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

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Lawless World 

The publication of a new book has re-awakened accusations that Tony Blair committed a war crime by aiding Bush in waging his war. From the Sunday Herald:

Enemies looking for legal evidence that would brand Blair a potential war criminal have seized upon the publication next week of Lawless World, by University College London law professor and QC Philippe Sands. His book is a detailed account of how the attorney general, Peter Goldsmith, changed his mind on the legality of the war within a crucial 10-day period in March 2003. An added embarrassment for the government is that Sands is attached to Cherie Blair’s legal chambers, Matrix.

Goldsmith presented his first advice to Downing Street on March 7 in a 13-page document which laid out the argument that going to war without a new UN resolution sanctioning hostilities “could be found to be illegal”.

“The March 7 memorandum is rather equivocal,” says Sands. “It is as well-balanced a document as one would expect from a lawyer of that quality. It sets out pros and cons and reaches a conclusion, including a view that it would be safer to have a second resolution.”

Yet 10 days later – on March 17 – Goldsmith published another report in which he felt able to state that the existing UN resolution 1441 would, by itself, provide a legal basis for invading Iraq.

What happened to change his mind – and indeed the exact basis on which he issued his original warning – have still not been revealed.

I found the following observation in the Herald piece dryly humorous:

For the US the legality of the war was not a great issue. In a neo-conservative dominated political arena, in a country still reeling from 9/11, the idea that international law could stop military retaliation by the world’s strongest nation was a non-starter. Once Congress gave Bush the authority to use force the war against Iraq was on.

In the UK, the status of the war in international law was crucial, and not just to satisfy sceptical Cabinet members and Labour backbenchers who were dubious about supporting military action. Senior British military officials wanted assurances that the war, which like any conflict involved killing, would be within international law.

Yeah, you would think that when you want to wage a war -- which, as noted above, often does involve killing -- it's important to make sure your war is legal, as a general rule. But if you live in the good old U. S. of A, you would be wrong, or at least very unfashionable. Here -- as I never get tired of pointing out -- one of the chief intellectual architects of the Iraq War admitted that the war was illegal from the get go. Actually, "admitted" is the wrong word. Richard Perle kind of alluded to the illegality of the invasion in the context of making another point -- the illegality of the war being such an obvious and a trifling matter...

Powell at Rest 

The UK Telegraph interviewed Colin Powell at his new home, a little office in the building of the Armed Forces Benefits Association, a long way from the halls of power. Powell comes off, as ever, as an affable voice of straight Clinton-esque supposedly moderate foreign policy -- playing nice with Europe, expanding NATO, etc. etc. -- but for all his supposed reasonableness Powell still has a troubling characteristic shared by the other boys in the club that just revoked his membership: he often says things that are false.

Take for example this excerpt from the Telegraph interview:

So, in Resolution 1441 at the United Nations, "we gave Saddam an entry-level test: give us a declaration that answers all the outstanding questions. He failed the test of the resolution. It became a question that he was hiding something, that he was going to drag this out until the international community lost interest.

"There's no doubt in our mind that it would have lost interest. After his false declaration in response to 1441, it seemed likely he could return to his old ways. That was a gamble that the President and Tony Blair were not prepared to take." Hence the attempt at the second resolution and Powell's famous presentation of the WMD evidence to the Security Council.

in which Powell directly characterizes the Hussein regime's 12,000 page declaration as false, without qualifications or caveats. The claim that the declaration was false is a misrepresentation of Hans Blix's early statements regarding the declaration that was immediately pumped into the media megaphone in December of 2002.

Blix's initial assessment of the declaration was that in his opinion it was incomplete and didn't offer anything not provided by similar statements made previously by Iraq. This assessment was quickly transformed by people like Negroponte into the popular belief that the 12,000 page document was a willful act of deception. Negroponte said at the time, for example, "It fails to address scores of questions pending since 1998, it seeks to deceive when it says Iraq has no ongoing weapons of mass destruction programs," even though Blix habitually pointed out that just because there were items that inspectors would like to have known more about, it didn't follow that Iraq possessed stockpiles of WMD's, as Blix told the Security Council, "If something is unaccounted for, it doesn't necessarily mean that they exist."

Iraqi officials responded to these allegations by noting that they had not declared anything new because they had nothing new to declare. Here's Amir al-Saadi, Hussein's chief science adviser

We're not worried ... It's the other party that's worried, because there's nothing to pin on us ... There is nothing they don't know about Iraq programs. They know everything.

-- a statement that in the clear vision of hindsight holds up pretty well, and, indeed, a statement which Blix eventually accepted. Here's a bit of an AFP piece from September of 2003:

Iraq may have been truthful when it told the UN Security Council in December that it did not have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, a former chief UN weapons inspector said.

The declaration, submitted December 7 by the government of then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, was quickly dismissed as false and incomplete by the United States and Britain, which accused Baghdad of failing to disarm as required by Security Council Resolution 1441.

These charges were later used by Washington and London to justify the invasion of the country in late March.

But more than four months after US President George W. Bush declared victory in Iraq, former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said facts presented by Iraq in the 12,000-page document may have been accurate.

"With this long period, I'm inclined to think that the Iraqi statement that they destroyed all the biological and chemical weapons, which they had in the summer of 1991 may well be the truth," Blix told CNN television.

And, further, since the publication of the Duelfor report the position that Blix was "inclined to think" was the truth is now, I believe, the official position of the United States of America, but apparently no one informed Colin Powell...

Sometimes it's as though members of the Bush administration, or in this case former members, exist in a strange alternate reality in which time and history stopped in May of 2003 when Bush gave his "Mission Accomplished" speech on that aircraft carrier...

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Sudan 1 Scare 

"Sudan 1" is a red dye commonly used in shoe polish that the US ruled was unsafe for human consumption in 1918. It's carcinogenic.

There's currently a big health scare breaking on the other side of the Atlantic because some chili powder manufactured in India containing Sudan 1 found its way into a batch of Worcester sauce which was in turn used in a variety of products, leading to a major recall in Great Britain.

To gauge the size of this story take a look at a Google News search for the exact phrase "Sudan 1" -- notice that there are no stories about this scandal from major American news sources. Canada, however, is all over it because, you know, Canada imported tainted products, unlike the United States -- right? Here's the CBC:

On Wednesday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a warning about Walkers Worcester Sauce Flavour Crisps.

Last week, CFIA warned consumers to avoid using Crosse & Blackwell Worcestershire sauce. The importer is withdrawing any bottles still on store shelves.

On Feb. 18, the British agency announced a sauce contaminated with Sudan I had been used in hundreds of foods that were exported to Canada, the United States and several countries in Europe and the Caribbean.

The British list of recalled foods included fast-food dressings, potato chip packages and prepared foods.

Authorities at the CFIA are working to determine which recalled products are in Canada and track where they are in the distribution chain.

I guess we Americans just have stronger stomachs for carcinogens with all the fast food and everything.

[thanks to reader Richard Myers for informing me about this story]

Impugning Benjy Compson's Good Name 

From the Why-didn't-I-think-of-that?-file and also from the And Ari Fleischer who loved not Bush's presidency but some concept of White House power precariously and (he knew well)only temporarily supported by the minute fragile membrane of his vocal cords as a miniature replica of all the whole vast globy earth might be poised on the nose of a trained seal-file, Demagogue introduces a Slate piece in which Sam Apple attempts to cast the melodrama of the Bush White House into the world of William Faulker, in particular into the first section of The Sound and the Fury which is told from the point-of-view of a retarded gelded middle-aged man. I'm sure you can guess to whom Apple gave that part:

Hello Georgie," Condi said. "Did you come to see Condi?" Condi rubbed my hair and it tickled.

"Dont go messing up his hair," Dick said. "Hes got a press conference in a few minutes."

Condi wiped some spit on her hand and patted down my hair. Her hand was soft and she smelled like Xerox copies coming right out of the machine. "He looks just fine," Condi said.

