Thursday, August 30, 2007

3 out of 18

That’s about 16% - a failure by any standards. It represents the number of benchmarks the Iraqi government has met since the so-called surge was initiated. Needless to say, the goal was that all eighteen benchmarks would be met by September 15, which is when the report is due. That report however, has now been preemptively leaked to The Washington Post by a government official who was concerned that the conclusions found in the report were so negative that the White House would tamper with the final version. That is what allegedly happened with security assessments in this month's National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

Karen DeYoung and Thomas Ricks of the Post quote the report as saying that "While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced," it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that "the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved."

The Report contrasts strongly with almost every positive statement made by the White House with regards to progress in Iraq and contradicts upbeat statements made by the White House and Military spokespersons about the readiness of the newly trained Iraqi troops. In short, The Surge, is a flop.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ramping up the Rhetoric

President Bush spoke to veterans of the armed forces yesterday in Reno and in doing so, considerably ramped up the war rhetoric against Iran. Jennifer Loven of Breitbart.Com reported on the speech and quoted Bush as saying:

"Iran is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan to be used to attack American and NATO troops," Bush said. "Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes and impose no threat to their regime. And Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust. Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere."

This mirrors almost exactly the kind of language that the Bush Administration used when they were readying the country and the world for a war against Iraq. The only interpretation of this is that Iran has to be stopped militarily through war because Iran will not succumb to sanctions and nor will it toe the line. Saying "Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere," when you are THE nation threatening the security of nations everywhere is mildly ironic. Not that I would expect Bush to be able to wrap his head around that one.

Of course there is concern when any country attempts to acquire nuclear weapons but we don't know that Iran is working towards acquiring a nuclear arsenal and why should Israel, Pakistan and India be "allowed" to do so and not Iran and why should Iran not be allowed to pursue nuclear power to prepare for an age when oil runs out?

Between India, Israel, Pakistan, the United States and Iran, Iran is the only country out of those five that has not invaded another country in the past ten years and is the only country out of those five that has not committed overt acts of political aggression towards another country in the past ten years. They may have sponsored acts of terror although I have yet to see hard evidence of this in the recent past and they may be running covert operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but why shouldn’t they when we are doing the same? In fact in a recent article I read that the CIA were stepping up their covert operations against Iran. Are they expected not to react?

To believe that Iran would acquire nuclear weapons and then start threatening other countries with them is naive. No one wants to be obliterated and they are well aware that that would be their fate. So why believe Iran's acquisition would "threaten the security of nations everywhere," but the acquisition of the same weapons by other countries has not?

Bush is acting as a mouthpiece for Cheney and the oil conglomerates who maybe believe that if they can knock out Iran, they could win in Iraq. Knocking out Iran whilst keeping the country viable for humans to live in, is impossible. So is winning a conventional war against Iran so what are they thinking? The frightening thought is that they may not care if they win or not but they may consider starting a war just to give the Republicans a boost before the 2008 elections. Once Iran’s infrastructure is down, they will declare “mission accomplished” for a second time and yank the troops out of Iraq. Americans are prone to gullibility and they may just believe the rhetoric. They just might.

This Republican Administration is the biggest threat to peace in the world that I've ever experienced and is the most dangerous menace to mankind since the Cuban missile crisis.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Your Tax Dollars at Work in Iraq

In almost any third world country conflict, militias have been known to set up roadblocks and illicit checkpoints which are about controlling the population through fear and extorting cash and goods as a sort of illegitimate transport tax, from trucks carrying merchandise. This system operated in Lebanon, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Congo, Afghanistan, both during the Soviet occupation and more recently after the American invasion and, of course, in Iraq. It is frightfully efficient and provides a steady and healthy income to any group controlling a specific district.

In Iraq, it is the insurgency that profits from this practice and does so in numbers befitting the phenomenal financial black hole that Iraq has become. US contractors, including the military, use Iraqi contractors to transport their goods. The idea is that Iraqi contractors are not only less likely to be attacked but, from the US Military’s point of view, are also more dispensable, or at least their workers are, if they are killed. Iraqi contractors also know, that to get their goods say, from Baghdad to a job site in Al Anbar province, they will have to pay a substantial amount to the insurgency to let them pass. One contractor quotes a job, which he would normally bid at $16,000 for filling bags of gravel and transporting them to Ramadi would be invoiced at $120,000 of which as much as $100,000 was paid out to the insurgency.

