Saturday, May 29, 2004

Rural Priorities 

Nico Pitney has a new blog. Visit: Nico Pitney's Priority Wire. Priority Wire has a great list of resource links focusing on a wide range of topics and issues - from Art and Activism to Globalization - so save that link.

You'll also find there a recent short post dated May 28, 2004 and titled New Campaign: Yum Foods which you should read in full because thats where I located the following:
In the fields of Florida, California, North Carolina and other states, one million farmers earn less than $7,500 per year. To earn $50 a day a tomato farmworker must pick nearly two tons of tomatoes. The reason? The supply-chain model of global economics has tightened profit margins. In 1990 growers received 41% of the retail prices of tomatoes; by 2000 they were receiving barely 25%. Value is passed up the chain, while workers at the bottom pay the price.

The PW post cited above contains a link to Oxfam's Take Action! One Penny More for Workers Rights campaign which in part reads as follows:
Global food giants such as Yum Brands — owner of Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut — use their purchasing power to squeeze growers who, in turn, cut their labor costs and offload risk onto farmworkers. Today's tomato pickers toil in often dangerous conditions for rock-bottom wages; they must pick two tons of tomatoes to earn just $50. If they were paid just one penny more per pound, they could nearly double their daily wage.

Scroll down the Oxfam page to contribute your two cents on behalf of "a penny a pound more" for farm workers. Help support labor rights and a living wage. Message sent on your behalf will be delivered to "Yum Brands Chairman and CEO David Novak" and "Taco Bell President and Chief Concept Officer Emil Brolick."

Nico Pitney's Priority Wire
Oxfam America

God Bless Vets! Now get off my sidewalk, you bum 

(via LA Times)

After the homecomings are over and the yellow ribbons packed away, many who once served in America's armed forces may end up sleeping on sidewalks.

This is the often-unacknowledged postscript to military service. According to the federal government,
veterans make up 9% of the U.S. population but 23% of the homeless population.">
Their ranks included veterans like Vannessa Turner of Boston, who returned injured from Iraq last summer, unable to find healthcare or a place to live.

Or Ken Saks, who lost his feet because of complications caused by Agent Orange, then lost his low-rent Santa Barbara apartment in an ordeal that began when a neighbor complained about his wheelchair ramp.

"I'm 56 years old," Saks said. "I don't want to die in the streets…. This is what our [soldiers in Iraq] are coming home to? They're going to live a life like I have? God bless them."

Studies indicate that some will live such a life. Male veterans are 1.3 times more likely to become homeless than non-veterans, women 3.6 times more likely. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the estimated number of homeless Vietnam veterans is more than twice the number of soldiers, 58,000, who died in battle during that war.

In the past, data quantifying homelessness among veterans did not exist, said Phillip Mangano, who heads the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "It's been precisely the lack of research that had us groping in the dark as far as what our response should be," he said.

...It is impossible to know exactly how many U.S. veterans are on the streets, but experts estimate that about 300,000 of them are homeless on any given night and that about half a million experience homelessness at some point during the year.

Now, as fighting continues in Iraq and Afghanistan, social service providers wonder what will happen to this generation of service men and women returning home from war.

"What are they going to do for these guys when they come home … other than wave a flag and buy them a beer?" asked Paul Camacho, a professor of social science at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a Vietnam veteran.

...Homelessness among veterans is currently
the topic of joint talks between the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, said Peter Dougherty, the VA's director of homeless veterans programs.

"Traditionally, what happens to you after you leave has not been a concern of [the] service," he said.

The LA Times has a particularly noxious registration form, but go through it if you have to to read the rest of this. There ARE some folks busting their humps to help with this situation, many of them ex-veterans and ex-homeless themselves.

Oh, and you could always print out a copy, to have handy to shove up the nose of the next person who huffily accuses "the left" of not supporting our troops.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Samurai Billmon 

Remember John Belushi's running character on Saturday Night Live back when it was funny the first time, the Samurai Guy? One week he was running a dry cleaners, the next time it would be some other job. It always concluded with him getting offended and whipping out his trusty katana and just whacking hell out of the object in front of him.

Billmon's got the Whiskey Bar reopened. He's got a katana of a keyboard and oh MY, is he offended. The floor of his fine drinking establishment is currently littered with the shredded, bloody, quivering remains of (just for starters) the SCLM, the "strategists" who brought us the hit sequel "Vietnam II: Apocalypse Yet to Come" and a few other of the usual suspects.
(via The Whiskey Bar)

I mean, if the mainstream media is going to, in effect, wallow in the blogosphere’s archives, and military officials – the safely retired ones, at least – are going to confess what’s been obvious for the past six months (Gen. Hoar: “I believe we are absolutely on the brink of failure. We are looking into the abyss.”) then the only value a lowly blogger like myself can add to the debate now is to try to peer a little further down the road, to see if I can guess what blindingly obvious facts the media will be wallowing in this time next year.

Notta lotta yux in this one, folks. The sample graf above is just about the happiest part of the whole thing. We here....no, strike that, *I* at least have been guilty lately of getting a little too happy watching Biker Boy and the neocons he rode in on getting their well deserved and long overdue comeuppance. While that task is not yet finished (by a long shot!) even completing their downfall will represent merely getting our leaky, battered canoe past the first set of rapids.
That white noise you hear faintly in the distance is going to get louder. Niagara lies ahead.

Darfur: A Decade Hence, Will That Be The Word By Which We Memorialize Our Stark Failure To Stop Another Genocide?  

The situation in Sudan is a complicated one and has been for years. Still, isn't it amazing that while we and most of the rest of the world sit and watch, inch by inch and bit by bit the scenery is moved into place, the vast cast of extras is driven onto the stage and the scene is set for another inevitable genocide that wasn't inevitable. What happened to "never again?" As with Rwanda, no one can say we didn't know something terrible was happening.

But what exactly? That's part of the problem of mobilizing concern. Most of us think of conflict in the Sudan in terms of the decades long civil war between the North, mainly Muslim, and the South, mainly Christian. And it's all the more confusing for many of us to read that Wednesday, an historic agreement was signed between the government in Khartoum, and the main rebel army in the south, ending that conflict, in which, by the way, it is estimated that two million people have died.

The agreement does not include Darfur, in western Sudan, where both sides in the conflict are Muslims; for over a year now a new civil war has emerged between Arab militias aligned with, and probably armed by the government in Khourtoum and tribal African leaders who have fielded an armed rebellion in pursuit of more equitable share of Sudanese resources, chief of which is limited arable land.

This all Muslim off-shoot of the longer running conflict has resulted in a program of ethnic cleaning by the majority Muslim militias, which, in addition to the killing of tens of thousands, has driven somewhere near a million non-combatants from their villages into makeshift camps where the Sudanese government is making it near impossible for relief workers to get to them. Sound all too familiar? The stage is set for that too familiar but still horrifying pageant of dazed refugees, women, children, the elderly, wounded young men, huddled together in a vast tract of desert, without sufficient water or food or medicines, dying hideous deaths from starvation, dehydration, dysentery, and diseases that are easily cured by the most commonplace of medicines, watched by their own deathly ill loved ones, and watched by us, while we wonder why we didn't do something sooner?

Surely there is something we can do to cancel the performance.

Knowledge of the situation is the first step toward action, and courtesy of John Quiggin, another of those estimable Australian bloggers, whose eponymous website is well worth a visit, I can direct you to a remarkable website, "Sudan: The Passion Of The Present," maintained by a small group of people who have set themselves the task of pulling together the kind of information that is required, as John puts it, "to motivate action."

The site carries news, analysis, and links to other important websites, like this one, The Sudan Tribune, another invaluable mine of information and analysis.

Memorial Day weekend strikes me as an excellent opportunity to pay a visit, follow the links, inform yourself as a prelude to some kind of action. It's already late, perhaps too late to stop the ethnic cleansing, but not too late to stop genocide. The Bush administration, to its credit, has expressed concern, as has Kofi Anan, and other UN representatives. Up to now, the government in Khartoum has been able to use the desire of the international community to achieve a peace settlement in the larger, longer-running civil war as a trump card to tamp down their concerns about this other smaller conflict.

What is called for is not outrage that this or that official, institution, or government hasn't yet mounted effective action; what is needed is a grassroots effort to support those NGOs, and other humanitarian sources who are trying to get those with the power to do so to find a way to intervene effectively on behalf of a population who cannot fight back, or fend for themselves.

Any thoughts from readers on various kinds of grassroots action that blogs and their readers might accomplish are welcome.

In these horrible times, you've got to keep your priorities in order. 

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - Almost half of a $273,000 grant awarded in 2002 to fight the Goth culture in Blue Springs has been returned because of a lack of interest — and the absence of a real problem.