Fine day, isn't it, Georgie, Daddy said. Daddy was pitching horseshoes. Horseshoes flew through the air and it was hot. Jeb looked at me. Stand back or one of his horseshoes is going to hit you and knock you down real good, Jeb said. Jeb threw the horseshoe and it went right over the stick and Daddy clapped. Run and get me that horseshoe, Georgie, Daddy said. I ran and picked up the horseshoe. The metal was hot in my hands, and I held it for a little bit and then I dropped it. I picked it up. It was hot in my hands and I started running away from Daddy and Jeb. Come back with that horseshoe, Daddy said. I was running as fast as I could. Jeb run after him and get me my horseshoe before he throws another one in the river, Daddy hollered. Jeb was chasing after me fast. Come back with that horseshoe, Georgie, Jeb hollered. But I was fast and I kept running until I got to the river. Dont you dare throw that horseshoe in the river, Jeb said. I threw the horseshoe in the river. Jeb fell on the ground. Jeb kicked and cried and then I cried.

"He needs his makeup," Dick said.

"I'll do it," Condi said. She put a little brush on my check and it tickled and I laughed.

Rummy walked into the room. "Jesus, what's he laughing about," Rummy said.

"Dont you pay attention to him, Georgie," Dick said. "They're going to be asking you all about Social Security. You just remember what we talked about."

"He cant remember anything," Rummy said.

I started to holler. Dick's face was red and he looked at Rummy. "I told you to hush up already," Dick said. "Now look what you've gone and done."

"Go and get him Saddam's gun," Condi said. "You know how he likes to hold it."

Operation River Blitz 

This week American military activity in the town of Ramadi, Fallujah's sister city and capital of Iraq's Anbar province, increased dramatically, and residents there fear they are witnessing the beginning stages of Fallujah-style liberation. Apparently this activity is part of a broader initiative called Operation River Blitz.

On Sunday marines began setting up check points, inspecting vehicles, and imposed a curfew. Ramadi residents report "sporadic clashes in industrial areas in the eastern part of the city and a steady flow of aircraft and helicopters overhead", to quote Reuters, and that the US has essentially locked down the city:

Ramadi residents said the Marine positions around the town had frightened locals and emboldened insurgents, who could be seen running through the streets with AK47s and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers.

"The city is paralyzed. All the shops and offices are closed. We are waiting for the security situation to get worse," said Abdul-Altif Abdullah, a 43-year-old provincial official, in a telephone interview.

According to al-Jazeera, there was an escalation in operations on Thursday -- "warplanes and an AC-130 gunship" reportedly engaged insurgents -- and about 100 suspects have been captured since Sunday.

The US claims that comparisons between the Fallujah campaign and the new operation in Ramadi are misplaced. Here's Brigadier General David Rodriguez on the subject at a DoD briefing:

Q: General, Operation River Blitz, we're told it's, as you say, in Anbar province -- Ramadi and three cities along the Euphrates. How does this operation measure up in scope to the November operation against Fallujah? What are we talking about in numbers of the 1st Marine Division and the number of Iraqi security people involved? And in addition to the dusk-to-dawn curfew, what else can you tell us about the operation?

GEN. RODRIGUEZ: That's basically it. A dust-to-dawn curfew, which was put in there. And there's -- as far as the difference between Fallujah and now, this is one of significantly lesser degree, obviously, with both participants of the 1st Marine Division and the Iraqi security forces. But it's the same -- it's focused on the same thing, which is to get rid of the insurgents who are preventing security in Al Anbar province along those four cities along the river, which is why they named it River Blitz.

and other spokespeople assure us Operation River Blitz is a mundane topic and quite routine; for example, CNN quotes an "Iraqi interior ministry official" who says, "Ramadi has been an ongoing problem ... but there is nothing new or extraordinary about the military operations in the area."

Residents, however, think otherwise and have begun fleeing the city, but the story of refugees from Ramadi has not made the the Western press. In the piece I cited above, al-Jazeera covered the story cribbing quotes from a report from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks. Here's an excerpt from IRIN's piece:

Worried that the offensive could proceed as it did in nearby Fallujah, where the majority of the city's population was forced to flee during a near three-month long campaign, many Ramadi families are taking personal effects and food supplies and heading to relatives' houses in the capital, or to the same camps where residents from Fallujah fled. [ ... ]

"Many insurgents have escaped Fallujah to this area but they won't have time to take the city and our early operation will prevent that. People have started to flee the city but it's too early for that," Brathen added.

But citizens, exhausted by ongoing violence, are afraid and are choosing to leave before the situation worsens. "They want to destroy the whole area and build a New York City there, and for that they are tearing down everything. We want to live in peace. We are tired of fighting and bombs. God, please protect us," Muhammad Farhan, a father of five, who was fleeing the city with his family, told IRIN.

Government offices and shops have closed and people are having difficulties getting food supplies as the offensive came quickly and without warning, giving them no time to prepare.

A government official from the city, who wished to remain anonymous, told IRIN that he expected the situation to get much worse, especially in some areas of Ramadi where insurgents were putting up a strong fight. He added that most government officials had already left the city.

Firdous al-Abadi, a spokeswoman for the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS), told IRIN that many people had been trapped in the university and inside mosques for over 48 hours as fighting raged outside.

"The government should take responsibility and provide those people with everything that is required for their survival," al-Abadi added. "People are tired of running from place to place."

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Hey, I Think I'm Part of the Network 

Maybe you've heard about David Horowitz's new project, a web site cataloging nefarious leftists and the network of front groups and secret funding channels with which they pursue their goal of .. um .. destroying the United States of America from within. If not, here's the inimitable Wonkette:

We just about crapped ourselves with excitement when we stumbled on Discover The Network, a guide to the liberal conspiracy. So great! Finally, a way to keep track of our fave feminazis and lefty loonies!

But we can't seem to find anyone, like, interesting. And really, they're gonna need to do some better programming and database administration if we're going to keep up with those tricky liberals. Why no entry on that bra-burner and NOW President, Kim Gandy? She doesn't get her own entry? No Joe Trippi? No Doug Hattaway, no Jim Kolbe? And we're a little hurt by our exclusion, honestly. Fucking Eric Alterman? Garrison Keillor? This leftist conspiracy sucks it through my jeans.

Well, you know, for some reason I got passed over for a coveted spot in Discover the Network's 'individuals' database ... but in the 'groups' entry for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation I got quoted and linked to (do a "Find (on this page)" search for the phrase "one left American Internet blog" if you don't feel like reading about the horrors of Canadian public television).

So, you know, fuck the Koufax; this is better. And to Kim Gandy, Joe Trippi, Doug Hattaway, Jim Kolbe, and for that matter Michael Albert, Edward Herman, Staughton Lynd, Michael Parenti, and friends -- eat your hearts out losers!

Oh yeah, and to any of you network discoverers who have wandered into this neck of the woods, how about putting in a good word for me with the Ford Foundation -- I could use some of that leftwing blood money.

Germany Welcomes Bush 

Above are photos from demonstrations yesterday that greeted Bush in Mainz, a town on the Rhine, which apparently were fairly large: the UK Times says there were 4,000 protesters, the Mail & Guardian says 5,000, the Independent says 7,000, and Deutsche Welle says 4,000 to 12,000 -- a fair size given that the population of the town is only about 300,000.

Little Mainz was given the full .. um .. security treatment. According to the Financial Times manholes along Bush's route were welded shut, garages were emptied and mailboxes were removed, driving and parking in the zone were forbidden, and people were even asked not to look at the motorcade:

In a contemporary echo of the Lady Godiva legend, anyone living on the route of the presidential motorcade is being discouraged from taking a peek at the 60 to 80-strong column of vehicles conveying the US president. In police leaflets, residents have been asked to keep their windows shut and stay clear of balconies "to avoid misunderstandings".

The organizers of the protests say the choice of Mainz revealed the success of the protests in Berlin that greeted Bush in 2002; the 2002 protests drew an estimated 100,000. Bush spokespeople deny that Mainz was chosen because the administration feared the response Bush would receive in Berlin; rather, they say, Mainz was chosen because of its "cozy atmosphere", according to the Washington Times,

The extreme measures have prompted a sort of triumphal boasting by anti-American protesters who turned out in force when Mr. Bush visited the German capital of Berlin in May 2002.