The Seattle Times quotes one contractor as saying: "Insurgents control the roads - Americans don't control the roads — and everything from Syria and Jordan goes through there."

In light of the fact that current US or Iraqi government run projects total over $353 million, it’s easy to imagine about $10 million of that landing in the hands of the insurgency over the next year or so. Some of that money will be used by the insurgency to purchase weapons, some of it to bribe Syrian border guards to look the other way. But the following also has to be considered: in a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, Pentagon officials claim that the USA spends one million dollars for every dollar spent by the insurgency, which boggles the mind somewhat.

Here’s the scenario in a nutshell. In order for Iraq to succeed, the United States is attempting to defeat an insurgency whilst it rebuilds the country’s infrastructure. In rebuilding the infrastructure, American contractors are forced to shell out millions of dollars to the insurgency that the US military is trying to fight. The insurgency repeatedly destroys the infrastructure, a soft target, thus guaranteeing themselves a steady revenue flow. That’s a business plan if ever I saw one.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Coca Cola for Heroin

When the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996, they still did not have control of all of Afghanistan. In particular, Mazar El Sharif, the Shiite holy city to the North was still firmly in the hands of Dostum and his followers despite Pakistani Madrassa sending thousands of willing fighters to the Taliban to take it over. Mazar Il Sharif fell in October of 1999 and it was widely accepted that the Taliban now basically controlled the entire country. However well before this point in time, the Taliban had established a ban on the growth of poppies, required to make opium and heroin. They never managed to eradicate the crop entirely, but they certainly reduced the exports to a trickle by 2001. One of the ways they did this was by applying draconian punishment to those who dared to grow poppies proclaiming it to be against the will of Allah and secondly, by effectively subsidizing the farmers to grow other crops.

In the wake of the US invasion in 2001, President Bush exhorted the world to provide aid for this new fledgling democracy, a favorite Neoconservative expression. The world responded and led by Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom as well as the United States, over five billion dollars were pledged to rebuild the country. Barely 5% of that money ever reached Afghanistan and when it did, it mainly went to foreign contractors, such as a well known Virginian law firm that pocketed $14 million to rewrite Afghan trade laws, an exercise so pointless, so futile, it boggles the mind. One of the main effects of the invasion however, was the sudden stop in subsidies the Taliban gave the private farmers especially in the more rural areas and the other, was the almost total cessation of governance of all the provinces apart from Kabul and Herat.

During my trips in 2003 and 2003, the outlying Afghan provinces were operating almost entirely without any form of administration. There was a severe drought which had been going on for almost six years by then and the Afghans outside Kabul were in dire straits whereas those within the Kabul city limits were not much better off than before despite the fact that the Taliban’s reign of terror had now ceased. The Afghan soil does not support many crops, but one of the crops that does grow exceedingly well are opium poppies. Farmers, desperate to earn something began growing poppies again in 2003. By 2005, Afghanistan was supplying 75% of the world’s opium and heroin. More recently articles appeared in both
The New York Times as well as The International Herald Tribune stating that Afghan poppy growth had skyrocketed since then to new record levels.

One of the reasons for this is that the Taliban, erstwhile the ones who prohibited poppy growing are now encouraging it and reaping the profits. In fact, they have now set up labs all over southern Afghanistan to process the crop which now no longer needs to leave the country as the raw product, but can be manufactured into heroin which is then exported thus raising the reaped profits by several hundred percent. The other factor is that despite the intentions of the occupying forces to do something about the poppy growers, there is strong resistance from the Afghan central government in Kabul, whose true reach does not extend much further than Bamiyan, some 140 miles from the Kabul City walls. Hamid Karzai’s government is well aware that it is caught between a rock and a hard place. The Taliban now profit from the growth of the poppies, but eradicating them would further alienate the farmers who would then turn to the Taliban.

The sheer numbers are staggering. Afghanistan now produces 92% of the world’s heroin and Helmland Province, which covers an area about the size of West Virginia, produces more narcotics than any other place in the world including Columbia and Morocco. Last year’s bumper poppy crop amounting to a mind blowing 6,100 metric tons represents a 50% increase over the previous year.