Blue Springs received the grant two years ago from the Youth Outreach Unit, money the city and U.S. Rep. Sam Graves trumpeted proudly as a way to fight a perceived Goth problem.

But $132,000 of the grant was returned because officials never found much of a problem with the Goth culture, which some students called a fad that most people eventually outgrow.


You have to admit if you saw one, two, three, four or more people dressed in traditional Goth, it would be discerning," [project manager Allyce Ford] said.

(Story via Patriotboy and Atrios)
"Discerning?" Don't you mean "disconcerting?"

In case you're wondering, Sam Graves is my moronic congressman.


Winger treason? FBI wants to know who gave unmasked Iranian agent Chalabi classified information  

Boy. Remember the days when a little ol' felony—the Plame Affair—was big news? No longer. Looks like the whole winger enterprise is falling to bits, through a combination of hubris, the tragic flaw of ideological blindess, and sheer stupidity. Sidney Blumenthal writes:

At a well-appointed conservative think tank in downtown Washington and across the Potomac River at the Pentagon, FBI agents have begun paying quiet calls on prominent neoconservatives, who are being interviewed in an investigation of potential espionage, according to intelligence sources. Who gave Ahmed Chalabi classified information about the plans of the U.S. government and military?

The Iraqi neocon favorite, tipped to lead his liberated country post-invasion, has been identified by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency as an Iranian double agent, passing secrets to that citadel of the "axis of evil" for decades. Last week Powell declared, "It turned out that the [WMD] sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and, in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that I'm disappointed, and I regret it." But who had "deliberately" misled him? He did not say. Now the FBI is investigating espionage, fraud and by implication treason.
(via Salon)

Pass the popcorn!

Iraq clusterfuck: Now, we're taking hostages 

I thought only the bad guys did that?

In a little-noticed development amid Iraq's prison abuse scandal, the U.S. military is holding dozens of Iraqis as bargaining chips to put pressure on their wanted relatives to surrender, according to human rights groups. These detainees are not accused of any crimes, and experts say their detention violates the Geneva Conventions and other international laws. The practice also risks associating the United States with the tactics of countries it has long criticized for arbitrary arrests.

"It's clearly an abuse of the powers of arrest, to arrest one person and say that you're going to hold him until he gives information about somebody else, especially a close relative," said John Quigley, an international law professor at Ohio State University. "Arrests are supposed to be based on suspicion that the person has committed some offense."
(via Newsday from The Agonist)

Why do we hate freedom?

Iraq clusterfuck: The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles 

Except now it's been put on a solid business footing:

As the United States spends billions of dollars to rebuild Iraq's civil and military infrastructure, there is increasing evidence that parts of sensitive military equipment, seemingly brand-new components for oil rigs and water plants and whole complexes of older buildings are leaving the country on the backs of flatbed trucks.

By some estimates, at least 100 semitrailers loaded with what is billed as Iraqi scrap metal are streaming each day into Jordan, just one of six countries that share a border with Iraq.

Recent examinations of Jordanian scrapyards, including by a reporter for The New York Times, have turned up an astounding quantity of scrap metal and new components from Iraq's civil infrastructure, including piles of valuable copper and aluminum ingots and bars, large stacks of steel rods and water pipe and giant flanges for oil equipment — all in nearly mint condition — as well as chopped-up railroad boxcars, huge numbers of shattered Iraqi tanks and even beer kegs marked with the words "Iraqi Brewery."

"There is a gigantic salvage operation, stripping anything of perceived value out of the country," said John Hamre, president and chief executive of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan Washington research institute, which sent a team to Iraq and issued a report on reconstruction efforts at the request of the Pentagon last July.

"This is systematically plundering the country," Dr. Hamre said. "You're going to have to replace all of this stuff."
(via the New York Times)

"Freedom's untidy."

I guess it turns out to be a good thing we've only been able to spend $2 billion on Iraqi reconstruction instead of $17 billion, eh? Since as fast as we replace the infrastructure, the Iraqis cut it up with blowtorches and ship it off to Jordan as scrap. [Tinfoil hat time: Infrastructure like radio towers, perhaps?]

Hey, and guess who's on the hook for replacing it all, again? We are!

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Goodnight, moon 

And in case I don't get a chance to say goodnight tomorrow, let's all try to remember what Memorial Day is for.


Iraq clusterfuck: Bush: The shrinking circle of delusion 

Yesterday, we wrote (back) that the one concrete proposal in Bush's Monday speech—razing Abu Ghraib and building a new state of the art prison—was, besides being ludicrous as a symbol of what America stands for, not budgeted for, would take money from other programs, wouldn't make up for the Abu Ghraib scandal, wasn't wanted by the Iraqis, and that the prison that has been budgeted for is way behind schedule because Bush's lack of planning botched the security situation.

Well! Now we learn—surprise!—that the scheme was cooked up in the West Wing without any input from anyone else:

On Monday night, President Bush made the dramatic announcement that the United States would demolish Abu Ghraib prison and build a modern maximum-security center in Baghdad to replace it. But on Wednesday, Pentagon officials said the president's words had taken them by surprise, and they scrambled without success to come up with details of the plan.

"It's just an idea [Bush] came up with," [a White House] official said.
(via NY Times)


Looks like Bush isn't really talking to anyone outside of his small circle of advisors (and, of course, the crowds that are handpicked to give him the standing ovations he craves). Not a recipe for success.

When we say "Worst President Ever".... 

we are not putzing around with Zachary Taylor (passed the Fugitive Slave Act), James Buchanan (turned down an offer of free elephants from the King of Siam, how boneheaded was that?) or even Rutherford B. Hayes (Dumbest Name Ever maybe, but Meant Well.)

No, we're talking about worse than THIS guy:

(via WaPoodle):

President Richard M. Nixon jokingly threatened to drop a nuclear bomb on Capitol Hill in March 1974 as Congress was moving to impeach him over the Watergate scandal, according to transcripts of telephone conversations among his closest aides that were released yesterday.

"I was told to get the football," White House Chief of Staff Alexander M. Haig Jr. told Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger less than five months before the president's forced resignation, during a conversation in which the two men exchanged stories about Nixon's increasingly erratic behavior.

"What do you mean?" asked Kissinger, who had called Haig to express concern that the president might unwittingly unleash a Middle East war with his new, get-tough policy against Israel.

"His black nuclear bag," replied Haig. "He is going to drop it on the Hill."

The March 20, 1974, exchange is among 20,000 pages of transcripts of telephone conversations that Kissinger deposited in the Library of Congress in 1976 with the stipulation that they remain secret until at least five years after his death. [Oopsie. There was a lawsuit. They got released early.]

...In the March 20 transcript, neither Kissinger nor Haig seems alarmed by threats to bomb Congress or "to go after the Israelis" after "he is through with the Europeans."

"He is just unwinding," Haig told Kissinger. "Don't take him too seriously."

...The transcripts include several episodes that appear at odds with Kissinger's version of events, such as his claim that Washington had nothing to do with the September 1973 military coup in Chile that toppled the democratically elected, leftist government of Salvador Allende.

...As the Watergate crisis deepened, Kissinger began to worry about Nixon's mental state. On October 11, 1973, according to the transcripts, he rejected a British request for a telephone conversation between the president and Prime Minister Edward Heath on the grounds that Nixon was in no condition to take the call.

"Can we tell them no?" Kissinger said to his deputy, Brent Scowcroft. "When I talked to the president, he was loaded."

You really gotta work at it to be worse than Tricky Dicky.

Farewell Dave, Welcome Home 

David Dellinger has died. Most likely this is one of those names that rings a bell, but you can't quite remember why.

Go read the obit at WaPo, the only place I saw that had it. This should have been the lead item on every newscast and a 72-point headline in every paper, like you get when presidents die, or popes, or similar figures not nearly as deserving of the honor as Dave Dellinger was.

For those who don't have the time, here's the short version:

*Labor organizer in the 1930s.
*Spent all of World War II in jail for refusing to register for the draft, despite a guaranteed deferrment as a divinity student. Kept getting sent to solitary for leading hunger strikes.
*Did the civil-rights thing in the '50s, before it was cool. Protested Korean War, nuclear testing.
*One of the Chicago Seven in '68, which is why that bell was ringing in your head. Find a picture; Dave's the bald-headed guy in the suit and tie in the midst of wild-assed long-haired loons like Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman.
*Antiwar stuff in the 70s.
*Spare time spent fighting for living-wage laws, prisoner's rights, reforming US foreign policy, frivolity like that.
*Three years ago, aged 85, he hitched to Quebec to lead a protest against the Western Hemisphere free-trade zone.
*Other free time spent staying married for 62 years and raising at least four children. Worked as a printer, writer and editor to pay the bills.

