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

Saturday, January 31, 2004


What he said ...


I like this comment by Eli over at Left I on the News in a post that references my David Kay post:


But why should we care what David Kay thinks? Why don't the media and other experts start quoting Scott Ritter, who was right before the invasion and was made into a pariah by the media as a result? Go to CNN.com, or the New York Times online, and type "Ritter" into the search engine and find the last time his name was even mentioned [if you go to the Washington Post, you will find Ritter's name mentioned recently - in a live online chat, by one of the readers. But not by the Post itself.]

I actually meant to say something like that in my Kay post but it must have slipped my mind.


The Big Con


There's an old book called The Big Con that I highly recommend picking up, if you ever see it anywhere. It's a nonfiction account of the world of con men during their heyday, the first few decades of the twentieth century. A good read if you like this sort of thing ... it's supposed to be the inspiration of the movie The Sting.

It has a glossary of con man lingo in the back, and something I read recently reminded me of one of the entries:


Addict. A mark who believes so firmly in a sure-thing investment that he comes back again and again. See to knock (a mark)

In a truly successful con the mark never realized he had been conned. Hard as it is to believe, there were marks who were so successfully conned they would return to the same con men after building up a new bankroll to attempt to recoup their losses by again playing their part in the phony stock market, the phony horserace, or the phony whatever story that the con men had sung to them. This phenomenon was so common such marks were given a name, addicts.

Anyway, the idea of addicts in this sense ran through my head when I read the following in a Salon article about the neoconservative masturbatory fantasy An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror:

In one of the book's most egregious passages, the authors write, "But of all our mistakes, probably the most serious was our unwillingness to let the Iraqi National Congress, Iraq's leading anti-Saddam resistance movement, form a provisional government after the fall of Baghdad."

Ahmed Chalabi truly is a con man extraordinaire. A former embezzler and corporate fraud practitioner passes on bogus information for years, about weapons of mass destruction and fairy tales about US troops being showered with rose petals, to a group of powerful men. They fall for his story hook, line, and sinker, even lose some of the power they crave in the resulting flap when the INC's lies are exposed. Now they write a book asserting that everything would have turned out all right after all had only old Ahmed the Thief been put in power. Someone cue "The Entertainer".

Friday, January 30, 2004


Nothing to Preempt


Former CIA agent Ray McGovern has the following to say about Kay's admission that there were no WMD's in Iraq: (from Tom Paine)


Finally, some honesty. But mounting problems for the White House. [ ... ] It turns out that there was nothing to preempt.

Which calls into question the real reason why more than 500 U.S. troops have been killed and at least 6,000 severely wounded—and why untold thousands of Iraqi army conscripts and civilians have also been killed. [ ... ] Nothing to preempt also means that the U.S./UK attack on Iraq last March falls into the category of "preventive war" explicitly condemned by international law. Which also means that the British Prime Minister Tony Blair's political career is probably finished, as is the political future of other gullible leaders of the "coalition of the willing"—in Australia, for example, and in even in Denmark.

You will not have heard this on FOX news, but the Australian Senate has already formally censured Prime Minister John Howard for misleading the country on Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD) and for suppressing a key report from Australian intelligence warning that still more widespread terrorism could be expected to follow any attack on Iraq.

McGovern goes on to speculate that Tenet is again going to take the fall for Bush.

Here's an excerpt from an article about the censure of Howard: (from The Age, "Howard censured over push for war with Iraq", 10/8/03)

Prime Minister John Howard was yesterday censured by the Senate for misleading the public in his justification for sending Australia to war with Iraq.

It was only the fourth time in more than three decades a sitting prime minister has been censured and the second in Mr Howard's seven-and-a-half years in office.

The motion attacked Mr Howard for failing to adequately inform Australians that intelligence agency warnings about a war with Iraq would increase the likelihood of a terrorist attack.

It also noted that no evidence had yet been produced by Mr Howard to justify his claims that in March this year, Iraq possessed stockpiles of completed biological chemical weapons that justified going to war.

The Opposition, Greens and Australian Democrats voted together to defeat the Government by 33 votes to 30.

Greens senator Bob Brown said Mr Howard was involved in an unprecedented deceit of the nation and deserved censure.

He said Mr Howard had argued that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and support of international terrorism threatened Australia. "It has become abundantly clear that the Prime Minister was not just a bit wrong. He was totally wrong," he told parliament.




Well, It's Not in English So, Uh, It Must Not Be True ...


The Jordanian newspaper al-Arab al-Yawm ran a story by Ahmad Sabri on Tuesday in which former prisoners of the US occupation forces speak out about their time in captivity. This article was translated to English by Muhammad Abu Nasr:


Iraqi prisoners released by the American occupation forces recently are describing what they were subjected to during the periods of their detention and how and where they were arrested. In talks with al-Arab al-Yawm they have disclosed that Abu Ghurayb central prison camp, in which thousands of Iraqis are being held, was subjected on several occasions to mortar attacks resulting in the death of dozens of the prisoners and the American forces charged with controlling the prison camp.

Prisoner 'Ali Mahmud, who spent about five months in five different prison camps in various parts of Iraq before winding up in Abu Ghurayb, said that the charge against him was not based on any evidence but was merely slander. Yet the way he was captured was outrageous. "They raided my home in al-Karakh district late at night, provocatively wrecking our household goods. They stole five million dinars from my house and arrested three of my sons."

Mahmud said that the investigators used psychological torture on him throughout long hours of interrogation sessions during which his hands and feet were bound in iron chains.

Mahmud, who is known as 'Ali Mama, did not claim that he was beaten but said that some of the investigators used threats and intimidation regarding what would happen to him if he did not confess to his connections with Saddam and wit the so-called Army of Muhammad, connections with which he denied. Because he denied any connection with the Resistance, Mahmud says he was stripped naked and confined to an empty cell.

Mahmud described how during his imprisonment there he was subjected to a harsh form of punishment in which the jailers would pour water on his naked body, bringing on sickness. "I got terrible diarrhea and have fainting spells which I am now seeing a doctor about."

[ ... snip ... ]

Mahmud estimated the number of Iraqi prisoners in the camps that he spent time in during his five months of detention as being more than 10,000 prisoners. He said that the reason for the release of prisoners is that the prisons have filled up and are seriously overcrowded.



Thursday, January 29, 2004


But What Do They Know ...


Half of Britons believe the Hutton inquiry into the death of Iraq weapons expert David Kelly was a whitewash, according to this Reuters story. (tip via Thousand Yard Glare)



The Other Case No One's Talking About


Damn Foreigner reports on an update in the Maher Arar case. The Canadian government has called for a "public inquiry".



David Kay, International Man of Mystery


The Bush administration's response to the lack of WMD's in Iraq has evolved into a story that goes like this, "We were wrong that the weapons existed but are sure Hussein was dangerous enough to warrant invading. Furthermore, our statements about weapon stockpiles were based on the intelligence we were given, so to the extent that we were wrong it was the CIA's fault." Over the last several days, David Kay has been the primary voice in the media making this case. His justification for his story seems to be that it's his personal opinion based on his relevant experience as the former special adviser for the weapons search.

But since so much stock is being placed in Kay's opinion, ie. there have been so many stories about it in the press, why haven't we heard more about who he is? As it turns out Kay's background sheds a lot of light on the whole story.

Before his inspector gig, Kay was a pundit and speaker who made the rounds discussing the need to forcibly oust Saddam Hussein. Let's take a look, for example, at what Kay said on CNN circa 9-2002 regarding UN inspector Scott Ritter's (correct) claim that Saddam Hussein did not possess vast stockpiles of WMD's:


Well, I -- dealing not with Scott as an individual but with anyone who would take that position, there are, I think, two answers. There (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- there's a lot of proof, that is, the proof of failure to allow inspectors in, and failure to allow inspectors, once in, to conduct inspections in an unfettered manner.

Of the second issue that is there is, look, the lack of hard evidence, particularly over the last four years, is because inspectors haven't been in and Saddam has engaged in deception and concealment efforts of an unparalleled status. If you want to wait till you have hard evidence, that is, a nuclear weapon that can -- that you can see and touch, or biological weapon, you're really waiting till after the first use and I think all of us after 9/11 realize the great hazard that poses for the nation.

Kay does not say the US should invade Iraq because of intelligence from the CIA; in fact, he says there's a "lack of hard evidence." He offers not very compelling circumstantial evidence that Hussein has a weapons program when he cites (incorrectly) the story of the inspectors. In the paragraph about "hard evidence" he offers no real argument, he merely verbalizes his conviction that invading Iraq is a good idea. There are lots of other people who had strong convictions about invading Iraq despite a lack of hard evidence that it was a threat -- they're called "neoconservative hawks".