To understand this one has to understand the nature of the country. It is true that the Taliban represented a fiendish government which cracked down on freedom in ways that are unthinkable in the West. But a farmer somewhere in Helmland province was little affected by this. To him, the ensuing ‘freedom’ offered by the West has only meant an increase in poverty and a decrease in his living conditions. Attempts by the West to introduce new crops into Afganistan such as growing chillis, which are quite profitable fail because the initial expenditure and outlay for the farmer is too high. In addition, his crops are endangered from marauding thieves and the Taliban militias that roam the countryside who do not wish to have their business undermined.

The current state of affairs points at a further misstep by the West and a continuing failure to grasp that nature of the country that is Afghanistan. There was a chance, back in 2001, to really turn the tide. Five billion dollars could truly have sufficed to put the country on its feet, to educate the farmers in new farming techniques, to supply them with the initial seeds to begin growing crops which they can sell. But in 2003 most of the ministries were still non-functional, the country, including Kabul still lacked drinking water and power and the population of Afghanistan still lacked a perspective. The governments of Germany and the United Kingdom pompously declared that they would not abandon Afghanistan, but they did. The United States declared solidarity with the Afghan people, but they never followed through. Continuing reports of massive civilian casualties caused by predominantly United States led Special Forces and aerial bombardments have further strengthened the wedge between the government of Hamid Karzai and the indigenous population. Who can blame them for resorting to growing mildly profitable drug crops which then find their markets here, in our countries, in the West, where they destroy the fabric of our society? We have so thoroughly shot ourselves in the foot by creating a monster through sheer ignorance, greed and incapability.

The Afghan people, who have lived through 25 years of war are experiencing the continued slow death of their country, now at the hands of the West. Symbolically, one of the projects that succeeded is the construction of a giant soft drink bottling plant in the new industrial park outside Kabul. We could not give them freedom, we could not give them peace, we could not give them electricity or clean water, but we managed to give them Coca-Cola.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Case for Withdrawal

Proponents of what has become known as ‘The Surge’ are generally supporters of the invasion of Iraq. Their bottom line is and has been that we cannot ‘cut and run’. They will never tell you what they exactly mean by ‘cutting and running’ – or rather, they will not tell you what they are trying to avoid by not withdrawing the troops. That is because they cannot. Victory in Iraq is not anything that can be quantified. There is no measurable success, no goal, no aim. It is a fluffy white foggy blob of invectives and half-hearted explanations. This is one of the main reasons for the moral drain amongst the troops stationed there. Spc. Will Hedin, 21, of Chester, Connecticut, summed it up when he described his role in the Iraq War: “We drive around and wait to get shot at.”

The fact is that like it or not, the US troops’ presence does probably limit the amount of violence each ethnic fraction is able to commit on the other, but only by a small margin. Meanwhile, the very presence of those troops also aggravates certain other aspects of the situation. There is pent up anger at the Americans and, by proxy, anger at those who are either affiliated with them, support them or are perceived to gain from their continued involvement. The United States and the ever dwindling “Coalition of the Willing” is actually fulfilling the role that was vacated when Saddam was ousted. Crack downs, curfews, lock ups and random arrests of anyone seen to be in opposition. The US occupation is the stabilizing force and it isn’t even doing a very good job at that either.

It has become clear to anyone, that the Ethnic divisions that run within Iraq’s society are so deep that they have caused fissures and when allowed to, they will cause permanent cracks. No amount of babysitting is going to help. Babysitting is namely what the Pentagon is attempting to do; support the crippled Maliki administration until the country stabilizes and the relatively recently elected Iraqi government can stand up on its own two feet. But that isn’t going to happen.

When the US led coalition pulls out, whether it be this year, next year or in ten years, Iraq will devolve into separate entities - it will “fly apart” as Cheney predicted back in 1994. So that being a given, what is the continued presence of US forces in Iraq actually achieving? One can compare it to trying to plug a dam with one’s thumb as the waters rise. At some point, one is going to have to pull one’s thumb out and the later one does so, the higher the water will have risen and the greater the catastrophe. The fact that the US Military’s strategy has morphed into an occupation is only making things worse.

