Friday, April 30, 2004

terry jones

Here. Read this. Trust me.

bremer wasn't actionable, I guess

From Reuters:

The head of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, Paul Bremer, warned six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that the Bush administration seemed to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism and appeared to "stagger along" on the issue.


"What they will do is stagger along until there's a major incident and then suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, shouldn't we be organized to deal with this?"'

"That's too bad. They've been given a window of opportunity with very little terrorism now, and they're not taking advantage of it. Maybe the folks in the press ought to be pushing a little bit."


sullivan's racism gets loose

Sully quotes this letter from a military chaplain in Iraq.

This country became a welfare state under Saddam. If you cared about your well-fare, you towed the line or died. The state did your thinking and your bidding. Want a job? Pledge allegiance to the Ba’ath party. Want an apartment, a car, etc? Show loyalty. Electricity, water, sewage, etc. was paid by the state. Go with the flow: life is good. Don't and you're dead. Now, what does that do to initiative? drive? industry?

So, we come along and lock up sugar daddy and give these people the toughest challenge in the world, FREEDOM. You want a job? Earn it! A house? Buy it or build it! Security? Build a police force, army and militia and give it to yourself. Risk your lives and earn freedom. The good news is that millions of Iraqis are doing just that, and some pay with their lives. But many, many are struggling with freedom (just like East Germans, Russians, Czechs, etc.) and they want a sugar daddy, the U.S.A., to do it all. We refuse. We don't want to be plantation owners. We make it clear we are here to help, not own or stay. They get mad about that, sometimes.
(emphasis added)

Even aside from the monumental absurdities of the letter as a whole, and of Sully in general, check out that highlighted line. What kind of person thinks of slave-owners as sugar-daddies? What kind of person thinks that slavery is easier than freedom? What kind of person thinks freedom must be earned, rather than being, as a wise man once wrote, 'being endowed by [the] Creator' as an 'inalienable right'?

Someone who has never been a slave, first off. Someone who has never been unfree, clearly. But also someone who conceives of America's obscene past as a slave-owning, slave-breeding, and slave murdering power as being the dutiful tutorage of slaves by nice sugar-daddy whites. It's hard to read that passage, and not be reminded of that old conservative line, that blacks in America are looking for a handout from the master'. Because slaves have it so easy.

Racism is not dead in this country, my friends. It lives on, and will never be fully dead as long as whites refuse to own up to our own history.

money beats brains

Good piece in the NYTimes opinion pages that deals with the increasing disparity between stupid rich kids and smart poor kids in getting into college.

Yet another string of studies confirms what any high school senior or parent who has just weathered the college admissions mating dance already knew — it's a cutthroat competition where money matters more than ever. Teenagers from wealthy families are beating out middle- and working-class youngsters, both at top private colleges and flagship state universities whose historic mission of broad access is receding into memory. The trend means that "smart poor kids," as the educator Terry Hartle bluntly puts it, "go to college at the same rate as stupid rich kids."

Now, anyone who is surprised ot hear this is just hopelessly naive. Universities have been the site of extreme privilege since their inception, and the idea that the poor and lower-middle class should be able to attend is very recent. Universities were historically about training the children of the upper-crust to rule, not about finding the best and the brightest. To a certain extent, intelligence is based more on training and environment than on natural smarts. So, before 1800, Universities were meant to teach the children of the aristocracy. Before WWII, they were meant to teach the children of the Grand Bourgeoisie. Up til now, they were meant to teach the best our country had to offer, 'regardless' of money: in practice, this meant the middle class, with the opportunity (if they worked much harder than the middle classes ever had to) for some working class kids to get taught too. But since we've moved to a market-based ethos, money has become the prime and sole concern. The wealthy can buy test-prep courses, and learn how to beat the exams. They can learn how to game the system, how to dress right, how to speak in the approved manner, and how to write a Statement of Purpose that pleases the admissions committee. And beyond that, by not needing scholarships or tuition remission, the wealthy are sources of profit for the University.

It would be pleasant to think that this is the end of our egalitarian system, but truthfully, we never had one. The system is just getting a lot more unfair. Compare us to Britain, or Ireland, or France, where everyone gets a free education, as long as they pass the various exams that allow them access to the schools. Their system is by no means perfect, but there it's based, in a very real sense, on merit, not money. The rich still get their educations, at private schools that are out of reach of everybody else, but the state schools are really good too. Our dream of an expanding middle class is deteriorating.

new krugman

Read, my pretties.

a headline is worth a thousand words

In today's Reuters, this story:

"US Marines Hand Fallujah to Former Saddam General"

Torture and Rape

Check out this story from the Guardian. Apparently, those contractors we've been hiring have been in charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghra'ib prison in Baghdad, the place where we're holding those thousands of Iraqis who are under suspicion of insurgency.

Graphic photographs showing the torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners in a US-run prison outside Baghdad emerged yesterday from a military inquiry which has left six soldiers facing a possible court martial and a general under investigation.

The scandal has also brought to light the growing and largely unregulated role of private contractors in the interrogation of detainees.

According to lawyers for some of the soldiers, they claimed to be acting in part under the instruction of mercenary interrogators hired by the Pentagon.


Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, speaking for central command, told the Guardian: "One contractor was originally included with six soldiers, accused for his treatment of the prisoners, but we had no jurisdiction over him. It was left up to the contractor on how to deal with him."
(emphasis added)

I wonder how much we'll hear about this in the western media.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

we're shelling fallujah

And one year since 'Mission Accomplished' as Holden Caufield points out on Atrios' comments board. Check out Reuters for the story so far. What we know, is that a mosque has been hit, AC-130 warthogs are firing their guns at the city, we're using artillery, and one of the bigger explosions set off 2 more explosions, probably in a way that wasn't planned. I don't know what to say. This war is immoral.

Update - OK, so the photo-op was taken on May first. Mayday, mayday indeed.

Further Update (4/30) - Reader Achlis, a true beast of a man, corrects my mistaking of the AC-130 (Spectre) for the A-10 (warthog). As he points out, neither is exactly pin-point-precise.

oh for god's sake

So the IGC wants to bring the country together, unite the Sunnis and the Shi'ites and the Kurds in a happy family, and demonstrate their own legitimacy at the same time. So they declare Iraq has a new flag:

It was supposed to be the perfect symbol for a new and unified Iraq: an Islamic crescent on a field of pure white, with two blue stripes representing the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and a third yellow stripe to symbolize the country's Kurdish minority.

But the new national flag, presented Monday after an artistic competition sponsored by the Iraqi Governing Council, appears to have met with widespread public disapproval here -- in part because of its design and in part because of the increasing unpopularity of the U.S.-appointed council.

The flag looks a lot like Israel's. It replaces a flag that represented Arab Nationalism with a totally new flag that looks like Israel's. Regular Iraqi's were not consulted, so they all feel just a little taken advantage of. And it's just one more sign for the average Iraqi that the IGC has a) no real power, b) no legitimacy, c) no respect for Arab Nationalism, and d) nothing better to do with it's time. These guys have no idea what they're doing.

more violence in najaf

As reported in Reuters:

U.S. forces killed dozens of Iraqi fighters near Najaf overnight, hours after Washington issued an ultimatum to a radical cleric to clear his militia from mosques in the holy city.

Local television said Tuesday wounded people were dying for lack of blood and issued an urgent appeal for donors.


About 64 militiamen were killed, U.S. military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told a news conference, 57 of them in a night-time air strike after U.S. forces spotted an anti-aircraft gun.

Another U.S. official said an AC-130 gunship -- a massive plane that can spew cannon fire and machinegun fire across wide areas -- was used.

Not all of them were insurgents, the hospitals are reporting. This is really touchy: if they did kill a whole bunch of Sadr supporters, but not many civilians, then it might have a demoralizing effect on Sadr's men. If, on the other hand, a fair number of civilians got killed, it's going to inflame najaf, and convince a bunch of Shi'ites that we are just monsters, without striking a knock-out blow. Not that there is a knockout blow in this situation, short of mass-murder. I think if we do use our military muscle, we'll force the insurgents into 'terror' tactics like bombings and such. That would mean no more direct challenge to the IGC, but a lot more soldiers killed through IEDs and such. Honestly, I think we're making a mistake by going after Sadr: coopting him would ahve been so much easier, and even isolating him wouldn't have been too difficult, but by making him the focus we make him crucial to Iraqi opinion. We'll win the war any day, but peace just seems beyond us.

Monday, April 26, 2004

woodwards little sins

In Sartrean Existentialism a lot is made of the problem of confession: in confessing, a person also defines his own sins. This can lead to real problems in terms of accuracy and honesty, since the guilty frame the question. For example, a man under suspicion of theft and murder might well plead confess to theft, thus establishing his good faith, and defusing the murder charge. Or think of the man at court saying 'If defending my home is a crime, then I am guilty' after shooting an unarmed burglar.