"He doesn't dare to visit Berlin again," says a posting on the Web site Bushinmainz.de, which is being used to organize protests during this week's visit.

"Mainz was chosen because of its cozy atmosphere. This shows that our protest in Berlin in 2002 was not in vain," the protesters brag on another Web site, notwelcomebush.de.

which explains this sign:

[Photos via German Indymedia]

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Chalabi's Out 

I guess Ahmed didn't have the votes after all...

Monday, February 21, 2005

Negotiating With Insurgents 

Lenin, from Lenin's Tomb, flags a recently posted Time Magazine article that says the US is secretly meeting with insurgents in Iraq. Lenin also credits Victor from Apostate Windbag with sniffing this story early. Here's an excerpt from Time:

The secret meeting is taking place in the bowels of a facility in Baghdad, a cavernous, heavily guarded building in the U.S.-controlled green zone. The Iraqi negotiator, a middle-aged former member of Saddam Hussein's regime and the senior representative of the self-described nationalist insurgency, sits on one side of the table.

He is here to talk to two members of the U.S. military. One of them, an officer, takes notes during the meeting. The other, dressed in civilian clothes, listens as the Iraqi outlines a list of demands the U.S. must satisfy before the insurgents stop fighting. The parties trade boilerplate complaints: the U.S. officer presses the Iraqi for names of other insurgent leaders; the Iraqi says the newly elected Shi'a-dominated government is being controlled by Iran. The discussion does not go beyond generalities, but both sides know what's behind the coded language.

The Iraqi's very presence conveys a message: Members of the insurgency are open to negotiating an end to their struggle with the U.S. "We are ready," he says before leaving, "to work with you." [ ... ]
Pentagon officials say the secret contacts with insurgent leaders are being conducted mainly by U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers. A Western observer close to the discussions says that "there is no authorized dialogue with the insurgents" but that the U.S. has joined "back-channel" communications with rebels. Says the observer: "There's a lot bubbling under the surface today."

Over the course of the war in Iraq, as the anti-U.S. resistance has grown in size and intensity, Administration officials have been steadfast in their refusal to negotiate with enemy fighters. But in recent months, the persistence of the fighting and signs of division in the ranks of the insurgency have prompted some U.S. officials to seek a political solution. And Pentagon and intelligence officials hope the high voter turnout in last month's election will deflate the morale of the insurgents and persuade more of them to come in from the cold.

The above isn't that surprising. I, like everyone else, don't really know what's going on in Iraq to any degree of specificity, but I can guess the general plan ... set up a dynamic in which Iraq's new government is subservient to US wishes through whatever means are convenient (if doing so is not possible, demonize the new Iraqi regime, get rid of it, and start again), scale down the US troop presence in Iraq, tuck the remaining troops safely away into the fourteen permanent military bases being built, and count on the media to not mention the word Iraq for a very long time.

The whole thing would be a lot easier if those pesky insurgents didn't keep blowing people up ...

Balancing Stuff Corporate Media Style 

Eli at Left I on the News took the trouble to transcribe a quote from FAIR founder Jeff Cohen that was in a Peter Hart piece in the Extra! Update newsletter. It's kind of amusing in a depressing way ... or maybe vice-versa:

In 2002, I was an on-air commentator at MSNBC, and also senior producer on the Donahue show, the most-watched program on the channel. In the last months of the program, before it was terminated on the eve of the Iraq War, we were ordered by management that every time we booked an antiwar guest, we had to book two pro-war guests. If we booked two guests on the left, we had to book three on the right. At one meeting, a producer suggested booking Michael Moore and was told that she would need to book three right-wingers for balance [Ed. note - well, he is rather hefty!]. I considered suggesting Noam Chomsky as a guest, but our studio couldn't accomodate the 86 right-wingers we would have needed for balance.

The ed. note in there is Eli not me, but I left it in because I thought it was funny...

Neo Con Luv 

uh ... go here to watch the best hip-hop video that mentions Richard Perle, via Diane at Karmalised who has links to the pages of the artists responsible.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Scott Ritter at Large 

So, you know, standard disclaimer -- I report, you decide -- yada yada yada ... but ...

At a talk on Friday in Washington state, Scott Ritter said that the US plans to bomb Iran in June and that the Iraqi elections were rigged to grant the Shiites fewer seats in the assembly:

On Iran, Ritter said that President George W. Bush has received and signed off on orders for an aerial attack on Iran planned for June 2005. Its purported goal is the destruction of Iran's alleged program to develop nuclear weapons, but Ritter said neoconservatives in the administration also expected that the attack would set in motion a chain of events leading to regime change in the oil-rich nation of 70 million -- a possibility Ritter regards with the greatest skepticism.

The former Marine also said that the Jan. 30 elections, which George W. Bush has called "a turning point in the history of Iraq, a milestone in the advance of freedom," were not so free after all. Ritter said that U.S. authorities in Iraq had manipulated the results in order to reduce the percentage of the vote received by the United Iraqi Alliance from 56% to 48%.

The above doesn't mention Ritter's source, if he gave one, for the Iran allegation but says he cited "an [anonymous] official involved in the manipulation" for the vote-rigging claim, and strongly insinuated that Seymour Hersh is going to do a New Yorker piece on vote tampering in Iraq -- Ritter said that "the story [will] soon be reported by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist in a major metropolitan magazine."

So, you know, just some stuff being said by the most prominent voice who was right about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and, you know, was exiled to the media wilderness for the trouble. Oh yeah, and also here's a Buzzflash piece comparing CNN anchor Aaron Brown's treatment of the Jeff Gannon's personal life to his treatment of Scott Ritter's personal life.

Chalabi Says He Has the Votes, and If There's One Person You Can Trust... 

Well, last week Hussein al-Mousawi, a spokesman for the Shiite Political Council, told the AP that Chalabi has in the bag about 80 of the 140 alliance members taking part in the National Assembly (and also that the humble Mr. Chalabi didn't even want to run, I kid you not; here's the full quote: "Chalabi didn't want to nominate himself in the first place but under pressures from the majority of the Alliance he decided to nominate himself" -- Chalabi? Political office in Iraq? A shy guy like Ahmed? -- but I digress...).

Today, we got a similar claim from the man himself ... Chalabi told Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week: "I believe I have a majority of the votes on my side right now."

Also ... a picture of some Chalabiacs.

Belgium Welcomes Bush 

Belgians like Bush so much they started welcoming him before he even got there ... From the AP

Hundreds of demonstrators protested George W. Bush's visit Sunday, hours before the U.S. president was to arrive in Belgium at the start of a conciliatory swing through Europe.

Bush will meet with more than two dozen European leaders during a tour aimed at healing the trans-Atlantic rift that opened during his first term, notably over the Iraq war.

"He is coming to persuade and influence the European leaders. We are afraid the European leaders will distance themselves from their people," said Pol de Vos, one of about 700 anti-Bush protesters marching peacefully in downtown Brussels.

Police have mounted an unprecedented security operation for the visit, deploying 2,500 officers — 1,000 more than usually deployed for the three or four summits that bring European Union leaders to the Belgian capital each year.

An alliance of 88 environmental, human rights, peace and other groups have planned protests near the U.S. Embassy for Monday and near the EU headquarters on Tuesday.

The Web site of the 'Stop Bush' alliance accused Bush of "crimes against humanity," saying he undermines international law and is an obstacle to the fight against global warming.

European leaders say they are keen to narrow the gap with Washington on Iraq and other contentious issues.
In his weekly radio address Saturday, Bush said he doesn't believe the West is split between an "idealistic United States and a cynical Europe ... America and Europe are the pillars of the free world."

"Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic understand that the hopes for peace in the world depend on the continued unity of free nations," he said. "We do not accept a false caricature that divides the Western world between an idealistic United States and a cynical Europe."

It's nice that Bush doesn't believe the Western world is split between an "idealistic United States and a cynical Europe" because ... umm ... that would be a pretty stupid thing to believe. The Western world is divided between European governments that would like nothing more than to continue with business as usual, leveraging their economic power to exert control over the world, and a United States government that is currently run by "a bunch of fanatics", to quote Zbig Brzezinski, who want to exert control over the world by means of America's military power, which is unparalleled in history.

