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

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

What's the Matter with Kansas? 

Yesterday Salon posted an interview with Thomas Frank about his new book that attempts to explain why the American Midwest forsook its leftist populist beginnings and swung rightward over the course of the 20th century. Frank is the founder and editor of the little journal The Baffler, a unique voice on the left, very hard to concisely describe -- perhaps the excerpt below will give you a feeling of what Baffler articles are like:

Q: One of the strongest portions of your book is when you reveal that you understand the conservative backlash because you were part of it. It takes a big man to admit to having been a teenage Reaganite.

A:[Laughter.] What's really funny is that the transition that I made -- I wrote this entire book about how material self-interest has been submerged in this culture. If you think about it, it would've been much more in my interest, coming out of college, to be on the right. If I had stuck with it, I'd be sitting pretty today. Think about the right-wing magazines that are similar to the Baffler. There's a libertarian magazine, same cut size, publishes articles of about the same length. It's edited by quality people, they do a good job. Their circulation is smaller than ours, but everybody that works there has healthcare and generous salaries.

Q: A welfare system for libertarians.

A: Yes! They go in and out of the think-tank world and the political world. I mean, they just go from one cushy gig to the next.

[ ... ]

Q: OK, this is a dumb question, but given your personal feelings about Reagan, did you have any emotional or visceral response to his death?

A: Well, I never like media frenzies. Those are annoying. But yeah, there was a little bit of wistfulness, and I'll describe it to you. I was watching TV and they were running a lot of news footage from that era, the late '70s and early '80s. It was images of the fabled Reagan Democrats, you know, blue-collar guys voting for Reagan. I was thinking about the world that those guys came out of, where 20 percent of the private-sector workforce was in a union, and blue-collar people could live next door to white-collar people. The gap between the social classes wasn't that huge. They loved that world so much, they loved that affluent society. They voted for this candidate who evoked it so well, who talked about it so beautifully. And he killed it. Conservatism killed that world. It's so sad. It's just tragic. What's that old term? One of the great ironies of American history. But this is way beyond irony. It's tragedy.

[ ... ]

Q:You blame the Democratic Party, to a significant extent, for its own predicament in places like Kansas. You use the phrase "criminally stupid" to describe its strategy and tactics since the 1970s. Explain what you mean.

There are two different errors that were made, and both of them have amounted to jettisoning the working class, so that the working class is no longer the central focus of the party. In the McGovern era they described this as the "new politics." The error of that was apparent at the time, because McGovern went down in flames. The idea was, we'll build a new coalition around students, feminists, environmentalists and so on.

The Democrats are forever trying to come up with some kind of demographic coalition that will get them to 51 percent. They talk about that all the time. That was one of the first efforts to do that, and it was discredited really fast. But the Democratic Leadership Council is, I think, a far more poisonous purveyor of this idea, getting rid of the working class. Or not getting rid of them, but no longer appealing to them as the center of the coalition, the bulwark of the party. Instead, it's suburban professionals or whoever.

Bill Clinton is, in their minds, the great success story for this strategy. He signed off on NAFTA, on welfare reform, on so many other Republican issues. He basically accepted the Reagan agenda on economic issues, whether it was deregulating the banks, doing away with New Deal farm policy, doing away with welfare, deregulating telecom, free trade. In all those ways, he was essentially a Republican. But he fought it out very vigorously on the cultural issues. And according to the New Democrats, this is the way to do it.

They point to Clinton and say, "Look, we won the presidency! We won twice! Therefore this is a great strategy." And I would point out that while they won the presidency, they are no longer the majority party, either in Congress or the nation. That is a staggering reversal. Look, when you and I were growing up, the Democrats were always the majority. It was the party of the working class. Duh! It was the party of the majority. I thought the day would never come that they were no longer in that position. Now, I believe Republicans actually outnumber Democrats in registration. That is staggering.

It has happened because of this strategy. You take people who would be natural Democrats -- because they work in industry, they're blue-collar people -- and you suddenly remove the economic issues from the table. You say, well, the Democrats are the same as the Republicans on those issues now. And all that's left for them to consider are the cultural issues.

I talked to several people in Wichita -- I quote one of them in the book -- who come right out and say, "When the Democrats went with NAFTA, they no longer had anything to offer me, and I started voting Republican." That is a catastrophe.