Now, having thought about that, let's look at Bob Woodward's book. In it Bush comes off as a strong leader who made mistakes. He even reports Bush telling Tenet not to 'stretch the evidence', after Tenet tells him the WsMD reports are a 'slam-dunk'. Now obviously, Woodward wasn't there. His only sources of information are White House principals and staffers, who are hardly unbiased. These sources are not even necessarily on the record. And his reports contradict everything we've seen and heard about how the White House operates. I think Woodward, knowingly or not, is handing us a snow-job: Bush confesses to being mislead by that mean old George Tenet. The script is too perfect in terms of Bush' campaign needs: people will accept a President who is mislead by faulty advisors, but not a President asleep at the wheel, or actively misleading the people.

Why do you think the White House considers the book a must read?


disturbing reports from the Independant

If what this article says is true, army discipline is evaporating.

Yesterday, a bloody incident in Baghdad in which US soldiers in Humvees killed four Iraqi children after coming under attack further inflamed anti-US feeling. One US soldier had died in an explosion on Canal Street and the four Iraqi children were killed immediately afterwards, shot dead by US troops firing at random, witnesses claimed.

"I saw a child lying on the street with a bullet hole in his neck and another in his side," a driver said. "He had his schoolbag on his back. About 15 minutes later his relatives came and took him away."

The children had just left their school nearby to look at a blazing Humvee. They were dancing around it in celebration when they were shot. At least five other Iraqis were wounded, one critically, with a bullet in his head, officials at al-Kindi hospital said. Several US soldiers were wounded by the blast.

Soldiers who are unsafe, and can not tell civilian from enemy are liable to shoot anyone who moves. Soldiers who are not constantly held to the standards of modern warfare will shoot children too, just as an act of revenge. Civilians in similar circumstances do it too; remember those Mercs in Fallujah. This is tragic; the problems are totally forseeable, but cannot be avoided. And the terrible consequences of US soldiers murdering schoolchildren will not be turned aside simply by saying we're sorry. Heads have to roll, and publicly, for us to gain the trust of the Iraqi populace, but that will not happen. If we can't reestablish discipline among our troops, we're really in for a massacre in Fallujah or (God forbid) Najaf.

Mylroie and Miller: they're a winning combination! If you like propagandists, that is.

Story in the Washington Monthly on Laurie Mylroie, the academic who has spent the last decade claiming that Saddam was an imminant threat to the US, and behind the first World Trade Center bombing to boot. She's the 'intellectual' basis for the whole Iraq-alQaida connection. Her theories have all been disproved, and most didn't amount to much more than speculation and conspiracy-theory. And she wrote a fucking book with Judith Miller. Yup, that Judith Miller, the one who fooled the readership of the NYTimes into believeing in Saddam's WsMD by reporting Ahmed Chalabi's unsubstantiated claims as fact. The article doesn't focus on their book as much as on Mylroie's influence on the neo-cons, her collaboration with them, and the absolute fraudulacy of her claims. Check out the article for the full story.

danger in fallujah

There's been a bunch of stories on Fallujah recently, and they're starting to freak me out. Not only has the violence continued, but Bush is still talking about invading. Check out this story from The Miami Herald:

U.S. officials set the stage Sunday for ending a weeks-long standoff with insurgent forces in two Iraqi cities, warning residents of Najaf that they must take action to head off an ''explosive situation'' there and giving insurgents in Fallujah until Tuesday to surrender their weapons.


Coalition civilian spokesman Dan Senor warned that militiamen in Najaf are stockpiling weapons in mosques, shrines and schools, and said ''every law-abiding citizen that seeks a peaceful resolution to the situation must speak out'' against the stockpiling.
(emphasis added)

Combine this with Bush' statements that we must have the 'will' and 'resolve' to win, and you have a clear indication that we're on the brink. Note the sentence from spawn-of-evil Dan Senor. They're setting up the story-line that we needed to fire on mosques and such. In Najaf. Even if the rebels are stockpiling weapons in mosques, firing on the Imam Ali Mosque would be much more detrimental to our security than not entering the city. Those who oppose this war have to start asking 'why do we need to invade Fallujah and Najaf?' The administration keeps claiming that the rebels are mere thugs who are holding the civilian population hostage, but it's pretty clear that these guys represent the civilians.

Again, if we invade Fallujah thousands of civlians will die, and the honor of the US army will be forever stained. Seriously, it's a war crime. The first invasion did little except kill 400 women and children and convince the broad majority of Iraqis that we are monsters. And Najaf would, quite frankly, open the gates of Hell. The fact that we haven't invaded yet means someone in power is talking sense, but whether or not they can hold out against Bush and the Neocons is another question. Historically speaking, it is exactly in situations like this that atrocities happen, and there's no law that says that US soldiers will be different under these circumstances. This is not to attack our troops; it is to point out that similar circumstances result in similar outcomes. The situation is fucked up, and it's fucking up our soldiers. And if the administration goes forward with this attack, we'll all be fucked.

PS - I was listening to right-wing talk-radio yesterday, don't know which station or which DJ, but he was warning Bush that he could lose his job if he doesn't start killing more Iraqis. They're scared of all the US troops getting killed for their war. The God-Damned chickenhawks don't seem to understand that even good guys die in wars. You have to wonder what exactly they were expecting. Anyway, the right is really on the run now, and it won't be too long until they start revisiting their thoughts on the war, or until their audience starts abandoning them. I hope.

back in action

After many adventures, I return to blogging. I'll be better this week, I swear. :)

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Spotty updating on the way

Sadly, I'm going to be unable to post for the next 4 days, or at least not able to post much. Check in now and then, cause, you know, you never know!

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

oh yes. before I forget ...

It's April 20th. 4-20.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

wolfowitz before the Senate foreign-relations committee

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on Tuesday denied that the Bush administration plotted and secretly financed preparations for the war in Iraq long before last year's U.S.-led invasion of that country.

But Wolfowitz, a primary architect of the war, conceded in response to criticism from Democrats at a Senate hearing that there were still "enormous problems" in Iraq, where the U.S. military death toll jumped to more than 100 this month.

Wolfie denied the Woodward claim that the administration, weeks after 9-11, began war preparations for Iraq, and used $700 million ear-marked for Afghanistan reconstruction to do it. This claim is big, in that it (if true) is a massive misappropriation of funds, it kept Congress in the dark about something they have constitutional jurisdiction over, and generally shows bad faith in the run-up to war. It's impeachable, in other words.

Bush ahead in latest poll

New poll out today, has Bush ahead by 5 points. Depressing? Yes. Terrible? No. The polls have been evenly divided for a while now, and this is most likely the latest up-tick for Bush, soon to be followed by a Kerry response, etc. The real story here is 'why has Kerry been running such a God-Awful campaign?' I think he's too tied to the 'Anybody but Bush' mantra, figuring we'll have to vote for him, so he should just stay low until Bush sinks himself. I think he's a jack-ass. He has to provide an alternative to Bush, and he has to take some chances here to do it. Instead, he plays to the right-wing with his BS speeches on Israel (he supports it's right to murder suspects and innocent bystanders) and Cuba (now he loves the embargo). Even leaving aside the fact that it's this DLC BS that cost the Democratic party the congress and then the Presidency, this is TERRIBLE politics! Suddenly coming out as a moderate threatens his base (who have done all the work of the democratic renaissance), but it also leaves him totally open to Republican accusations of, you guessed it, flip-flopping! Why is Kerry feeding the trolls like this?

new study finds scary levels of wrongful imprisonment

Missed this story when it appeared in the NYTimes yesterday, got it instead from Common Dreams, a lefty news-clearinghouse. Anyway, here's the story:

A comprehensive study of 328 criminal cases over the last 15 years in which the convicted person was exonerated suggests that there are thousands of innocent people in prison today.

Almost all the exonerations were in murder and rape cases, and that implies, according to the study, that many innocent people have been convicted of less serious crimes. But the study says they benefited neither from the intense scrutiny that murder cases tend to receive nor from the DNA evidence that can categorically establish the innocence of people convicted of rape.

Yup, who doesn't love our criminal justice system? This article provides a scary look at what we have to do to keep 'order' around here. Before getting to the meat of it, tho, here's the other side's argument:

Prosecutors, however, have questioned some of the methodology used in the study, which was prepared at the University of Michigan and supervised by a law professor there, Samuel R. Gross. They say that the number of exonerations is quite small when compared with the number of convictions during the 15-year period. About 2 million people are in American prisons and jails. (emphasis added)

That's 2,000,000 people. 25% of the entire prison population in the world. We have something like 1-2% of the world's population. We also have the largest prison population in the world, beating even Commu-Fascist China. And the fact that we lock up a HUGELY disproportionate part of our people is supposed to excuse the wrongful imprisonment of tens of thousands. We are a police state, people.

In the case of rape, they found that race was a factor, to put it mildly.

