare program.

Tenet's comments to the Senate Armed Services Committee were expected to fuel friction between the White House and intelligence agencies over the failure to find any of the banned weapons stockpiles that President Bush, in justifying his case for war, charged Saddam Hussein with concealing.

Tenet at first appeared to defend the administration, saying that he did not think the White House misrepresented intelligence provided by the CIA. The administration's statements, he said, reflected a prewar intelligence consensus that Hussein had stockpiled chemical and biological weapons and was pursuing nuclear bombs.

But under sharp questioning by Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, Tenet reversed himself, saying there had been instances when he had warned administration officials that they were misstating the threat posed by Iraq.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you what my interaction was ... and what I did and didn't do, except that you have to have confidence to know that when I believed that somebody was misconstruing intelligence, I said something about it," Tenet said. "I don't stand up publicly and do it."

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Good Old State-run Media

According to the AP, this April the Pentagon will launch its own news service covering the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq that is "intended to allow small media outlets in the United States and elsewhere to bypass what the Pentagon views as an increasingly combative press corps" -- because, lord knows, it's just too difficult to reign in the hardnosed mavericks on FOX News or the NYT's pitbull Judy Miller; they get on the poor Pentagon's case and never let go. Apparently, expelling reporters who don't toe the party line, just isn't enough to get the right story to Peoria and Muncie.

The project is called the Digital Video and Imagery Distribution System, or DVIDS. I wanted to link to the DVIDS website, but apparently it doesn't have one; if you go to the Third Army's site, for instance, there's oddly no mention of the most expensive program of this kind in military history. It'll work like this: military reporters will send stories -- print and video -- to a central office at Third Army headquarters in Atlanta. The central office will allow accredited news sources to access the stories via a password-protected website for free (What's a couple of free stories among friends? -- running a small town TV station is a tough racket and the Pentagon cares!). They've already bought the satellite terminals ... so this isn't a rumor -- it's going to happen.

The spokesman for the Kuwait-based US-led Coalition Land Forces Command had this to say:

[The American public] currently gets a pretty slanted picture. We want them to get an opportunity to see the facts as they exist, instead of getting information from people who aren't on the scene. We have an unfair advantage. We're going to be able to get closer to the incident and provide better spokespeople to give the right information. The important thing is that we provide the public with accurate information.

Nice quote there, buddy. Um... which is it you want to provide? The right information or accurate information? Well, this guy still has a couple of months to get his talking points straight... In the meantime were going to have to make do with the wrong information, I guess.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Remember Genoa?

Last Tuesday 26 Italian protesters went on trial for allegedly committing vandalism, robbery, and possessing explosives: (from "Tense start to Genoa riot trial", BBC, 5/2/04)

The defendants, who face up to 15 years in jail if convicted, deny the charges.

The trial began in a tense atmosphere, with demonstrators outside the court saying they were brutally beaten by police at the summit in July 2001.

More than 700 police, many in riot gear, were deployed to guard the courthouse and monitor the demonstration.

"We are here because we haven't forgotten," said one protester on Tuesday.

"This trial is a symbol of the fact that the wrong people are criminalised. The real criminals are the Group of Eight," he said.

The protests surrounding the G8 Summit of 2001 were the most violent of the major anti-corporate-globalization demonstrations, and arguably the most violent Western demonstrations in a decade or so ... but, as far as real violence is concerned, protesters were the recipients of it rather than its perpetrators. Furthermore, there's good reason to believe that much of the vandalism and property damage was the work of rightwing infiltrators seeking to discredit the demonstrators and create an excuse for violent backlash from the police* However valid the charges are against the Genoa 26, the most despicable events of the Genoa protests were the killing of Carlo Giuliani, who was gunned down by police, and the vicious midnight raid on the Genoa Social Forum, in which dozens of activists were beaten in their sleep. It's events like these that explain the presence of the demonstrators surrounding the courthouse.