A friend of mine pointed out that when the Democrats decided they would no longer contest these elections on economic issues -- of course none of these blanket statements are 100 percent true. There are still Democrats who do fight it out on economic issues, and they tend to do all right.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Ireland Welcomes Bush 

Bush went to Ireland yesterday for a summit with European Union leaders ... and I think it's safe to say the Irish aren't real thrilled about it. The picture to the left is from Dublin (here's more) where there were about 10000 protesters. Protests in other towns such as Galway and Shannon attracted thousands. Bush touched down at Shannon Airport last night sparking, go figure, the largest security operation in the history of Ireland. Here's an excerpt from The Scotsman's coverage:

A quiet corner of rural Ireland was encased in a steel cage tonight as military helicopters patrolled the skies above thousands of troops.

The normally tranquil Dromoland Castle in Co Clare became a fort as US President George W Bush touched down at the nearby Shannon Airport.

The famed "cead mile failte" or 100,000 Irish welcomes were replaced by anti-war protesters who gathered outside lines of more than 2,000 troops and heavy armour.

All routes to Shannon Airport and the luxurious castle grounds were sealed off and police officers paced roadsides keeping a watchful eye that no-one strayed into unapproved areas, while camouflaged army vehicles waited in the bushes.

Local people simply gazed on in amazement as the largest security operation in the history of the Irish state swung into action and transformed their peaceful neighbourhoods into something not unlike a war film set.

The surreal atmosphere was compounded by the location of chemical toilets like those used at music festivals at road junctions to accommodate the needs of hundreds of troops and garda officers patrolling the remote countryside.

Previous American presidents had received a warm welcome to Ireland but Mr Bush was kept well away from the people of Shannon, the majority of whom were firmly against his visit.

The people of Shannon are understandably pissed off by all the hullabaloo surrounding a visit that they never wanted in the first place: (from Ireland Online)

A number of residents of Shannon in Co Clare have decided to boycott a pass system introduced by the gardaí for US President George Bush’s visit this weekend.

Anyone living or working inside the security cordon erected around the town has been asked to apply for a special pass to allow them to move around during Mr Bush’s visit.

However, many have refused to comply and others are planning to burn their passes in a protest tomorrow night.

One resident, Eilís McGettigan, said: "It’s an infringement on my right of movement, my right of freedom. I’m living here. I’m not the visitor. George Bush is. Give him a pass."

Bush was not, however, given a pass by Irish TV: RTE correspondent Carole Coleman didn't roll over quite as much as the press does in this country when interviewing the war president causing Bush's brain to slip off the rails that Karl Rove has cobbled together for it, leading to the following amusing exchange: (via Dan Froomkin at wapo.com)

Coleman: "The world is a more dangerous place today."

Bush: "Why do you say that? . . . "

Coleman: "I think there is a feeling that the world has become a more dangerous place because you have taken the focus off Al Qaeda and diverted into Iraq. Do you not see that the world is a more dangerous place? I saw four of your soldiers lying dead, on the television, the other day. . . . "

Bush: "You know, listen, nobody cares more about the death than I do.

Coleman: "Is there a point at which --

Bush: "Let me finish. Please, please, let me finish, then you can follow up, if you don't mind. Nobody cares more about the deaths than I do. I care about it a lot. But I do believe that the world is a safer place, and becoming a safer place. . . .

"People join terrorist organizations because there's no hope and there's no chance to raise their families in a peaceful world where there is not freedom ... so the idea is to promote freedom and at the same time protect our security."

in which Bush makes a statement that is simultaneously incoherent, stupid, and a nonsequitor.

Bush's handlers were so angry that Coleman dared to ask Dear Leader mildly difficult questions that they threw a temper tantrum, filing a complaint with the Irish embassy claiming that Coleman was "disrespectful" of Bush and canceled an RTE interview with Laura Bush: (from "Angry White House pulls RTE interview", Irish Independent)

THE White House has lodged a complaint with the Irish Embassy in Washington over RTE journalist Carole Coleman's interview with US President George Bush.

And it is believed the President's staff have now withdrawn from an exclusive interview which was to have been given to RTE this morning by First Lady Laura Bush.

[ ... ]

The Irish Independent learned last night that the White House told Ms Coleman that she interrupted the president unnecessarily and was disrespectful.

She also received a call from the White House in which she was admonished for her tone.