This is not about cutting and running but about taking some of the sting out of the present situation. It will result in a spike in bloodshed to be sure, but that is something that cannot be avoided – it has been on the cards ever since the British divided up the Middle East. Like water, ethnic divisions have to find their own level in every region and no amount of foreign presence will put that off for ever. It’s in our nature. The only thing left to do is to remove the catalyst that sparks the violence in Iraq – the US and coalition forces.

The concern that Al Qaeda will win if we pull out is not only erroneous but misleading. Al Qaeda, or rather its surrogate entity in Iraq, will be dealt with in the same way as the other factions. It is unlikely that a group that targets Iraqi civilians will last long there. Contrary to popular belief in the West, the Iraqis are a tough bunch and will sort out their own problems. Many will perish but that is the legacy and the cross that we have to bear for having meddled in something we did not fully understand. We will not change that by staying there a minute longer. But by leaving, we will remove the raison d’être of those that plant bombs amongst civilians in order to punish them for not protesting America’s involvement.

So in order to save lives and shorten the process I’d call on the American government to withdraw the troops and with them, please, those brave young Iraqis who helped them as translators, guides and suppliers and who will meet a terrible fate if they are left there to face the wrath of the opponents of the continuing American occupation. Iraq needs continuing help in the form of money and infrastructure, not weapons.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

When Another America Went to War

There was a time when the United States perceived its position in the world not as the be all and end all of civilization and the entity that determines how other countries should live out their cultures. There was a humbleness and a degree of tolerance borne out of the knowledge of being a ‘new’ country, which made Americans treat people abroad with a certain level of respect and which resulted in the world accepting, liking and even loving America and what it stood for.

Increasingly, the attitude of the US military and its soldiers is that they do not owe anyone anything, let alone respect. This started in Vietnam and has increased precipitously with every year that the United States has become stronger militarily. More recently, through the collapse of the Soviet Union maybe and the ensuing perception at being the only super-power left, we witness a growing degradation of the local population by members of the United States forces. It is part of the machinery which is causing a growing distaste for America and its ways especially in those countries but also elsewhere.

This is compounded by the fact that also since the Vietnam war, the disrespect by American forces for the lives of others, whilst being so sentimentally attached to the lives of their own troops gives the distinct impression that Americans believe themselves to be intrinsically more valuable as human beings. Of note recently were comments made by a senior British Commander in Afghanistan’s Helmland, in which he requested that America withdraw its Special Forces due to the unarguably high number of civilian casualties they were causing which in turn was making it impossible to win over the civilian population to the ISAF cause of fighting the Taliban.

One father, who reported losing six members of his family killed in a bombing raid by US Forces, in which another five members of his family were wounded including his wife who lost an arm, confirmed this point as reported by
Carlotta Gall of the New York Times:

He said that he opposed the Taliban, but that after the bombing raid the villagers were so angered that most of the men who survived went off to join the insurgents. Whether people would support the foreign troops “depends on the behavior of ISAF,” Mohammadullah said, referring to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. “If they treat the civilians well, they will win.”

The most important line is the last one: “If they treat civilians well, they will win.” But this runs counter to the ways that soldiers, specifically American soldiers have been treating civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. A recent article quoted Marines as saying that they would generally not report the mistreatment of civilians by their fellow marines. Moreover, references to headdress attire and derogatory names like “haji” are counterproductive.

There was a time when things were different. US troops were in Iraq during the Second World War and at that time, there was a booklet entitled “A Short Guide to Iraq” which outlined how to behave towards Iraqis, included pointers as to how to respect the Islamic traditions and also a small guide on how to speak Arabic. A new version of this book has finally been published, perhaps four years too late with an introduction by Lt. Col. John Nagl, in which he wishes he had had such a booklet when he was first stationed in Iraq in 2003:

“As the month of fasting called Ramadan approached in November 2003, I would have appreciated knowing that ‘Moslem tempers are very short during this month as yours would be under similar circumstances’—and perhaps I would have been better prepared for the surge of violence that marked this celebration in our sector.”