As a lifelong philosophical agnostic, I maintain a varying stance on the issue of an afterlife. Hell is right out, of course, but I go back and forth on the question of whether or not there's a heaven. Just for today I'd like there to be one, because the welcome home party tonight is gonna be a blast. May you live YOUR life in such a way that when you get there, Woody Guthrie and John Lennon are jamming together on "When The Saints Come Marching In."

Takedown Central 

That would be the eponymous blog of the svelte, smart, witty, i.e., the non-Dick Cheney's stooge, Roger Ailes.

Does anyone do it better than our Roger? Check out this scorching of the earth Roger accomplishes using the useless and(against all odds)increasingly repellent pile of poop known as Kausfiles, starting with the title, "Wankette."

And this lightning swift evisceration of both the hypocrisy of three rightward facing blog kingpins and the arrogance of Bill Keller's unapolegetic apology for the NYTimes fucked up coverage of the administration's propoganda offensive in the leadup to our invasion of Iraq.

And perhaps most importantly, this catch from one of those Wa Po on-line forums in which questions from the peasants are entertained by their superstar journos, and wherein both Howie Kurtz and Pumpkinhead Russert are exposed as the jerks they are by one of the peasants, important because of the use by Kurtz of the name of Al Gore.

I present these links not for your amusement, dear reader, though our Roger Ailes is always amusing, but as an exercise to prepare us for the great work we have ahead of us, which, in the nature of the peculiar structure of blogs, you may have already read about in the posts to come, before you get here. So be it.

Just a Thought 

The other demerits of broadcasting Rush Limbaugh over Armed Forces Network aside, is it really a smart move to offer Muslim Iraqis, very many of whom speak English, a bigot who regards torturing them in Saddam's prison to be a "fraternity prank" and "good old American pornography"? Especially under the imprimatur of the US Military and the Coalition Provisional Authority? Or is there a US-only part of the electromagentic spectrum that I don't know about?

I mean, I understand we're having some trouble convincing the locals of our good intentions, and well, it just seems to me that this doesn't help. But maybe that's just me. I'm sure the experts running things have a better grasp of the situation in Iraq than I do.

The mother of all bait and switches 

As usual, whenever Bush tries to take credit for a program in public, he tries to cut it in secret:

The White House put government agencies on notice this month that if President Bush is reelected, his budget for 2006 may include spending cuts for virtually all agencies in charge of domestic programs, including education, homeland security and others that the president backed in this campaign year.

But the cuts are politically sensitive, targeting popular programs that Bush has been touting on the campaign trail. The Education Department; a nutrition program for women, infants and children; Head Start; and homeownership, job-training, medical research and science programs all face cuts in 2006.

"Despite [administration] denials, this memorandum confirms what we suspected all along," said Thomas S. Kahn, Democratic staff director on the House Budget Committee. "Next February, the administration plans to propose spending cuts in key government services to pay for oversized tax cuts."
(via WaPo)


Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Bush to air breathers: Drop dead! 


The Bush administration is considering easing environmental requirements for a multitude of gasoline blends and streamlining permits for new refineries to increase fuel supplies and fight soaring prices, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans said Wednesday.

Evans, a former Texas oil company executive, said in an Associated Press interview that the cost of gasoline, which hit a record national average of $2.06 per gallon this week, was affecting driving habits, with people making fewer trips to the store.
(via AP)

"Fewer trips to the store" versus clean air... Leave it to the Bush administration to make the tough decisions!

Fun how all things work together for good, isn't it? Bush go to war for oil, botch that, but the oil companies still make out!

"Blogs...blogs are baaaad, okay?"  

Apparently the NYT, in their deep soul-wrenching quest to find a way back to respectability, has decided to inspect first the question of How They Could Have Gone So Far Astray. What went wrong? How could they have done better? Is there anyone out there who is ALREADY doing better?

This led them to discover blogs. Not good blogs, mind you. Not Atrios. Not Kos. Not (ahem) us here. Not any of those fine establishments cited in the blogroll. But let's look at what they did find.....

(via Bad Judy! No kneepads! NYT)
Technorati, a blog-tracking service, has counted some 2.5 million blogs.

Of course, most of those millions are abandoned or, at best, maintained infrequently. For many bloggers, the novelty soon wears off and their persistence fades.

Sometimes, too, the realization that no one is reading sets in. A few blogs have thousands of readers, but never have so many people written so much to be read by so few. By Jupiter Research's estimate, only 4 percent of online users read blogs.

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, 26, a graduate student at the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied bloggers, said that for some people blogging has supplanted e-mail as a way to procrastinate at work.

"The addictive part is not so much extreme narcissism," Mr. Jarvis said. "It's that you're involved in a conversation. You have a connection to people through the blog."

Ms. Wang's online journal is now her life.

Dammit, they're onto us. We're lazy, we're crazy, we're narcissistic and egotistical too. Finally I have found a place where I fit in! Damn but I love you people!

Now in fairness they DID find one political blogger worthy of mention (of course that isn't till Page 2, which begs the question of why one needs a page 2 in an online format other than to give a double dose of the same ads to the same reader and up one's page count). This fellow, who we will call Richard K. here, runs a joint called runagainstbush.org.
They note he "blogs late into the night, although he knows that the site still attracts relatively few visitors."

Yeah right. I checked his site meter, which says "Average Per Day 1,719." This (1) sounds respectable to me for a guy whose hobbies are running and opposing Bush and (2) suggests that they are about to crash his servers into oblivion with traffic overload. Go Richard!

Finally, of course, there are the Sane Bloggers. Those are the ones who have quit, kinda like smokers and drinkers, right? They cite:

Suffering from a similar form of "blog fatigue," Bill Barol, a freelance writer in Santa Monica, Calif., simply stopped altogether after four years of nearly constant blogging.

So that's the story, per the New York Times, which we know is the definitive source for news. We're nuts and should just get over it and go back to reading what they give us to read.


UPDATE: Alert reader Shystee makes an excellent point in Comments:

This article comes out the same day as the half assed "mea culpa" about legitimizing lies that lead a country to war? What if we started rating news sources based on accuracy and foresight rather than prestige?

I love the smell of the establishment when it's scared. It smells like... soiled underpants.

President Gore Swats Squatters With Broom 

Once in awhile, just for practice, do this mental exercise: Take your mind back to Election Night 2000, just as the networks called Florida for Gore and you went to bed with a happy heart.

Pretend the next 3 1/2 years had gone the way they should have, and try to picture the following speech being made by presumptive Republican Presidential candidate George Bush, who is making another run for the office he so narrowly lost after the full Florida recount.

(via the crawling-back-to-respectability-on-sore-knees NYT)

In a scathing attack on what he termed the White House's failed policies in Iraq, Al Gore called today for the resignation of six members of the Bush administration [starting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld].

"We cannot afford to further increase the risk to our country with more blunders by this team," he said.

Others on his list were George J. Tenet, the director of national intelligence, and Mr. Rumsfeld's deputies, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas J. Feith, and his intelligence chief, Stephen Cambone.

The Bush national security team is "endangering the lives of our soldiers, and sharply increasing the danger faced by American citizens everywhere in the world, including here at home," Mr. Gore insisted.

"They are enraging hundreds of millions of people and embittering an entire generation of anti-Americans whose rage is already near the boiling point."

Resolve to go down to your county election office tomorrow and see what you need to do to sign up to work a polling place THIS November. If they tell you all the poll workers' jobs are filled, see what credentials are needed just to hang around all day as an observer.

So much for privatization! 

And just when privatization was going so well in Iraq:

Federal civil servants proved they could do their work better and more cheaply than private contractors nearly 90 percent of the time in job competitions last year, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
(via WaPo)

Of course, in the future things will be different:

An OMB report released yesterday found that such competitions, the cornerstone of President Bush's "competitive sourcing" initiative, cost federal agencies $88 million in fiscal 2003. But they are projected to bring savings of $1.1 billion in reduced personnel costs and overhead during the next five years, the report said.

Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today...

Iraq clusterfuck: Iraqi atom scientist and WMD believer to be chosen for Prime Minister? 

Kind of a reality/faith-based kind of thing:

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is due to announce by Monday the makeup of the caretaker government due to take power on June 30, a key step in U.S. plans to hand over authority to the Iraqis.

[Hussain al-Shahristani], a Shiite Muslim nuclear scientist is among those being considered for Iraq's prime minister.

A U.S. coalition spokesman, however, denied that Hussain al-Shahristani, a sharp critic of the occupation, is the frontrunner for the premiership and said no choice had been made yet.

The latest name floated as a possibilty for prime minister, scientist al-Shahristani was jailed under Saddam Hussein's regime - reportedly for refusing to help build a nuclear weapon.

Good for him! Of course, whether he'd build them for himself... Especially when Pakistan has them and Iraq might be getting them is another issue ..