Before being a pundit, Kay was a high-level executive for a defense contractor called Science Applications International Corporation. Bill Berkowitz had the following to say about Kay and SAIC on 9/12/03 in his Working for Change column Conservative Watch :

SAIC, heavily involved with homeland security projects, has already acquired several reconstruction contracts in Iraq, and Kay and a number of other former company employees are firmly planted in country. The company "has been running the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council (IRDC) since the body was established by the Pentagon in February," Dauenhauer and Lobe reported. "SAIC is also a subcontractor under Vinnell Corporation, another big defense contractor that has long been in charge of training for the Saudi National Guard, hired to reconstitute and train a new Iraqi army." And SAIC is also running the recently established Iraqi Media Network (IMN) project, whose charge was to "was to put together a new information ministry, complete with television, radio and a newspaper, and the content that would make all three attractive to average Iraqis."

In other words Kay is deeply involved in the neoconservative plan for a new American empire. When Kay says the CIA analysts that he spoke to claimed no one pressured them to cook their data, it's a bit like a fox saying that after extensive interviews it's concluded that hens have no problem with it guarding the henhouse. Kay was a member of the group that pressured the CIA, or at least was given his position as top dog weapon's searcher with that group's blessing, not an objective observer. It would be nice if the media would point this out.


Thanks for the Memories


This is pretty great. Good job, Eric Blumrich of Bushflash.


Tuesday, January 27, 2004


Halliburton III: The Domination -- All Halliburton, All the Time
(and The American Leftist Halliburton-related Scandal Challenge)


With a new Halliburton scandal-related program activity unfolding as I write this, I thought it would be a good time to do a recap for those of you who are keeping score at home. Halliburton scandals are spread across three eras that I denote as follows: [I] The Hey-Cheney's-Old-Company-Was-Like-Enron era, [II] the Has-Halliburton-No-Shame era, and [III] the new I-Can't-Believe-There's-Another-Halliburton-Related-Scandal era. Plus, eras [I] and [II] are separated from each other by the ur-Halliburton scandal.

[I] Hey Cheney's Old Company Was Like Enron: With Cheney at the helm, Halliburton engaged in at least two kinds of Enron-like questionable business practices. It used fraudulent accounting to overstate its profits leading to scandal #1 when Halliburton, along with Cheney personally, was sued by the conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch. According to Judicial Watch Chairman, Larry Klayman:


Vice President Cheney owes a full explanation to the American people concerning the accounting practices he instituted while heading Halliburton. The value of the company’s shares have dropped like a stone and many investors have been seriously hurt. Retirements and pensions have been wiped-out. But, Mr. Cheney cashed-out his stock options for $35 million dollars. Unfortunately, in Washington, DC, many investigations end up going nowhere, or the results turn out to be a ‘whitewash.’*

The lawsuit was eventually dismissed.

It is important to note that when I say Judicial Watch is a "conservative watchdog group" I don't mean it's a liberal nonprofit that monitors conservatives; rather, it monitors the federal government from a right-wing starve-the-beast perspective, an organization that spent most of the nineties filing lawsuits against the Clintons. So you can say what you like about this lawsuit, but you can't say it was a partisan attack.

Scandal #2: Halliburton's use of shill companies to avoid paying taxes. The number of Halliburton subsidiaries based in Carribean tax havens grew from 9 to 44 during Cheney's tenure as CEO. This led to the company's federal taxes dropping from 300$ million to less than zero over the course of a single year. All the while, of course, the company received billions in government handouts.

The Ur-Halliburton Scandal: Next came the main scandal associated with Halliburton, scandal #3. Halliburton was granted, without competitive bidding, contracts valued at 2$ billion for the reconstruction of Iraq at a time when the vice president of the United States was still on its payroll. Cheney maintains that he no longer has financial ties to the company of any consequence, but such claims were refuted by a report from the Congressional Research Service. According to the Washington Post, the report concluded that Cheney's deferred salary and stock options "may represent a continuing financial interest as defined by federal ethics laws."*


[II] Has Halliburton No Shame: Once Halliburton actually started doing things in Iraq all hell broke loose -- in particular, a set of scandals resulting from either incompetence and malfeasance or just malfeasance, depending on your level of cynicism. In scandal #4 Halliburton served US troops "dirty" food from kitchens featuring "blood all over the floor," "dirty pans," "dirty grills," "dirty salad bars", and "rotting meats ... and vegetables." On the malfeasance front, around this time Halliburton was accused of gouging US taxpayers by inflating the price of imported gasoline (scandal #5).

[III] I Can't Believe There's Another Halliburton-related Scandal: Which leads us to this new incident ... actually two seperate flaps that came out at the same time, scandal #6, chronologically of era [I] (but I'm including it here because, hey, what the hell, I'm writing this post and this is where I think it goes), occurred when the company disclosed that it paid $2 million in bribes to get tax breaks in Nigeria. A French judge warned Cheney that he could face criminal charges in France, for this one. The other recent flap, scandal #7, goes as follows. The US gave Halliburton subsidiary KBR two contracts in Iraq: one dealt with oil infrastructure; the other, with everything else. The oil infrastructure contract was the one involved in the gas gouging scandal; the 'everything else' contract was the one that led to serving unsanitary food to GI's. In the newest scandal, Halliburton employees working on the 'everything else' contract took 6$ million in kickbacks from a Kuwaiti subcontractor. Halliburton has admitted that this transaction occurred, the employees involved have been fired, and Halliburton has promised to pay back the government for any overbilling by the subcontractor resulting from the incident*.

It's pretty incredible that Halliburton is still going about its business in Iraq. Or maybe it isn't -- I mean, if you assume Halliburton is getting favorable treatment because of friends in high places what you would expect is that it wouldn't be held accountable for illegal activities, gross incompetence, occasional bribery, accepting kickbacks, and using questionable business practices.

If anyone knows of any scandals that I forgot about, put them in the comments of this post. It's the American Leftist Halliburton-related Scandal Challenge! To win you have to be able to back up your claim with a report from the mainstream media or a reputable leftwing source, but, you know, it can't just be your own blog posting in which you claim Halliburton killed your cat, and the Cheney energy commission stuff doesn't count -- it's got to be about Halliburton not just Cheney.


Monday, January 26, 2004


Scottie McClellan, Poor Little Guy


From today's press gaggle:


Q Scott, this is a very narrow question. It has nothing to do with why we went to war, accepting the premise that it was good to go to war with Iraq. We're going to put that on the table. With regards to large stockpiles of WMD, Kay has now said he doubts it; Powell has now said that he allows for the possibility there never were any; Senator Roberts, head of the Intel Committee, now says the same thing. What is the President's position on that very narrow issue, as whether there were large stockpiles of WMD in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think, one, the Iraq Survey Group work is ongoing. I think it was the judgment of intelligence agencies around the world, as well as the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq, that there were large unaccounted for stockpiles. That was the judgment of the intelligence agencies around the world and of UNSCOM, if you go back to before the war.

Q The White House still believes there may be large stockpiles of WMD in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what we believe is important for the Iraq Survey Group to complete their work so that we have as complete a picture as possible. Obviously, you've heard from Dr. Kay, and Dr. Kay said that Iraq was a very dangerous place, for the reasons I stated a short time ago. But we want the work of the Iraq Survey Group to continue so that they can draw as complete a picture as possible. And then we can learn -- it will help us learn the truth, their work will. And that's important.

Q One of the reasons Kay cited for stepping down was that some of his resources were being diverted to handling counter-insurgency activities. If you still want to see the Iraq Survey Group do work in this matter, will you recommit those resources back to finding WMD?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of resources, those are decisions made by the Pentagon. Obviously, there are a number of important priorities that the Pentagon is working to meet. I think you ought to address specific questions about how they are allocated to the Pentagon. But the work of the Iraq Survey Group remains a priority.

Man, I wish Ari was around for this shit. McClellan just has this air of pathos about him that makes it not as fun to watch him scramble.
[thanks to Holden Caulfield, from Atrios's comments for pointing out this exchange]


Clark Finally Gets Asked the Money Questions


Democracy Now's Jeremy Scahill finally managed to ask General Wesley Clark about the bombing of civilian infrastructure in Yugoslavia. Here's an excerpt, but anyone who thinks of Clark as an antiwar candidate should read the whole transcript

On the bombing of Radio Television Serbia:


GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: I want to answer this fellow. Because the truth was that that -- first of all, we gave warnings to Milosevic that that was going to be struck. I personally called the CNN reporter and had it set up so that it would be leaked, and Milosevic knew. He had the warning because after he got the warning, he actually ordered the western journalists to report there as a way of showing us his power, and we had done it deliberately to sort of get him accustomed to the fact that he better start evacuating it. There were actually six people who were killed, as I recall.

JEREMY SCAHILL: There were 16.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: I recall six.