Some 90 percent of false convictions in the rape cases involved misidentification by witnesses, very often across races. In particular, the study said black men made up a disproportionate number of exonerated rape defendants.

The racial mix of those exonerated, in general, mirrored that of the prison population, and the mix of those exonerated of murder mirrored the mix of those convicted of murder. But while 29 percent of those in prison for rape are black, 65 percent of those exonerated of the crime are.

Interracial rapes are, moreover, uncommon. Rapes of white women by black men, for instance, represent less than 10 percent of all rapes, according to the Justice Department. But in half of the rape exonerations where racial data was available, black men were falsely convicted of raping white women.

"The most obvious explanation for this racial disparity is probably also the most powerful," the study says. "White Americans are much more likely to mistake one black person for another than to do the same for members of their own race."
(emphasis added)

This is one of the reasons why eye-witness testimony is such a fragile construct. Memory is really tricky. But white people are also terrified of black people. Race-rape has a very interesting history in this country: it was usually the 'charge' that lynchers used during the KKK days. It signified a huge fear of black power, racial inferiority-complexes, and miscegination. One wonders how much of this mistaken identity is racially based. This is not to imply that rape-victims were deliberately perjuring themselves to convict black men, but one wonders if there were any cases where the charges were trumped up as a way of convicting black men. A community scared of criminality might well collectively lock up black men as a scapegoat, and use rape-charges to do it. If this seems far-fetched, remember that this actually happened, and was excused by both political parties, from the 1890s to the 1960s.

But if rape exonerations are heavily tied to race, murder exonerations were not. Instead, the exonerated tended to be convicted on the basis of false confessions. They are extremely common, and there have been lots of studies showing that the easily intimidated will confess to anything if you threaten them enough. Think about this next time you watch Law and Order:

(...) the study found that the leading causes of wrongful convictions for murder were false confessions and perjury by co- defendants, informants, police officers or forensic scientists.

A separate study considering 125 cases involving false confessions was published in the North Carolina Law Review last month and found that such confessions were most common among groups vulnerable to suggestion and intimidation.

"There are three groups of people most likely to confess," said Steven A. Drizin, a law professor at Northwestern, who conducted the study with Richard A. Leo, a professor of criminology at the University of California, Irvine. "They are the mentally retarded, the mentally ill and juveniles."
(emphasis added)

Yup. Cops lie sometimes. Experts lie sometimes. Sometimes the desire to 'solve' a case takes the form of getting someone the system considers 'criminal' to confess, so at least one more scumbag is off the streets. Because, you know, if that (member of group you don't like) didn't do this crime, he probably did something else. This is why defendants have rights (see the Gitmo case before the Supreme Court, and the list of exonerated Gitmo detainees).

I think the real issue is summarized in the following excerpt:

In Astoria, Ore., Joshua Marquis, the district attorney for Clatsop County, (...) added that even the error rate suggested by the study was tolerable given the American prison population.

"We all agree that it is better for 10 guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be convicted," Mr. Marquis said. "Is it better for 100,000 guilty men to walk free rather than have one innocent man convicted? The cost-benefit policy answer is no."

At the University of Michigan, Professor Gross said that was the wrong calculus.

"No rate of preventable errors that destroy people's lives and destroy the lives of those close to them is acceptable," he said.

Barry Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project, said Mr. Marquis's analysis ignored another point.

"Every time an innocent person is convicted," Mr. Scheck said, "it means there are more guilty people out there who are still committing crimes."
(emphasis added)


presenting Antonin Scalia and the Supremes!

FYI, the Supreme Court is hearing the Gitmo detainees' case today (story available at Reuters). The US is arguing that Gitmo, since it is part of Cuba, is not US territory, and so the constitution does not apply there, even to US citizens. The danger of this argument is clear: it allows the US to have gulags, as long as they're not on US soil. The argument is specious too. We occupy Gitmo by treaty, after invading and setting up a puppet government in the Spanish-American War; if that's not US territory, then what is? And anyway, shouldn't the constitution follow the flag? The constitution makes no mention of aliens, immigrants, or anyone else being barred from constitutional protection, and it does explicitly state that trial by jury, etc., is to be extended to all persons in US jurisdiction. But for all that, it's gonna be close. Pray Bush doesn't win this one.

gee, do you think?

The fact that this didn't strike anyone as really, really obvious points out a real problem of perception for medical theory on infants. As reported in Retuers:

Having skin-to-skin contact with mom immediately after birth may help to ease a newborn's arrival into the world, according to a new study.

Known as "kangaroo care," such skin-to-skin contact is believed to give babies a sense of security that provides a buffer against the bombardment of sensory stimuli around them.

The method was developed in Colombia as an alternative to placing premature, low-birth-weight newborns in an incubator. Research since then has suggested kangaroo care is not only safe for these tiny babies, but may also lead to less severe infections, encourage breast-feeding and aid in infant development.
(emphasis added)

Quick question: Why are we putting babies in incubators at all? If studies are showing that having direct contact with the Mother is good for babies, and that's how things were done since the beginning of time, then why did we start putting babies in incubators? I imagine a lot of this goes back to the Victorian era, when Europe, altogether, decided that women were not to be trusted with either themselves, or with childbirth. Female midwives were shut out of the profession to make way for male Obstetricians, most of whom did not know what they were doing, leading to an increase in infant mortality. Apparently, that base distrust has survived.


New Krugman column out today. He provides the numbers to back up my ridiculous claims regarding the economy. Debt's a problem, interest rates are gonna rise, and soon, and will really hurt a lot of people financially, and Greenspan's a dope for recommending Variable-rate Mortgages. It's always nice to be right. :)

Daschle gets it

For those of you following the Daschle run in S Dakota, you already know about Giago and his independant bid for Senator on an Indian Rights platform. The Native Community is about 10% of the population, and Giago was certain to cost Daschle the election if he ran. He has now pulled out and endorsed Daschle. The story comes from the WaPo, by way of Taegan Goddard's Political Wire. Basically, Giago ran to force Daschle to put up or shut up on Native issues. Daschle recognized the problem (that he was in danger of losing the Native vote through inaction and ignoring them) and he made a deal to address the Native community's concerns, and Giago withdrew. This is exactly what Nader is and was up to. This is what 3rd party candidates do in a 2 party system. It's no good to yell at them for interfering in the system: our system is so unrepresentative that 3rd party candidacies are the only way to influence the proceedings. If Kerry really starts to worry about Nader, all he has to do is start addressing some of our concerns. The Left, like the Native community, is starting to get sick of being taken completely for granted. The Dems have to woo us, like they woo Cubans, Jews, and (finally) Natives. We swear, we'll kiss back!

Monday, April 19, 2004

5 years since columbine

Just a moment of reflection please. What sickness courses through our veins, that it happened, and that we went on as if it hadn't. Still no sensible argument on gun-control, or on violence in our society, or on ostracism in our schools, or even on the militia groups that have been spouting this hatred of the federal government for years, and occaisionally blowing people up. Bowling for Columbine was brilliant for exactly the way it examines the strains in our country that may have lead to this. If some of his answers were BS, he was at least asking questions, and even using logic and reason to flesh out his arguments. More than you can say for the Right.

Negroponte new Iraq mabassador

That's good. I was worried he didn't have enough to do. I remember back in the 80's, you couldn't schedule a lunch with him, he was so busy funding death-squads and encouraging the use of torture against a civilian population in El Salvador. Now, tho, he's stuck running our mission to the UN. Sure, it's higher level, and he gets respect and money for it, but he misses the good old days, when he knew the assassinos by name, and always remembered to get the torturers a birthday card, to let them know how much he appreciated them. But now, he's back in control of a country, and this time he's got a whole private army of mercenaries to direct, not to mention the US army. You just can't keep a horrible, bloody, arch-bishop murdering, terrorist-coddling abomination down!

interesting editorial

from Vali Nasr, of the Naval Postgraduate School, in today's WaPo. The short of it is, the US shouldn't invade Najaf because it will inflame Shi'ite opinion, increase support for Sadr (or whatever radical cleric takes his place), isolate Sistani, and kill the possiblity of a more democratic Shi'ism. It's quite good, especially the reference to the Amritsar battle in India. The Indian Army invaded the Golden Dome in Amritsar, sacred to Sikhs, and killed a bunch of Sikh terrorists, and got a wide-spread rebellion of Sikh troops in the Indian Army, followed by the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (yup, daughter of THAT Gandhi) by her Sikh body-guards. However, he does try to present Sistani as a pro-US, or at least pro-democracy voice, and I don't think that's quite accurate, or at least, irrelevant. Regardless of Sistani's political philosophy, he's not going to support a US attack on the Imam Ali Mosque, and he's not going to go out on as limb for us on anything. He survived Saddam, and it wasn't by throwing in with lost-causes. Again, Sadr and Sistani are not enemies, even if they do represent different factions and sectors of society: Sistani doesn't want Sadr's radical pro-poor group to control Iraq, but he's more than willing to include Sadr in a new power-structure, at least unofficially. We can't pretend that Sistani can be pressured into denouncing Sadr. Sadr is not allied with Sistani, but they are definately on the same general side: the 'get the US troops the hell out of Iraq as soon as humanly possible' side. They just differ on methods.

another key republican demographic bites the dust!