In an April 29 editorial in the Wall Street Journal, al-Shahristani roundly criticized the U.S. handling of Iraq, saying the United States "failed to win the trust of the Iraqi people and has allowed the country to slip into turmoil" by failing to allow Iraqis to hold elections.

So the guy is a scientist: he can work from evidence.

The column identifies al-Shahristani as "a senior adviser" to al-Sistani, who has been the leading proponent for early elections in Iraq.

That takes care of the Shi'ites. And I don't imagine this guy thinks too much of Sadrists...

Before the war, al-Shahristani was among the Iraqi exiles who insisted that Saddam maintained weapons of mass destruction. In February 2003, he told CBS' "60 Minutes" that such weapons may have been hidden in tunnels for a Baghdad subway that never opened.
(via AP)

Whoops! I take back what I said about evidence....

Abu Ghraib torture: Bush pledge to raze prison and build a new one turns to farce 

And it only took what, two days?

To begin with, there's no money budgeted for it:

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said U.S. taxpayers will finance a second prison to replace Abu Ghraib. She said there is sufficient flexibility within the $18.4 billion in Iraq reconstruction aid approved in October to build the prison.

But Tim Rieser, a Democratic aide on the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, which is monitoring the reconstruction, said Bush would have to consult Congress on such a large transfer of money. "For all intents and purposes, the money is not there," Rieser said.

Just for the administration's reference, that would be the Congressional power of the purse.

Then, because Bush butchered security for the occupation, the prison that was budgeted for is way behind schedule:

The [previously budgeted] prison in Nasiriyah is already behind schedule, occupation documents indicate. In January, occupation authorities said they would direct $33 million to the project. By April, nothing had been spent. The occupation authority cited only one accomplishment in its latest report to Congress: approval of "the initial scope of work for the new prison."

Finally, if Bush doesn't want to spend more money, he'll have to cut something. But what?

But unless the White House breaks its pledge not to ask for more reconstruction money, the additional prison construction funds will have to come from other projects -- a potential public relations problem. Members of Congress have already questioned the administration's shift of $213 million from drinking water and democracy-building projects to administrative expenses and U.S. Embassy operations.
(via WaPo)

Oh, don't you love it? It's 105 in the shade in Baghdad, and Bush cuts the money for drinking water. And look at the bait-and-switch on democracy!

Meanwhile, Froomkin writes that some Iraqis want to make the prison into a museum, not raze it, the IGC says razing the the prison is a waste of money, and none of the Iraqis think a new prison will make up for the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Can someone explain what the Bush team was thinking when they put this boondoggle into Bush's speech? The only concrete proposal, and already it's right down the tubes.

Hey, here's an idea! Instead of sending Iraqis to prison, let's send them to Mars!

UPDATE The Iraqis aren't stupid, you know:

On Tuesday, Ahmed Hassan al-Uqaili, deputy chief of the Human Rights Organization in Iraq, dismissed Bush's promise as a Republican ploy "to win the (presidential) election in the United States."
(via AP)

Translation: "How stupid does Bush think we are?" A question more of us in this country should be asking?

Hey, Inerrant Boy! Your poodle didn't get the memo on "sovreignty"! 

I wish these guys would get their stories straight. It makes the country look bad when the President gives a speech and then the next day our faithful allies, the Brits, can't figure out what He meant to say.

A day after President Bush declared in a major speech that Iraqis would exercise authority over their own affairs, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in London that Iraq's interim government would have the right to veto specific military operations by the U.S.-led coalition, a view American officials immediately disputed. And French President Jacques Chirac told Bush in a telephone conversation that France wanted any new U.N. Security Council resolution to spell out clearly that the Iraqis would have a say over U.S.-led military operations.
(via LA Times)

It is kind of hard to understand how Iraq could be "sovreign" if the United States can still conduct military operations on Iraqi soil whenever and however it likes. And assume we still need to do this: These clowns in the Bush administration are so stupid and feckless they can't even figure out how to arrange a diplomatic fig-leaf that will let it go on. Have Sistani say it's doing the work of Allah, or something. Sheesh.

Would Times editors have let Judy hang up her kneepads, even if she's wanted to? 

The Times finally gets round to a little self-criticism for its essential role in enabling Bush's stupid war of choice in Iraq. Here's the money paragraph:

The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter, but many shared a common feature. They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on "regime change" in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks. (The most prominent of the anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced reporters to other exiles. He became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles, until his payments were cut off last week.) Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations — in particular, this one.

Bottom line: The once-proud Times took stenography. We can't blame Chalabi for being what he is—a complete slut, playing all ends against the middle—but we can certainly blame the Times for falling for Chalabi's romances as badly as the neocons did.

Some critics of our coverage during that time have focused blame on individual reporters. Our examination, however, indicates that the problem was more complicated. Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.
(via NYTimes)

The word is not "complicated." The word is "systemic."

So, the Times got punk'd by Ahmed Chalabi, just like the administration did. We can only hope they are sadded and wiser. But I doubt it. Did any heads roll for Whitewater and Wen Ho Lee? Of course not.

Say, is anybody at the Times going to take any responsibility? Surely you

We consider the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight.

"Aggressive," eh? Could be settle for "correct" or "critical" or even "not fawning"? Sheesh...

NOTE Not that the Pulitzer-light Times would consider mentioning Judith "Kneepads" Miller by name, as the dynamic Los Angeles Times notes.

UPDATE AP also notes the absence of the name "Judith Miller."

Open thread 

Light blogging for me, at least until a moment's pause for lunch. Deliverables.

Talk amongst yourselves!

Abu Ghraib torture: Rape, too, let's not forget 


ractically ignored in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal are the Iraqi female prisoners who have told their attorneys they were raped by U.S. soldiers. The Taguba report confirms that some women were indeed raped by American G.I.'s. There is one photo of an American soldier having sex with an Iraqi woman. And there is the by now infamous story of how American soldiers harnessed a 70-year-old woman and rode her around, calling her a donkey.
(via Village Voice)

Well, "freedom's untidy!"

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Goodnight, moon 

I've been sleeping badly, lately, and people I know have been sleeping badly.

Random, or something more? Readers?

The Offspring 

I guess the WhiteWash House thinks politics is beanbag after all?

The White House asked the media on Monday to "show respect" for President Bush's twin daughters as they emerge from private life as students to work for their father's re-election campaign.
(via Reuters)

Barbara, Jenna—don't worry about a thing. Our guarantee to you:

You'll be given exactly as much respect as we give your Father.

It's sad, though, isn't it? Do they feel used? Yet?

Thank God we're fighting the war in Iraq! 

Otherwise, we might be in major trouble!

U.S. officials have obtained new intelligence deemed highly credible indicating al-Qaida or other terrorists are in the United States and preparing to launch a major attack this summer, The Associated Press has learned.

The intelligence does not include a time, place or method of attack but is among the most disturbing received by the government since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to a senior federal counterterrorism official who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Tuesday.
(via AP)

Come on! They're doing their best! Cut them some slack! After all, "there's no time, place, or method of attack." If there were, don't you think Bush would be "moving heaven and earth" to protect us?

Granted, all of this leakage is meant to innoculate us against bad news to come. It's really a win win situation: If nothing happens, that's proof Bush policies are working. If something does, well, "Don't say we didn't warn you."

The stupidity of it... Three years of underfunding and neglect, and a useless war that left us worse off before our true and now stronger enemies, the fundamentalists both foreign and domestic, and Bush is already setting himself up to weasel away from taking responsibility. Again.

Great news, though! They've dropped that stupid color coded alert system.


From the Department of Closing the Barn Door after the Horse is Gone 

Finally, Bush got religion on loose nukes (assuming the program isn't a politically driven election year fraud, of course).

The Energy Department is creating a $450 million program to collect, secure and dispose of used reactor fuel and other materials from around the world that could be used by terrorists in "dirty bombs" for spreading radiation over several city blocks.
(via AP)

For the fundamental unseriousness of the malAdministration on this issue from its first day in office until now, see "Bush's reckless indifference to the nightmare scenario" (back).

Not that the people who matter don't already know it's too late (back).

Of Interest 

Love a mystery? Think that maybe, just maybe, the question of our treatment of Iraqi prisoners and its implications for our position internationally isn't yet a closed book? Check out Roger Ailes, heroic and always witty independent leftist blogger, and John Gorenfeld, actual, heroic, independent journalist on an obscure, Moonie connection to Abu Ghraib.

Another Roger don't miss; under the glorious title of Putzapalooza, Roger makes hash of Howie Kurtz's pretensions to the status of journalist. (While there, also don't miss his professorial guidance to conservatoit wonderkind, Ben Shapiro. Also, check John's just posted questions about Rev Moon's possible ties to North Korea.

Julia has two fine posts up at American Street, a brand new one on Republicans playing catchup to the mighty 527 Democratic cash machine, and this beauty that will bring you up to date on the "Whole Frist/Thune/Daschle thing."