The Newsweek article by Malcolm Jones ends with this remarkable insight:

The chief value of “Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq During World War II” is that it reminds us that there was a time, not so long ago, when America expected its troops abroad to be not only brave and resourceful fighters but also upstanding citizens who were expected to be generous, kind and respectful of other people and other cultures—model Americans, in other words. No wonder they called it “the good war.”

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Another Neocon Yearns for an Attack...

Stu Bykofsky is an author of several Opinion Editorials in the Philadelphia Daily News and Stu Bykofsky is a true Neoconservative. His past writings have included such wondrous titles as "Philly is too gay for some" and "Carter' book approaches Anti-semitism."

Stu Bykofsky engenders the Neoconservative who's belly aches every morning when he wakes up and watches as America moves further and further away from his beloved Neocon dreams. An America that is less and less interested in attacking Iran, an America that wants increasingly to pull out of Iraq and an America that wants to be at peace with the world. It infuriates him.
So he's hatched a master plan which has been echoed by other Neocons: "please god let us have another 9/11."

What would sew us back together?
Another 9/11 attack.

The Golden Gate Bridge. Mount Rushmore. Chicago's Wrigley Field. The Philadelphia subway system. The U.S. is a target-rich environment for al Qaeda.

Come on guys! What are another few thousand American lives if after it, we are all joined in attacking another Islamic nation somewhere? One has to break eggs to make an omelete and heck! Imagine how unified the United States would be if they, say, killed 5,000 Americans! Boy! We'd have enough public empathy to maybe nuke someone!

That, my friends, is the dark shadow that the hard core Republicans have mutated into. They are in a bind mind you. If there is a successful attack, it will mean all of Bush's anti-terror tactics failed. But then, it would give them good reason to crack down even further on everyone's privacy and freedom, there would be no objection to wiretapping everyone, opening everyone's mail. It would be the Neoconservative wet dream. Sadly, the spineless Democratic party would probably go with it, flinching every time someone throws out the word "unpatriotic."

So, Stu Bykofsky, if there is another 9/11, I hope that you are in the middle of that conflagration, tears of happiness in your eyes as you watch your nation be sewn back together again by death. Me? I'd rather have political discord for the next 1,000 years than see another 3,000 people sacrificed for unity.

Stu Bykofsky is an author of several Opinion Editorials in the Philadelphi Daily News and Stu Bykofsky is a true Neoconservative. His past writings have included such wondrous titles as "Philly is too gay" and "Carter' book is Antisemitic."

Stu Bykofsky engenders the Neoconservative who's belly aches every morning when he wakes up and watches as America moves further and further away from his beloved Neocon dreams. An America that is less and less interested in attacking Iran, an America that wants increasingly to pull out of Iraq and an America that wants to be at peace with the world. It infuriates him.

So he's hatched a master plan which has been echoed by other Neocons: 'please god let us have another 9/11."

What would sew us back together?

Another 9/11 attack.

The Golden Gate Bridge. Mount Rushmore. Chicago's Wrigley Field. The Philadelphia subway system. The U.S. is a target-rich environment for al Qaeda.

Come on guys! What are another few thousand American lives if after it, we are all joined in attacking another Islamic nation somewhere. One has to break eggs to make an ommelette and heck! Imagine how unified the UNited States would be if they, say, killed 5,000 Americans! Boy! We'd have enough public empathy to maybe nuke someone!

That, my friends, is the dark shadow that the hard core Republicans have mutated into. They are in a bind mind you. If there is a successful attack, it will mean all of Bush's anti-terror tactics failed. But then, it would give them good reason to crack down even further on everyones privacy and freedom, there would be no objection to wiretapping everyone, opening everyone's mail. It would be the Neoconservative wet dream. Sadly, the spineless Democratic party would probably go with it, flinching every time someone throws out the word "unpatriotic."

So, Stu Bykofsky, if there is another 9/11, I hope that you are in the middle of that conflagration, tears of happiness in your eyes as you watch your nation be sewn back together again by death.

Me? I'd rather have political discord for the next 1,000 years than see another 3,000 people sacrificed for unity.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bill Sali and the Gods

Recently, a concerned citizen wrote a letter to the Ann Arbor News in Michigan. The person in question commented that they were disturbed by the omission of God and the lack of references to the Bible during the July Fourth speeches this year. Here is the exact text of that letter to the editor:

"Noticeably and sadly missing in the speeches and news editorials celebrating our independence on July 4 was the lack of acknowledgment and tribute to our Founding Fathers and to America's Christian heritage.