JEREMY SCAHILL: I was there at the time and I knew the families. They do hold Milosevic accountable and they also hold you accountable, sir.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: They were ordered to stay there.

...

JEREMY SCAHILL: And you think a media outlet is a legitimate target?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: No, but when it is used as command and control, it is. But then

...

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: What I said is, we would give them the warnings. It was part of the command and control systems. It was approved as a legitimate target under the laws of land warfare and went through the U.S. Government. That was the basis on which we struck. We actually called the bombers back one time, because there was still -- it was still unclear to us that we weren't absolutely certain. What we know is that Milosevic ordered them to stay there, and it was wrong, but I was doing my duty, and I have been looked at by the law, so -- I mean, I respect Amnesty International. I think they're a good organization, but --

JEREMY SCAHILL: But do you feel any remorse for the killing of civilians that you essentially were overseeing?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Yes, I do.


On the cluster bombing of the Nis marketplace:

JEREMY SCAHILL: And what about the bombing of the Nis marketplace with cluster bombs, shredding human beings.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: It was terrible, but you know in that instance, if we had got the same incident, there was a cluster bomb that opened prematurely. It was an accident. And every one of these incidents was fully investigated. All of the material from the Yugoslavian government was given to the International Criminal Tribunal, plus as the NATO commander, I made a full report to the International Criminal Tribunal. It was all investigated. The pilots who did it, nobody could have felt worse than the pilots who did it. And I got a letter from a man in Serbia who said you killed my granddaughter on a schoolyard at Nis. I know how he must have felt. And I felt so helpless about it. Every night before I let those bombs go, I prayed we wouldn't kill innocent people. But unfortunately, when you are at war, terrible things happen, even when you don't want them to. You can't imagine what those pilots felt like in those convoys when they struck the convoys. You remember the convoys?


On the bombing of Gurdulica and the Gurdulica bridge:

JEREMY SCAHILL: In Gurdulica were the 72 Albanians were killed.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: In that place, too. And they had flown over it a couple of times. You know, we just -- we were trying to establish some kind of communications on the ground with the Albanians. The Serbs were on the nets, and they were jamming all of the communications, and they were doing imitative communications deception. And nobody could get the truth about it. We saw the Serb vehicles around the place. And I didn't make the decision, but they were following orders on my command. And it was looked at, and so forth. The decision was made as a legitimate target. It turned out that they had been ordered to stay in there by the Serbs. The Serbs were surrounding the place to keep them penned in. It was horrible. You never forget stuff like that. That's why when this government has used force as it has, it makes me so angry. Because these people in the White House don't understand -- you don't use force except as a last, last, last resort.

JEREMY SCAHILL: On April 12th you targeted a passenger train, and then you showed a video that was sped up at three time the speed. Why?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: I think -- first of all, the passenger train was not targeted. The pilot's instructions were to go after a bridge, and not the train. He felt, as he launched that missile, that all of a sudden at the very last minute, the train suddenly came into his field of view. I showed the tape. I did not know that the tape was accelerated. I don't think it was three times. I think it was one-and-a-half times. Whatever it was, it was going faster than the actual speed. It made it look like it was --

JEREMY SCAHILL: But the Supreme Allied Commander, you are ultimately responsible for all of the information that came out.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: That's true. I was.

JEREMY SCAHILL: What the actual in real-time speed showed is that the pilot actually moved the target so that it would hit the train.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, I don't have that information.


Part of Patriot Act Ruled Unconstitutional


From an AP story:


A federal judge has declared unconstitutional a portion of the USA Patriot Act that bars giving expert advice or assistance to groups designated foreign terrorist organizations.

The ruling marks the first court decision to declare a part of the post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism statute unconstitutional, said David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who argued the case on behalf of the Humanitarian Law Project.

In a ruling handed down late Friday and made available Monday, U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins said the ban on providing ``expert advice or assistance'' is impermissibly vague, in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments.

Sunday, January 25, 2004


McNamara Calls Iraq War 'Morally Wrong'


Here's a link to the trailer for Errol Morris's new film Fog of War. It's a portrait of Robert McNamara in the idiosyncratic style of Morris's two previous movies Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control and Mr. Death in which MacNamara discusses his involvement in the firebombing of Japan, the Vietnam war, and generally the doubts that he has about the role he played in the 20th century. It's got a Philip Glass soundtrack etc. -- I really can't wait, but from looking at the showing dates on the official site it seems like its getting a somewhat limited release, unfortunately.

Anyway, the Globe & Mail just ran an exclusive interview with McNamara:


He decided to break his silence on Iraq when I called him up the other day at his Washington office. I told him that his carefully enumerated lists of historic lessons from Vietnam were in danger of being ignored. He agreed, and told me that he was deeply frustrated to see history repeating itself.

"We're misusing our influence," he said in a staccato voice that had lost none of its rapid-fire engagement. "It's just wrong what we're doing. It's morally wrong, it's politically wrong, it's economically wrong."

While he did not want to talk on the record about specific military decisions made Mr. Rumsfeld, he said the United States is fighting a war that he believes is totally unnecessary and has managed to destroy important relationships with potential allies. "There have been times in the last year when I was just utterly disgusted by our position, the United States' position vis-à-vis the other nations of the world."

Saturday, January 24, 2004


What the Fellas Say About One Head of the Monster


First off, a little background for those who don't follow the unfolding narrative of neoliberal globalization. The Free Trade Area of the Americas is a proposed trade and investment agreement that, if enacted, will govern all of North, Cental, and South America, except for Cuba. It is another tool designed in secret by unelected corporate officials, like NAFTA and GATT before it. The purpose of this tool and the effect it will likely have are, as always, under dispute. According to those negotiating its creation, the FTAA will spread the prosperity of the economically advantaged in our hemisphere to the disadvantaged, it will spread democracy and higher standards of living. According to its critics, the FTAA will perpetuate the familiar economic dynamic in which the South provides cheap labor for the North. Here's an excerpt from an essay by Aziz Choudry :


Latin American activists sometimes dub the FTAA and the World Trade Organization (WTO) as “the two headed monster” of neoliberalism. For Indigenous Peoples, neoliberal globalization is the latest chapter in over 500 years of colonialism, dispossession and genocide in the Americas.

...[snip]...

The FTAA promotes a package of reforms which include: minimal controls on big business; unrestricted foreign investment; unlimited export of profits; privatization of public assets, utilities and services; full exposure of domestic markets to cheap imports; privately-funded and owned infrastructure operating through deregulated markets.

An FTAA services agreement would mean market-driven service sectors, including water, education, postal services, financial services, energy, and healthcare. Its intellectual property agreement will accelerate the commodification and privatization of life itself and protect the monopoly rights of pharmaceutical and agrochemical corporations over the rights of people to have access to affordable lifesaving drugs or the ability to grow crops from their own seeds. The FTAA will lock in an exploitative employment regime across all 34 countries – a competitive, low-cost, deunionized and flexible (temporary, part-time and contract-based) workforce. Proposed negotiating drafts detail even more radical commitments to free trade and investment than the WTO.

A decade or so ago at this point in a post like this, I would have to offer an argument that the left's point of view is the correct one, but now we can just check the facts. The FTAA is very similar to NAFTA, which has been around for several years now, so let's see how NAFTA is doing:

More than one million U.S. jobs have been lost due to corporations relocating to Mexico since NAFTA went into effect six years ago. Some eight million Mexicans have fallen from the middle class into poverty, and an explosion in industry-related illnesses and birth defects have been reported along the U.S.-Mexico border.*

So, anyway, without further ado ... below is what each of the Dem candidates had to say in response to two questions dealing with this issue; question (1) is "What will you do to ensure that global trade and international economic development promote workers rights, good jobs and workers’ well-being?" and (2) is "Do you support or oppose the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), based on the NAFTA model that has created import surges that cost jobs and does not require enforcement of internationally recognized workers’ rights?" In some cases the candidates did not comment on question (2) but indicated whether they support or do not support the FTAA. (from here)

Dean: (1) I support fair trade. I would not negotiate trade agreements that do not include meaningful labor, environmental, and human rights protections. I would not pursue trade policies that undermine important U.S. laws and regulations, especially those that protect American workers. I will vigorously enforce anti-dumping laws.

(2) I would oppose any trade agreement that does not require enforcement of internationally recognized workers’ rights.

- - - - - - - - -

Edwards: (1)Free trade has to be fair trade. I know from first-hand experience how unfair trade agreements have hurt many American communities. Growing up in mill towns in North and South Carolina, I saw people like my father who worked hard in the mill their whole lives. Yet these mill towns and the good people who live in them, have been devastated by foreign trade. At the same time, I also believe trade is an important part of a growing economy. I have no doubt that when America’s workers have the chance to compete on a level playing field, they can win. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that trade agreements are fair, that American workers get a level playing field, and that there is real support for American workers and their communities. When I negotiate trade agreements, I will follow certain fundamental principles. Both sides should give up something. Agreements should be fair and enforceable. Agreements should have adequate labor and environmental protections. And trade agreements should have real, tangible benefits for U.S. businesses and U.S. workers. I’ll apply these principles to future trade agreements, including the Free Trade Area of the Americas and future World Trade Organization agreements.