[Photos via Belgian Indymedia]

Saturday, February 19, 2005

A Couple of Movies 

Here's a little of Roger Ebert's review of Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis's documentary The Take:

As one documentary after another attacks the International Monetary Fund and its pillaging of the Third World, I wish I knew the first thing about global economics. If these films are as correct as they are persuasive, international monetary policy is essentially a scheme to bankrupt smaller nations and cast their populations into poverty, while multinational corporations loot their assets and whisk the money away to safe havens and the pockets of rich corporations and their friends. But that cannot be, can it? Surely the IMF's disastrous record is the result of bad luck, not legalized theft?

I am still haunted by "Life and Debt" (2001), a documentary explaining how tax-free zones were established on, but not of, Jamaican soil. [ ... ]

Now here is "The Take," a Canadian documentary by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, shot in Argentina, where a prosperous middle-class economy was destroyed during 10 years of IMF policies, as enforced by President Carlos Menem (1989-1999). Factories were closed, their assets were liquidated, and money fled the country, sometimes literally by the truckload. After most of it was gone, Menem closed the banks, causing panic. Today more than half of all Argentineans live in poverty, unemployment is epidemic, and the crime rate is scary.

In the face of this disaster, workers at several closed factories attempted to occupy the factories, reopen them and operate them. Their argument: The factories were subsidized in the first place by public money, so if the owners didn't want to operate them, the workers deserved a chance. The owners saw this differently, calling the occupations theft. Committees of workers monitored the factories to prevent owners from selling off machinery and other assets in defiance of the courts. And many of the factories not only reopened, but were able to turn a profit while producing comparable or superior goods at lower prices.

I can't not post the last paragraph of Ebert's review, which is a testament to the power of cinema. Here's Ebert, your average run-of-the-mill liberal; he sees a movie about the IMF's effect on Jamaica and another one on Argentina's economic melt-down, and all of a sudden he's basically defending community-ownership of factories in the pages of the Chicago Sun Times:

I wearily anticipate countless e-mails advising me I am a hopelessly idealistic dreamer, and explaining how when the rich get richer, everybody benefits. I will forward the most inspiring of these messages to minimum-wage workers at Wal-Mart, so they will understand why labor unions would be bad for them, while working unpaid overtime is good for the economy. All I know is that the ladies at the garment factory are turning out good-looking clothes, demand is up for Zanon ceramics, and the auto parts factory is working with a worker-controlled tractor factory to make some good-looking machines. I think we can all agree that's better than just sitting around.

Also, I've been meaning to mention another new documentary, Chavez, Venezuela, and the New Latin America, which I heard about from a review in Seven Oaks Magazine. The movie is mostly just one long interview with Hugo Chavez conducted by Che Guevara's daughter Aleida. Apparently, it is the cinematic companion of a book of the same name. I can't find much online about this film ... it seems like its distribution is a pretty smalltime affair, but here's the site of the company that produced it -- there's going to be screening in New York on March 17th and they're already selling it on DVD.

Fun at the CPAC 

For your reading pleasure, here are some highlights from the Conservative Political Action Conference...

Salon's Michelle Goldberg says that California congressman Chris Cox, during an introduction to Cheney's keynote speech, claimed that the US found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq:

The crowd at CPAC's Thursday night banquet, held at D.C.'s Ronald Reagan Building, was full of right-wing stars. Among those seated at the long presidential table at the head of the room were Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, Dore Gold, foreign policy advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and NRA president Kayne Robinson. Vice President Dick Cheney, a regular CPAC speaker, gave the keynote address. California Rep. Chris Cox had the honor of introducing him, and he took the opportunity to mock the Democrats whose hatred of America led them to get Iraq so horribly wrong.

"America's Operation Iraqi Freedom is still producing shock and awe, this time among the blame-America-first crowd," he crowed. Then he said, "We continue to discover biological and chemical weapons and facilities to make them inside Iraq." Apparently, most of the hundreds of people in attendance already knew about these remarkable, hitherto-unreported discoveries, because no one gasped at this startling revelation.

Obviously the truth of Cox's claim is being covered up by the liberal media. Damn, those good for nothing reds at the New York Times!

Fat Karl made his first public appearance since receiving his new job title. He said, get this, that Bush had moved conservatism beyond reactionary by co-opting traditionally liberal values. Here's the Times:

Karl Rove, the political adviser to President Bush who recently became chief of staff for policy, said on Thursday that Mr. Bush had helped transform conservatism from "reactionary" to "forward looking," in part by incorporating what had been liberal ideas on foreign policy.

"The president made a powerful case in the inaugural speech and before for spreading human liberty and preserving human dignity," Mr. Rove said at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference here.

"This was once the preserve of liberalism, but a fellow named Ronald Reagan changed all that," he continued, saying President Reagan had contended that the "power of liberty" would enable Americans to "transcend" Soviet Communism instead of contain it.

The pro-legalization/decriminalization Drug Policy Alliance managed to get a seat in a panel. I guess they're trying to appeal to Libertartian Party types:

The Alliance’s participation in the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the largest and oldest gathering of conservative activists and leadership, marks an historic cornerstone in our efforts to galvanize debate within the conservative movement on the failed "war on drugs." On a panel at the conference this Saturday, the Alliance’s executive director, Ethan Nadelmann, will be speaking out against the U.S. government’s expensive, ineffective and harmful prohibitionist policies.

Man, I'd like to have been a fly on the wall for that one...

And Santorum urged those in attendance who didn't consider themselves to be socially conservative to get behind persecuting gays because otherwise the government will end up spending a lot of money to help out poor children. Okay, I'm paraphrasing there, but I think that's the gist of his comments ... here's UPI's account:

No issue is more important to the country than the stability of the American family, Santorum told an audience of conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

"If you believe in conservative governance then you fundamentally have to be for marriage as the union of one man and one woman," Santorum said.

Santorum said critics of the proposed amendment would do well to look at their communities.

"You will find mothers struggling economically, socially culturally," Santorum said. "When people stop getting married, then fathers stop participating in the lives of their children. ... If mom and dad aren't there to raise a child, then some else has to bridge the gap and that someone else is the government."

Not sure how allowing gay people to get married would lead to a world in which "people stop getting married" -- Wouldn't it lead to more people getting married? But what do I know, there are no rumors of Karl Rove getting behind me in 2008...

Friday, February 18, 2005

Dan Senor All But Calls Iraq PM Contest for Chalabi 

Remember Dan Senor? He was a sort of Ari Fleischer clone who used to do press briefings in Iraq back in the days of Bremer and the CPA. Anyway, Senor told the Jerusalem Post that Chalabi will probably be Iraq's new prime minister:

Ahmed Chalabi is likely to emerge as Iraq's leader, as originally envisioned by the US, Dan Senor, the former spokesman for the US occupation government in Iraq, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

"He has a good chance of getting the job," said Senor.

The Iraqi premiership race is now between two seasoned 58-year-old Shi'ite politicians from within the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), a Shi'ite list that won the most votes in the elections.

One is Chalabi, the secular leader of the Iraqi National Congress. The other is Ibrahim Jaafari, the religious leader of the Dawa Party.

According to Senor, Jaafari would probably have been assured of the post if Chalabi had not pushed – and succeeded – to get an internal vote of all the list members. Originally, the top leaders of the parties within the list were going to decide between themselves.

One wonders where Senor is getting his information?

A Fake Leftist vs. a Paper Tiger 

So Howard Dean debated Richard Perle in Portland, and the most newsworthy moment in the exchange seems to be some guy throwing a shoe at Richard Perle -- no, it wasn't me. Local media coverage of the content of the event is rather vapid, but one can't really blame the journalists -- it was probably a pretty vapid debate.

The problem is that the contestants agree on major points and can only squabble about details. Howard Dean is a moderate, as Krugman, perhaps the most honest person currently at the Times, recently wrote

It was always absurd to call Mr. Dean a left-winger. Just ask the real left-wingers. During his presidential campaign, an article in the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch denounced him as a "Clintonesque Republicrat," someone who, as governor, tried "to balance the budget, even though Vermont is a state in which a balanced budget is not required."

and confrontations between moderates and rightwingers are pretty boring affairs because the parties involved both accept the same framing of the debate.