This is a marvelous story, not for ideological reasons, but because it really paints a precise picture of what's going on in rural America. From the LA Times, who are rapidly becoming a favorite of mine:

Like much of rural America, this isolated community south of the Columbia River Gorge is a place where people — like their parents before them — vote Republican when they pick their presidents. They went with George W. Bush four years ago. And most are likely to support him again this year.

But cracks have surfaced in President Bush's once-solid rural constituency. From places like Sherman County to Montcalm County, Mich., and Mahoning County, Ohio, some Republicans are so concerned about crop prices and high unemployment that they're considering voting Democratic for the first time.

The problem with rural areas, for Democrats at least, is that rural areas are full of farmers, who are self-reliant because they own land. They may sink into poverty due to low prices, but they always have land, and the ability to make a living; city-folk, on the other hand, have no recourse but government if there are no jobs available. Because of this economic independance, they don't need the government to level the playing field for them, so they don't see the need for a government to do anything but promote business and trade, and keep their conservative values dominant in the country. They've been living a life entirely different from that which we lead: dependant on the government and unions to keep businesses from exploiting the living hell out of us. For Liberals, government is the only hope to counter-balance extremely concentrated economic power. For the autonomous farmer, whose only economic enemy is the bank, government is merely a machine to siphon off their hard-earned money to pay for social programs for the lazy-shiftless poor. The fact that these programs maintain a market for their produce, and that rural communities suck up MUCH more government money in subsidies than they give in taxes, is hidden by their independance. Land-owners have always been on the conservative side: the bulwark of the French Absolutist Monarchy during the Revolution was the small peasant farmer.

It's easy to just get angry at farmers for their isolation, lack of sympathy for the poor, and the outsized electoral influence that the rural areas have in our system thanks to the Electoral College (making their votes worth a lot more than yours or mine), but Liberals haven't really thought about the Farmers' needs in this country, and have not given them any reason to cast their vote with us. It's time to start doing that. Sound economic policy, guided by a strong state, will not only help out the rural areas in terms of prices, but is also necessary to keep smaller family-farms from being eaten by large farm-Corporations. The Repugs, up until now, have kept such policies in place (in the face of their free-trade, small-government rhetoric), while the Democrats (not counting people like Daschle) have been aligned against small farmers in favor of bigger concentration for thugs like Monsanto.

The question is: can small-scale farming provide low-enough food prices to make it worth-while to subsidize them the way we do. Is the cost of subsidies simply too much for the rest of the nation to bear for the farmers? If it is, do we allow food-production to be concentrated in a few companies, and counter their influence in the US with a strong state? Either way, a strong state is necessary, because the rules of the market-place have already declared family-farms to be slated for destruction.


good news, at last?

Let's hope so. From the LA Times:

Leaders in this besieged city and representatives of the U.S.-led occupation coalition have called for insurgents to turn over their weapons in order for U.S. soldiers to loosen their grip here.

In what appears to be the first significant agreement during several days of discussions, the two sides affirmed they will take several steps to implement a true cease-fire. Fighting frequently has occurred between the U.S. military and insurgents despite a U.S.-led effort to establish a cease-fire more than a week ago.

Residents will be called upon to turn in mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, sniper rifles and other illegal weapons and materials without prosecution, Dan Senor, spokesman for the U.S. led coalition, said today at a news conference in Baghdad.

"The parties agreed that coalition forces do not intend to resume offensive operations if all persons inside the city turn in their heavy weapons," Senor said.

We still need to see if this will bear fruit, but it's certainly a hopeful sign. If we can reach an understanding with Fallujah, we'll be in a much better place to calm Iraqi fears about Najaf. The negotiations are working, and as long as Bremer, et al, remember that this is real life, not an action movie, we should be alright.

national guard

Something occurs to me: how is it legal to send National Guard troops outside of the country? When did that become acceptable? I'm pretty sure there are some rules against that. Anyone got an answer?

romani eunt domus! or is that domun?

The Spanish are going home. And a shit-load of the Coalition of the Willing are no longer willing. And guess who has to replace them with soldiers we don't have? US! Yay! We don't have any soldiers left! So we'll hire more mercenaries! Cause there's nothing to quell the role of private militias in Iraq lkike the use of a private militia.

more proof the sharon plan is gonna suck

As reported in NYTimes:

As Palestinians massed in Gaza City to vent rage at Israel over its killing of a top militant leader on Saturday night, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon picked up crucial support on Sunday from right-wing leaders for his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip without a peace agreement.

The endorsements, including one from former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meant that Mr. Sharon would almost surely prevail in a May 2 referendum on his plan within his dominant right-wing faction, Likud, Israeli political analysts said.


In pledging her support for the unilateral withdrawal plan, Ms. Livnat, the Education Minister, said she had received a commitment from Mr. Sharon not only to finish the West Bank barrier but also to build it well inside the West Bank. She said that, according to Mr. Sharon, "the Ariel bloc will be inside the fence."

The reference was to a large settlement, Ariel, and its satellites in the heart of the northern West Bank. The Bush administration had resisted Israel's plan to build the barrier around that bloc, because doing so would consume much West Bank land and obstruct Palestinians moving through the territory.
(emphasis added)

The Gaza-pullout is really a recognition that Israel can't control Gaza without ethnically cleansing the place: rather than do that, they're pulling out. But in exchange, Israel is annexing a big fucking piece of the West Bank. And Bush has agreed to it. Now, this annexation is 100% against international law, and is convincing the Palestinians, and everyone else paying attention, that the US is simply on Sharon's side. There goes our sympathy in the Muslim world. Bush just fully alienated a billion people.

your a dumb one, mr. bremer

Alright, kidlings, this is where my powers of prognostication come into play. I said that the grown-ups were in charge in Iraq now, and that negotiations were a sign that the grown-ups knew that attacking Najaf would end the game. But then I read today's NYTimes. As you can guess, I'm a little concerned:

With no sign of a breakthrough in talks with rebels in Falluja and Najaf, the leader of the American occupation appeared to move closer on Sunday to a military showdown, saying that the rebels' failure to submit to American demands would require decisive action against those who "want to shoot their way to power."

"They must be dealt with, and they will be dealt with," the administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, said, breaking a week of silence on the confrontation with Moktada al-Sadr, an anti-American Shiite cleric, in Najaf and Sunni Muslim insurgents in Falluja. Mr. Bremer spoke of the need to bring an early end to the standoffs, to return Iraq to the political path the United States has mapped out, starting with the formal return of sovereignty on June 30.
(emphasis added)

Great word choice, there. I can only pray that the word 'submit' did not leave the lips of anyone connected with the CPA. 'Submit', is of course, the verb used for what a Muslim does for God. A Muslim 'submits himself' to God, and to do so to anyone else is blasphemy. Like asking a democratic Christian to have a King besides Jesus. This is where knowing something about words is important: we all remember the reaction when Bush called for a 'crusade', now don't we.

But that's relatively minor, compared to the fact that Bremer apparently feels negotiations are taking too long. Why would he think that? What deadline could possibly be approaching that would ... , oh wait. The 'handover!' Of course! They're going to risk starting a wide-spread revolution (it would be a revolution) and risk convincing the vast majority of Muslims that we are out to get them, so that we can have stability for our 'handover'. Now, you may wonder why they would do this, since it's not like we're fooling any Iraqis on this one; they know they're just getting an Iraqi face on a US-dominated body. We're sure as hell not fooling the UN, either. Bremer is going to get HUNDREDS of US soldiers, and THOUSANDS of Iraqis killed for an election-year publicity stunt.

Friday, April 16, 2004

let them eat job training! (with apologies to Bob Somerby)

Economists talk a lot about how gov't should only interfere in the working of the market place to compensate some of the losers in an economic reorganization. What they mean is, if a worker gets laid off because his industry is being outsourced, he should get job-training to help him get a better job in whatever industry is experiencing growth. So an unemployed auto-mechanic can retrain to become a computer-engineer, and huzzah for the market. Except, of course, for when it doesn't work:

After Jerry Nowadsky lost two machinist jobs in a row, watching as his employers in Iowa moved the work to other countries, he decided to go back to school to study computers.

The coursework was hard for a middle-aged former factory worker who hadn't been in a classroom for decades, recalled Nowadsky, now 49. But he earned a certificate and set out a year ago to find work in computer systems maintenance and assistance.

Instead he found a job market awash with unemployed computer workers.