Interestingly, Italian prosecutors have also just requested the indictment of 29 police officers on brutality charges, the officers responsible for the Genoa Social Forum raid: (from "Prosecutors take on Genoa police", BBC, 3/3/04)

Prosecutors accuse the officers of inflicting injuries on anti-globalization activists during a pre-dawn raid on a school.

Police say their action was needed to respond to violent demonstrations.

[ ... ]

The police raid on the Diaz school, where hundreds of protesters were sleeping, became one of the most notorious incidents of the summit.

A number of protesters said they were beaten in their sleep.

Local media showed pictures of blood stained walls, smashed computers and windows.

The Genoa police admitted to planting evidence (Molotov cocktails) in the Diaz school, according to the BBC, an admission that makes it pretty hard to believe anyone takes seriously the idea that the police brutality was legally justified ... so maybe we'll see some justice here, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Aristide Speaks

A statement from Jean Bertrand Aristide, Haitian president in forced exile: (courtesy of Znet)

In overthrowing me, they have uprooted the trunk of the liberty. It will grow back because its roots are many and deep." In the shadow of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the genius of the race. I declare in overthrowing me they have uprooted the trunk of the tree of peace, but it will grow back because the roots are L'Ouverturian.

Dear compatriots, it is with these first words that I am saluting our brothers and sisters from Africa, while I am standing on the soil of the Central African Republic. Allow me to salute you by repeating that same declaration that is, "In overthrowing me, they have uprooted the trunk of the tree of peace." During the night of the 28th of February 2004, there was a coup d'etat. One could say that it was a geo-political kidnapping. I can clearly say that it was terrorism disguised as diplomacy. To conclude, this coup d'etat and this kidnapping are like two quarters and 50 cents side by side.

I have always denounced the coming of this coup d'etat, but until the 27th of February, the day before, I didn't see that the crime was going to be accompanied by kidnapping as well. The 28th of February, at night, suddenly, American military personnel who were already all over Port-au-Prince descended on my house in Tabarre to tell me first that all the American security agents who have contracts with the Haitian government only have two options. Either they leave immediately to go to the United States, or they fight to die. Secondly, they told me the remaining 25 of the American security agents hired by the Haitian government who were to come in on the 29th of February as reinforcements were under interdiction, prevented from coming. Thirdly, they told me the foreigners and Haitian terrorists alike, loaded with heavy weapons, were already in position to open fire on Port-au-Prince. And right then, the Americans precisely stated that they will kill thousands of people and it will be a bloodbath. That the attack is ready to start, and when the first bullet is fired nothing will stop them and nothing will make them wait until they take over, therefore the mission is to take me dead or alive.

At that time I told the Americans that my first preoccupation was to save the lives of those thousands of people tonight. As far as my own life is concerned, whether I am alive or whether I am dead, that is not what's important. As much as I was trying to use diplomacy, the more the pressure was being intensified for the Americans to start the attack. In spite of that, I took the risk of slowing down the death machine to verify the degree of danger, the degree of bluff or the degree of intimidation.

It was more serious than a bluff. The National Palace was surrounded by white men armed up to their teeth. The Tabarre area -- the residence -- was surrounded by foreigners armed to their teeth. The airport of Port-au-Prince was already under the control of these men. After a last evaluation I made during a meeting with the person in charge of Haitian security in Port-au-Prince, and the person in charge of American security, the truth was clear. There was going to be a bloodbath because we were already under an illegal foreign occupation which was ready to drop bodies on the ground, to spill blood, and then kidnap me dead or alive.

That meeting took place at 3 a.m. Faced with this tragedy, I decided to ask, "What guarantee do I have that there will not be a bloodbath if I decided to leave?"

In reality, all this diplomatic gymnastics did not mean anything because these military men responsible for the kidnapping operation had already assumed the success of their mission. What was said was done. This diplomacy, plus the forced signing of the letter of resignation, was not able to cover the face of the kidnapping.