While there, don't miss Chuck Corrie's "Gay Marriage Is Just Like Terrorism"

Okay, on to the President's speech last night. My first response: Wow! What the hell was that? I'm still thinking on it. From our fine open thread comments section, two among the many gems: Xan's first response to Bush's choice of a five "step" plan was to wonder what happened to the other seven steps. And from Marine's Girl, this:

I hope that new state of the art prison has a "presidental suite". I'm looking forward to paying for that as I'm sure my 8 year old son will too.

And speaking of Marine's girl, you can find out more interesting stuff from the perspective of someone who has a loved one "over there" by clicking here. If you're feeling strong, you might want to look at any of the conversations with her marine that she has generously chosen to share with the rest of us, like this one, or this one

The President's speech had a dramatic impact on at least one well-known blogger/political activist: Stirling Newberry of both The Agonist and Blogging of the President, 2004. Mr. Bush drove Mr. Newberry right round the bend, and out the other end. It is such an arresting piece, I'm going to quote a larger piece than I might ordinarily:

It is time for someone, someone with something to lose, come forward and state the obvious: we have, installed in our oval office, a man who is so unfit for the duties - by reason of a pathological dishonesty and complete disregard for the welfare of the citizens of this country - as to demand that we remove him, and his party, from power - and then use every law and organ of government to investigate the nakedly criminal underpinnings of that party. And exact precisely the punishments that they have so gleefully inflicted upon others.

There is no other alternative - any individual who can, backed by media and political system - state that Iraq is part of the war on Terror - is beyond hope. Any journalist, politician, general, writer, political operative or other so called public intellectual who can cling to such a statement is, equally, beneath contempt.

If I am fired from the campaign, so be it, if I am ostracized, so be it. No money or social position or talisman of status - of any kind - from such a society is worth my soul, and what scraps of honour any American maintains.

We must face the facts, the cold, hard facts. We illegally invaded another nation, engaging in war crimes to do so, in that we lied to the UN as to the causes for war. We did so without pressing necessity to invade - or to lie at all, since our target was an individual who could have been legally indicted for war crimes by merely stretching forth our hand. We invaded solely because of the electoral time table of George W Bush Jr, and for no other reason. This is worse that a crime, it is worse than a mistake, it is a blot against that most precious object of a free people - our willingness to comply with our own laws.

We did not invade because Saddam was a threat, but because he was not. We did not invade because we knew he had WMD, but because we knew he did not. The high officials of the State Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council were perfectly aware of this, and their war plans reflect this knowledge, since we took scant precautions that any reasonable military would take against a foe with such capabilities in a fight for its own survival.

Our leaders, if we were a defeated nation, would be sent to the Hague or some other tribunal for War Crimes prosecution. That we will not do this insures that our enemies, fortified by the clear bankruptcy of our laws, and our clear willingness to flagrantly break them when it is to our own advantage, and the complete and utter lack of accountability for those that break them, and those who enable breaking them - will strike, with devastating force, at the centers of our commerce and population. The will, rightly, point to the devastation of Baghdad as their reason for attack.

The United States, in the wake of 30 years of devastating conflict, laid the foundation for international institutions that endured until this conflict took place. While imperfect, often abused, and frequently engaged in their own follies, there was a progressive adherence to the idea of international law, and global leadership. This has been broken. Merely removing Bush will not restore it, because legitimacy rests not on there not being a criminal in power, but it being impossible for a criminal to come to power.

There's more here, along with an excellent thread of comments.

I should say that we've had an internal conversation here at Corrente, provoked by a similarly angry response by Lambert to the ever astonishing depredations by this administration of everything we as Americans think we hold sacred, about whether or not mere ejection from office by means of an election is a sufficient rejection of the Bush presidency, or if some additional smoting is required, like say, impeachment. Conclusions were not reached. My position, I'm still thinking on it.

Here's another perpsective on just how seriously this administration is undermining the Geneva conventions.

Mark LeVine, an asst. prof of history at UC,Irvine, an Arabic-speaker, among other languages, with much accumulated experience in the Middle East, wrote an essay published in the AsiaTimes which caught my eye some months ago that presented the issues of occupation in the context of corporate globalization. He's also the co-editor of the book "Twilight Of Empire: Responses To Occupation," ** an anthology of essays which I highly recommend; the book, published by a small publishing house, Percival Press, is beautifully produced in paper with some extraordinary photographs; something about the quality of the book, not only the contents, the feel of it in one's hands, is heartening; at least here, in opposition to the occupation of Iraq, we're attempting to treat the Iraqi people with the respect they deserve.

Not so on the ground, says LeVine, in this essay you can find here.
LeVine has taken the time to actually read the Geneva Conventions, and the UN Resolution that pertain to our occupation, and by which we ought to be judging our own behavior. We don't come off terribly well. A sample:

Though the issue of war crimes is almost inescapable in Iraq itself and has been a subject of much discussion abroad, the American media has largely avoided the issue. I searched the archives of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post to no avail for any article dealing with this issue substantively; CNN and the Christian Science Monitor have occasionally discussed it, but only on progressive webzines or at blogs can one find the issue considered in any detail.

Given the lack of coverage of such an important issue, perhaps Americans should take a minute next time they're online to actually read the 4th Geneva Convention. Or they could simply read the US Army Field Manual 27-10. If we assume that, among the thousands of people in coalition prisons, significant numbers aren't simply civilians arbitrarily detained in sweeps of supposed insurgent neighborhoods (which is probably not a good assumption), then this manual clearly defines prisoners like the ones in the infamous Abu Ghraib photos as "prisoners of war," since the Army considers "members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements" (art. 61(2)) as falling under this category.

And so "softening them up" for interrogation, as several of the soldiers now charged with their abuse have said they were ordered (or was it merely asked?) to do, is expressly prohibited both according to U.S. military law and the 4th Geneva Convention. Yet both the U.S and British armed forces have special training camps to teach their military intelligence personnel techniques -- code named "R2I" (Resistance to Interrogation)--to do just what was done at Abu Ghraib. In other words, they are literally training their soldiers to commit war crimes as part of the normal practice of war.

This is not an issue of soldiers exceeding their authority. It's an issue of the commander-in-chief of the United States armed forces, along with his top commanders and civilian officials, being responsible for a military system that, once unleashed, cannot but commit systematic violations of humanitarian law. Without making ludicrous comparisons between President Bush and Slobodan Milosevic or Saddam Hussein, the same logic and international laws that led the U.S. to support their captures and trials could leave both President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair open to prosecution for the systematic commission of war crimes by the military forces and civilian personnel under their command.

You can see how LeVine and Newberry start to intersect.

**The book is carried at Amazon; buy it from one of the private sellers; they'll get it to you faster.

Rainbow Sash and Yellow Star 

They say* that when the Nazis came to Denmark they ordered the Jews to put on the yellow Star of David. King Christian X went out for his usual tour around town the next day...wearing a yellow star. "I am my country's first Jew," he said calmly.

Chicago Tribune reports today that a certain Church is on another ban-'em-from-Communion kick. Who is the target of the send 'em to Hell if they can't follow the rules drive this time--pro choicers? Death-with-dignity activists? Pedophiles, maybe? (Naw, I threw that in just for a laugh). Yeah, you guessed it:

"Cardinal Francis George has instructed priests in the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago to deny communion Sunday to those who wear a so-called rainbow sash indicating they are gay or lesbian, WGN-Ch. 9 reported.

"In a letter to pastors, the cardinal said those who wear the sash signal their opposition to church teaching and should not receive communion, WGN reported.

The national Rainbow Sash Movement has asked gay and lesbian church members to wear a sash made from rainbow-colored cloth to show their sexual orientation this Sunday, which is Pentecost on the church calendar.

"In wearing the Rainbow Sash, we proclaim that we are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (and) with our families, friends and loved ones we witness and celebrate our sexuality as a sacred gift," the movement states on its

Wouldn't it be nice to see every Catholic--not to mention every Presbyterian, Methodist, Buddhist, pagan, Wiccan and members of Hell's Angels--march into a church currently under the tyranny of Cardinal George on Sunday wearing a rainbow sash? You don't even have to try to take Communion, just sit there and let him gaze out at that room full of rainbows through the whole service.

Bonus points to every person, gay, straight or otherwise, who says to the press sure to be waiting outside that day, "I am my church's first queer."

Just a thought.

*It turns out this story of King Christian and the star may be patriotic hokum, although it IS true that Denmark saved more of its Jews than virtually any other country, smuggling them en masse to Sweden in fishing boats. So put this story in the category of, as the book title had it a few years ago, "I Love Paul Revere Whether He Rode or Not."

Bush speech: Pandering to the base but answering no questions. 