The Christian principles that America was founded upon were drawn directly from the Word of God (the Bible). America was a blessed nation because many of the Founding Fathers were determined to honor God and His laws in creating this country. "

Basically the writer assumes that the United States was built on Christian principles and that the Founding fathers had intended it to be a Christian Nation. We know that there is nothing further from the truth, the premise having been that the United States would be a country to tolerate all religions and not promote any. The reasoning was simple. Almost all countries which had inalienable ties to one specific religion and, at the time, particularly Christianity, had engaged in colonialist nation building and the two went hand in hand. The idea that a country would go forth under the protection of "God" was so disturbing to them that they decided to start with a clean sheet and found a country which accepted, tolerated and indeed WELCOMED any and all religions without promoting one of them above the others.We're back to the First Amendment:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof....."

Unfortunately this is something that continues to befuddle most Republicans, notably Republican Representative Bill Sali of Idaho who very recently had this to say, as noted by One News Now:

"We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes -- and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers,"

The lawmaker from Idaho goes on to assert that the United States was built on principles from the bible and that it is only through the direct protection of God, that the country has been able to survive the onslaught brought upon it by heathens.

Protection by God? Any God? No, Bill Sali is clear on that. He went on to say that when a Hindu prayer is offered, that's a prayer to a "different God" and that that poses problems for the survival of the United States.

It disturbs me greatly, that a Republican Representative knows less about this country's Constitution and the principles on which this country was founded, than a foreigner like myself, but then I'm maybe asking too much from a party that still supports a President like Bush.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

AT&T vs. Pearl Jam

When does a state fall into the roll of a repressor? For example, in the eighties, the West would guffaw at news articles which appeared in Правда, the National Soviet newspaper. The translation of ‘Pravda’ is “the truth” but the information in its pages was anything but because the government made sure that any media coverage which it considered to be counterproductive was deleted and censored. This made the Soviet Union appear to be a repressive state.

We laughed because something like that was unthinkable in the West, where freedom of the press is a pillar of our beliefs in a free society, where freedom of the press is a part of The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and where freedom of the press embodies the ability of the individual to make up his mind about what he believes and what he does not believe.

To jog our collective memories, here is the text of The First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It says very clearly, “abridging the freedom of the press.” Nothing ambiguous about that at least. Now let me digress a moment. Three years ago during the run up to the Republican national Convention in 2004, the city of New York and specifically Republican Mayor Bloomberg repeatedly denied groups of protesters who wished to gather peacefully and to protest, the right to do so. There was no explanation and no cooperation from the city and groups such as UFPJ eventually gave up trying to obtain permits after being stonewalled by the New York City Police Department for months. In fact Bloomberg denied the application virtually as soon as it was submitted. Let’s look at our First Amendment again:

“Or the right of people peaceably to assemble.”

Which part of that statement did Bloomberg not understand? But until recently he belonged to the party that tramples all over the constitution to get what it wants even if it means soliciting and roping in the big bucks industry. I can already hear the Neoconservatives calling me paranoid but I assure you that it’s true and it is part of what we can observe as being the right shift that has taken place in America, a shift so strong that it reeks of fascism. One of the cornerstones of fascism is corporatism and it has taken root in Dick Cheney’s United States. The Enron scandal and the Energy Bill that emerged form weeks of secret locked door meetings between Cheney and the Energy Corporations was a leading example of it. More recently we discovered the AT&T Narus scandal. The Narus, if you recall, is a device which is designed to ‘read’ vast amounts of data for example in email and to analyze and save the choice bits that fall within a certain parameter. It is called data mining and the FBI and the CIA do it. What is scary about the Narus project is that a private corporation is doing it at the behest of the government. That’s the first step towards fascism, which in turn is not very different to the way the Politburo ran the communist Soviet Union.

What does all this have to do with Pearl Jam and the First Amendment? The link is to be found at AT&T, as reported on CMJ:

According to
Pearl Jam's website, portions of the band's Sunday night set at Lollapalooza were missing from the AT&T Blue Room live webcast. Fans alerted the band to the missing material after the show. Reportedly absent from the webcast were segments of the band's performance of "Daughter," including the sung lines "George Bush, leave this world alone" and "George Bush find yourself another home."