And it emerged last night that presidential staff suggested to Ms Coleman as she went into the interview that she ask him a question on the outfit that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern [prime minister of Ireland] wore to the G8 summit.

That last sentence is priceless ... Note to reporters -- a good topic when interviewing the President of the United States: fashion.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Slave Labor in Iraq 

Halliburton subsidiary KBR is subcontracting Indians for menial jobs in Iraq and subjecting them to working conditions that amount to slavery: (from "Indians carry horror tales from US camps", rediff.com, 6/25/04)

More Indian workers are returning from Iraq with distressing tales of torture and human rights violations in the military camps of the United States.

"It is slavery there in the American camp. We are being treated worse than animals," Peter Thomas, a native of Mavelikkara in Kerala, who did odd jobs such as cleaning and laundry works in an American army camp, told rediff.com

Thomas along with two of his friends Anil Kumar and Justin C Antony reached Kerala this week, after the Indian government intervened to rescue them in the wake of escalating tension and violence in Iraq.

Thomas said that he was recruited for a cook's job in Jordan through a Kochi-Mumbai-based manpower agency. "But as soon I reached Jordan, I was taken to Iraq by road. I was not alone. There were at least 60 Indians who were with me. We were taken to different American camps," he said.

Thomas said he was not 'worried working in Iraq' initially as his only motive was to work hard and earn some money. "I was not against working in an American army camp. But when my first salary came, I was shattered. It was just $165," Thomas said.

The average monthly salary of an Indian worker in Iraq is $250, including daily overtime of four hours, Thomas pointed out. But the Americans deduct from this salary the cost of our food and accommodation. An Indian worker finally gets only $165 in hand.

"I had paid Rs 60,000 to the Kerala travel agent to go to the Gulf. I have been in Iraq for six months now. But I have come back empty-handed without earning much," Thomas said.

He said when the Indian workers protested against the 'low salary', many of them were bashed up by their employer Dawood and Partner, a Jordanian firm.

Most Indian workers, he said, were attached to the Jordanian company that got the sub-contract from KBR, an American company.

Most Indian workers are deployed for cleaning, laundry works and supplying food in the camps. But Thomas said while the army personnel and supervisors of the companies, are provided with safety gadgets like bullet-proof vests, the Indian workers are denied these facilities.

"We lived in dingy cubicles in the makeshift army camp. We never got food on time. Our movements were always restricted. We never got newspapers to read. We were allowed to call our homes only once in a month," Thomas said.

The Iraq returnees claimed that the living and working conditions in the American army camps are miserable and 'labour and human rights violations are the order of the day'.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

What Scottie Talks About When Scottie Talks About Torture 

From the White House press briefing two days ago:

Q So his position is a moral position? Or does he, in addition to that, believe that torture is not effective, just doesn't work?

MR. McCLELLAN: He has spoken out against torture. The United States is a leader when it comes to --

Q Does he think it works?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- confronting torture and speaking out against torture. And he does not condone it. Nor does he authorize torture. Let me be very clear on that.

Q You're not being clear about my question -- does he think it works?

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of where, he spoke out on it last year, he spoke out on it in other circumstances prior to that when he was asked about this very issue.

Q -- had he seen any of the memos --

Q I'm asking a specific question: Does he think it's effective, ever?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're getting into hypothetical situations. He does not condone torture. Let me repeat --

Q I don't think anybody that heard that question thought it was hypothetical.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- he would never authorize the use of torture.

Q Would never? Has never, or would never?

MR. McCLELLAN: He has never, and he has no intention of ever authorizing the use of torture.

Q So none of the memos ever came to him, that have been revealed now?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Dana.

I found the above interesting ... Scottie actually made an assertion: George W. Bush has never and will never authorize the use of torture -- which is why in 2002 Bush had the Justice Department write him a fifty page memo explaining why it is legal for the president to authorize the use of torture. Actually, Scottie's assertion is quite a claim given that the 2002 torture memo -- that defined torture very narrowly such that only the most extreme cases of physical abuse would constitute torture -- has now been officially repudiated.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Gold from the Onion 

A commenter pointed out the following Onion story, which is pure genius:

Coalition: Vast Majority Of Iraqis Still Alive

BAGHDAD—As the Coalition Provisional Authority prepares to hand power over to an Iraqi-led interim government on June 30, CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer publicly touted the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"As the Coalition's rule draws to a close, the numbers show that we have an awful lot to be proud of," Bremer said Tuesday. "As anyone who's taken a minute and actually looked at the figures can tell you, the vast majority of Iraqis are still alive—as many as 99 percent. While 10,000 or so Iraqi civilians have been killed, pretty much everyone is not dead."