Both Howard Dean and Richard Perle believe that American foreign policy is fundamentally benign, that the goal of American foreign policy is to spread freedom and democracy, to protect America from external threats, to combat tyranny and so forth, that the United States may occasionally make bad decisions but that it means well. Howard Dean may believe that various actions were mistakes tactically or strategically given this frame, but he doesn't believe said actions were immoral, illegal, or carried out in order to enforce and strengthen America's domination over areas of the world that policy planners deem strategically important. When you put him in a room with someone like Perle you end up with a conversation about whether or not policy decisions were successful within the context of the shared frame, the big nice picture of smiley America, but you don't don't get a discussion about whether the big nice picture of smiley America corresponds much with reality.

To get that discussion you have to put Richard Perle in a room with a leftist. When such interactions take place they are quite amusing to watch. If Perle is compelled to do more than just defend the details of American foreign policy from the critiques of armchair generals and Monday morning quarterbacks, he has almost nothing to say.

Several months ago, Stan Goff, writing for Counterpunch in a piece called "Debating a Neocon", described this phenomenon from personal experience. He was sick, jet-lagged, and obligated to debate a well-connected foreign-policy-PhD'ed bigtime neoconservative who knows Dick Cheney personally. He worried that he would be torn apart but discovered bigtime neoconservatives turn out to be paper tigers when confronted with accurate characterizations of recent history:

I was second to present my opening remarks. While I was pretty nervous before he started to talk, by the time he'd taken his 15 minutes to open, I grew more and more relaxed. We were not being treated to either subtlety or erudition. His pitch was barely above the level of a carnival barker ­ a rehash of what you might hear at any Centcom briefing. The gist of it was and this was telling well, we made some mistakes, at least the 'intelligence community' did, but now we are there, and it would be a disservice to the Iraqi people for us to leave the place and allow the 'terrorists' to take over.

That was it!?!?

This guy had boarded a plane from DC to the Land of Strom to debate a burned-out commie vet emaciated with an amoeba, and the best he could come up with in front of around 300 people was "stay the course?"

That's when it occurred to me, there's no there there. These people have no arguments they can state. His opening remarks were a rehash of why John F. Kerry was less fit to run Iraq than George W. Bush. Once anyone refuses to engage in this speciousness, the neoconservatives flounder like beached mullets.

We don't need the heavy artillery of superbly crafted argument to face them down. The simplest facts that were excluded from the presidential debates out of political expediency (dare I call it opportunism) can shoot these guys down like sparrows lined up on a fence.

Oh, yeah, and for what it's worth, if you're really interested in seeing Richard Perle torn apart in a debate and not just have a shoe hurled at him, here's a site where you can download MP3's of Chomsky debating Perle in 1988.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

I'm Back... 

Well, in case you didn't notice, I haven't posted for days. What happened was Blogger upgraded its software and I was temporarily unable to log into this blog, but the situation seems to have been taken care of ... I'm back after five whole days of not blogging. (That's probably the longest I've gone since last spring and was a really unnerving experience -- and the fact that it was an unnerving experience is somewhat unnerving).

And Then There Were Two 

The race to be Iraq's new prime minister ends up as a contest between between interim Vice President Ibrahim al-Jaafari and -- surprise! surprise! -- Ahmed Chalabi. Here's the AP:

The United Iraqi Alliance, which has provisionally won more than half the seats in the new National Assembly, has been left with two main contenders, interim Vice President Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Ahmad Chalabi, former exile leader who once had close ties to the Pentagon but became a vocal critic of U.S. policy in Iraq.

Representatives for both men claimed their candidate was the front-runner.

Hussein al-Mousawi, a spokesman for the Shiite Political Council, an umbrella group for 38 Shiite political parties, said Chalabi would most likely be the next prime minister.

Al-Mousawi said 80 of the estimated 140 alliance members expected to take part in the newly elected National Assembly favored Chalabi, who is believed to be behind much of the information about weapons of mass destruction used to justify the war.

Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi agreed to withdraw as a candidate in return for unspecified concessions, said Humam Hamoudi, a spokesman for the alliance, who said al-Jaafari was most likely to be its candidate.

Juan Cole doubts that Chalabi will win, and in fact doubts that Chalabi is even still in the running. Cole speculates that assertions to contrary are "baseless propaganda coming out of Chalabi's formidable but empty PR apparatus".

We will see...

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Send a Feather to Jonah 

This is a pretty good idea:

In response to the letter Jonah Goldberg wrote about
why he is not in Iraq, I have put up a website called
www.whitefeatherforjonah.com. It encourages people to
mail or email white feathers to Jonah to remind him
that he is a lily-livered poltroon. The site gives an
easy link to his email and his mailing address at the
National Review (more addresses might be added).

Also as long as I'm plugging things, consider signing the We Stand for Peace & Justice statement.

Preliminary Investigations 

Lawrence of Cyberia posted a long informative examination of the "preliminary investigations" carried out by the IDF when Palestinian civilians are murdered. LOC's take basically is that the process does not involve investigation

[A]n I.D.F. preliminary (or initial) investigation isn't an "investigation" in any sense that a reasonable person would understand the word -- i.e. a process involving the collection of physical evidence, the identification and interviewing of eyewitnesses etc, etc. In fact it isn't an investigation at all, it is simply a report by the commander of the I.D.F. unit that carried out the shooting, giving the unit's version of events.

and that it is not preliminary

The use of the word "preliminary" suggests an inquiry that is just the beginning of an investigative process, when in fact the I.D.F.'s preliminary investigation is almost always the beginning and the end of the process. Unless the unit commander highlights wrongdoing in his field report to the J.A.G., then the J.A.G. will not open an investigation. (Even when, as in the case of Mansour Ahmad there is physical evidence - in this case a dead body with live ammunition in it - that raises some doubts about the claim of the C.O.'s field report that only rubber bullets were fired). Barring some remarkable act of self-incrimination by the unit carrying out the preliminary investigation into a killing carried out by one of its own members, an Israeli soldier may kill a Palestinian civilian with almost complete confidence that there will be no repercussions.

Based on investigations carried out over the last four years, the post lists four "informal rules Israeli soldiers need to bear in mind if they don't want to be one of the unlucky few actually called to account for shooting a civilian": (1) Don't shoot foreigners, (2) Don't leave behind physical evidence, (3)Don't Shoot People When A TV Crew Is Filming You, and (4) Don't deliberately shoot unarmed civilians unless you are sure your unit will back your story.

The full post is well worth reading.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Scottie on Gannon 

Here's Scottie discussing the scandal du jour at today's gaggle. I think the most interesting bit is when Scottie says that he became aware "at some point ... previously" that Gannon was working under a pseudonym:

Q Jeff Gannon. How did he get a White House pass, or what kind of credentials did he have?

SCOTTIE: Just like anyone else who comes to the White House.

Q Hard pass?

SCOTTIE: No, he had never applied for a hard pass. He had a daily pass. I think he's been coming for --

Q Was he coming for --

SCOTTIE: Hang on. I think he's been coming for more than two years now.

Q Under what name?


Q Under what name?

SCOTTIE: Well, you have to get cleared. You have to -- just like anybody else that comes to the White House, you have to have your full name, your Social Security number and your birth date. So you have to be cleared just like anybody else.

Q So he was being cleared under James Guckert, or whatever his name is?

SCOTTIE: My understanding, yes.

Q Okay, and how did he get picked to get a question asked at the last news conference?

SCOTTIE: He didn't. The President didn't have a list. The President didn't -- he was in the briefing room. There are assigned seats in the briefing room. We didn't do any assigning of seats, and the President worked his way through the rows, and called on people as he came to them. He doesn't know who he is.

Q Were you aware that he had another name?

SCOTTIE: Was I aware? I had heard that. I had heard that, yes, recently.

Q But did you know during all this time that he really wasn't Jeff Gannon?

SCOTTIE: I heard at some point, yes -- previously.