From my house to the airport, everywhere there were American military men armed with heavy weapons of death. The military plane that came to get me landed while the convoy of vehicles that had come to get me was near the tarmac at the airport. When we were airborne, nobody knew where we were going. When we landed at one place nobody knew where we were. Among us on the plane was a baby of one of my American security agents who has a Haitian wife. They could not get out. We spent four hours without knowing where we were. When we got back in the air again, nobody knew where we were going.

It was not until 20 minutes before we landed in the Central African Republic that I was given the official word that this is where we would be landing. We landed at a French Air Force base but fortunately there were 5 ministers from the government who came to welcome us on behalf of the President there.

We know there are people back home who are suffering, who are being killed, who are in hiding. But we also know that back home there are people who understand the game, but will not give up because if they give up, instead of finding peace, we will find death.

Therefore, I ask that everyone who loves life to come together to protect the lives of others. I ask everyone who does not want to see bloodshed to come together so that it is life that flourishes instead of blood that has been spilled, or bodies falling. I know it's possible that all Haitians who live in the tenth department [Haitians living abroad] understand what tragedy lies hidden under the cover of this coup d'etat, under the cover of this kidnapping. I know and they know if we stand in solidarity we will stop the spread of death and we will help life flourish. The same thing that happened to a President who was democratically elected can happen at any time, in any other country too. That's why the solidarity is indispensable to protect a democracy that works together with life.

The constitution is the source of this life. It's the guarantee of the life. Let's stand together under the constitution in solidarity so that it is life that unfolds, and that it is peace that flourishes and not death as we are seeing it. Courage, courage, courage! From where I am with the First Lady, we have not forgotten what Toussaint L'Ouverture has said, and that's why we saluted all of Africa with his words, and we are saluting all Haitians everywhere with the conviction that the roots of the tree of peace, with the spirit of Toussaint L'Ouverture inside, are alive. They can cut the tree as they have done with the machete of the coup d'etat, but they cannot cut the roots of peace. It will sprout again because it has the spirit of Toussaint L'Ouverture inside.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Well, Scottie Said There Was a Conspiracy Theory Going Around ... (It Must Be a Conspiracy Among the Sources) ...

Xymphora, international blogger of mystery, has posted another excellent piece about the Haitian coup d' etat in his (her?) bulleted list format, a list of all the reasons one shouldn't believe the official denials that Aristide was forced out of Haiti against his will. The post makes quite a compelling case.

The most interesting item to me (because I hadn't seen it before) was an article in the The Independent, the paper Fisk writes for, citing a two new sources with accounts of Aristide's last few hours in Haiti. An American missionary, Father Michael Graves of New Jersey, made the following statement:

I have spoken to many witnesses who said the President was kidnapped. Police officers at the Presidential Palace said that he was escorted out at gunpoint. They forced him to sign something - this evidently is the statement they have that they say is his resignation. [ ... ] I am outraged the US has stepped into a sovereign country, a fledgling democracy, and forced out a leader who was elected ... Whether he was good or bad how can we claim to be bastions of democracy...?"

and a former bodyguard of Aristide claimed

[Aristide was forced out by soldiers that were] white, I think American, but to be honest they could have been Canadian. I couldn't really tell the difference. They were in tropical civilian clothes but wearing flak jackets and carrying assault rifles

So that makes three first-person sources besides Aristide himself (by way of his spokesperson to CNN or Maxine Waters to Pacifica Radio) that I know of: the caretaker from the original AFP report, Father Graves, and the senior bodyguard.

Given the controversy surrounding the offical story, it seems pretty hard to believe that the claims that Aristide is basically being held against his will without access to a telephone are not true. If these claims are not true, why isn't some media talking head on TV grilling Aristide about the crazy conspiracy theory he's been asserting?