Dick Polman of our own (Knight-Ridder) Inky does a thorough demolition job:

[Bush] offered virtually nothing new, except for a promise to demolish the Abu Ghraib prison.

I love that we're (Halliburton?) going to build the Iraqis a new prison. It's so... Republican.

I count at least 8 big questions that Bush should have addressed, but didn't.

He mostly invoked familiar elements of the neoconservative vision of a democratic Middle East, a vision that is drawing fire these days even from disaffected Republicans.

He never mentioned [1] Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile leader and neoconservative favorite who supplied dubious intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, and whose dreams of running Iraq were dashed last week when he was bounced from the U.S.-led coalition, after having collected $27 million from American taxpayers.

Nor did Bush substantively address [2] the prison scandal, except to say that "a few American troops" had dishonored American values - a reading of the scandal that fails to jibe with the suspicions of key Republican senators who believe it goes much higher.

Most important, Bush did not address the most troubling questions about how his vision for Iraq will actually work in practice. And that's arguably what skeptical Americans most want to know.

He said, for example, that "our coalition will transfer full [3]sovereignty" to the Iraqis on June 30. But American officials have repeatedly indicated in news briefings that this government (whose leaders have not been chosen) would have "limited sovereignty" and that it would not have any power to enact major laws; nor would it control the 135,000 American troops still on the ground.

Bush said that Iraqi troops would be led by Iraqi commanders and that those troops would battle alongside the U.S. troops - in his words, "working as allies." But he didn't address the nagging question of [4]whether Iraqi commanders will have the option to refuse American battle orders in sensitive cases where the Iraqis disagree with U.S. strategy. (The recent disputed U.S. attack on what Iraqis say was a wedding party probably won't help matters, at least in the short run.)

Bush said America will provide "technical experts" to help establish 26 ministries, including criminal justice. But he didn't say [5]whether the new Iraqi criminal-justice system would have the right to prosecute Americans for crimes against Iraqis on Iraqi soil. Americans are immunized under a decree from the U.S.-led occupation authority, but that decree expires along with the authority June 30.

What happens [6]if a sovereign Iraqi government, reflecting the popular will, decides that it doesn't want U.S. troops roaming the land, and doesn't want U.S. advisers roaming the corridors of power?

A Gallup poll a few weeks ago said 57 percent of Iraqis wanted the U.S. troops to leave immediately. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said this month that the Iraqis would have the right to order the Americans to go, but other administration officials, in testimony on Capitol Hill, have suggested otherwise.

Bush added nothing to that debate. The answer to that question may hinge on who actually runs the country. At one point, Bush did say that the new government - which is temporary, pending elections in January - is slowly taking shape, under the auspices of a special envoy from the United Nations (the same body that he called "irrelevant" in 2002). But he said nothing about [7] who [the new] leaders would be, probably because the U.N. envoy is still mediating among Iraq's ethnic rivalries. (The Kurds, for example, want one of the top two posts.)

He also said nothing about [7]any kind of U.S. exit strategy, perhaps because he doesn't foresee the favorable circumstances for withdrawal. He also said nothing about [8]what he thought it would cost to achieve those circumstances.

Roughly half the American electorate opposes Bush already, and probably nothing he said last night will change those minds, and he wouldn't expect to do that. His primary aim is to hold the allegiance of his Republican base, because that's where the problem is. In recent weeks, national polls have found that roughly 8 percent of self-identified Republicans have turned against Bush on the war.
(via Inky)

Looks to me like Inerrant Boy's still got some 'splainin' to do.

UPDATE A nice roundup from alert reader justin here.

Institute of Strategic Studies shows Iraq has made AQ more dangerous 

The ISS makes AQ sound like a thriving, well-managed small business with a sound business model and a resilient organizational structure. Quite unlike the bunglers in the WhiteWash House, I might add.

Al Qaeda has more than 18,000 militants ready to strike and the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq has accelerated recruitment to the ranks of Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s network, a leading London think-tank said on Tuesday.

And this was doubtless written before Bush's Abu Ghraib fiasco.

Al Qaeda's finances were in good order, its "middle managers" provided expertise to Islamic militants around the globe and bin Laden's drawing power was as strong as ever, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said.

It warned in its annual Strategic Survey that al Qaeda would keep trying to develop plans for attacks in North America and Europe and that the network ideally wanted to use weapons of mass destruction.

"Meanwhile, soft targets encompassing Americans, Europeans and Israelis, and aiding the insurgency in Iraq, will do," the institute said.

"Galvanized by Iraq if compromised by Afghanistan, al Qaeda remains a viable and effective network of networks," it said.

The IISS said al Qaeda lost its base after the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan in late 2001 but had since adapted to become more decentralized, "virtual" and invisible in more than 60 countries.

"The Afghanistan intervention offensively hobbled but defensively benefited al Qaeda," it said.

The institute said 2,000 al Qaeda members and more than half of the group's 30 leaders had been killed or captured.

So all the Special Access Program has managed to do is kill off the stupid ones.

The IISS said the 1,000 al Qaeda militants estimated to be in Iraq were a minute fraction of its potential strength.

It said al Qaeda was reported to be exporting extremism on a global scale with "middle managers" providing planning, logistical advice, material and financing to smaller groups in Saudi Arabia and Morocco and probably Indonesia and Kenya.

The IISS said http://www.agonist.org/archives/015949.html#015949the Madrid train bombings in March suggested al Qaeda had now fully reconstituted and had set its sights firmly on the United States and its closest allies in Europe.
(via Reuters from the essential Agonist)

A network of networks, eh? You and I, readers, we know this is how AQ is structured. We've known it since they surfaced. Clarke's known it for years.

Question: How then, does it make any sense at all to claim that Iraq is the "central front in the war on terror [sic]", as Bush does?

Answer: It doesn't. A network of network has no front! The inanity of the neocon thinking has never been so clear.


Bush speech: Playing to the base 

Nixon lost to JFK because of a bad makeup job. That will never happen to Inerrant Boy:

The president's makeup job was a resounding success. There was almost no sign of the facial scrapes and bruises Bush acquired in a weekend bicycle mishap. Helen Kennedy of the New York Daily News credits "what looked like a smart copper/peach powder base."
(via Froomkin, WaPo)

"Scrapes and bruises," eh? Too bad the wounded and the amputees in Bush's stupid war can't solve their problems so easily.

Open thread 

Very light blogging for me today—deliverables.

Until someone else steps in, talk amongst yourselves!

Iraq clusterfuck: "Central front in the war on terror" 

That's what Bush thinks Iraq is: "The Central Front in the war on terror."

What century is He living in? Trench warfare on the Western Front in 1917?

The (so-called) war on terror doesn't have any fronts. That is its nature!

Gee, I guess His speech didn't really build my confidence....

Iraq Clusterfuck: Bush heaves Sanchez over the side 

Gee, I wonder why? Or could it be that Sanchez just wants to spend more time with his family?

Sanchez is considered by many of his peers to be a solid soldier who has been overwhelmed by the task of commanding the U.S. mission in Iraq.
(via WaPo)

Well, since the mission was never defined clearly, except the parts of it that were lies, that is hardly surprising.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Goodnight, moon 

Rove, Rove, Rove, Rove, Rove, Rove, Rove, Rove, Rove.
There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It's easy.
There's nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be in time
It's easy.
All you need is Rove, all you need is Rove,
All you need is Rove, Rove, Rove is all you need.
Rove, Rove, Rove, Rove, Rove, Rove, Rove, Rove, Rove.
All you need is Rove, all you need is Rove,
All you need is Rove, Rove, Rove is all you need.
There's nothing you can know that isn't known.
Nothing you can see that isn't shown.
Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.
It's easy.
All you need is Rove, all you need is Rove,
All you need is Rove, Rove, Rove is all you need.
All you need is Rove (all together now)
All you need is Rove (everybody)
All you need is Rove, Rove, Rove is all you need.

Army starts lying to get reservists to re-enlist 

There's really no end to the deception, is there? Once Bush started us down the wrong path with His lies.

As part of an aggressive recruiting effort, Army and National Guard officials have warned inactive reservists that they could face being sent back to Iraq unless they re-enlist in the active reserves or join their local Guard units, according to a published report.

MariAnn Curta told the Chicago Tribune in a story published Sunday that a recruiter called her last weekend, saying her 22-year-old son Bill -- who recently completed a nine-month tour of duty in Iraq -- could be headed back there unless he enlisted in the Illinois National Guard.

"It's devious, it's deceptive, it's dishonest, it's valueless," she said. "I can't believe they'd pull this kind of fast trick on kids who have already served."

Army Reserve spokesman Steven Stromvall told the newspaper that there has been a problem with misleading, inaccurate and intimidating retention efforts throughout the country in the past few weeks. He said the Army Reserve is moving quickly to fix the problem.

"They went a bridge too far," he said.