(2) Opposes.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Kerry: (1) As President, I will insist that core environmental and labor standards are included in all trade agreements - and I’d enforce them for a change. We need to end child labor, improve standards for all workers, and increase our commitment to fighting global environmental problems - not watch them eroded by unfair agreements. I’ve worked to expand trade adjustment assistance and make sure that it reaches workers who are displaced. The current administration’s arrogance on matters of international diplomacy has squandered the tools we have to convince potential trading partners to work in cooperation to raise environmental and labor standards. I had first hand experience in negotiating trade agreements in Vietnam and in that case the prospect of opening markets convinced them to cooperate with return of POWs. The same principles should apply when negotiating trade with other countries.

(2) I do not feel that we have done enough to enforce labor and environmental accords that were signed with NAFTA. I would impose stronger enforcement, as well as greater diplomatic pressure and more domestic investment to guarantee that trade not only lifts our economy, but also doesn’t leave Americans behind.

- - - - - - - - - -

Kucinich: (1) Free trade has been a disaster for our economy, workers around the world and the environmental as well as our sovereignty. Free trade must be replaced with bilateral Fair Trade agreements in which the rights of workers to organize and enjoy the fruits of their labors must be uppermost. The damage done by “structural adjustment” programs around the world are well documented. See, for example, Joseph Stiglitz’s book, Globalization and Its Discontents, for an insider’s view of the damage that our trade policies have inflicted on workers around the world. Even more shocking is the revelation that countries like China and Botswana which are recognized for economic progress have rejected the conventional wisdom of world bankers and oligarchs.

(2) Opposes.

- - - - - - - - - - -

Lierberman: (1) Protecting worker rights and economic prosperity go hand in hand. One cannot be achieved without the other. Just as our international trade preferential agreements require enforcement of worker rights, I believe the same is necessary for international trade agreements and investments.

(2) The completion of the Free Trade Area of the Americas is very important for continued U.S. economic prosperity. We are now at time in the world when it is important to have neighbors who are economically and politically stable. The FTAA will take us a long ways towards establishing economic and political stability in our hemisphere. I agree the NAFTA model has had its share of problems. It was nevertheless an important first step for including trade and environment issues in trade agreements. But we should improve on NAFTA to make sure that we are not unnecessarily exposed to risks and to protect workers’ rights and the environment. Additionally” I have spoken out regarding China, where six to eight million people toil in inhumane conditions in forced labor camps. child labor numbers are estimated to be at about nine million. That’s bad for Chinese workers, and it is also bad for our workers because it makes China’s products cheaper on the world market and thus gives them an unfair competitive advantage.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Sharpton: (1)Any trade agreement I support would have to have worker’s rights, human rights, and environmental protections built into them. NAFTA and the WTO do not provide such protections, which is why I oppose them. I support international trade agreements that are fair and protect workers rights and the environment.

(2) Opposes.


Boy, that Lieberman response is a real shocker.

[Thanks to mystery helper B for finding the linked PDF file]


Groupthink on Religious Nuts

Yuval Rubinstein over at Groupthink Central has an interesting take on a post from Crooked Timber. He lists four explanations often offered by the fanatical worshippers of the deity called 'free markets' when confronted with the fallibility of their god. The heretical fact under discussion is the existence of the working poor.


Friday, January 23, 2004


Yes, Jeff, Caucuses Do Suck


So cast your mind back through the mists of time to that long ago era of last monday. Remember how all the talking heads were bitching about the archaicness of caucuses? For instance in this exchange between the lovely and talented Jeff Greenfield and the sagacious Judy Woodruff: (from cnn transcipt, 1/19/04)


GREENFIELD: The problem is -- it's a great thing. The problem is very few people turn out for it. I mean, they're going to get maybe 20 percent of registered Democrats to turn out because it involves an investment. You do get more interested people. Next week in New Hampshire, roughly 70 to 80 percent of registered Democrats turn out. So yes, it's a nice thing if you've got three hours to spare. The question is whether this is the way you want to pick a president. I kind of like people going to the polls and voting and then 10 minutes later can go. It's a great system for activists, but there are real problems with it.

WOODRUFF: But you know what, Wolf, 20 percent, according to the poll that was shown not too long -- 20 percent of the people who go to these caucuses to vote for -- to express a preference for a delegate are people who have met the candidate that they're supporting. They have met these candidates...

Or later we get

GREENFIELD: You know what else you don't see here? No secret ballot. You can't do that in a caucus, right? Now, some people think that lets you stand up and be counted. On the other hand, if your boss is there, your shop steward is there, somebody you owe money to, you know, a secret ballot's not such a bad idea when you want to make the vote -- which they don't have here -- count. So I agree with you this is a night out. It's people who are involved. They care a lot. It just doesn't happen to be particularly democratic. The Republicans take a secret straw poll, and there you are.

So Iowa democrats are a bunch of weirdos with their caucuses and all; the whole process "just doesn't happen to be particularly democratic" according to Jeff Greenfield. You know who agrees with him? A hundred thousand Iraqis:

In a body later estimated at over 100,000 strong, Shiite Muslims marched three miles through a portion of Baghdad, culminating at the University of al-Mustansariyah today, demanding democratic elections in Iraq. By far the most powerful Shiite leader in the country, 75 year-old Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who called for today’s demonstration, is said to wield the powerful force of millions of dedicated Iraqi Shiite people. It appears Al-Sistani and his followers are stepping up their demand for direct elections for an Iraqi legislature.

Throngs of protesters marched beneath a pedestrian overpass where loudspeakers echoed the booming voice of a representative of al-Sistani. The demonstration, which started at 8am, was going strong at 1pm with crowds of men filling the street as far as the eye could see.

Groups of men waving flags and carrying banners chanted Yes, yes to unification!" and "Yes, yes to voting!"

The echoes of thousands of voices chanting in unison resounded off nearby houses and buildings, fists thrust into the air behind words.

Men marched by holding banners that read, "We refuse any constitution that is not elected by the Iraqi People."
...

A middle aged man protesting in the demonstration said to me, "You are the media? Tell America to give us what they promised! They promised us democracy, so let us have our elections!"

...

Al-Sistani rejects the US plan to transfer power through a provisional legislature selected by 18 regional caucuses.. The US proposal to transfer power via this "provisional legislature" means that a transitional government would be appointed to take over from the US-led coalition on July 1, and full elections would not take place until 2005, at the earliest. The caucuses proposed by the US would be comprised of "notables" in each province of Iraq who would appoint an assembly. The assembly would then select a government.

Al-Sistani insists that only popular democratic elections will lead to legitimately elected representatives in Iraq. Representatives who gain power under any other circumstances, including the proposed US plan, are still, in his view, appointed.

Jeff doesn't like caucuses getting dominated by partisan "activists" but apparently Viceroy Bremer is in favor of caucuses that are dominated by "notables" of his fiefdom, who are presumably appointed by the US. I guess what's bad for Republicans is good for Iraqi's. Or maybe Jeff Greenfield should fly out in a secret mission to teach Paul Bremer about the wonders of straw polls.

The US has responded to the tremendous social pressure effected by the Shiite protests by running to the UN for help:

Under discussion this weekend could be Washington's categorical opposition to direct elections before the hand-over and its insistence on completing by March an agreement on the role of the U.S. military in the country. ... [snip] ... Bremer and a Governing Council delegation will discuss the situation in Iraq with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the U.N. Security Council on Monday.It will be the first formal meeting of the three parties in months. But officials are downplaying the meeting, saying it will be not be a watershed moment in the strained relationship between the U.S. and the U.N.

but so far has made no official statement that it's backing away from its jerrymander-by-way-of-the-undemocratic-nature-of-caucuses plan. But, you know, at this point even Darth Chalabi is coming out against the US plan: (from the Fincancial Times, "Key US Iraq ally backs Shia chief's elections demand", 1/23/04)

Ahmad Chalabi, one of Washington's staunchest allies on Iraq's interim Governing Council, on Friday added to Washington's difficulties with its exit strategy from Baghdad by joining calls for direct elections before the country returns to self-rule.

Speaking in Washington on Friday, Mr Chalabi said: "I believe direct elections are possible. Seek to make them possible and they will be possible. The date of June 30 [by when the US is committed to handing over sovereignty] is firm. We intend to abide by it and President Bush is committed to it."

Poor Viceroy Bremer, when even your puppets turn against you, you really have problems.