When AT&T were asked about it they replied that the material was indeed missing from the webcast, and that it was mistakenly cut by AT&T's content monitor.

So my question is, what are the parameters for the content monitor, so that the only thing they cut out is negative information about the country’s leader and who is it who sets those parameters. I also want to know why we laughed at Pravda in the eighties.

Monday, August 6, 2007


Glen Kessler of The Washinton Post reports this extraordinary piece of news:

The Pentagon has lost track of about 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, according to a new government report, raising fears that some of those weapons have fallen into the hands of insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.

One has to ask oneself if the US armed forces just want everything that can go wrong to go wrong. I cannot imagine that Homer Simpson could do a worse job at keeping Iraq under some sort of semblance of control. In moments like these, idiomatic descriptions such as "fanning the flames" or "putting out fire with gasoline" just don't do the situation justice. We have here something so staggeringly stupid, of such an enormous magnitude of carelessness that the mind literally simply boggles.

Why not give the insurgents a few hundred million dollars while we're at it?

Oh, I almost forgot - we have already done just that.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Why I am Angry

The Progress being made in Iraq is touted as being an increasingly resounding success, a pat on the back kind of thing between chums who have done the world a great favor. Politicians mince their words as they tell us of all the good things which the dastardly left wing media does not report. Others, such as Ann Coulter and her ilk, still compare Baghdad to Los Angeles or Detroit. “You’re focusing on the bad news’” they tell us. But they are hard pressed to give any good news when asked for it. Good news out of Baghdad is about as specific as Rumsfeld’s famous WMD quote. Somewhere, to the North, the South and maybe a little to the East, there’s been some progress made. A school painted here, a business opened there.

But we cannot simply turn away from the nightmare we have created. Yes, “we” because we allowed that sanctimonious windbag Tony Blair to suck up to George Bush, now crowned George The Ignorant and we allowed both of them to start this war. It will be too easy to slowly relinquish our interest for the disaster that Iraq has become. Every day is another day where the numbers of dead reach the hundreds. We no longer click on the link to find out why another 116 people were found dead
in Iraq. We are numbed by the numbers and are weary of death and destruction and yet, we are only reading about it. What if we were there? Here’s an excerpt from the Baghdad Journal:

When will I die? That's the question circling in my head when I awake on Wednesday. I'm sweating, as usual. My muscles ache from another long night of no electricity in weather only slightly cooler than hell. As I dress for work, other questions assail me: How will I die? Will it be a shot in the head? Will I be blown to pieces? Or be seized at a police checkpoint because of my sect, then tortured and killed and thrown out on the sidewalk?

Is this the sign of progress? Waiting for hours for gas that has become prohibitively expensive in a country that is sitting on some of the world’s largest oil reserves? Not having electrical power but for a few hours a day from one’s own generator because the Iraqi government, supposedly supported by the world’s most advanced country, the world’s only superpower, cannot provide electricity to its own citizens, a country running out of medication to treat the victims of bombings and shootings? How can they be running out of medications? What is the US government using the $100,000 a minute that they are spending in Iraq on? I would have thought that at a minimum, medication and hospital equipment should be at the top of the list when one has successfully trashed a country.

But my anger does not come even come from the permanent attempt by the McCains of this world to underplay the catastrophe that Iraq has become in his famous flak-jacketed tour of a Baghdad market, surrounded by marines and watched over by Apache helicopters. It comes from the complacent attitude and the pernicious solipsism that pervades this administration.

"In some ways we probably all underestimated the depth of mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys to come together on legislation,"
- US Defence Secretary Robert
Gates, August 2, 2007,

Underestimated the depth of mistrust in Iraq, a country so ethnically separated that it took a dictator such as Hussein to hold it together? Underestimated how difficult it would be for ‘these guys’ to form a government. Come on Gates! You could have asked anyone, who had any history of being in the Middle East during the past 40 years and they would have told you that invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein from power was going to result in a bloodbath of epic proportions and that if the country was not destroyed, its cohesiveness shattered, it would certainly drop into a multi-year internal civil war which would not end before either the country was broken up into separate entities or, another dictator replaced the former one. Everyone knew that that was going to be the outcome, so excusing it with an ‘underestimation’ is not acceptable. It is tantamount to a war crime, which your government, Mr. Gates, committed and for which it is accountable for.