"I've basically given up on computer jobs because they're all going overseas," [Nowadsky] said in an interview, adding that he now feels the training was "a waste, because there are no jobs out there."


(...) some analysts say worker retraining, whatever the merits, shouldn't be offered as a short-term solution to the current problem of a weak job market.

"We're awash in underutilized skilled workers," said Jared Bernstein, senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank that focuses on labor issues.

Now, anybody paying attention saw this one coming. First we off-shore our manufacturing jobs to Mexico, and expect everyone to retool and become, I don't know, web-designers or something. The, we off-shore the web-designing jobs to India. Suddenly, there's a problem for the Middle Class too. The Market-uber-alles crowd tells us that the magic of the marketplace will create great jobs for us all to replace the old ones, but what on earth makes them think those jobs can't get out-sourced too?

A lot of this BS is based on a belief in inherent US superiority when it comes to educated Middle Class jobs: because we are on the cutting edge of technology, we'll always come up with something to beat other countries. But that belief is grounded in the EXTREMELY atypical situation the US has been in since WWII. We were for 50 years the only powerhouse economy besides the Soviets, and US capital concentrated on extracting raw materials from the rest of the world to feed the manufactories in the US. But then came Japan, out of nowhere. Suddenly, there was another Capital-intensive country with a strong manufacturing sector. Then Europe really began to recover. The even little Ireland started competing with us for good manufacturing jobs. And all these countries were also investing heavily in education. We are rapidly entering a phase where there is more than one highly-educated tech-driven information-economy country, and we're about to see our very favored position slip. The free-marketeers don't understand this: to them, those brown people will never learn how to use a computer like us Americans, so they see nothing to worry about.

Needless to say, that's bullshit. The global economy is restructuring. Thanks to the globalization of Capital, a corporation can build its labour-intensive factories in the Third World, where labour is cheap. It can build Tech-intensive factories in China, where the exchange rate keeps the Yuan favorable to the Dollar. And it can out-source it's tech-service jobs to India, where exchange rates and a huge supply of educated workers keep wages low. There is nothing to keep us from seeing a real degradation of our standard of living in the next 20 years.

And really, how much job training do you need to work at McDonald's?

China is having problems too

According to the NYTimes, China's growing economy is having some inflationary trouble.

As managers of businesses across China opened booths here on Thursday at the nation's biggest trade fair, the common refrain was that prices of everything from rice to steel were rising sharply, and that prices of exports to the United States, Europe and elsewhere would have to follow.

The prices for orders placed now will not show up in most American indexes for months, when goods are actually shipped. But as prices begin to rise in the United States, concerns are growing that China will become an exporter of inflation. Even though its goods account for a small percentage of total American purchases, China has played an oversize role in worldwide prices, with low labor costs that allow it to set prices in many industries.


The prices of steel and other materials are major culprits. Another is energy costs. A motorcycle manufacturer in east-central China said he has had to close a factory for three days each week because of electricity blackouts, forcing a 4 percent increase in prices, with more planned.

While those of us who worried about China's ability to undercut other global producers may find a little comfort from that, it's gonna cause us trouble too. China is heavily influential in setting global prices, and if they get hit with inflation, other global producers can raise prices and recoup some of the lost marketshare at the same time. All this adds up to higher import prices for the US in a couple of months. That would be fine if we had enough domestic industry to supply our own markets, but free trade is still gonna make India and China more attractive places to produce than the US. Then again, maybe this will stimulate more manufacturing jobs in the US.

Whether the trend will be sustained depends on many variables. Chinese leaders have taken steps to slow the economy and brake inflation, raising reserve requirements for banks twice in less than three weeks. By next year, the many steel mills now under construction could start easing the acute shortages that are driving up steel prices. New power plants over the next five years should curb blackouts if coal mines can increase output fast enough to supply them.

But then since China's inflationary problems could be eased in a few months when their steel and power factories come online, who would invest in a factory here that could get swamped again so quickly? And one last fun little statistic:

China also has more unemployed people in rural areas than the entire American work force (...).


woodward makes a little noise

Bobby boy's book on Bush is big. Front page NYTimes big.

President Bush secretly ordered a war plan drawn up against Iraq less than two months after U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan and was so worried the decision would cause a furor he did not tell everyone on his national security team, says a new book on his Iraq policy.

Bush feared that if news got out about the Iraq plan as U.S. forces were fighting another conflict, people would think he was too eager for war, journalist Bob Woodward writes in ``Plan of Attack,'' a behind-the-scenes account of the 16 months leading to the Iraq invasion.


The book says Gen. Tommy Franks, who was in charge of the Afghan war as head of Central Command, uttered a string of obscenities when the Pentagon told him to come up with an Iraq war plan in the midst of fighting another conflict.
(emphasis added)

Boy oh boy. None of this is gonna do much damage, but it's gonna keep Iraq pinned on the Bush campaign at a time when there is no good news coming out of Iraq. If this starts getting viewed as a war of choice that was badly planned and went horribly wrong and ended in failure and disgrace, that will be all to the good.


from the department of 'just because you keep saying we're winning doesn't make it so'

So people are starting to whisper about the possibility of failure in Iraq. Not a hopeful sign, I can tell you that. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

President Bush warned the nation Tuesday night of the "unthinkable" consequences of failure in Iraq. But amid escalating violence and a crackdown by U.S. forces, Washington analysts expressed rising concern about the chances of success.

"I think we run a serious risk of disaster in Iraq if what we find on June 30 is a turnover of sovereignty to some kind of governing body that lacks legitimacy," said Bathsheba Crocker, co-director of the post-conflict reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "I don't yet know what the plan is for avoiding that kind of disaster. ... We need a Plan B, and I'm not sure we yet have a Plan B."
(emphasis added)

Fun fun fun.

damn kerry. damn his hide

Well, so much for a revolution. Or even a little move to the Left. You would think that a campaign where most people would vote for a deaf, blind mule over Bush would allow Kerry to offer a real alternative vision for the country, but I guess Kerry is being run by the Clinton people. From the NYTimes:

Declaring that he is "not a redistribution Democrat," Senator John Kerry told a group of wealthy and well-connected supporters on Thursday that he would soon start an aggressive campaign to define himself as a centrist, in hopes of peeling moderate Republicans from President Bush.

Tacitly acknowledging his vulnerability to harsh portrayals in a barrage of Mr. Bush's advertisements over the past month, Mr. Kerry urged Democrats at a $25,000-a-plate breakfast at the "21" Club in Manhattan to help him paint his own portrait. He promised to begin "a positive affirmative advertising campaign" in "the next days," although his aides said there were no specific plans or timetables.
(emphasis added)

I'd accuse him of selling out, but he's a blue-blood to begin with. We need a discussion on our economy in this country, and we need to start moving back towards a redistributive, consumer-based economy. Bush has radically changed the way our economy works with his tax-cuts, redistributing massive amounts of social wealth, and wealth generating ability, to the very richest. State and local taxes are increasingly being piled on the Middle and Working Classes, and the current restructuring of the economy towards low-paying service jobs has got to be halted, or unionization has got to increase to offset this. Kerry will end up sailing us right off the brink on Bush' own ship unless he offers a real alternative. By saying things like this, he makes me wonder about his willingness to roll-back the Bush tax-cuts, and stand up for the working class.

But, what am I gonna do, vote Nader?

more bad news that initially looks like good news

Once again, from the lovely people at Reuters:

Oil futures slipped on Friday after hitting some of their highest levels since just before the U.S.-led war on Iraq a year ago, as record-breaking gasoline prices plummeted amid profit-taking.

Oil prices have dropped! Woohoo! Economy saved, Liberal chicken-littles proved wrong, a great day for our Preznit!

Despite gasoline's profit-taking slide, traders said security concerns in the world's largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, and continued unrest and violence in Iraq underpinned the crude market.

On Thursday, the United States ordered non-essential diplomats out of Saudi Arabia and warned all Americans they should leave, citing fresh signals that attacks were planned on U.S. and Western interests.

Oil analysts interpreted the development as a warning of possible supply disruption from the world's leading oil exporter.

"What's happening in Saudi that's making the U.S. send people home?" was the way Adam Sieminski of Deutsche Bank put it.

Oh. So this is actually the calm before the storm. Great. And what's all this about the US sending people home from Saudi Arabia? Apparently, bin Laden is planning a hit on our interests there. What with that and Iraq, the Supply situation looks tenuous (never a good thing), but apparently we're gonna get hit from the Demand side too:

Meanwhile, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries raised its demand forecast for its crude oil this year on expectations that China's economic expansion will push world consumption growth to a four-year high.

Damn you, you sneaky Chinese! Always expanding your economy, and such!

more uncertainty in Iraq

From Reuters:

Shi'ite guerrillas clashed with U.S. troops near Kufa on Friday as their leader, rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, defied demands that he disband his militia to spare Iraq's shrine cities from bloodshed.