ISP's Not Playing Ball With The RIAA


(lifted whole cloth from this post on Ars Technica)
Since a U.S. Appeals Court ruled that the RIAA's subpoenas were illegal, ISPs have begun cutting off all cooperation. In lieu of issuing subpoenas requesting the ISPs divulge information about subscribers, the RIAA has been requesting that the ISPs send notices to their subscribers whom they suspect of illegal file sharing. Upon receiving an IP address from the RIAA, the ISPs would then pass on a "notice of infringement" to the user associated with that IP address, and the RIAA would not learn the identity of the user. So far, nobody wants to play ball with the RIAA.


According to industry officials, not one ISP has agreed to cooperate with the music industry, which was dealt a major legal setback on Dec. 19 when an appeals court ruled the RIAA could not force ISPs to turn over the identities of alleged music pirates. The RIAA claimed it had subpoena power under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The ISPs are under no legal obligation to comply with the request, a fact acknowledged by the RIAA. It seems the RIAA's legal battles with Verizon and other ISPs over DMCA subpoenas has earned them enmity of a group whose cooperation they would greatly like to have. While the Appeals Court decision affects Verizon subscribers (and those of other ISPs in that Circuit), the fight over the legality of the subpoenas is still going on in other jurisdictions. On top of that, the RIAA has yet to make a decision public about appealing the December setback to the U.S. Supreme Court. Will being stonewalled by ISPs cause the RIAA to rethink its current anti-file sharing strategy? If the DMCA subpoena case makes it to the Supreme Court and the RIAA loses there, they will have little choice.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The above is a positive development for the forces of light in the MP3 Wars that suggests a possible avenue of action beyond working to extend the Appeals Court decision and hoping it isn't overturned: someone should organize a boycott of internet service providers that submit to the whims of the RIAA and organize support -- meaning getting customers to switch over to them where possible -- for those that do not. If the RIAA wants to attack its own customers that's its business... but not every ISP sees doing so as a sound business model.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004


State of the Union: Extreme Suckiness With Occasional Showers


Here's some pretty good commentary on last night's dog and pony show. (From the Institute for Public Accuracy, which was founded by Norman Solomon a few years ago -- check it out ... they've got Robert McChesney on the board and stuff...)



Citizen Gun


Katherine Gun just made appearances in court and, for the first time, in the New York Times. (For those who don't know the facts of this story, here's my account.) The New York Times appearance was in an op-ed column by Bob Herbert:


Ms. Gun felt passionately that an invasion of Iraq was wrong — morally wrong and illegal. In a move that deeply embarrassed the American and British governments, the memo was leaked to The London Observer.

Which landed Ms. Gun in huge trouble. She has not denied that she was involved in the leak.

There is no equivalent in Britain to America's First Amendment protections. Individuals like Ms. Gun are at the mercy of the Official Secrets Act, which can result in severe — in some cases, draconian — penalties for the unauthorized disclosure of information by intelligence or security agency employees.

Ms. Gun was fired from her job as a translator and arrested for violating the act. If convicted, she will face up to two years in prison.

We are not talking about a big-time criminal here. We are not talking about someone who would undermine the democratic principles that George W. Bush and Tony Blair babble about so incessantly, and self-righteously, even as they are trampling on them. Ms. Gun is someone who believes deeply in those principles and was willing to take a courageous step in support of her beliefs.

Nice as this piece is, the paper of record still has not reported on this story outside of its opinion pages which is pretty ridiculous.

Gun's court appearance was on Monday. Haven't found anything about it online ... but, last weekend, the Observer ran a big story focusing on celebrities getting behind her cause. The following analysis of the case is of particular interest:

Legal experts believe that her case is potentially more explosive for the Government than the Hutton inquiry because it could allow her defence team to raise questions about the legality of military intervention in Iraq. The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, is likely to come under pressure to disclose the legal advice he gave on military intervention - something he has so far refused to do.

The Institute For Public Accuracy gives the following email address where letters of support and encouragemnet can be sent to Ms. Gun: kthgun@yahoo.co.uk





The Shareef Don't Like It, But The Pentagon Does



Last weekend I had the opportunity to catch a showing of Gillo Pontecorvo's 1965 masterpiece, The Battle of Algiers, which has recently been re-released. The Battle of Algiers is a gripping cinema verite portrayal of the Algerian National Liberation Front's urban guerilla war against the French colonial authority. The movie is remarkably complex in terms of its story-telling, its cinematographic technique, and its socio-political understanding. It is probably the most accurate depiction of an anti-colonial insurgency in all of cinema, and might be the best political film I've ever seen, with the possible exception of Costa-Gavras's Z. So, you know, if you get the chance, go out and see it, for no other reason than that it's a great movie.

But The Battle of Algiers is sort of the kid of the moment. I'm not the only one singing its praises. Last summer, the Pentagon's Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Office screened it for a select group of military officers and civilian specialists[*]. A flyer advertising the screening announced:

"How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas? Children shoot soldiers at pointblank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film."

Which is, you know, all fine and good until you start to think about it. I would like to believe that Pentagon moderators encouraged a discussion after the showing that focused on the film's theme of the equation between immoral and unjust policing techniques and terrorism. Given what I know about the way Bush's wars have been carried out -- given the existence of Guantanamo Bay, the internment of foreign nationals after 911, the Yee case, the Padillo case, etc. -- it seems likely to me that the only problem the US military sees with the counterinsurgency strategy practiced by the French in Pontecorvo's film is that it "fail[ed] strategically" as stated by the flyer. Pretty clearly, at least part of the reason for the screening was to educate those in attendence about the French military's successful anti-terrorist campaign so that similar techniques might be applied in Iraq. Which may not seem disturbing if you don't know what the French's counterinsurgency strategy was -- it went like this: capture some people that you think are low level members of the resistance, torture them until they rat out those above them, capture the next level up, repeat.

Which shines an interesting light on stories like this: ("US military condemned of 'brutalizing' Reuters journalists", angencies, 2004-01-13)

The world-famous Reuters news agency has made a formal complaint to the Pentagon following the "wrongful" arrest and apparent "brutalization" of three Iraqis working for it this month by U.S. troops in Iraq.

The complaint followed an incident in the town of Falluja when American soldiers fired at two Iraqi cameramen and a driver from the agency while they were filming the scene of a helicopter crash.

The Reuters team, led by Baghdad-based cameraman Salem Uraiby, was detained near where a U.S. Kiowa helicopter was shot down. One pilot was killed and the other was wounded.

... [snip] ...

Although Reuters has not commented publicly, it is understood that the journalists were "brutalised and intimidated" by US soldiers, who put bags over their heads, told them they would be sent to Guantanamo Bay, and whispered: "Let's have sex."

At one point during the interrogation, according to the family of one of the staff members, a US soldier shoved a shoe into the mouth of one Iraqi.

The US troops, from the 82nd Airborne Division, based in Falluja, also made the blindfolded journalists stand for hours with their arms raised and their palms pressed against the cell wall.

"They were brutalised, terrified and humiliated for three days," one source said. "It was pretty grim stuff. There was mental and physical abuse."

He added: "It makes you wonder what happens to ordinary Iraqis."

We don't know what's going on in Iraq. There's no independent adversarial press there to turn to. We do know those in charge of the occupation have a shocking disregard for the norms of law and justice and general decency towards human beings given Guantanamo Bay et al. Possibly the sorts of policies practiced by the French in Algeria are already going on in Iraq. In the film the head of the violent counterinsurgency campaign responds to critics at a press conference: “Must France stay in Algeria? If the answer is yes, then you must accept what that entails.” The point is quite valid and generalizes well. If the US is to stay in Iraq, control its resources, and jerrymander a puppet regime into power, then we must accept what that entails.

Monday, January 19, 2004


Blogging the World Social Forum

Well, the fourth annual World Social Forum is currently underway in Mumbai, India. The World Social Forum is an international gathering of leftists intended to be the good doppelganger of the rich and powerful's World Economic Forum, focusing on globalizing democracy and human rights rather than on globalizing corporate dominance.

From this Reuters story:


Thousands of dancing, singing and debating activists from across the world declared war on big business at an anti-globalisation meet in India's corporate capital on Saturday.
Labour leaders from South Korea joined Indian farmers, American volunteers and Afghan women to denounce multinational companies as more than 100,000 activists assembled in a Bombay suburb for the six-day World Social Forum which began on Friday.

"Nestle, Coca Cola quit our countries. Give us our rights," Jose Bove, a French sheep farmer who has become a flag-bearer in the challenge to "economic imperialism", told a cheering crowd packed in an auditorium in the northeastern suburb of Goregaon.

Nobel laureates Shirin Ebadi and Joseph Stiglitz, and Bove, best remembered for demolishing a half-built McDonald's outlet in France nearly four years ago, are among a dozen prominent names at the fourth World Social Forum (WSF), being held in Asia for the first time.