According to U.S. Department of Defense statistics, of the approximately 24 million Iraqis who were not killed, nearly all are not in a military prison. Bremer said "a good number" of those Iraqis who are in jail have been charged with a crime, and most of them have enjoyed a prison stay free of guard-dog attacks, low-watt electrocutions, and sexual humiliation.

U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt explained the coalition's accomplishments in geographical terms.

"There are vast sections of the country where one can go outside unarmed during the daylight hours," Kimmitt said, speaking from a heavily guarded base outside of Baghdad. "Even in cities where fighting has occurred, many neighborhoods have not been torn apart by gunfire. And, throughout the country, more towns than I could name off the top of my head have never been touched by a bomb at all."

Kimmitt said the bulk of the nation's public buildings are still standing.

The rest of it is pretty funny too.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

From the mailbag 

I was recently contacted by a new blog and a new site and have put up links to them on the left side bar.

The blog is Abolish the Death Penalty -- as far as I know, the only blog dedicated solely to this issue. Single issue political blogs seem difficult to pull off to me -- unless you're okay with infrequent updates -- but its tagline says that Abolish the Death Penalty plans to "tell the personal stories of crime victims and their loved ones, people on death row and their loved ones and those activists who are working toward abolition," which seems like a pretty good angle to me.

The site is Vote Your Conscience and is "dedicated to persuading ordinary people to use their votes to effect change."

Friday, June 18, 2004

Left I on Venezuela 

Eli over at Left I on the news has a good post up about the coverage of the current situation in Venezuela by the Times and the Post. I especially liked this part:

Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, they discover the scare story that the Times ran two weeks ago and was discussed by Left I on the News - that dastardly Hugo Chavez is attempting to "buy" the election by actually spending the oil income of the country on social needs! The fiend!

[ ... ]

"But critics say Chavez is pandering to the poor to save his political career and gambling irresponsibly with the long-term fiscal health of a state company that provides half the country's revenue.

"Most of the programs are directly funded and administered by the oil company. It has budgeted $1.7 billion for social projects this year, up from just a few million in past years. And Chavez recently said that he would funnel another $2 billion of company revenue into a social spending account. This week, Chavez announced that from now on, he would refer to the company as 'Petroleos del Pueblo de Venezuela,' the oil company of the 'people of Venezuela.'

I'd love to know how it is "playing on a nation's fears" to spend $2 billion on social needs. Or how it qualifies as "pandering," defined as "catering to the lower tastes and desires of others or exploit their weaknesses." You know, those "lower tastes and desires" like education, housing, and health care.

Well, as everybody knows the only sane thing to do with public assets is hand them over to private corporations ...

Thursday, June 17, 2004

A Little Creativity, Please 

So evidence has come to light directly implicating Rumsfeld in violating international law regarding the treatment of Iraqi prisoners:

Pentagon officials tell NBC News that late last year, at the same time U.S. military police were allegedly abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered that one Iraqi prisoner be held "off the books" hidden entirely from the International Red Cross and anyone else in possible violation of international law.

What's the official defense of Rumsfeld's order? -- Perhaps, Ashcroft's favorite, the tried and true in-the-interest-of-national-security-we-can't-tell-you-why-he-did-it-but-there-is-a-very-good-reason defense? Or maybe the just a terse, "Trust us. We're experts."? Good old changing the subject? No, no, they're going with the oldest political excuse in the book, blaming the guy who just resigned:

At the request of CIA Director George Tenet, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered the military to secretly hold a suspected terrorist in Iraq, a Pentagon spokesman said.

[ ... ]

"The director of central intelligence requested he not be assigned an internment serial number while the CIA worked to determnine his precise disposition," Whitman said.

Which, you know, maybe sheds a little a light on why George Tenet did what he did.

Impeaching Bush, Subpoena-ing Ashcroft, Etc. 

From the Associated Press:

More than 400 legal scholars from across the country urged Congress Wednesday to consider impeaching President Bush and any high-level administration officials who approved the Iraqi prisoner abuses.