A Syrian-born Canadian aid worker kidnapped on April 8 was brought to Sadr's office in the nearby city of Najaf and set free after the fiery cleric urged the release of foreigners not involved in the U.S.-led occupation.
(emphasis added)

At least this means non-occupation aligned foreigners should be a little safer. The people who are doing real good over there need protection, and the irony is that as-Sadr offers more protection through his influence than the US does through it's army. I've also heard stories about a possible deal to exile Sadr until the handover, at which point he will (apparently) give himself up to the new Iraqi authority for trial. I don't know where that stands, or even how much chance of success it has. I think the arrest warrent is a creature of the CPA more than anything else, and how do you prove incitement in a court of law when there is no effective police presence? Even assuming a trial, I predict that Sadr will go free.

And the US position is rapidly deteriorating in the negotiations with Sadr. He knows we're weaker than we're letting on, and he knows we can't afford to force him out or kill him, so he's playing hardball.

There was no sign military action was imminent in Najaf, home to some of Shi'ite Islam's holiest shrines. Any attack in Najaf could inflame Iraq's Shi'ite majority whose support is vital to U.S. plans for the country's political future.

Lebanon's top Shi'ite cleric said Washington would fan fury across the Muslim world if it invaded Najaf or attacked Sadr.

"All of this will set the ground burning beneath their feet, not just in Iraq, but in the whole of the Islamic world," Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah said in a sermon.

Meanwhile, our contractors are running out, as are the Russians, and our support dwindles. Kos has a good post on a site called Soldiers for the Truth, run by Col. David Hackworth (ret.). Check it out for the Military's perspective on Iraq. Quick hint: they're not pleased.

see, this is what I'm talking about

Interesting story on Reuters today:

U.S. industrial production unexpectedly dropped in March while consumer sentiment slipped this month, but economists downplayed the two disappointing reports and said the economy's solid expansion remains on track.

Strong data this week on regional factory output and retail sales have boosted forecasts for overall economic growth in the first half of the year. Some economists are now looking for gross domestic product of about 5 percent, up from the 4.1 percent pace in the fourth-quarter last year.

Yet Federal Reserve officials have sought to play down worries they will be eager to lift official interest rates from 46-year lows in response, even with an surprising jump in consumer price inflation in March.

This sounds like mixed news, but let's look at it a little closer. The good news is, the Economy (as a phenomenon) is recovering nicely. Profits are up, and (supposedly) jobs are gonna start rebounding. The bad news is, Consumer confidence dropped again, and so did Industrial Production. Further darkening the outlook is the fact that most of the increases in profits are going to the top tenth-of-one-percent of Americans - very little going to wages. But the jump in prices is a problem, and it might trigger inflation fears and higher interest rates. The Fed is downplaying this, as they have to, but it's there. If jobs don't continue to recover, and at a much larger rate than 300,000 a month and at better pay than lower service-sector jobs, that softness will drag down consumer confidence and drag the recovery down too.

The boom is riding on two wheels here: consumer spending (beholden to consumer confidence) and the housing bubble. Housing starts were up again, but that's due to a drop in the mortgage rate. Again, the second rates increase (as they're going to have to to keep the dollar from a sell-off) this bubble will burst. This increase in housing starts could very well become surplus housing in such a situation, dropping housing prices, and (conceivably) locking over-stretched Middle-Class families into paying mortgages they can't afford for a property they can't afford to sell. That's a recipe for bankruptcy on a significant scale. Basically, we're praying for job growth here, but I'm not too optimistic: Bush' tax plans are still going into effect, and could contribute to Capital going overseas if interest rates remain so low. And low interest rates are a problem for us since we need constant Capital inflow to finance the trade deficit.

This all makes my head hurt.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

trump is a jack-ass

He hires Bill instead of Kwami. Bullshit. Kwami was WAY more qualified. And damn Trump for sucking me in.

sid blumenthal speaks truth to power

Whether power listens is another matter altogether.

90 more days in the sun and sand! Boy, aren't our troops lucky duckies?

From the BBC:

Some 20,000 US troops now serving in Iraq will have their tour of duty extended, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has announced. Mr Rumsfeld said they would spend another 90 days in Iraq beyond their original one-year deployment.

If I were a soldier in Iraq, who had been told repeatedly that I was going home, that I had done my duty, that my wife and kids, who I had not seen in over a year, would finally be by my side, and had just been told that these promises were all baloney, I don't know what I would do. But I sure as hell wouldn't vote these bozos back into office.

the independant lays it out for ya

Good story, if quite scary, in the Independant on who, exactly, is calling the shots in the CPA. I had assumed that the idiocy was emanating from Bremer and the Repuglican Civilians in the CPA, but according to the story, it's the Army who's having trouble seeing reality. The quotes from Army brass indicate that they think they can work a military solution, but on the other hand, they haven't invaded Najaf yet. I hope they're saying these things for domestic consumption, but then again, who knows?

and Friedman proves he's an idiot

In the annals of terrible orientalist bull-sh*t, Thom Friedman has always been a star player. Whether patiently explaining that the problem with the Palestinians is that they lack 'accountability', or that they need a non-violent protest movement while the Israelis are happily conducting airstrikes on densly-poplated cities, Friedman could always be counted on to see the Arabs in a paternalistic and deeply patronizing light. But fuck me, this takes the cake:

(...) an intriguing article on Tuesday in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz point[ed] out that Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority and Hamas, longtime rivals, had "made a great deal of progress" toward setting up a new administration to run Gaza after Israel's unilateral withdrawal. The article quoted Hamas leaders as saying that they were willing to participate in the administration of Gaza now that it is being "liberated" — for which Hamas claims credit — and not being turned over in the context of the Oslo peace accords.

Here's the message I take from this: There is nothing like the burden of responsibility to promote accountability.

Here's the message I take from Friedman: the PA having to take Hamas into a Gaza government is a good thing, because the PA really needs that 'drive the Israelis into the sea through suicide attacks on civilians' perspective. There's making lemons into lemonade, but this is making lemonade with lemon-scented bleach. If Friedman knew the first thing about Sharon's plan, he would recognize that Sharon is pulling out of Gaza in order to solidify his hold on the West Bank. In fact, the AP says this about the agreement:

In a historic policy shift, President Bush on Thursday endorsed Israel's plan to hold on to part of the West Bank in any final peace settlement with the Palestinians. Bush also ruled out Palestinian refugees returning to Israel, bringing strong criticism from the Palestinians.

An elated Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his plan to pull back from parts of the West Bank and Gaza, hailed by Bush, would create "a new and better reality for the state of Israel."

But Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia - with whom the Bush administration deals while boycotting leader Yasser Arafat - called Bush "the first president who has legitimized the (Israeli) settlements in Palestinian territories."
(emphasis added)

Friedman is willfuly mistaking the reality of this agreement. He thinks this is about Sharon finally taking real steps towards peace, and those ungrateful Arabs will finally have to put up or shut up about Israel's failure to ensure even a modicum of basic rights for the Palestinians. He's not stupid, he's blind. But let's let Friedman speak for himself:

Ariel Sharon has declared his intention to withdraw Israeli forces and settlements from the Gaza Strip — without any formal agreement with the Palestinians. Mr. Sharon has given up on negotiating with Arafat, let alone Hamas, but he finally understands that Israel cannot go on controlling all these Palestinian lands and remain a Jewish democracy. So he is unilaterally pulling out of Gaza, just as his predecessor, Ehud Barak, pulled out of South Lebanon: you want it, it's yours.

No mention of the West Bank settlements that Sharon now has US backing for keeping. In fact, no mention of the West Bank in the whole article. No mention of the actual number of settlers who are being removed. It's not like those numbers aren't available. The Washington Post reports:

Sharon proposes to withdraw 7,500 Jewish settlers from 21 Gaza settlements. He has also said he would close four small settlements with a total population of about 500 on the West Bank, where more than 200,000 Israelis have settled since Israel seized the land during the 1967 war. (emphasis added)

So, legitimizing 200,000+ Israelis living on stolen (and highly strategic) land in the West Bank, minus 500 in tiny (and non-strategic) settlements is supposed to be good compensation for taking 7,500 settlers out of Gaza. Friedman is fooling himself if he thinks this is a step towards piece. But his foolishness does not stop there. He wants to make a larger point about Iraq:

America's Baghdad boss, Paul Bremer, is absolutely right when he insists that we must turn over sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30, as promised. Why? Because we may have trained thousands of Iraqi policemen, but without a government of their own, they are defending America — which they will never do with vigor. The only thing they might defend is a government of their own. Moreover, right now many Iraqi leaders blame the U.S. for what is going wrong in Iraq. The Bush team deserves much blame, but not all. Iraq's nascent leaders will act in a concerted and responsible fashion only when they — like Hamas, Arafat and Hezbollah — have the burden of responsibility.