That’s not even the end of it. The cherry on the icing is the arrogance with which American lawmakers are stepping up to the plate not to offer constructive advice, but to chide the Iraqi government for not doing a better job. So the way I understand it is that having invaded a country and caused an absolutely groundless and unnecessary war, having destroyed the infrastructure and poisoned the land, having torn apart the very fabric of society, now the American government is telling the Iraqis that they are not doing a decent job patching things up.

Iraqi legislators are dying like flies and only the police that are supposed to protect them are dying faster. That's the reality of the new Iraq. They have a nerve up in Washington but unfortunately, not much of a brain to connect it to.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A chance to do something right

The next presidential veto coming your way, as reported by Julie Davis of The Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A bipartisan measure to add 3 million lower-income children to a popular health insurance program headed for a final Senate vote after a much broader and more expensive version passed the House over stiff Republican opposition.

Both measures face a veto-threat from President Bush, who says they would cost too much and expand the decade-old program beyond its original mission, inappropriately moving toward government-run health care.

The measure pledges $35 billion dollars towards providing health insurance for children whose families could not afford it. It’ll probably be a no-brainer for Bush: $35 billion for a military surge in Iraq or $35 billion towards providing health care for some 3 million underprivileged children? Why even hesitate right? Military destruction will win hands down every time with the current administration. But even if Bush wanted to help the children of poor families, there would still be an obstacle:

The measures are to be funded through an increase in taxes on tobacco products, you know, those substances that tend to put people into hospital in the first place so, no problem right? It makes total sense - unless of course your administration is one of the biggest subsidizers of tobacco farmers in history.

Here’s the thing: there’s more chance of seeing the second coming than of a Republican candidate winning the next presidential election. So regardless whether Bush vetoes the Bill now, it would get passed in 2009 anyway. But it could be passed now.

President Bush; you still have an opportunity to get one thing right in your Presidency. Please support the children.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Justice Department Shenanigans Part XXXVII

What happens, when a country’s Justice Department is so embroiled in the politics of the party in power? Well, the obvious answer is that corruption of the Justice Department and perversion of the course of justice, are both things that could occur if there was such a marriage, which is why constitutionally, there had to be a separation. As we’ve seen however, this traditional separation, which was carried out to the extreme by the Clinton Administration, which reduced the interface between the White House and the Justice Department to a minimalist four persons – an absolute record to date - has been breached. This Administration has done everything to marry in to the Justice department and the lines of division have become murky and hard to discern.

In the Soviet Union of the 1980s, a company would be basically owned by the government and in that context, many of the perpetrators of crimes ranging from speeding tickets for the CEOs of those companies through to the responsibility of chemical companies for poisoning large tracts of land, water and air were swept under the rug when the Soviet equivalent of the Justice department was basically held back by the politburo in power at the time. That’s one of the reasons the Soviet Union sucked at the time, right?

So what would you say if a US attorney prosecuting a case against an American Drug manufacturer responsible for the wrongful deaths of 146 people was threatened with dismissal if he did not drop the case? One might be tempted into thinking that that was hardly possible. But in this America, it is. The night before a US attorney obtained a guilty plea from the manufacturer of OxyContin, he was called by a senior Justice Department official at the behest of a Purdue Pharma executive. The Justice Department hack told the prosecuting attorney to slow the case down. Here’s how Amy Goldstein and Carrie Johnson of The Washington Post reported the story:

John L. Brownlee, the U.S. attorney in Roanoke, testified that he was at home the evening of Oct. 24 when he received the call on his cellphone from Michael J. Elston, then chief of staff to the deputy attorney general and one of the Justice aides involved in the removal of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

Brownlee settled the case anyway. Eight days later, his name appeared on a list compiled by Elston of prosecutors that officials had suggested be fired.

The Justice Department, of course, denies any wrong doing. However, it turns out that Elston called Browmlee at Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty’s request. McNulty was the sixth senior aide to Gonzales to resign over the firings of US attorneys.

Enough said.