As tribals with painted torsos danced vigorously carrying anti-globalisation banners, singers skipped down another lane belting out criticism of big business while another group performed skits about the exploitation of impoverished farmers

The New Standard, a brand new web venture (which greatly deserves support -- so go donate some money) founded by a bunch of Znet alumni, is running the ongoing posts of a number of WSF participants, including Michael Albert of Z Magazine fame. Here's some highlights:


Jan. 16: Of course what is most striking, overwhelmingly so, is the lack of north americans, the sparseness of eurpeans, and the tremendous presense of asians and to a lesser extent -- but far more than at past wsf events, africans. It gives a very different tone...a very positive one, of course. -- Michael Albert

Jan 17: One interesting and amusing feature of this forum, distinct from last year's forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil which I attended, is the constant song and dance of Indian activists -- literally. At least 5 times during this morning's plenary, a throng of people behind a banner, banging drums and chanting slogans in hindi, walked in, interrupting speeches. The streets of the grounds are clogged with similar groups who sing about their causes and dance with abandon. Men and women mingle comfortably and dance with one another in a manner rarely seen elsewhere in Indian society -- certainly not city culture. It is a sight to see and foreign journalists and delegates are delighted to surround them with cameras and audio recorders. -- Sonali Kolhatkar

Jan 18: There is also a suprising number of groups from across Asia that are hosting events with titles like "Beating Bush in 2004". Although not specifically geared for a US based strategy, there is a lot of space being given to electoral solutions to beat Bush. In fact, many local activists have outright said that a priority for the US movement should be ousting Bush this year, and that it's OK if we have to postpone our US Social Forum another year to do so! There is almost as many mimes and clowns in Bush masks here, mocking the man, than even tribals. Will Howard Dean masks be in vogue next year? I guess we'll have to wait and see what the US activists-cum-voters (and the Iraqi resistance) have to say about it. -- Todd Tucker

Jan 19: Many events are sparsely attended, while the crowds dance, sing, and celebrate in the paths outside - partly this is due to language and shortage of translations, partly, I think, it is due to the fact that the content of most venues is so familiar to people that being outside feels more contentful …[snip]… I just finished a session -- rather large -- on alternatives to globalization. It was interesting, there was at least some discussion (other than my own) about actual institutional choices we might opt for and their implications for how we struggle. But, ultimately, there is all too little of that...though more than in the past. I guess my feeling so far is that the trajectory of the WSF phenomena continues to be very positive --- increasing and enriching mutual ties and solidarity, expanding attentiveness to explaining what we are for now, and in the mid term, and even as our ultimate visions, and increasing --what words to use for this -- identification with struggle as the center of one's existence...to win that new world people now constantly mention and proclaim, and sometimes even try to describe. -- Michael Albert


You know, maybe it makes me a bad blogger but I am just much more interested right now in what's going on at the WSF than what's going on in Iowa. I guess I'll be more interested in the Teenage Gang Dems after tonights big Kucinich upset ;)

Thursday, January 15, 2004


All Issues Are Not Created Equal, Apparently


So CBS is not going to air MoveOn's anti-Bush ad during the Super Bowl because it violates "the network's policy against running issue advocacy advertising."* The thing is here's a list of the commercials they are going to run, and it turns out one of them is an American Legacy Foundation anti-smoking ad, one is a Philip Morris anti-smoking ad, and another is one of those silly White House Office of National Drug Control Policy if-you-smoke-pot-the-terrorists-have-won deals.

(thanks to Riba Rambles)



There's More Where That Came From


I liked this post about the culture of disposable shit.


Wednesday, January 14, 2004


Supporting Our Troops By Bribing Them


Don't know how I missed this one: (from "U.S. soldiers balking at staying in Iraq for $10,000 bonus", AP, 1/8/04)


BAQOUBA, Iraq - At a checkpoint on the barren plain east of Baqouba, word of a new U.S. Army plan to pay soldiers up to $10,000 to re-enlist evoked laughter from a few bored-looking troopers.

"Man, they can't pay me enough to stay here," said a 23-year-old specialist from the Army's 4th Infantry Division, headquartered at Fort Hood in Central Texas, as he manned the checkpoint with Iraqi police outside this city.

His comments reflect a sentiment not uncommon among the nearly two dozen soldiers in Iraq who have spoken with The Associated Press since the Army announced the increased re-enlistment bonuses for soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait on Monday.

[... snip ...]

Some cited the monotonous routine of a lonely life spent thousands of miles from loved ones. Others offered simpler reasons - such as the fear of an early death.



In Defense of God (aka Brian Eno)


I'd like to comment on Brendan O'Neill's Reason Online review of Rampton and Stauber's Weapons of Mass Deception that has been making the rounds on some blogs. I haven't read the book but it doesn't really matter because the author mostly just uses reviewing the book as an excuse to make an argument.

O'Neill presents the following thesis: the American people supported the Iraq War not because of a propaganda campaign launched by hawks, but because of the ineffectualness of the left in offering a coherent case against the war. He characterizes the position that propaganda had a large role in influencing American opinion regarding the war with a quote from Brian Eno: "the new American approach to social control is so much more sophisticated and pervasive that it really deserves a new name. It isn't just propaganda any more, it's 'prop-agenda '."* O'Neill backs up his central thesis by noting the ineptness of the Bush administration's case for war:


Maybe I missed something, but I don’t recall a history-making propaganda show in the run-up to the Iraq war. I do remember the Bush administration, Tony Blair’s government, and right-wing groups flailing around for some justification for their squalid war -- latching onto unconvincing claims that Saddam had links with Al Qaeda and that he could launch his weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes’ notice … This looked less like "prop-agenda" than a desperate cobbling together of "evidence" that might win favor for Gulf War II.

I agree with O'Neil that the Bush administration's case for war was logically unconvincing; I disagree with the implication that it follows that there was no "history-making propaganda show". I think O'Neill misunderstands the nature of propaganda which very rarely gains its power from the veracity of a logical argument. Does the multibillion dollar advertisement industry influence the behavior of consumers by means of its ironclad debating skills?

Note that O'Neill's central thesis, that America supported the war because of the ineffectualness of the left, when applied to the whole world rather than just America is not so much false as inapplicable. It's inapplicable because the majority of the people of the world did not support the USA's invasion of Iraq. Throughout Europe, despite the actions of their governments in some cases, people were overwhelmingly against the Iraq War. South American and Central American countries, perhaps because of their firsthand experience with the USA's humanitarian interventions of the past, were even more critical. In his concluding paragraph, O'Neill cites "opinion polls that suggest a majority of Americans and Britons supported the war", but in the case of Great Britain, this statement is simply false -- opinion polls showed that Britons were evenly split regarding the Iraq War.

But in America things were different. According to O'Neill the difference was that the left didn't spend enough time "developing a coherent case against the war." His evidence for this claim, as far as I can tell, is that he asserts that it is true. So let me enumerate some arguments offered by the left against invading Iraq:

1.)It's immoral: thousands of innocent Iraqi's will be killed. The country will be wrecked causing more suffering and strife.

2) It's illegal: international law has no provision for a first strike. Period.

3) It's going to be extremely costly: everyone's favorite anarcho-syndicalist philosopher Larry Lindsey got fired for saying that it could cost "1% to 2% of America's gross domestic product", which is correct now to the order of magnitude.

4) It's being justified with a pack of lies: let's remember the Niger uranium claim was exposed before the beginning of the war. Etc.

5) Its real justification is much less noble: Halliburton, oil, Etc.

Are these arguments less coherent than Bush's case for war? By his own admission, as noted above, O'Neill views the case given for war as hawks "flailing around for some justification." Reason Online's tagline is "free minds and free markets." -- what O'Neil is arguing is that the left's ideas lost out in a market of ideas, which may well be true but only if the market of ideas resembles a real world market much more than the free markets that lead to utopias in fables told by members of the Libertarian Party. If antiwar ideas lost out in a market of ideas it was mostly because of forces that were external to that market.

It is an empirical fact that prior to the Iraq war, a large percentage of American's viewed these two statements as true:

1) Iraq is currently a direct threat to my personal safety.
2) Saddam Hussein was directly involved in 911.

Since these statements were not widely believed anywhere else in the world, it follows that we can view them as the reason Americans supported the invasion. But (1) and (2) are both false. In order for O'Neil's thesis to be correct it would have to be true that (1) and (2) were believed because of the left's ineffectualness. But the left is similar in scale and visibility in America as it is in, say, Great Britain where (1) and (2) were not widely believed.