In a letter released by two Harvard Law School professors, scholars asked Congress to identify everyone who should be held accountable for the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, and determine what sanctions are appropriate. The sanctions, they said, could include "impeachment and removal from office of any civil officer of the United States responsible."

But Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., meeting with the professors, declined to specifically address the impeachment issue. He instead said the best way to correct the matter is to "elect John Kerry" president.

He said Democratic senators are trying to round up enough support for a vote Thursday to subpoena the Justice Department for memos that could have laid the legal groundwork for justifying the prisoner abuse. Attorney General John Ashcroft has declined to make public the Justice Department memos, written in 2002.

As of thirty minutes ago, the vote mentioned above hadn't taken place yet. Here's Reuters:

The top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Republican-led panel on Thursday to subpoena Justice Department memos on U.S. torture policy of enemy combatants in the war on terror.

The request by Patrick Leahy of Vermont, made at the start of a scheduled committee meeting, triggered a spirited debate. Some Democrats admitted it was unlikely Leahy could muster the votes to issue a subpoena, but they at least wanted to put the committee on record.

A vote was expected later on Thursday.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Down The Memory Hole 

So ... uh ... Grover Norquist, the guy that Tucker Carlson called "a mean-spirited, humorless, dishonest little creep" who's like "the leering, drunken uncle everyone else wishes would stay home"*, wants to put Reagan on the ten dollar bill. Which is, I must say, an idea that makes me cringe but it's hard for me to get up in arms over such a dopy topic given that (a) it's probably not going to happen and (b) the motive of the Reagan 10-spot proponents is obviously to make leftists cringe -- what the hell else could their motive be? Let the right waste its time on issues that don't matter ... Fine by me.

However, there is a related issue that I can get a little excited about: What the hell ever happened to Grover Norquist being in bed with the terrorists!? Jesus, does anyone else remember several months ago when what's-his-name -- Christopher Hitchen's new role model -- published that big exposé about Grover's strange bedfellows? Look, to be honest, I actually thought at the time that the FrontPageMag.com piece was probably the fevered product of rightwing anti-Islam paranoia gone horribly wrong -- but what the hell do I know? I do know this, however: if the target of the accusations had been a liberal or leftist activist, Ashcroft would have had the stake in the ground and the firewood piled and doused with gasoline before you could have blinked your fucking eye...

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Sidney Jones 

One of the great ironies of the Bush administration's characterization of its imperial adventures as a global war on terror is the license and rhetorical cover that this characterization has given to repressive regimes throughout the world to pursue their own terroristic policies. From Russia and Chechnya to Turkey and the Kurds to Israel and Palestine, the familiar dynamic in which a powerful state is in conflict with a weaker opponent over issues of regional autonomy or control of natural resources, in the post-911 world, consistently gets re-cast such that the state is nobly fighting a war against terrorists.

A case in point is Indonesia, in places like Aceh, Papua, the Moluccas, and East Timor, under Suharto, Indonesia was one of the most appallingly terroristic regimes of the twentieth century. Suharto is gone but old habits die hard; as recently as 2001, two thousand people were killed in the Indonesian province of Aceh, where the Acehnese desire for independence is in conflict with Indonesia's efforts to control the region's huge reserves of natural gas.

But this fact did not stop the Bush administration from admitting Indonesia into its "coalition of the willing", a club that seems to have a single condition of membership, subservience to US interests. Indonesia was an important addition to the coalition despite its history of state-sponsored terrorism, because it, like Pakistan, is a predominantly Muslim nation.

Given its history and its recent change of fortune regarding the warmness of its relationship to the United States, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the Indonesian government has just expelled the most respected expert on terrorism in South East Asia: (from "JI expert ordered to leave Indonesia", The Age, 6/2/04)

Indonesian authorities have moved to immediately expel one of the foremost experts on terror group Jemaah Islamiah.

Officials hand-delivered a letter to Sidney Jones yesterday, from the Immigration Department of the Justice Ministry of the provincial Jakarta Office, telling her to leave the country by midnight tonight.

The move marks a significant worsening of the dispute between the Indonesian office of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, which Ms Jones heads, and the Indonesian Government.

"We have just got a letter saying 'You are ordered to leave immediately'," Ms Jones said. "Don't let anybody tell you this is not deportation."

Ms Jones failed to get an extension of her work permit several months ago but had expected to stay in Indonesia at least until next week, when her visa expires.