The telephone warnings have been concentrated in four areas: Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis and Louisiana, according to the newspaper. But Stromvall said National Guard recruiters heard about the tactic andbegan using similar techniques.

"It then spread through the country, with the exception of New England," he said.
(via NBC Newa, Columbus from the Agonist)

"Mistakes were made."

So, how did Inerrant Boy do on his cable-only Iraq speech? 

I don't have a TV, so I can't see for myself.

If He's still going, feel free to chip in with some play-by-play. Was His tie psychedelic again? How was the makeup job, and did it cover the road rash? Any signs of an earpiece?

Oh, and anything substantive? Heh.

Zinni On Sixty Minutes 

If you missed Steve Croft's segment with General Anthony Zinni last night, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the online video of same. You can see it with either a Real Player, or the Windows model, and the link, with summary can be found here. But even a full transcript wouldn't convey the power of the man himself.

Though heaven knows he is but the latest in an astonishingly long line of mainstream public servants who've come forward to say that George Bush's Iraqi policy was a misbegotten misadventure that has set the foreign policy of this country on a disasterous course, Zinni's vigorous certitude, his centrist credentials, his straightforward bearing, his critical pre-war perspective, and his insistence that those who promulgate a failed policy ought to be willing to be judged by that failure, made him especially impressive. Of course this is an administration that does not countenance failure, not in the usual "if you fail you're gone" sense, but in that other sense, that no policy of this administration, which represents all that is good and decent about America, can, by definition, be a failed policy; it is only failed belief in the policy that will doom it, and only disloyal, unAmerican, elitist voices that hate America who would attempt to convince Americans, wrongly, not to believe in the policy. Feel dizzy yet?

Zinni was bracingly clearheaded. No, Saddam was not an immediate or even a gathering threat. He was contained. Sanctions had worked. An invasion of Iraq made no sense in the context of 9/11, which dictated that our priorities lay elsewhere, namely in Afghanistan, where we did a half-assed job initially, and where we continue to look the other way as that country tetters on the verge of failed statehood yet again. Stay the course? Not when it is taking you over Niagra without benefit of even a barrel. If for nothing else, go look at the video to watch Zinni talk about the kind of personal attacks he received when he wrote critically about the strategic failure of neo-con doctrine, and detail his hearty contempt for those who would claim that once troops take the field in war, any criticism of the policies that sent them to war is beyond the pale.

Zinni's notions of how we get out of this mess are actually quite close to those articulated by Kerry thus far, and by no stretch of anyone's imagination can they be said to be a continuation of the Bush Iraq policy.

More on this in a subsequent post.

Insiders selling: What do they know that we don't? 

We explained (back here) the new wave of insider selling like this: "If a dirty bomb hits, the market will tank. So why not cash in?"

Paranoid? Not really. See "WhiteWash House assumes attack will happen before election" (back).

And guess which set of insiders is selling out now? Why, none other than The Sulzbergers, the owners of the New York Times....

So long, Manhattan! Nice knowing you....

NOTE A tip of the ol' Corrente hat to alert reader 56K.

Iraq debacle: Rummy bans cell phones with cameras 

So the messengers can't shoot (pictures)?

Mobile phones fitted with digital cameras have been banned in US army installations in Iraq on orders from Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, The Business newspaper reported today.
(via news.com.au from The Agonist)

I wonder why?

"Bad People Have Celebrations, too." Video At Eleven 

So Brig. General Kimmitt has told us, in regards to that so-called wedding taking place in that isolated desert area of Iraq.

There was no evidence of a wedding: no decorations, no musical instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said Saturday. "There may have been some kind of celebration.

AP is reporting that they are in possession of a videotape that appears to show a wedding.

...a dozen white pickup trucks speeding through the desert, escorting a bridal car decorated with colorful ribbons. The bride wears a Western-style white bridal dress and veil. The camera captures her stepping out of the car but does not show a close-up.

The videotape obtained Sunday by Associated Press Television News captures a wedding party that survivors say was later attacked by U.S. planes early Wednesday, killing up to 45 people. The dead included the cameraman, Yasser Shawkat Abdullah, hired to record the festivities, which ended Tuesday night before the planes struck

Centcom continues to insist that they hit a legitimate non-civilian target. Remember, fellow citizens, civilians who are in any way connected to insurgent activities, i.e., support terrorism, become combatants, so none of the following should bother any of us.

....video that APTN shot a day after the attack shows fragments of musical instruments, pots and pans and brightly colored beddings used for celebrations, scattered around the bombed out tent.

An AP reporter and photographer, who interviewed more than a dozen survivors a day after the bombing, were able to identify many of them on the wedding party video — which runs for several hours.

APTN also traveled to Mogr el-Deeb, 250 miles west of Ramadi, the day after the attack to film what the survivors said was the wedding site. A devastated building and remnants of the tent, pots and pans could be seen, along with bits of what appeared to be the remnants of ordnance, one of which bore the marking "ATU-35," similar to those on U.S. bombs.

A water tanker truck can be seen in both the video shot by APTN and the wedding tape obtained from a cousin of the groom.


The survivors agree that the wedding festivities had broken up for the night when the attack began, but they insist that there were no foreign fighters or other combatants in their group.

The video shows the bride arriving in a white pickup truck and quickly being ushered into a house by a group of women. Outside, men recline on brightly colored silk pillows, relaxing on the carpeted floor of a large goat-hair tent as boys dance to tribal songs.

The singing and dancing seems to go on forever at the all-male tent set up in the garden of the host, Rikad Nayef, for the wedding of his son, Azhad, and the bride Rutbah Sabah. The men later move to the porch when darkness falls, apparently taking advantage of the cool night weather. Children, mainly boys, sit on their fathers' laps; men smoke an Arab water pipe, finger worry beads and chat with one another. It looks like a typical, gender-segregated tribal desert wedding.

As expected, women are out of sight — but according to survivors, they danced to the music of Hussein al-Ali, a popular Baghdad wedding singer hired for the festivities. Al-Ali was buried in Baghdad on Thursday.

Prominently displayed on the videotape was a stocky man with close-cropped hair playing an electric organ. Another tape, filmed a day later in Ramadi and obtained by APTN, showed the musician lying dead in a burial shroud — his face clearly visible and wearing the same tan shirt as he wore when he performed.

As the musicians played, young men milled about, most dressed in traditional white robes. Young men swayed in tribal dances to the monotonous tones of traditional Arabic music. Two children — a boy and a girl — held hands, dancing and smiling. Women are rarely filmed at such occasions, and they appear only in distant glimpses

You can read more here

One thing that 9/11 didn't change, unfortunately for "our" side; if the factual basis of your statements is shown continually to be false, your believability becomes increasingly compromised, at some point fatally so.

Some of you, dear readers, may rankle at that "our side." But this is our military, our president, etc., etc., etc., in the immortal words of Mr. Hammerstein, as sung so indelibly by Yul Brenner, an Eastern European Jew pretending to be the King of Siam, and how American is that.

Before you become too chafed by this notion of "our" complicity in what "our" government does, let me direct you to Jeanne D'Arc's essay on the subject. It has provoked an equally compelling series of comments you should also not miss, in particular, the long thoughtful essay by alert reader, "Beth." Jeanne's blog has been on temporary hiatus due to family matters; welcome back, Jeanne, and our best wishes to your family.

Abu Ghraib: Molly Ivins uses the F-word 

Finally! She writes about Abu Ghraib:

What seems to me more important than the "Oh ugh" factor is just how easy it is for standards of law and behavior of slip into bestiality.

The problems go all the way back to the administration's refusal to abide by the Geneva Conventions. President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft "signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods.

Normally something like Abu Ghraib can be blamed in part on the Downward Communication Exaggeration Spiral, which afflicts most organizations. Someone at the top makes a mild suggestion, and by the time it reaches the troops, it's iron-clad law. This appears to be a rare case of a reverse spiral, with the orders coming from the very top and questions being raised about them all the way down, until finally Army Spc. Joseph Darby spoke out and set off the Taguba investigation.

In this case, there is more than sufficient evidence pointing to the culpability of those at the top. But at the same time, the Pentagon is putting out the word that it was "only a few bad apples," six low-level soldiers who have already been charged, with no one else involved. This just stinks of cover-up. Damned if I think these six low-level soldiers should be hung out there to take the blame for a set of explicitly written and signed policies made by people wearing expensive suits, getting paid big bucks and bearing some of the highest titles in the land.

You can read all the memos and documents for yourself. It's important to know how fascism starts.
(via Naples Daily News)

Fortunately, Bush has found many fewer "willing executioners" than Hitler did. The democratic traditions and values that Bush is trying to hard to undermine are still powerful. Thank Heavens.

Perle of great price 

WaPo has a graphic and a timeline diagramming Perle's business and policy connections.