Why then did Americans believe the above assertions? Not because the left was making an incoherent argument but because the means that it had at its disposal to convey its argument were not as powerful as those of the hawks. Look, during the run up to the Iraq War, the left organized and executed perhaps the biggest single day coordinated activity in the history of the human race: the February 15th demonstrations. The fact that so few Americans even noticed these demonstrations is a testament not to the ineptness of their organizers but to the power of those arrayed against them. Was UN inspector turned anti-war activist Scott Ritter unable to convince a larger number of people that Iraq no longer possessed significant quanities of WMD's because of his lack of eloquence or coherence? Or was it because he didn't appear as a consulting expert on CNN night after night? As Jonathan Chait wrote in that radical left rag, The New Republic, "government and business have melded into one big 'us.' ", and one aspect of that 'big us' is the mainstream media. The left simply has nothing equivalent to Fox News. When you talk about the power of Chait's big us what you are talking about is something very similar to what Eno was describing.

* -- O'Neill makes it seem like Eno's quote is in Weapons of Mass Deception but it was actually in an essay Eno wrote commenting favorably on the book.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


Beating A Dead Horse


Well, if you were wondering what kind of horse head would end up in Paul O'Neil's bed, you didn't have to wait long. The Bush administration has asked the inspector general to investigate how a supposedly classified document ended up on 60 Minutes. yada-yada-yada.

The vindicativeness of these people is really hard to fathom

I'd just like to point out that this action logically undermines the defense that Victoria Toensing is peddling regarding the Plame affair. This new investigation is very very obviously revenge against a political enemy, as was the outing of Valerie Plame. But if we are to believe that Karl Rove didn't know that Plame was undercover then we have to believe that the outing of Valerie Plame was accidental, not an act of political revenge. Thus, anytime this administration commits acts of political revenge, said acts are empirical evidence supporting the claim that Toensing's assertion is false.



Friday, January 09, 2004


Well, You Know, What Says 'Rugged Individualist' Better Than A Chinese Sweatshop


Levi's is shutting down its last two American factories [*]:


The company announced its intentions of shutting down its two San Antonio plants in September 2003, saying that it is 'shifting away from owned and operated manufacturing.' It had also said that it would outsource its manufacturing to sites across the Third World nations.

The above linked article is unintentionally amusing. It reads like copy for the Daily Show... a New York analyst informs us that "Investors are not very sentimental these days." And in response to the company spokeswoman's assertion of the generousness of the severance package given to the 800 people who get to start the new year hanging out in unemployment offices, Viola Casares, founder of a group that protested an earlier Levi's closure, responded, "They would rather have jobs." Good times, good times...

At least, they'll be unemployed in an economic boom.


Similes Are Fun


AFP reports former secretary of the treasury Paul O'Neil says Bush led cabinet meetings "like a blind man in a room full of deaf people.":


The former insider told the network in an interview to be broadcast January 11 that the president asked him no questions during their first one-on-one meeting.

"I went in with a long list of things to talk about and, I thought, to engage (him) on. ... I was surprised it turned out me talking and the president just listening. ... It was mostly a monologue," O'Neill was quoted as saying.

Paul O'Neil and Larry Lindsey got pushed out on December 6, 2002. According to Business week, the problem was O'Neil's habit of not being sufficiently obsequious:

O'Neill has himself to blame for some of his problems. In a White House that demands discipline from its spokespeople, his comments were often painfully blunt and sometimes "off message." While President Bush was said to view O'Neill's candor as refreshing, other colleagues reacted with chagrin.

and

Capitol Hill Republicans were upset when, during O'Neill's confirmation hearing, he questioned whether Bush's tax cut proposal would do much to juice the economy. He later compounded the damaged by dismissing as "show business" House GOP tactics to win a big tax cut. That miffed conservatives, who viewed him as an enemy of supply-side tax cuts and an apologist for environmentalists on the controversial issue of global warming.

Larry Lindsey got canned because he was the guy who said the Iraq War could cost 200$ billion, among other things.

Personally I think Bush probably runs cabinet meetings more like a guy who's kind of dumb.

Thursday, January 08, 2004


John Dean Says Shit's Going Down


Former Nixon counsel John Dean has weighed in on the meaning of Ashcroft's recusal:


What explains the timing of Ashcroft's removal? Recall that the removal occurred as a result of events occurring in the same week the Post reported that the FBI had told potential witnesses they might have to face a grand jury.

Some of those witnesses very probably hired lawyers as soon as they heard the news. Especially likely to hire a lawyer would be a middle-level person with knowledge of a leak by a higher-up. And such a lawyer would likely have gone immediately to the prosecutors to make a deal.

Who might the lawyer be? It's pure speculation, but former D.C. United States Attorney Joe diGenova, or his wife and law partner, Victoria Toensing, are likely candidates.

... [snip] ...

When the lawyer -- diGenova, Toensing, or someone else -- went to the government seeking immunity for his or her client, Ashcroft would have heard that the middle-level person was offering to finger the high-level leaker. At that point, he would have realized he himself knew the high-level leaker; and decided to recuse himself from the case, and let Fitzgerald take over.


Toensing is the Republican drone who's been making the rounds propagating the stupidity defense meme. The fact that she is shopping around what amounts to a legal defense, of course, jives with the idea that she is someone's lawyer in this case.

If Dean's correct I wonder who the mid-level person is? (Good old wild speculation -- it's what makes the internet buzz with life).

Dean wraps it up with

If this case does not make headlines in 90 to 120 days, it will be quite surprising. There has been too much high level action and Comey, a presidential appointee, knows that politically it would be better for Bush & Company to have the matter flushed out within the next few months, than to have it arise just before the November election. Needless to say, this could be an interesting year for the White House, with more than reelection to worry about.


2004 is looking up.

Monday, January 05, 2004

A Visit from Joenac

ED McMAHON: Heaven has no brighter star than our next
stellar guest, that omnipotent master of the east and former manicurist to Howard Hughes, Joenac the Magnificent...

JOENAC: I must have absolute silence... Answer: The national debt ...some target of a terrorist attack on American soil somewhere, we promise (be very afraid and vote Republican) ... the city of Kirkuk. Question: What's going to explode in 2004? ... Thank you, everybody--I'll be here all week!


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American Leftist predicts we will see a great deal of strife and bloodshed this year in Kirkuk, Iraq.

Kirkuk is a powder keg. It's the center of Iraq's oil-rich northern provinces and is, therefore, extremely politically important. It's also the city that would be the capital of independent Kurdistan if an independent Kurdistan existed. These two bits of trivia do not bode well for its long term stability in the veritable anarchy of US occupied Iraq. Because of its strategic importance and its predominantly Kurdish character, Kirkuk was the epicenter of Saddam Hussein's vicious "Arabization" campaign, in which tens of thousands of people were forcibly driven from their homes.

Ethnic strife errupted in Kirkuk the moment the city was taken by the US last April. Crimes were committed by all ethnicities as the chaos of open war descended but the primary narrative of this episode of the city's violent history was the revenge of the Kurds, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan forced members of the al-Shummar tribe out of the region; the al-Shummar Arabs had settled around Kirkuk as a result of Hussein's ethnic cleansing campaign. The US did nothing to stop this violence, and in fact the PUK claimed the us had sanctioned its actions

This policy, the PUK official said, “has been approved by U.S. and coalition forces.”[*]

After April, news from Kirkuk died down -- I don't know if this was the result of relative peace, or simply lack of coverage by a fickle international news media, but in recent days Kirkuk has returned to the headlines: ("Three shot dead as anti-Kurd demo in Kirkuk turns violent", AFP, 12/31/03)

Three people were killed and dozens more wounded when Kurdish gunmen opened fire on a demonstration by Arabs and Turkmen in this northern Iraqi city, police and hospital officials said.

About 2,000 Turkmen and Sunni Arabs were protesting against a push by the city's Kurdish majority to incorporate the oil-rich center into an autonomous Kurdish province when violent clashes erupted.

Police said Kurdish fighters known as peshmergas opened fire on the demonstrators, who appeared to have come from outlying towns around Kirkuk to join the rally near a police academy on the southern edge of the city.

"Kirkuk, Kirkuk is an Iraqi city. No to federalism," the protesters chanted. "We want the Kurds to leave Kirkuk."

This incident has lead predictably to Arab and Turkmen attacks on Kurds: (from "Iraq: Tension runs high in Kirkuk", Turks.us, 1/5/04)

On Friday, Kirkuk Police Chief Gen. Turhan Youssef said one Kurd was killed and one wounded by Arabs who shot them as they were walking in an Arab neighborhood on Thursday night.

Jalal Jawher, the local head of the PUK, said armed Arabs were roaming the city and hunting down Kurds. After the gunmen killed one Kurd and wounded another, there was a shootout with police, who killed two of the attackers and wounded several, Jawher said. "Some armed Arabs tried to attack Kurds last night. ... Then the police clashed with the armed Arabs and killed two and wounded several," he said.