Q As Press Secretary, what do you think about this whole --

SCOTTIE: Well, like I said -- what do I think about it? Well, let me explain a few things. First, as the press secretary, I don't think it's the role of the Press Secretary to get into picking or choosing who gets press credentials. Also, I don't think it's the role of the Press Secretary to get into being a media critic, and I think there are very good reasons for that. I've never inserted myself into the process. He, like anyone else, showed that he was representing a news organization that published regularly, and so he was cleared two years ago to receive daily passes, just like many others are. The issue comes up -- it becomes, in this day and age, when you have a changing media, it's not an easy issue to decide or try to pick and choose who is a journalist. And there -- it gets into the issue of advocacy journalism. Where do you draw the line? There are a number of people who cross that line in the briefing room.

And, as far as I'm concerned, I would welcome the White House Correspondents Association, if they have any concerns or issues that they want to bring to my attention, they know my door is open and I'll be glad to discuss these issues with them. I have an open dialogue with the Correspondents Association. No one's ever brought such an issue to my attention, in my -- during my time as being Press Secretary. And you all cover the briefing room on a regular basis. You know that there are a number of people in that room that express their points of view, and there are people in that room that represent traditional media, they represent talk radio, they represent -- they're columnists, and they represent online news organizations.

Q Was the White House aware at all -- was the White House aware -- was the White House aware at all about the online websites that he was linked to?

SCOTTIE: No. This has only come to my attention through the news reports, just a few reporters calling in.

Q But just to make it clear, the only criteria, from the White House perspective is, someone can pass the Secret Service background check

SCOTTIE: No, no, that's not -- first of all, I don't involve myself in that process, it's handled at a staff level. Like I said, if the White House Correspondents Association ever wants to talk about issues, I welcome that. But it becomes an issue -- it becomes an issue of where do you draw the line? Do you draw the line at advocacy journalism because there are a number of people that crossed that line, as I said? But there's hard -- there's hard passes and there's daily passes, as you are well aware. For a hard pass, you have to have a House and Senate credential, you have to regularly cover the White House, you have to apply for it, you have to go through a detailed FBI background check.

My understanding was, when he started coming to the White House about two years ago, the staff asked to see that it -- that he represented a news organization that published regularly. And they showed that, so he was cleared and has been cleared ever since based on that time.

And this is just now something that's come to my attention more recently because it's been an issue raised in some media reports.

Andy vs. Turd Blossom 

A thought-provoking exchange with Dan Froomkin at one of those realtime chats hosted by the Post:

Alexandria, Va.: How will Andy Card handle the promotion of Rove to Deputy Chief of Staff? Can Andy use his Jedi Memory Trick on Rove to reel him in? Or is Rove more like a bucking bronco: hard to control and strong-willed?

Dan Froomkin: That's one of the big questions here. There's some speculation that Rove is getting ready to take over from Card, if Card should leave.

Card obviously must have gone along with this, but willingly?

Remember what Card said when Karen Hughes announced she was leaving. Let me find it.

Here. This is from Ron Suskind's piece in Esquire in 2003:

"[L]ast spring, when I spoke to White House chief of staff Andrew Card, he sounded an alarm about the unfettered rise of Rove in the wake of senior adviser Karen Hughes's resignation: 'I'll need designees, people trusted by the president that I can elevate for various needs to balance against Karl. . . . They are going to have to really step up, but it won't be easy. Karl is a formidable adversary.'"

What Wal-Mart Wants 

Awhile back I posted about a Wal-Mart in Jonquiere, Quebec, that had come very close to unionizing. It would have been the first unionized Wal-Mart ever, but, wouldn't you know it, ... Wal-Mart has decided to shut the store down because of "unreasonable demands" from the union negotiators, apparently unreasonable demands like having a union:

In the latest salvo in a long-running battle between Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and organized labor, the company said yesterday it will close a Canadian store where about 200 workers are near winning the first-ever union contract from the world's largest retailer.

Wal-Mart said it was shuttering the store in Jonquiere, Quebec, in response to unreasonable demands from union negotiators that would make it impossible for the store to sustain its business. The United Food & Commercial Workers Canada last week asked Quebec labor officials to appoint a mediator, saying that negotiations had reached an impasse.

Andrew Pelletier, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada, said the store will close in May. The retailer had first discussed closing the Jonquiere store last October, saying that the store was losing money.

Union leaders promised to fight the move by the retailer, and rejected Wal-Mart's stated reasons for closing the store.

"Wal-Mart has fired these workers not because the store was losing money but because the workers exercised their right to join a union," Michael J. Fraser, national director of UFCW Canada, said in a written statement. "Once again, Wal-Mart has decided it is above the law and that the only rules that count are their rules."

Things That No One Could Have Predicted 

A report from the 9/11 commission, blocked from release by the Bush administration for over five months, says that the FAA had "considered the possibility that terrorists would hijack a plane and use it as a weapon," a proposition that Condoleezza Rice very publically claimed "no one could have predicted," and she even discussed this claim under oath.

Tim Grieve in Salon's War Room
speculates about the timing of the release of the new report:

The Times says that the Bush administration "blocked" the public release of the newly disclosed 9/11 Commission for "more than five months" -- against the wishes of 9/11 Commissioner members -- but finally "provided both the classified report and a declassified, 120-page version to the National Archives two weeks ago."

Two weeks ago? Two weeks ago would be 'round about Jan. 27, and Jan. 27 would be the day after the U.S. Senate confirmed Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state. Maybe the timing is a coincidence, and we certainly wouldn't want to suggest otherwise. That might amount to "impugning" Rice's "integrity" and "credibility." And that would be wrong, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A Guy Who's Not George Orwell on Ann Coulter on Getting Laid by Co-eds with Hairy Armpits Who Probably Don't Like Men 

Jonathan Schwarz, who is, by the way, refreshingly aware that he is not George Orwell -- a realization that if we are lucky will one day occur to Christopher Hitchens (I see it happening this way: he's loaded on miniature bottles of Johnny Walker red from the mini-bar in a hotel room, cuts himself shaving, and accidentally for a moment looks at himself in the eyes) -- asks an important question regarding Ann Coulter's recent tips on the ins-and-outs of getting laid by co-eds with hairy armpits who probably don't like men.

Another Problem Taken Care Of 

Looks like Rumsfeld has finally decided what to do about his little problem. He can't set foot in Germany for fear of being thrown in jail on war crimes charges but was all set to attend the international security conference in Munich. The solution: send Wolfowitz.

Our Meritocracy 

Fat Karl got promoted to deputy chief of staff which is great because what the human race needs desperately is for Karl Rove to have more power.

Also, born-again Christian speechwriter, Michael Gerson has been named assistant to the president for policy and strategic planning. Gerson's primary qualification seems to be having had the good sense and foresight to change the phrase "Axis of Hatred" to "Axis of Evil".

Saturday, February 05, 2005

CIA ties to ex-Nazis probed 

From Reuters:

A U.S. senator has demanded that the CIA director release thousands of pages of documents detailing the agency's ties with former Nazis who aided in Cold War espionage against the Soviet Union, officials say.

Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Republican co-author of a 1998 bill ordering the disclosure of government records on Nazi war criminals, wants CIA Director Porter Goss to say publicly why his agency has not agreed to divulge the records.

DeWine has asked Goss to appear this month at an open hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which the Ohio lawmaker sits, a Senate aide said. The CIA had no immediate comment on the invitation.

"Sen. DeWine wants an explanation from the CIA. Our hope would be to have (Goss) there and that's what we're working toward," said DeWine spokeswoman Amanda Flaig.

Congressional officials said DeWine and Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, lead sponsor of the 1998 bill, were also trying to broker agreement on the documents through closed-door dialogue.

The CIA has already released an estimated 1.25 million pages of documents about Nazi war criminals. Most are records of the agency's wartime predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services.

The Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act of 1998 requires federal agencies to make public records of individuals alleged to have committed Nazi war crimes by turning them over to a special working group.

The Iron Fist of FOX News 

Below are somes excerpts from a FOX News article called, I kid you not, "The Iron Fist of Hugo Chavez":

Hugo Chavez, the left-wing leader who is moving toward totalitarian rule at home in Venezuela and backing guerrilla movements in the region, could become a test for the new Bush administration.