I'm not advocating unilateral withdrawal from Iraq. I am advocating putting every ounce of energy we have behind the U.N. effort to replace the current Iraqi Governing Council with a legitimate, broad-based caretaker government to run Iraq from July 1, 2004, until elections in January 2005. Hard, but not impossible.

You see, if we can just find 'responsible' Iraqis willing to step up to the plate, willing to govern themselves, all will be well! 'But Mr. Friedman,' you well may ask, 'the Iraqis are really into governing themselves, so much so that they are shooting us to make us stop ruling them!' But you mistake his meaning! By 'responsible,' he means 'willing to do whatever we tell them.' The problem is not that Iraqis want freedom from the US, it's that they want an Iraqi face issuing our orders!

Friedman's total misunderstanding of reality becomes clear in his last 2 paragraphs:

After decades of colonialism and misrule, and then a traumatic dictatorship in an already tribalized society, Iraqi national identity is weak — and insecurity only weakens it more by prompting people to fall back on their tribal units. But there is an Iraqi identity. It takes security, though, for it to emerge. Even Iraqis don't know how strong it is, and they won't know until they are handed the keys.

Only then can we gradually shift the burden for Iraq's self-construction or self-destruction to Iraqis themselves. Only then will they begin to be accountable — and accountability is the mother of both self-restraint and self-government.

So the Iraqis have no national identity. Never mind the broad-based insurgency that has untied Sunni and Shi'ite in the language of nationalism. Never mind that Shiites, Christians, and Turkomen have all declared solidarity with the sunnis in Fallujah.

Never mind the truth, Friedman has an ideology to expound.

see, this is why the US doesn't count iraqi civlian dead

There's a good article in the Washington Post about how the US and foreign media have been reporting on the number of civilians killed in Fallujah during our hideously ill-thought-out offensive. The funny thing is, the numbers themselves, when reported, all say basically the same thing: 600 or so dead, 300-400 of them women and children and elderly. That's the number given out by everyone but the cable news media, who don't like to upset us with such things. So at least half, maybe 2/3rds of the dead were innocent. Fallujah was worse than a crime; it was a mistake.

more mixed news from Iraq

From Reuters:

Three Japanese hostages were freed in Iraq Thursday, but the murders of an Iranian diplomat and an Italian captive were chilling proof of the risks foreigners face as rebels battle the U.S.-led occupation.


The three Japanese, apparently well, were handed over to a Sunni organization in Baghdad which has been facilitating hostage releases, then driven to the Japanese embassy.

The two men and a woman were captured last week. Two more Japanese civilians have been reported missing near Baghdad.

A leader of the Muslim Clerics Association, Harith al-Dari, said the group had no direct links with the kidnappers and was seeking the release of all foreign civilian hostages.

The good news is that Harith ad-Dari seems to be doing a good job talking the hostage-takers back from the brink, although an Italian hostage was murdered recently, with the kidnappers threatening to kill the three remaining Italian hostages. It's very touch and go. Buit on the bad side:

Underscoring the lawlessness sweeping Iraq, an Iranian diplomat was killed near the Iranian mission in Baghdad. Iran state television named him as first secretary Khalil Naimi.

A Reuters correspondent saw a body slumped in a car with at least two bullet holes in it, smashed against a lamp-post. "We have been told that he was driving his car to go to the embassy and three men drove up and shot him," an Iranian official said.

This pretty much proves that the neo-cons got it totally wrong once again. The Iranians are not behind all this; in fact, the Iranians are becoming targets by associating with the CPA. Of course, there's always the possiblity that the murderers were not Iraqis. Maybe some Mercs decided to engage in their own little foreign policy.

And lest anyone remain convinced that more force is needed to quell the uprising, check out this paragraph:

Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has warned Bremer via Shi'ite members of Iraq's Governing Council that Najaf is a "red line" which U.S. troops should not cross. (emphasis added)

Sistani will call for an uprising if we invade Najaf. That would be the end of Georgie's little crusade, and probably the end of many of our soldiers lives as well. Sure, we've got the guns and the ability to kill a million people, but they have 23 million people, and if Sistani says so, we'll have a million and a half coming after us.

padraig goes awol

As much as I love being well-informed on all and sundry, I have to admit I'm deliberately ignoring the SHaron-Gaza deal. I know Sharon is a bastard, that the Palestinians are calling this the end of the Peace Process, and that Bush has broken with 40 years of US policy by declaring that Israel should keep part of the West Bank. I know this is probably one of the more crucial stories out there, but honestly, I can't bring myself to read the news about it. I'll try to educate myself about it over the next few days, but I'm just too tired and sad right now.

Kaplan hits 'em where it hurts

Via Atrios, a great column from Slate's own Fred Kaplan:

On March 19 of this year, Tenet told the 9/11 commission that the PDB had been prepared, as usual, at a CIA analyst's initiative. He later retracted that testimony, saying the president had asked for the briefing. Tenet embellished his new narrative, saying that the CIA officer who gave the briefing to Bush and Condi Rice started by reminding the president that he had requested it. But as Rice has since testified, she was not present during the briefing; she wasn't in Texas. Someone should ask: Was that the only part of the tale that Tenet made up? Or did he invent the whole thing—and, if so, on whose orders?

The distinction is important. If Bush asked for the briefing, it suggests that he at least cared about the subject; then the puzzle becomes why he didn't follow up on its conclusions. If he didn't ask for the briefing, then he comes off as simply aloof. (It's a toss-up which conclusion is more disturbing.)
(emphasis added)

So, under oath Tenet says some damaging things. Not under oath, he says he misspoke and says something which is verifiably untrue, and is confirmed by Rice's testimony under oath. And the things he says he didn't mean to say, while under oath, directly contradict the President, who will not appear under oath. At some point, doesn't the appearance of malfeasance and impropriety start to amount to something? When there's this much smoke, shouldn't someone be trying to put out the fire?

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

having trouble occupying your neighbors? Let Msnbc's own fareed zakaria show you how!

Fareed Zakaria has become a big hit with the media since 9-11, by virtue of being extremely intelligent, an effective writer, and having absolutely no soul. He is less a purveyor of Realpolitik than an Orientalist and Imperialist who, unlike some I could mention, understands exactly what Imperialism is and what it entails. Anyway, he's doing a lot of writing for Newsweek, and he's not been very happy with the Bushies, and who could blame him? He wants a Middle East made safe for Capitalist Democracy, and look at the administration he has to work with! Check out his latest column, which is (as usual) brilliant and correct, and as close to a real strategy as we're likely to get this election season. My only criticism is that he seems to think Sistani is a moderate who is opposed to Sadr. In reality, Sistani has nothing to fear from Sadr, because he represents the Shi'a community in Iraq, while Sadr represents a narrower group: the desperately poor and fucked-over. Sistani is using Sadr, in the sense that he's letting Sadr play bad cop to his good cop. He'll reign in Sadr only if he feels certain that the US is not gonna fuck him and the Iraqis over. Sistani is not on our side, he's on Iraq's side, and that's simply not the side we're on.

Positive news on the Sadr Showdown

Once again, from the fine people at Reuters:

Iraq's radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has dropped his conditions for entering into negotiations with U.S. authorities who have vowed to kill or capture him, his spokesman said Wednesday.
"At the start there were specific conditions for entering into negotiations, which were the withdrawal of military forces from residential areas and the freeing of detainees," Sadr's spokesman Qays al-Khazali told a news conference in Najaf.

"But after the intervention of the religious authorities, Sayyid Moqtada al-Sadr has lifted these conditions and will negotiate without them being met."
(emphasis added)

This is good. But don't start thinking that Sadr is surrendering, I don't think that's in the cards. The key to this story is that Sadr dropped his demands after talking with religious leaders. Sistani is telling him to cool it while he works on the CPA, I think. Sadr is no fanatic, he's a political leader with an army. He is willing to negotiate, and because we are in a VERY precarious position here, we should take him up on it.


oh shit, inflation is starting

Caution: children, small animals, and those prone to panic at the first sign of economic collapse should not read this post. From Reuters:

U.S. consumer prices logged an unexpectedly sharp rise in March as the cost of energy, clothing and lodging jumped, according to a government report on Wednesday suggesting long-dormant inflation may be rearing its head.

A separate report showed the U.S. trade gap narrowed in February as the weak dollar and stronger economic growth propelled both exports and imports to record levels.


The report added to growing concerns that a long period of historically low interest rates could be drawing to a close.

Expectations that the Federal Reserve could raise interest rates from 1958 lows sooner than had been thought pushed Treasury bond yields to their highest level this year and boosted the dollar.

"It looks as though core inflation is back," said John Lonski, chief economist at Moody's Investors Service in New York. "We have the core CPI now growing at an average monthly rate of roughly 0.3 percent thus far in 2004. That adds up to a rate hike happening sooner rather than later."