The decision has been criticised by academics and was raised by journalists with President Megawati at a press conference on Monday.

Mrs Megawati denied the decision was related to terrorism.

The most informative commentary I have read on the Sidney Jones story is "The Expulsion of Sidney Jones from Indonesia: Another Cover-Up in the 'War on Terror'?" by Farish A. Noor, in which Noor speculates that Jones is being deported because she uncovered and documented links between the government of Indonesia and Islamist terrorist organizations. Noor implies Indonesia is using these organizations to create chaos and strife in its disputed territories that it can then use as a pretext for further military intervention.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Good Old "War President" 

Um ... I don't really have anything to say about this (other than, maybe, you go girl):

The showing of an anti-war campaign poster in a D/FW Airport terminal has sparked a he-said-she-said clash between the world's biggest airline and a self-described "recovering Republican" on her way back from a Libertarian convention.

Carole Ward, 57, says she was ejected from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Tuesday night after showing military recruits an 8 ½-by-11-inch poster of a composite illustration of President Bush made up of the faces of soldiers who have died during the Iraq conflict.

An American Airlines spokesman said that some people found the poster offensive and that Ms. Ward became belligerent with the airline's gate agent.

"She's not only going around talking to these recruits, saying they shouldn't join the Army, they shouldn't fight in the war, she's also forcing [the poster] on them," said Tim Wagner, American Airlines spokesman.

He added that Ms. Ward presented a security threat and made some passengers feel uncomfortable.

But Ms. Ward, who was returning home to Albuquerque, N.M., from Atlanta, said she started a conversation with a few recruits among several dozen passing through the airport. She was waiting after her plane returned to the gate because of thunderstorms.

She passed around the poster, which bore the title "Faces of Death" and messages to stop a possible military draft and elect Libertarian Aaron Russo president. (He lost the nomination.)

"We weren't really causing a scene," she said. "I was talking to them like they were my kids."

Rome Welcomes Bush 

. Click here, here, here, or here to see pictures of the protests erupting from Bush's visit to Italy. The photo to the left is from Rome -- I'm not sure if there were protests in other Italian cities. The links go to galleries hosted by an Italian newspaper, la Repubblica, click on the thumbnails to see the pictures in each gallery. Here's the Times' coverage of the Rome protests.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Felony Charges in an Abu Ghraib-related Crime ... 

From a report posted on The San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center site:

Joe Previtera, a twenty one year old student at Boston College, was arrested Wednesday and charged with felonies after dressing as a hooded Iraqi prisoner in front of a military recruitment center on Tremont St. in downtown Boston. In his arraignment today a Suffolk County District Attorney suggested that Mr. Previtera's bail be set at $10,000. However, a National Lawyers Guild attorney and Mr. Previtera's mother, also an attorney, persuaded the judge to free Previtera on personal recognizance.

Previtera faces misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace and felony charges of making a false bomb threat and using a hoax device. The charges apparently reflect the District Attorney's concern that Mr. Previtera might have been mistaken for a terrorist. Witnesses say that passersby seemed unconcerned by Mr. Previtera's actions.

Click the above link to see a picture of Joe in action. ... looks like he may catch a break: (from The Boston Herald)

Prosecutors are considering ``amending'' bomb-threat charges against a Boston College student who mimicked an infamous photo from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to protest inmate abuse by American armed forces.

``The young man's appearance was putting some passers-by in fear,'' David Procopio, spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley, said yesterday, ``but we're not aware that he indicated he had a bomb.''

They're "not aware that he indicated he had a bomb" but charged him with making bomb threats anyway because, you know, what the hell?

You don't say ... 

So here's why Bush is lawyering himself up ... according to Capitol Hill Blue

Witnesses told a federal grand jury President George W. Bush knew about, and took no action to stop, the release of a covert CIA operative's name to a journalist in an attempt to discredit her husband, a critic of administration policy in Iraq.

Now, maybe I don't have to point this out but this allegation flies in the face of the White House's on record version of the Plame affair, afterall according to Scottie McClellan

The president believes leaking classified information is a very serious matter and it should be pursued to the fullest extent by the appropriate agency and the appropriate agency is the Department of Justice

and Scottie also directly stated that Bush knew nothing more about the leak than anyone else: (same source as above)

Of course in any matter like this we will cooperate with the Department of Justice. There has been no information brought to us or that has come to our attention beyond the media reports to suggest there was White House involvement.