"I think we have to view, at this point, the government of Venezuela as a negative force in the region," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her confirmation hearings last month.

Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest oil producer; Chavez basically controls 15 percent of U.S. oil imports. He allegedly is taking billions of dollars in revenue to grease the way to one-man rule of a country with a 50-year history of democracy.

His critics say the government's use of its oil wealth threatens the region.

Venezuela's oil revenues subsidize food prices for the poor, although a large bottle of cooking oil can cost just pennies. The money generated from the $50-per-barrel cost also is being used to buy weapons such as 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles and 30 attack helicopters from the Russians. There also have been discussions about a possible $4 billion purchase of advanced MiG fighter jets.

One U.S. State Department official noted, "We shoot down MiGs."

Yeah, state subsidy of food prices really is crazy. Everybody knows that the only sensible thing for a Latin American country to do with public assets is hand them over to transnational corporations. The line in the above about "a large bottle of cooking oil" only costing pennies is just priceless. I'm not even sure what it means really. It's like FOX News is denying that the Venezuelan poor actually exists. You know, everybody can afford things that are just pennies.

And military spending? That's nuts too. Chavez obviously is a bloodthirsty psychopath. What could Venezuela possibly need with 100,000 Kalashnikovs? -- I mean it's not like the most powerful nation in the history of mankind has been rattling its saber at little Venezuela for the past several months or anything. It's not like said nation actively backed an attempt to overthrow Venezuela's popular and democratically elected president a few years ago, and it's not like said nation's private propagandists publish news articles with names like "The Iron Fist of Venezuela's Popular and Democratically Elected President".

It's just too bad the Soviet Union is gone because now FOX News can't paint Chavez's Venezuela as a Soviet client state as it would have if 2005 was 1985 and Venezuela was Nicaragua. But there must be a way ... let's see what could it be ...

Political science professor Anibal Romero called Chavez a "dangerous fellow, a confused person who is deeply anti-American and is prepared to do terrible things."

Oil also is sold at cut-rate prices to Cuba, which in exchange supplies doctors, teachers and military advisors to Venezuela. Chavez opponents say Cuban leader Fidel Castro is his model.

"Some people here are very worried about what's going to happen. … If you don't have rules or somebody who respects the rules, they can do whatever they want — they can be [another] Fidel Castro," said Baruta Mayor Henrique Capriles.

Oh, yes, Cuba! The Soviet Union may be gone but thankfully for propagandists everywhere we still have little Cuba, fearsome and all-powerful.

Chavez's opponents admit he is popular, especially among the poor. But being popular, they say, does not give the president the right to do whatever he wants. The police, military and armed thugs have been tools used freely by Chavez to hang on to power during a coup attempt and a national strike in 2002.

Yeah, what gives a president the right to do whatever he wants apparently is winning an election with 51% of the popular vote.

"Our own journalists don't know whether they can show whatever it is they are trying to cover," said Ana Christina Nunez, legal counsel for Globovision, the country's only 24-hour news channel.

But Chavez's program, "Hello, President," sometimes runs for six hours.

FOX News complaining about bias in Venezuelan television ... you'll have to make up your own joke about that...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The State of the Union 

Oh, yeah, about the Boy King's latest proclamation. I didn't watch it, so you know, have nothing to say ... If I had done a post about it, however, it probably would have been all about who the Iraqi lady in the balcony actually was. I was too lazy to do all the google searches -- playing Six Degrees of Separation with Richard Perle is more difficult than the Kevin Bacon game because there's no equivalent of the Internet Movie Database covering neoconservative front groups -- but luckily and not-very-surprisingly when we check the good old internet we find some guy got around to doing the work...

The Comeback Kid 

Last spring when the US and the media first turned on Ahmed Chalabi there was a fair bit of skepticism about the reality of the break. It was sudden, unforeshadowed, and largely inexplicable, and some commentators speculated that the whole fall of Chalabi narrative was a misinformation campaign perpetrated by neoconservatives to bolster Chalabi's image in Iraq. Contributing editor for The Nation and senior correspondent for The American Prospect, Robert Dreyfuss, writing for TomPaine.com, claimed to even have a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute speaking on the record about this topic:

Chalabi, of course, is the roly-poly perpetrator of intelligence fraud and the convicted bank embezzler who still hopes to be leader of Iraq. Lately, Chalabi has scuttled into a would-be alliance with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the scowly fatwa man. In doing so, he's had the temerity to criticize the United States, leading some fuzzy thinkers to believe that Chalabi, whose puppet strings are made of steel, might be trying to show some independence from Washington. Well, says [Michael] Rubin, who served as one the Pentagon's liaisons to Chalabi, that's exactly what they want you to think:

"Much of the information he collected was to roll up the insurgency and Ba'athist cells. It caught people red-handed," said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser who is now at a conservative think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute.

"By telegraphing that he is not the favorite son of America, the administration will bolster him, showing he is his own man."

In other words, it's all a big con game. The still-neocon-dominated Pentagon -- which this week stopped funding Chalabi's INC -- is playing its last card, hoping that it can boost Chalabi's sagging fortunes by pretending to sever ties with him. That, the neocons hope, will allow Chalabi to strengthen his ties to Sistani, the king-making mullah who, they hope, holds Iraq's fate in his wrinkled hands.

At the time, I didn't buy this story for two reasons. If Chalabi was secretly still in the fold, I argued, then why was Richard Perle defending him? -- Shouldn't the Prince of Darkness have been shocked! shocked! to discover that Chalabi was a counterfeiter and an Iranian spy? That question, I think, still holds up. My other reason for believing that Chalabi actually had been excommunicated was that I thought the neoconservatives didn't have the political capital to launch media misinformation campaigns and so forth. Despite the resignation of Feith and other recent events, that belief now seems a little quaint to me.

Given the elections and the weird news stories in which members of the Allawi administration threatened to arrest Chalabi and hand him over to Interpol, I think it's time to take another look at the old speculation about the oddness of BushCo's decision to stab Ahmed in the back last spring. After all, Chalabi's girlfriend Judy just told Chris Matthews that the US is "reaching out" to Chalabi, insinuating that various parties are maneuvering to make sure Ahmed ends up as an interior minister in Iraq:

MATTHEWS: What does that mean?

MILLER: Well, there were, for example, some very tense relations between Ahmed Chalabi and the administration after they had raided his home, after they had accused him of being an Iranian agent, of giving information to Iran.


MILLER: We now are told, according to my sources, that the administration has been reaching out to Mr. Chalabi to offer him expressions of cooperation and support. And according to one report, he was even offered a chance to be an interior minister in the new government. But I think one effect of this vote is going to be that the Iraqis themselves will decide who will hold...

and, furthermore, the neocon hope Dreyfuss discussed in the above has come to pass: Chalabi has indeed "strengthen[ed] his ties" to Sistani.

Claude Salhani, UPI's international editor, recently wrote

If U.S. foreign policy planners were Machiavellian enough, one could be led to believe that they planned the whole affair surrounding former Pentagon golden boy Ahmed Chalabi, the man most likely to become the new prime minister of Iraq. But their track record -- and history -- has proven otherwise. [ ... ]

Since his fall from favor with the U.S. administration, Chalabi, a Shiite, re-aligned himself with Iraq's most revered Shiite religious authority, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. It was undoubtedly one of his smartest moves. Again, analysts remarked that if U.S. intelligence was Machiavellian enough, they would have orchestrated the whole episode. What better way to give Chalabi credibility among many Iraqis, particularly among those opposed to the U.S. occupation, than to make him appear a pariah to the United States?