Oh, The Tone ... That Damned Tone

As of March 1st, the New York Times' website no longer features the work of leftist cartoonist Ted Rall. As quoted in Editor & Publisher, the decision was made because "some of his humor was not in keeping with the tone [NYTimes.com tries] to set". Rall's position is that his strip was pulled because of political pressure from conservative groups, from a post on Rall's blog:

My trouble with the Times website dates back to the "terror widows" controversy. That cartoon, which appeared in March 2002, became the target of a coordinated email attack by right-wing "warbloggers." These pro-Bush bloggers, coasting on a wave of post-9/11 patriotism, sent out emails to their followers (helpful souls forwarded some to me) asking each other to deluge the Times and other papers with complaints that purported to come from their readers. The Times, under the mistaken belief that hundreds of their readers had complained about the cartoon, dropped that particular piece. [ ... ] It seems that the warbloggers consistent campaign of email harrassment has finally taken its toll over at Times Digital. Because they're annoyed by receiving so many email complaints about my work--all of them motivated by partisan politics--the Times has decided to drop my cartoons entirely. [ ... ] The fact of the matter is that what the Times has done here to me--and to you--represents a dangerous precedent for a free press (or, in this case, an online press). They've sent the message that political pressure works. It's one thing for an editor to decide that a cartoon no longer works for editorial reasons, or that it's not as good as it used to be. It's quite another to cancel it simply because you're tired of being deluged with hate mail. Dealing with feedback is an editor's job. If you don't like the hate mail, delete it.

Also, Clear Channel Communications has decided that it doesn't like Howard Stern's tone, at least in markets in which the general election is going to be close, Pennsylvania and Florida, and has pulled his show from those markets. Coincidentally, the decision was preceded by Stern -- who had liked Bush's tax cuts and supported the Iraq war on air -- having a political conversion experience by way of Al Franken leading to, for instance, Howard opining as follows:

If you read [Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them], you will never vote for George W. Bush. I think this guy is a religious fanatic and a Jesus freak, and he is just hell-bent on getting some sort of bizzaro agenda through -- like a country-club agenda -- so that his father will finally be proud of him ... I don't know much about Kerry, but I think I'm one of those 'Anybody but Bush' guys now. I don't think G.W. is going to win. What do you think about that?*

(thanks to the Bone for the tip about Rall)

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Meanwhile Back in Kirkuk ...

A lot of unrest in Kirkuk lately -- aside from a steady trickle of attacks against police, in the wake of last month's bombings of the headquarters of two Kurdish political parties in Arbil, there's been a wave of Kurd violence against Turkmen. Today, a mob of Kurds ransacked the offices of a Turkish organization, the Iraqi Turkmen Front (FIT). Also on January 31st, the day before the bombing of the Kurdish party offices, two senior FIT officials were killed near the village of Taza Khormathe, south-west of Kirkuk. According to Sahid Danilchi of the FIT, "The Peshmerga are now trying to drive us from our homes through intimidation." The Turkmen of Kirkuk have called on the international community for intervention on their behalf:

We demand the United Nations and the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference send peacekeeping forces to maintain security in Kirkuk to prevent events which may lead to civil war -- Saad al-Din Arkij

In one of the above linked stories, an American serviceman comments

"I don't doubt that the minute we pull out of here, there is going to be a full-on civil war."

Wilson's Book

Joseph Wilson will reveal who he suspects was the Plame-gate leaker in a new book, The Politics of Truth, due out in May, according to the AP. Here's Amazon's entry for Wilson's book.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The Blame Game

Well-coordinated anti-Shiite attacks rocked Iraq today killing on the order of hundreds. The bombings took place at shrines crowded with Muslims honoring the rites of Ashoura, the most important holiday of the Shiite calendar.

The Bush administration would like us to believe that all of the terrorism taking place in Iraq is the work of Baath-party loyalists, former members of the Hussein regime, or outside agitators. And, unsurprisingly, in this case, many reports in the Western press included the comments of CPA officials or of members of America's puppet regime, the Iraqi Governing Council, claiming the recent Karbala and Baghdad bombings were the work of al-Qaeda , for example, here's an excerpt from the Christian Science Monitor's coverage:

Indeed, the US-led coalition said the attacks bore the hallmarks of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian Islamic militant suspected of ties to Al Qaeda who has been accused of orchestrating most of the suicide bombings that have beset Iraq in recent weeks.