A third report showed worker wages were not keeping up with the quickened pace of inflation. The Labor Department said real average weekly earnings fell 0.7 percent in March and were essentially unchanged over the past 12 months.
(emphasis added)

This, combined with yesterday's fall in stock prices reveals a real sense of weakness in terms of our economy. Remember: low interest rates allow for consumer debt to finance consumer spending. Inflation means a cut in people's disposable income, cutting demand for consumer products. This, combined with a rate hike, means a lot less money is gonna get pumped into the recovery.

The problem here is, low rates lead to borrowing, which leads to an over-supply of money, which leads to devaluation of the dollar. The Fed has to raise rates sometime, and probably soon. Once that happens, my prediciton is that it will trigger the housing bust, as people are no longer able to finance the high housing prices. Those with Variable mortgages, like ol' Greenspan's been selling us, are gonna get hit the worst, and we'll probably see a rash of bankruptcies among the middle class, probably some dispossesion too. This isn't gonna kill the economy by itself, but at best it means the end of the American middle class and its standard of living. We're gonna get a whole lot less equal.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

and the president strikes out

Miserable performance on the address, worse still on the Q&A. Many lies, many non-sequitors, and no follow up questions allowed. If the networks and CNN don't flay him for this, then there truly is no independant media here.

marry me, shiela massey!

Check out this letter to the NYTimes editorial pages. It's just about right:

To the Editor:

Your April 12 editorial "The Silent President" rightly emphasized judgment instead of prescience.

Nobody has perfect information. Yet some people come to the right conclusions, while others don't. The difference is judgment.

For years, many have warned that cold-war missile defense shields are useless against individuals who can easily gain entry and destroy us from within. Some got it right; the Bush team got it wrong.

Before going into Iraq, many warned that it would breed terrorism instead of quelling it and that we would get mired down in the aftermath.

Some got it right; the Bush team got it wrong.

The best leaders (and top executives) all have good judgment, not prescience.

New York, April 12, 2004

Damn, you go girl.

go read krugman

You know what to do.

boy howdy, was i wrong on the grown-ups being back in charge

The CPA doesn't think enough US soldiers are dying, apparently. They feel that Iraq has just been too quiet recently, and that the Shi'ites need to be slapped around a bit. Apparently, having only as-Sadr against us isn't enough. Now they want to turn as-Sistani too. From Reuters:

American troops massed outside the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf Tuesday, ready for a possible move against rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his militia.

It would be an operation fraught with the risk of enraging Iraqis, who warn soldiers not to defile their sacred shrines.

Seriously, they had better be saying this for show. They had better be saying this in conjunction with serious negotiations. They had better not be making a threat that is either completely idle (no sane person would touch off a revolution) or completely insane. If it's idle, if they're not serious, then Sadr will call our bluff. If it's insane, we'll call his and then reap the whirlwind for our trouble. And it's not like negotiations are getting nowhere:

(...) a delegation of clerics from Iraq's majority Shi'ite community who met Sadr said he had hinted he would disband his militia if religious authorities instructed him to do so.

This isn't just Sadr blowing smoke. Sadr can't call for a revolution without Sistani's public backing; he's just not powerful or legitimate enough. The legitimate religious leader in Iraqi Shi'ism is Sistani, and even Sadr has to acknowledge that. If Sistani tells Sadr to disarm, he must or face a rift with the majority of Shi'ites who back Sistani. He can't risk that. Our problem is, Sistani won't tell him to disarm unless he knows the US is gonna play ball. This is exactly where negotiations are effective, and where force only does Sadr's bidding.

we lost another chopper today

As reported in the NYTimes:

A Sikorsky H-53 helicopter was hit by groundfire today near the city of Falluja, west of Baghdad, and made a crash landing, the chief spokesman for the American command said. Three crewmen were injured in the incident, the spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, said during a news conference in Baghdad.

A member of a quick-reaction squad sent to rescue the crew members was killed during the operation, The Associated Press reported. The H-53 series helicopters, among the largest in the United States military fleet, are used for a variety of missions, including troop transport and special operations.

Note that the Sikorsky H-53 is a transport chopper. Those things are what we have to use for reinforcements and such while the rebels threaten our supply lines. They can bring them down. We dodged a bullet this time, only losing one soldier, but what happens if they start shooting them while they're carrying passengers? The modified RPG would seem to be a good reason to reconsider Rumsfeld's slimmed-down army: without the robustness of heavy supply troops to keep the lines open, our suddenly crucial choppers can be hit by rebels with those RPG. You would have thought some more thought would have been given to just such a scenario after Somalia, but hey, what do I know. I'm just a civilian.

Update (4:37 EST) Well, it looks like the civilians at the CPA are not going quietly into that good night:

Before the cease-fire, American authorities were trying to enter Falluja to ferret out suspects in the murders of four American contractors in that city two weeks ago. Dan Senor, the chief spokesman for the top American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, said today that American authorities also believe that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian Sunni Muslim terrorist who American officials say has led attacks on coalition targets, may be hiding in the city. (emphasis added)

az-Zarqawi is hiding in Fallujah, now? Maybe he's looking for his leg there ...

contractors ready to bail on Iraq

Via Atrios, another contractor story, this one from the Financial Times:

Many of Iraq's reconstruction projects are being put on hold after a spate of foreign kidnappings and attacks on convoys in Baghdad grounded foreign and Iraqi contractors.

"We'll give it another week. If it doesn't improve, we'll have to leave," says Trevor Holborn of the Amman-based Shaheen Group, one of hundreds of foreign workers who have suspended their operations and headed for shelter inside the walls of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified enclave where the occupation has its headquarters.

"We still have people in Iraq, but we may not able to work on a day to day basis," said a contractor with a big US energy company. "Right now Iraq is not a safe place to work, and the safety of our staff comes first."

So Iraq is officially too dangerous to steal from. The Bushies aren't just terrible at the things they say they want (say, bringing Democracy), they're terrible at the shady things they won't admit they want (like auctioning off Iraq's state-run businesses and such). This is just not gonna help.


ashcroft, meet justice. Justice, ashcroft.

The 9-11 Commission has earned its dinner once again, this time by pointing out that, because the DOJ did not list counter-terrorism as anywhere near a top priority, it's reasonable to assume that they didn't consider it a top priority. From Reuters:

The commission on the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on Tuesday broadly criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for failing to meet the threat from al Qaeda and said Attorney General John Ashcroft did not see counterterrorism as a top priority before it was too late.


One report drew attention to a May 10 Justice Department document that set out priorities for 2001. The top priorities cited were reducing gun violence and combating drug trafficking. There was no mention of counterterrorism.

When Dale Watson, the head of the counterterrorism division, saw the report, he "almost fell out of his chair," the report said. "The FBI's new counterterrorism strategy was not a focus of the Justice Department in 2001."

Then-acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard said he appealed to Ashcroft for more money for counterterrorism but on Sept 10, 2001, one day before the attacks, Ashcroft rejected the appeal.


A second staff report issued before the afternoon session said Ashcroft was briefed on terrorist threats by then-FBI Director Pickard in late June and July 2001.

"After two such briefings, the attorney general told him he did not want to hear this information anymore," the report quoted Pickard as saying.
(emphasis added)


bush had better start shooting his mouth off if he wants the gun-owners' support

And another key demographic gets edgy. From the LA Times:

(...) some gun owners have grown so disenchanted with President Bush that they may cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate, stay away from the polls, or even back the likely Democratic nominee, gun-control advocate John F. Kerry.

It's unclear how many gun owners could be counted as activists, but they are affiliated with a variety of organizations, from the NRA and Gun Owners of America to smaller state and regional organizations around the country. And they could play a pivotal role in the outcome of this year's presidential race.

Surprisingly, the issues that have most alienated many gun groups from the Bush administration have little to do with firearms, but rather with the Patriot Act and other homeland security measures instituted after Sept. 11. Opposition to such laws has aligned gun-rights activists with unlikely partners, such as liberal Democrats and the ACLU.
(emphasis added)

Hallelujah! May there now be peace between the anti-state left and the libertarian right! The Lion does indeed lie down with the Lamb!

oh! who called it right? stick with the kid, baby!

Well, it looks like the doom-and-gloom crowd was right again. I'd break out the champagne, but I'm broke too. From Reuters:

U.S. stocks sagged on Tuesday, after a robust retail sales report stirred worries that the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates earlier than previously expected.

The markets' declines came despite solid earnings from blue chips like brokerage Merrill Lynch & Co. and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

Interest rate-sensitive stocks, like financial and home builders, fell sharply after the retail sales report. Citigroup Inc., the world's largest financial services company, was one of the biggest drags on the Standard & Poor's 500.


The report underscored the economy's robust recovery, but also increased the likelihood the Fed may raise overnight interest rates from historical lows earlier than most had expected.
(emphasis added)

And we all know what happens when the interest rate goes up, now don't we. Boy, I hate being right sometimes.


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