Salhani speculates about a reality in which U.S. foreign policy planners are "Machiavellian enough" to have consciously created Chalabi's current position in Iraqi politics but concludes that "their track record" proves otherwise. Needless to say, I disagree with that conclusion and, further, suspect that Salhani does too but cannot say as much because he is an editor for an international press service rather than the editor of an obscure leftist blog. I do, however, have my doubts that U.S. foreign policy planners orchestrated the Chalabi affair -- not because they are not Machiavellian enough but because they haven't demonstrated lately that they are competent enough to pull off this sort of non-trivial political engineering (and I may be misreading Salhani in the above -- perhaps lack of competence is what he means when he writes of the Pentagon planners' "track record")

In the same essay, Salhani makes the following claim

Iraqis who voted Sunday chose a slate rather than a candidate. Given that the names of most candidates were not revealed due to security concerns, many Iraqis voted for the slate their religious leaders told them to vote for. Chalabi was the lead candidate on Sistani's slate. If Sistani's slate wins, Chalabi will most likely become the next prime minister of Iraq.

which I have read nowhere else. Even Judy Miller only hinted that Chalabi was being groomed for a position as an "interior minister" -- perhaps oil minister or finance minister, as Chris Matthews suggested during Miller's appearance on Hardball. Let's just say if this all plays out and Ahmed Chalabi ends up as the prime minister of Iraq then I apologize for doubting Robert Dreyfuss last spring...

A Broken Force 

From the LA Times:

The burdens placed on Army reservists since the Sept. 11 attacks, combined with "dysfunctional" Pentagon policies hurting both morale and retention, threaten to turn the reserves into a "broken force," the head of the Army Reserves has told senior Pentagon leaders.

Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, the Reserves commander, wrote in a memorandum to Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, that Pentagon decisions extending reservists' tours in war zones, giving troops as little as three days notice before mobilizations, and calling reservists back to active duty after demobilization have strained the Army Reserves to the point that the 200,000-member force could be unable to carry out future missions.

Given the demands that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed on America's part-time soldiers, the Army Reserve is "in grave danger of being unable to meet other operational requirements" and is "rapidly degenerating into a 'broken' force," Helmly wrote.

"I do not wish to sound alarmist. I do wish to send a clear, distinctive signal of deepening concern," the memo states.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Another Item in the Set of All Things That George W. Bush is Unfamiliar With 

From the Chicago Defender:

President George W. Bush met with the Congressional Black Caucus Wednesday for the first time as a group in nearly four years, but what CBC members said stood out the most was the president's declaration that he was "unfamiliar" with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed in the history of the United States.

At the conclusion of yesterday's 40-minute meeting, Bush - who attended along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - was asked by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2nd) whether he would support the re-authorization of a portion of the Voting Rights Act that must be approved every 25 years (It will come up for consideration next year).

"I don't know anything about the 1965 Voting Rights Act," Jackson recalled the president saying in an interview with the Chicago Defender.

He said that a hurried Bush went on to say that "when the legislation comes before me, I'll take a look at it, but I don't know about it to comment any more than that, but we will look at it when it comes to us."

"It was so unbelievable to me that as soon as I walked out, I got Frank (Watkins, Jackson's top legislative aide) on the telephone, put (Congresswomen) Maxine (Waters, D-Calif.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), so that I could confirm what he just said is what I heard," Jackson said.

Somebody Named John Dizard Got it Right, Sort Of 

In a Salon piece from December 2004 about the apparent break between Ahmed Chalabi and the neoconservatives, John Dizard wrote the following:

As the intellectual architects of an "easy" war gone bad, they stand to pay the price. The first to go may be [L. Marc] Zell's old partner Douglas Feith. Military sources say Feith will resign his Defense Department post by mid-May. His removal was reportedly a precondition imposed by Ambassador to the U.N. John Negroponte when he agreed to take over from Paul Bremer as the top U.S. official in Iraq. "Feith is on the way out," Iraqi defense minister (and Chalabi nephew) Ali Allawi says confidently, and other sources confirm it. Feith's boss, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, may follow

Now, the mid-May being discussed above is, of course, May of 2004, but, still, it's interesting to see that someone predicted the Feith resignation, even if the prediction was off by a year.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Surprised and Heartened at the Size of the Turnout 

This is pretty funny ... from the Times, 9/4/67:

Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror

by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times (9/4/1967: p. 2)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3-- United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.

Pending more detailed reports, neither the State Department nor the White House would comment on the balloting or the victory of the military candidates, Lieut. Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu, who was running for president, and Premier Nguyen Cao Ky, the candidate for vice president.

A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam. The election was the culmination of a constitutional development that began in January, 1966, to which President Johnson gave his personal commitment when he met Premier Ky and General Thieu, the chief of state, in Honolulu in February.

The purpose of the voting was to give legitimacy to the Saigon Government, which has been founded only on coups and power plays since November, 1963, when President Ngo Dinh Deim was overthrown by a military junta.

Few members of that junta are still around, most having been ousted or exiled in subsequent shifts of power.

Read the rest here. And lest you think the above is an ambitious parody, see here; it's legit.

Unconfirmed Sources Say... 

So Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation claims to have in its possession a leaked document purporting that "the US-appointed government of Ayyad Allawi is bent on restoring Baath-style dictatorship in Iraq." I have never heard of this group before and do not vouch for the authenticity of this document, but decided the story was interesting enough to throw it out there; afterall, that's what blogs are for, right? Here's what IDAO says about the document in question:

According to an apparently genuine document, received by IDAO on Thursday, the US-appointed government of Ayyad Allawi is bent on restoring Baath-style dictatorship in Iraq.

Signed by General Taleb Al-Hamadani, 'overall coordinator for security matters' for Ayyad Allawi, and addressed to Allawi, he appears to comment on another discussion document circulated within the Ayyad Allawi government and suggesting full restoration of the Baath party in Iraq. While advocating caution to stem "international opposition" to such move, General Al-Hamadani nevertheless supports the return of leading Baathist to government and cites measures to ensure that "those belonging to other parties are excluded from military and security institutions", in effect advocating a dictatorship in Iraq. Click for a scanned copy of the document.

The US seems to sponsor such moves, see for example the IDAO article on the Salvador option, by which the US occupation authorities are happy to allow an election process that does not threaten their plans for Iraq but rather encourage it by providing legitimacy to the emergence of new dictatorship in Iraq on the model of other Arab states. Most indications are that the elections will be fixed to allow Ayyad Allawi, himself a leading Baathist in the past, to return to government, ensuring continued US hegemony on Iraq's oil and its politics.

When the 'elections' process is passed on Sunday without real change to the status quo, the focus will return for a time-table to end the occupation and the corruption it has brought with it, for security and real democracy to the Iraqi people. The extent to which those Iraqi forces interested in democracy and an end to the occupation, who certainly represent the majority of Iraqi people, can unit on a common program, will shape the future of Iraq and prevent dictatorship and the threat of civil war.

Given the goals of the planners of the Iraq War the idea that the US would welcome another Iraqi dictatorship isn't really surprising. As Friedman wrote in the Times, "the best of all worlds" in Iraq as far as Washington is concerned would be "an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein".

Rumsfeld's Indictment 

So in late November the Center for Constitutional Rights filed war crimes charges against Rumsfeld and others in a German court.

I hadn't realized however that the CCR's complaint against Rumsfeld is actually publicly available for download. Here it is in English. Here's the conclusion of the part enumerating the charges specifically made against Rumsfeld:

As Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld is the penultimate civilian commander over the military, except for President Bush. There is no doubt Rumsfeld had control over the individuals who committed war crimes, indeed, he ordered the commission of some war crimes, and set the conditions possible for the commission of others. Secretary Rumsfeld knew of the crimes being committed, as he had specifically authorized certain crimes. He set the conditions favorable for more crimes to occur, and in fact failed to take action to prevent more crimes from occurring. He is therefore directly liable for war crimes under CCIL section 8.

As one of the highest civilian commanders of U.S. Forces, it is Rumsfeld’s responsibility to ensure all military and civilian personnel act within the confines of the law. Rumsfeld was aware of the possibility that more crimes beyond those he approved would be committed, and failed to take action to prevent this from happening. The above facts show Rumsfeld must be held liable for war crimes as civilian commander under CCIL section 4.

Additionally, Secretary Rumsfeld failed to properly ensure troops were adequately trained. In addition, his failure to take appropriate action when he first learned of the abuses allowed the crimes to continue. His admitted failure to recognize the magnitude of the scandal does not excuse him from his duty to remain informed, thus rendering him liable under Section 13 for his failure in his duty of supervision.

[via arancaytar]

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