Also, Novak's defense has always been that the leak was accidental, or at least unplanned, that it came out in the course of a conversation about Wilson:

Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador Wilson's report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction. Another senior official told me the same thing.*

It's kind of hard to believe the above if Bush "knew about, and took no action to stop" the accidental leak before it happened...

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Spy vs Spy Chalabi-Style 

Well, we finally got some specifics regarding the Chalabi-was-a-double-agent story and the resulting investigation from the New York Times.

Chalabi spilled to the Iranian intelligence community that the US had broken the encryption scheme that Iran used to transmit sensitive information. The US intercepted a cable in which an Iranian official in Baghdad reported on Chalabi's tale, and the cable was, you guessed it, encrypted with the broken code. Apparently the Iranian operative didn't trust the veracity of Chalabi-derived intelligence any more than anyone else. God, you can't make this stuff up ...

So apparently the espionage investigation is the real deal, according to the NYT

The inquiry, still in an early phase, is focused on a very small number of people who were close to Mr. Chalabi and also had access to the highly restricted information about the Iran code.

Anybody care to bet against Richard Perle being among the "very small number of people"?

Scott and Judy and Ahmed 

Amy Goodman just interviewed Scott Ritter on her show. Of Judith Miller, Ritter said:

I was called on occasion by people at The New York Times, but not during the critical buildup to the war. There was a period of time, I would say from the summer of 2002, through the invasion in the spring of 2003, where I was pretty much persona non grata with The New York Times and the Washington Post. When I did talk to reporters, they let it be known that my name was not even supposed to be published in The New York Times. The one time that the New York Times did make an effort to publish my name was when they hired Barry Barrak, to write a profile of me in the New York Times magazine, which I think will go down as quite an embarrassment for Mr. Barrak, not for me. I don't have anything to do with that story; it's his own fiction. They weren't seeking the truth. I know Judith Miller. Prior to this time, we would talk often. I would do my best to set her straight on her stories. She would listen, take notes. Nothing I would say would appear in her pieces. Then during the time of my blackout, there were no phone calls. She contacted me after the war. Again, she was trying to prove her point that there were weapons of mass destruction. I would set her straight on the mobile biological labs and other points that she was raising. Nothing I said would appear in the paper. Judith Miller, I agree with Mr. MacArthur, has an agenda. It's not one centered on the truth. It's centered on promoting Judy Miller and her biases. Unfortunately for her and The New York Times and the American people, truth has caught up. ... Everything they were writing was a lie, not just a nuanced misrepresentation of fact. Judy Miller was running stories from the engineer, Hydari, who was provided by Chalabi, and I was able to provide five or six points where I directly contradicted him and said, if I can contradict him just on the surface of what he is saying, you cannot run with the substance of the rest of that material. This is a man who is not believable. His data doesn't stack up technically. His data doesn't stack up logically. His data doesn't stack up on any of the tests that one would use. There's no independent confirmation of anything this man is saying, why are you running with it on the front page of your newspaper.

of Ahmed Chalabi:

... I met Chalabi in the summer of 1998. He was working with certain elements in the Senate, particularly Danielle Pletka, who at the time was a lead counseling for the Republicans on the U.S. Senate. Her husband, Steven Ratmaker was a legal counsel for the Republicans, and the House of Representatives. They were working on the Iraq liberation act at that time. They let it be known that there would be a position for me, that would be put together by the United States congress, on a committee that would be overseeing Ahmed Chalabi's group. I would be working with Chalabi, paid for by the U.S. government. What Chalabi did I when I balked at this, he thought I was balking at it from a monetary stand point, meaning that they were not going to pay me enough. I was balking at it from an integrity standpoint, meaning I wasn’t going to play this game. He let me know that once he was president of Iraq, he will have control of the Iraq's resources and that he has oil concessions that he would be able to dole out and that I would quote, unquote, be well taken care of. That, I also rejected.

Too Nice at Gitmo 

Chalmers Johnson, in his Sorrows of Empire, mentions a fun fact that I hadn't heard before ... The original Commander of Guantánamo Bay in 2002, Brigadier General Rick Baccus, was fired for being "too nice" to detainees. His successor, Major General Geoffrey Miller, was the guy who was later moved to Iraq to reform the Iraqi prison-based intelligence gathering operation. From the Guardian's recent account of the Baccus story:

Gen Baccus insists that he did his job honourably. "In no way did I ever interfere in interrogations, but also at that time the interrogations never forced anyone to be treated inhumanely, certainly not when I was there."