First, WaPo's terrific graphic reporting on Bush's spheres of influence, now this!

You'd almost think that WaPo is starting to connect the dots!

Say, how come we never get graphic reportage like this from the Pulitzer-light and increasingly demoralized Times? Oh sure, we get it for manhole cover electrocutions, or WTC architectural proposals, or landscape gardening, but never for, you know, NEWS, especially about politics, policy, and how to follow the money. I wonder why?

Bush bike accident: "Is the president taking any painkillers for his injuries?" 

Good question! Over to you, Rush!

Bush bike accident: Kerry: "Did the training wheels fall off?" 


Predictably, the wingers are all hot and bothered.

Incidentally, nobody else seems to have picked up that they were lying when they gave the alibi for Bush that "It's been raining a lot, and the topsoil is loose." National Weather Service reports show otherwise (back). I guess (thanks to alert reader Mark) we have a mini-scoop. Not that catching Bush out in a lie is ever hard.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Goodnight, moon 

Best Philly story of the week: A drug ring gets busted right in the new Dunkin' Donuts in our plush convention center. How? Guy waltzes in and sings out, "Ladies, who's buying?" when there's an undercover cop getting a glazed....

Philly, the city that loves you back!

Meanwhile, can it be true that Inerrant Boy's Monday speech is only going to be carried on cable? That's what my Mom says, and she has a TV. Probably it's doing Him a kindness, but can it be right?

Oh, and a tip of the ol' Corrente hat to all our alert readers. This week, I dunno, you've just seemed especially alert. 'S beautiful.... Thanks.

Bush bike accident: They say recent rain explains it, but they're lying 

Dana Milbank in Pravda on the Potomac:

President Bush, always a bit star-crossed in his leisure pursuits, suffered a new misadventure in athleticism Saturday when he fell off a bicycle.

Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, immediately offered excuses for his boss. "It's been raining a lot, and the topsoil is loose," he said.
(via WaPo)

YABL. Alert reader Mark looked up the National Weather Service report for Waco, TX, near Crawford, here. There's been no rain at all for a week.


UPDATE Greetings to the readers of Drunk cyclist! Who knew? Enjoy!

Feeling safer? I didn't think so. 

Eesh. Read the whole thing (via The Agonist).

I really, really like the picture of the Republicans shutting down Manhattan's Penn Station and a good chunk of the island so they can hold their convention without getting bombed.

Presumably, they'll reimburse all the ordinary working people for lost time and wages.

Oh? No? "They should be grateful"? Oh, right. I get it.

Abu Ghraib torture: Copy of Taguba Report given to Pentagon by Senate missing 2000 pages 

Oops! Or not.

Time magazine reported Sunday that committee aides noticed the report was missing a third of its pages after they divided the document and its 106 annexes into separate binders, stacking them and comparing the stack with an already counted stack of 6,000 pages.

[Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita] said he understood there may have been a computer glitch that made some of the electronically stored pages difficult to open, but the problem was resolved.

"Certainly, if there is some shortfall in what was provided, it was an oversight," Di Rita said in a statement read to The Associated Press.
(via AP)

A computer glitch, eh? How con-veeeen-ient.

Operation Bohica Summer 

Thanks to alert reader pansypoo for the moniker.

``We're going to be there no matter what,'' Gen. John Abizaid, commander of American troops in the Middle East, told Congress.
(via Boston Herald)

"There"? Where? Up shit creek without a paddle?

NOTE Thanks to alert reader raison de fem, who posted the link before going back to bed.

Iraq clusterfuck: Need a job? Send your resume to the Heritage Foundation, and we'll give you a $13 billion budget! 

The Brat Pack...

From the Department of Never Being Cynical Enough:

Remember how we've been saying (back; and [1]) instead of "CPA," "RNC/CPA," implying, in our oh-so-subtle corrente way, that the Coalition (heh) Provisional (heh) Authority (heh)[2] was nothing other than a branch of the Republican National Commmitee?

Blogger hyperbole, certainly, but good clean fun all the same. "We do but jest, poison in jest..." No offense!

Readers, it was all true:

Managing a $13 Billion Budget With No Experience
When the U.S. government went looking for people to help rebuild Iraq, they had responded to the call. They supported the war effort and President Bush. Many had strong Republican credentials. They were in their twenties or early thirties and had no foreign service experience.

Let's—following the example of their co-workers—call them "The Brat Pack."

When [The Brat Pack] showed up at the [Republican (heh) Palace] -- with their North Face camping gear, Abercrombie & Fitch camouflage and digital cameras -- they were quite the spectacle. But none had ever worked in the Middle East, none spoke Arabic, and few could tell a balance sheet from an accounts receivable statement.

They had been hired to perform a low-level task: collecting and organizing statistics, surveys and wish lists from the Iraqi ministries for a report that would be presented to potential donors at the end of the month. But as suicide bombs and rocket attacks became almost daily occurrences, more and more senior staffers defected.

Translation: The sane ones blow town, and only the wingnuts are left.

In short order, six of the new young hires found themselves managing the country's $13 billion budget, making decisions affecting millions of Iraqis.

And what, you may ask, were their qualifications for doing so? The light dawns:

For months they wondered what they had in common, how their names had come to the attention of the Pentagon, until one day they figured it out: They had all posted their resumes at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank.

Surprise! And blowing past all the human interest stuff, we come to this:

Some also grumbled about the new staffers' political ties. Retired U.S. Army Col. Charles Krohn said many in the CPA regard the occupation "as a political event," always looking for a way to make the president look good.
(via WaPo)

It's just like a fairy story, isn't it? Show up with no skills, and in what seems like minutes, you're in charge of an entire country! And better yet, every day is a new day in which to make Dear Leader look good in the media!

Now, to be fair, The Brat Pack—no matter how hard they must have tried to shovel Iraqi money to their Republican allies—must have been able to spend a fraction of that money. Of the reconstruction money (another budget) just $2 billion of $17 billion available has been spent (back) because the security situation in Iraq is so bad).

And, oh yeah, The Brat Pack got the jobs from a single email, and didn't have to undergo a security check. Looks like if you hook up with the Heritage Foundation, you can get signed up faster than you or I could board a plane on a domestic flight...

Say, if Nick Berg had sent his resume to The Heritage Foundation, he might be alive today!

Alert reader pansypoo is right: We need a new word to use instead of "clusterfuck." Something just as vivid, but even more intense.

Lots more good stuff from the essential Atrios.

[1] Actually, the argument I make back here is a lot worse than that the CPA/RNC organization means that the war is all and only about Bush's re-election, at least in the minds of Republican operatives. Rather, the CPA/RNC is an extra-constitutional chain of command for running mercenaries. It would be interesting to know which of these bright young people—I hereby make the ritual disclaimer "if any"—was back-channelling Aby Ghraib torture photos into the West Wing, so Bush can compare them to the list of "bad guys" he keeps in his desk drawer.

[2]Kinda like that old joke about the Holy Roman Empire, right? Neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire? So with the CPA. I mean, can anyone believe that the same guys aren't going to be running the show when "sovreignty" gets transferred to the Iraqis? Pas si bete.

Iraq debacle: Neocon creature and Iranian spy Chalabi's disinformation campaign 

Too, too delicious. Almost too rich: If it weren't for the cost in treasure and lives of Bush bungling that Chalabi enabled.

Ahmed Chalabi, the one-time White House favourite who has been implicated in an alleged Iranian spy operation, sent Iraqi defectors to at least eight Western spy services before the war in an apparent effort to dupe them about Saddam Hussein's illicit weapons programs.

US investigators are now seeking to determine if the effort was secretly supported by Iran's intelligence service to help persuade the Bush Administration to oust the Baghdad regime, Tehran's long-time enemy.

US officials say the INC may have been acting on its own, rather that at Iran's behest, when it sent out a steady stream of defectors between 1998 and 2003 with apparently co-ordinated claims about Baghdad's purported weapons of mass destruction.

Because even friendly spy services rarely share the identities of their informants, or let outsiders meet or debrief their sources, it has become clear only in recent months that Mr Chalabi's group sent defectors with inaccurate or misleading information to Denmark, England, Italy...

Hmmm... Remember the "crude forgeries" from the Italian service on the yellowcake story?

....France, Germany, Spain and Sweden, as well as to the US, the officials said.

In some case US intelligence analysts used information from now-discredited "foreign intelligence sources" to corroborate their own assessments of Saddam's suspected illegal weapons. Few of the CIA's pre-war judgements have been proved accurate so far.

"We had a lot of sources, but it was all coming from the same pot," said a former senior US intelligence official.

"They were all INC guys. And none of them panned out."

(via The Age)

Looks like the entire Bush foreign policy apparat were just babies by comparison to the Iraqi intelligence service.

Gee, I wonder if anyone in the administration will take responsibility for this?

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