Predictions are always wrong, but it seems unlikely to me that this situation is going to fix itself, and Iraq’s bewildered conqueror is both incapable and unwilling to mediate a resolution. The India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir and, of course, the Israel-Palestine conflict fester year after year -- this one will too. But in this case, the tensions in Kirkuk will be exacerbated by the devastation and general disorder that the United States has leveled on Iraq. There are well-armed factions on both sides of this dispute. The players involved have little to lose. We might see a civil war.


Smiley Gets Pissed


There's a pretty interesting interview with John le Carre up on salon


The bizarre thing is that instead of becoming less ideological, the people who are in charge of the last superpower have become, at least in this administration, even more ideological.

I think they have become insanely ideological. I feel that these are tendentious ideologies and we need to have them clearly defined for us. We've almost reached a point, I think, where people should state their religious convictions when they enter high office. It's certainly of great concern to me. It really matters if a politician believes, for example, that the Jewish people have an absolute right to "Greater Israel." That's something we need to know about. If he believes that Islam is something close to the Antichrist, that's also something we need to hear about.

Do you feel that leaders are insisting that their religious beliefs -- not just moral principles, but literal religious beliefs -- be enacted in the political realm? That's not being acknowledged.

People are not acknowledging it, not looking it in the eye, and if you do look at it in the eye, you get into deep trouble. My book's just come out here [in Britain] and been greatly attacked by the right-wing press and applauded on the whole by the critical press. One argument that's been used against me is very interesting: that the book is too political to be a novel. It leaves me with the impression that for as long as you write about the status quo, you're OK. But to take up arms against the status quo is subversive.

There are two ways that those critical of the war have described the motivations behind it. One interpretation is completely mercenary: It's just about oil. But some of these people -- however much we may disagree with them -- are also motivated by ideals that are, as you put it, often religious in nature. That's what's confusing about it. The left is used to thinking that it has idealism on its side. These people have these ideals that may seem crackpot to us, but they believe they're going to change the world for the better.

They do. That's what's really terrifying. In order to carry out their campaigns, they have to reduce the world to black and white. They have to arrogate to themselves the right to determine what is a bad state and what is a good state. They also arrogate to themselves not just the right to take preemptive action, but to take preventative action. There's a difference in international law. The effect is that the superpower can say, "We don't like the look of that country. It has bad intentions, and we will attack it." It doesn't have to say that the country is threatening us.

The attack on Iraq was planned, we now know, about three or four years before it took place. It was 9/11 that legitimized it. Through an extraordinary trick of public persuasion in which they were greatly assisted by the corporate media, the neoconservative ideologues persuaded the U.S. to a great extent -- one's told seven out of 10 people -- that somehow Saddam was mixed up in the destruction of the twin towers and the attack on the Pentagon. He wasn't. They admit they have no evidence of this. Anyone who's taken even one bus ride through the Middle East would surely know that between the secular Baathists of Iraq and the infuriated fundamentalists that follow Osama bin Laden there is no conceivable bond possible. The religious extremists loathed Saddam because Saddam and the Baath Party were secular and anti-clerical.

Are your critics claiming that this new book is too political to be literary?

Too political to be real. My problem is that I think the status quo stinks and I want to say that. I found myself joining the big marches against the war and mingling with people who just thought they had no chance of being heard. There is no political party in England with any power, any force or any credibility that has opposed the war. And so I've felt, well, I can do something and I do feel this stuff and I will make a story about it.



Sunday, January 04, 2004


Winning the Hearts and Minds


Meanwhile back in Iraq, US troops sacked a mosque. The Weekend Australian ( "Mosque raid fires backlash", 1/04/04) reports


The raid by US troops of the Ibn Taymiyyah mosque led to protests in Baghdad.

Brig. General Kimmitt said soldiers seized explosives, guns and ammunition and 32 people believed to be non-Iraqi Arabs "based on their dialect".

The military says foreign Islamic militants opposed to the occupation have infiltrated from neighbouring borders.

"Over the last several months, the 1st Armoured Division in Baghdad has received many reports from local Iraqis that the mosque had been used for criminal and terrorist activities," he said.

"The mosque was believed to have been a hub of anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi activities, with various cells using the mosque as a meeting location and weapons cache."

But the raid prompted an immediate backlash, with more than 1000 worshippers spilling on to the streets to vent their anger.

"American soldiers entered the mosque with their shoes on and with machineguns in their hands," the imam, Abdulsatar al-Janabi, said, adding the raid had lasted five hours.

"They trampled on the holy Koran, beat up some of the worshippers and stole computers and a donations box."

Others claimed that a page was torn from the Koran.

Protesters screamed and cried: "God is great" and "America is the enemy of God."

I hope I never get seized based on my dialect.

Friday, January 02, 2004


Beautiful

Maybe, there's nothing really to say about this to enhance the comedy. I guess, I can say, "You know, all those moslems do have similar names with all the 'Ali's and what not?"



Something is Happening but You Don't Know What it is (Do You, Mr. Ashcroft)


So Ashcroft has recused himself and appointed a special prosecutor to run the investigation of the Plame affair. Former spook and current thorn in the side of the Bush regime, Ray McGovern tells us not to get too excited. (Isn't Ray McGovern great? He's my new favorite character in the unfolding show that is Stuff That's in the News. When you hear him talk he just sounds the way the serious super spy veteran always sounds in a good spy movie like Three Days of the Condor or something) But I don't know ... something is happening but I don't ... I can't help but get a little excited.

There's a new article in the Wapo that Josh Marshall does a pretty good job of ripping apart. The gist of the article is that the leaker may not have committed a crime because he (I think we know it wasn't a she) may not have known that Plame was undercover. Josh's rebuttal is that the legal expert cited by the article is a known partisan Republican and, furthemore, the content of the legal expert's argument doesn't constitute so much of a refutation that a crime was committed but a sketch of a legal defense that could (and maybe shall be) used in court, and then goes on to show why it is reasonable to believe the leaker knew he was outing an agent even if it would be difficult to prove. Anyway, go read the whole thing if you haven't already and then come back here because I have something to add.

Since the whole the-leaker-didn't-know-she-was-undercover meme is being propagated by a Bush cartel mouthpiece I think we can assume this is going to be the party line. The problem I see with the stupidity defense here is that if we assume it's true, the Plame affair no longer makes sense as a story. Look, we know from Novak's own admission that Novak was told Plame's occupation from a high-level source in the Bush administration. He didn't, for instance, look it up on the internet as he would have if he was researching a story in which it was important to know that Plame was, say, a lawyer. No, he was told Valerie Plame's occupation by someone. Let's call this someone ... oh, I don't know ... say Karl Rove ... What was Karl Rove's motive in telling Novak Plame's occupation if he didn't know the information was secret? Rove's a friendly guy, knows that reporting is a tough racket, and wanted to help out a friend who's bad at doing Google searches? Rove is a regular Chatty Kathy, likes to chew the old fat over coffee and Biscotti and gossip about the occupations of the spouses of the various characters on the Stuff That's in the News Show? I guess.


Thursday, January 01, 2004


All Those Barbarians


Our northern neighbors have a new prime minister who seems serious about decriminalizing the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana. A piece on Drug Policy Alliance's site notes

Canada has been leading the world in progressive drug-policy reform. Canada's Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs released a report last year recommending that marijuana be legalized. Canada became the first country in the world to sell marijuana to patients suffering from serious illnesses, while Vancouver opened North America's first legal and supervised drug-injection clinic.

Canada's outgoing prime minister has said that he would like to give pot a try now that he's out of office, and the new prime minister admits to eating brownies.

But Canada is mostly just a jonny-come-lately to a party that is been going on for a while in other centers of barbarian activity: (from here)

The Netherlands has long tolerated personal possession and allowed cannibas coffee shops. Pot is now available as a prescription drug at pharmacies. Spain no longer arrests recreational drug users; Portugal has decriminalized marijuana use. So has Luxembourg.

Belgium allows the medical use of marijuana and is considering permitting citizens to grow small amounts of pot. Local authorities in France and Germany decide whether or not to arrest cannibis users. Germany even allows hard-drug use in legal "drug-consumption rooms." In Britain police increasingly confiscate marijuana but leave the users alone; new guidelines embody a "presumption against arrest."

The Swiss senate has approved legislation legalizing personal use of cannibas. The Australian and New Zealand governments are considering approving the medical use of marijuana.


This all, of course, contrasts directly with direction the US has been going in under Ashcroft, to a brave new world where you can get thrown in jail for selling a pipe on the internet. America's drug policy is turning into one of those weird divisive issues that compells foreign strangers to ask you quizzically in pubs, "So what's the deal with the States anyway? Are you people all nuts?". The civilized world is moving on but the US refuses. It will keep the company of a rogue's gallery of third world nations and petty dictatorships, just like it does in continuing to support the death penalty.

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