Although the detainees at Guantánamo were not given the protections of the Geneva Convention, Gen Baccus says he took steps to ensure they were not subjected to abuse.

"We had instances of individuals that used verbal abuse, and any time that that was reported we took action immediately and removed the individual from contact with detainees." Gen Baccus said there were fewer than 10 instances of abuse during his seven months in command.

After his departure, the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, gave military intelligence control over all aspects of Guantánamo, including the MPs, and Gen Miller was appointed commander.

It would be informative to read a news report that examines in detail who made the decision to fire Baccus and how the firing came about; afterall, assuming Baccus is being honest when he says prisoners were treated humanely under his watch, the story of Baccus's unceremonious departure is the story of how the institutionalized abuse of Guantánamo detainees began.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Brits vs. Yanks 

An interesting email debate appeared recently in the Columbia Journalism Review. The players are Leonard Doyle, the foreign editor at The Independent in London, and Michael Getler, the ombudsman at The Washington Post; the topic: who does journalism right, the US or the UK?

Personally I think the CJR is making a little too big a deal of the difference between the two styles of journalism. The CJR's introduction sketches the standard view of journalism as practiced on each side of the Atlantic: US papers strive for objectivity while British (and European) papers exhibit strong political leanings. To be honest, I haven't read enough European newspapers to know if this general position is true or false (I suspect it's true), but there's a more specific position, a position that seems to be implied by the content of the debate, that I think is false. If the argument is that there exist bigtime European newspapers that are left-leaning while major US newspapers toe the so-called moderate line, the argument is false because in order to make it true one must adopt too torturously convoluted of a definition of "left-leaning".

Being anti-Bush and being skeptical of the pragmatic and moral soundness of American foreign policy does not equal being leftist. The BBC is not farther to the left than the Washington Post because it is beholden to most of the same interests as the Washington Post, the interests of elite decision-makers, rather than those of the general population. John Pilger said as much when he wrote the following in his "Impartiality Of British Journalism":

During a debate on the coverage of the miners' strike at the Edinburgh Television Festival, the BBC's industrial editor at the time, Martin Adeney, described trucks bringing coal to a steelworks as having made a "successful run". As Ken Loach pointed out, it was a successful run only if you were on the side of the government, not if you were a striking miner. The assumption in Adeney's statement runs deep throughout liberal journalism, of which the BBC is the standard-bearer.

The only difference is that the major British newspapers aren't beholden to exactly the same interests as their American conterparts; they don't have to worry so much about staying on the good side of the current White House.

That said, though, I do rather like The Independent and it's run some stories that I was surprised to see in the mainstream press ... Here's a little of what Leonard Doyle had to say. He's responding to Getler's opinion about why the US coverage of the run-up to the Iraq war was so bad:

Mike Getler accepts that the press fell down on the job, that it was outflanked by the Bush administration. Surely it is now time for a fundamental reappraisal of the way the press operated. Because, like it or not, the media were co-conspirators in America’s rush into this illegal war.

How badly we needed before the war solid reporting that explained how a kitchen cabinet of neoconservatives and their bellicose friends were cooking up a war that has brought so much bloodshed to Iraq and danger to the world. Surely we need to reassess the whole concept of embedded reporting. Consider this conundrum: How could it be that Scott Ritter, the most famous U.S. inspector and the one person who got it right about Saddam Hussein’s supposed arsenal of WMD, was treated with total suspicion? Meanwhile, dubious exiles with no inherent knowledge of WMD were treated with great respect by TV and newspapers.

One explanation may lie in the structure of U.S. print journalism, where big media organizations like the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washinton Post are lumbering beasts with no real competition breathing down their necks. The result is an overcautious press that has fantastic resources at its disposal, but frankly disappoints when it comes to exposing the administration to rigorous scrutiny.

It’s all very well being told by Mike Getler that there was a lot of good, tough reporting going on. I’m sure he is right. But as has been said many times before about his newspaper: You never know on which page of The Washinton Post you will find the page-one story.

It's nice to see the foreign editor of a major newspaper making the same argument regarding Ritter and Chalabi that I made a few posts back...

[edit: removed clause that implied the BBC has advertisers]

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