The important thing to understand about claims such as the above, is that they are just that, claims. No one knows with any certainty who is behind these bombings. The picture we're getting of Iraq is so blurry there was initially some doubt about the elementary facts of the Karbala bombings -- whether they were the result of suicide bombers or mortar attacks. For instance, here they were suicide bombers; and here they were rocket attacks. Given such confusions over the basic facts of an important story, one shouldn't have a lot of confidence in the non-elementary commentary and analysis found in many news stories about the identity and motives of the perpetrators.

The case for believing al-Qaeda is responsible for the Karbala bombings is completely circumstantial -- a letter turned up a few weeks ago in which Zarqawi urged al-Qaeda to foment civil war in Iraq. The thing is there's not a lot of reason to believe in either the authenticity of the letter or of Zarqawi's connection to al-Qaeda , and, given the Bush administration's vested interest in portraying Iraq as a stable country, good reason to be skeptical. Here's Ritt Goldstein by way of the Asia Times:

According to US sources, Zarqawi allegedly leads Ansar al-Islam, a group that "clearly is supported to some degree by al-Qaeda", said US General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Describing Zarqawi, the US State Department says he is "a close associate of Osama bin Laden". But also according to official US sources, Zarqawi's relationship to bin Laden is "uncertain", and he instead leads a Jordanian extremist group, al-Tawhid. And most notably, a recent report by the intelligence branch of the US Department of State stressed that al-Qaeda and Ansar appear quite unrelated and independent of each other, though last Thursday media reports by US officials have again claimed the contrary. But while contradictions abound, the killing has continued, with speculation existing that the Iraq war's hawks are manipulating its description for their own purposes, Zarqawi's alleged letter providing an example.

In the alleged letter to al-Qaeda, Zarqawi invites the group to Iraq in hopes of initiating a sequence of attacks which will set off civil war. However, US officials have long claimed that al-Qaeda is already in Iraq. This past week, US civil administrator L Paul Bremer charged that the last several months have marked an upsurge of Iraqi attacks by "the professional terrorists of al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam".

Of course, a most curious thing is that if indeed al-Qaeda is in the country, why did it need to be invited to Iraq by Zarqawi? And the US military does claim the alleged letter is authentic. But such "confusion" has been evident since US Secretary of State Colin Powell's UN address of a year ago.

[ ... ]

According to the Washington-area defense think-tank Global Security, only 2.8 percent of those arrested in Iraq have been non-Iraqis. But accusations of foreign terrorists and links to al-Qaeda do serve to obscure the domestic factors driving Iraq violence - think Lebanese civil war - and in the "war on terror" they also serve to legitimize the war effort. And should civil war break out, the Bush administration has its alleged Zarqawi letter showing who's to blame.

Furthermore, previous suicide bombers have been shown conclusively to have been Iraqis not foreign agents: (from "Iraq suicide bombers appear to be natives", LA Times, 3/1/04)

Namir Awaad was a suicide bomber made in Iraq.

There is no evidence he belonged to al-Qaida or trained in a terrorist camp. He spent 23 apparently uneventful years on the planet until the chilly morning of Dec. 9.

That's when the slender, bearded loner strode up to a Bradley fighting vehicle guarding a U.S. Army base here and detonated a backpack bomb, blowing himself apart and injuring a soldier.

Because a quirk of physics left his face intact, Awaad became one of the few suicide bombers in Iraq to be definitively identified.

BushCo's claims that al-Qaeda is responsible for all of the terrorism in Iraq is understandable wishful thinking. Understandable, because if they were to look truthfully at the situation they would have to face the fact that civil war in Iraq is probably already underway.

(thanks to Cosmic Iguana for the LA Times link)

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