Bob's Links and Rants
Saturday, December 20, 2003
You think they lie to us? Look at what they told the Senate!
"Local" news from Florida's "Space Coast," via Left I:
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Monday the Bush administration last year told him and other senators that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction, but they had the means to deliver them to East Coast cities.

Nelson, D-Tallahassee, said about 75 senators got that news during a classified briefing before last October's congressional vote authorizing the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Nelson voted in favor of using military force.

Nelson said he couldn't reveal who in the administration gave the briefing.

The White House directed questions about the matter to the Department of Defense. Defense officials had no comment on Nelson's claim.

Nelson said the senators were told Iraq had both biological and chemical weapons, notably anthrax, and it could deliver them to cities along the Eastern seaboard via unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones.

Debt Relief
Only for countries we own.
Think it's bad? No! It's much, much worse than that!
Canadian journalist Naomi Klein recently attended "ReBuilding Iraq 2, a gathering of 400 businesspeople itching to get a piece of the Iraqi reconstruction action." She wasn't reassured by what she heard, as she reports in the Nation:

Bremer's Iraq is, by all accounts, uninsurable.
Just when the mood at ReBuilding Iraq 2 couldn't sink any lower, up to the podium strides Michael Lempres, vice president of insurance at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). With a cool confidence absent from the shellshocked proceedings so far, he announces that investors can relax: Uncle Sam will protect them.

A US government agency, OPIC provides loans and insurance to US companies investing abroad. And while Lempres agrees with earlier speakers that the risks in Iraq are "extraordinary and unusual," he also says that "OPIC is different. We do not exist primarily to generate profit." Instead, OPIC exists to "support US foreign policy." And since turning Iraq into a free-trade zone is a top Bush policy goal, OPIC will be there to help out. Earlier that same day, President Bush signed legislation providing "the agency with enhancements to its political risk insurance program," according to an OPIC press release.
At the Microsoft-sponsored cocktail reception in the Galaxy Ballroom that evening, Robert Dees urges us "to network on behalf of the people of Iraq." I follow orders and ask Lempres what happens if "the people of Iraq" decide to seize back their economy from the US firms he has so generously insured. Who bails out OPIC? "In theory," he says, "the US Treasury stands behind us." That means the US taxpayer. Yes, them again: The same people who have already paid Halliburton, Bechtel et al. to make a killing on Iraq's reconstruction would have to pay these companies again, this time in compensation for their losses. While the enormous profits being made in Iraq are strictly private, it turns out that the entire risk is being shouldered by the public.

So Bechtel or Halliburton can spend a billion dollars of our money building a port or pipeline or highway in Iraq, something a French firm would probably gladly have done for half as much, or an Iraqi firm for one tenth as much or less. Then, when the inevitable feces hits the inevitable air circulator and said facility gets blown to smithereens and/or nationalized, Bechtel or Halliburton will bill us for another billion dollars to compensate for their loss. Rush Limbaugh and his pals call Kucinich a socialist for suggesting that profit be removed from health care, but the Bushies have removed profit from providing carpetbagger care in Iraq, since insurance companies recognize there's no profit in insuring glass at a rock-throwing festival. By doing so, profits are guaranteed for the crooks at Halliburton, Bechtel, and so on, and losses are guaranteed for you and me and Iraq.

Thanks to Allan in Ottawa for the link!
They say "abuse," we say "torture."
Let's call the whole thing off.

Al Giordano notes that the video evidence of the torture of people detained after 9/11 at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, N.Y. is being reported as "abuse."

The report concluded that as many as 20 guards were involved in the abuse, which included slamming prisoners against walls and painfully twisting their arms and hands.
A federal dragnet after the Sept. 11 attacks resulted in the detention of more than 1,200 foreign nationals, including 762 people who were the focus of Fine's original probe. Most were of Arab or South Asian descent and were held on immigration violations under a directive from Attorney General John D. Ashcroft while authorities attempted to determine whether they were connected to the attack or to terrorist groups. None was ever charged with terrorism-related crimes, however.


From Boondocks.
Friday, December 19, 2003
Red meat for the suspicious
Don't believe the Saddam capture story? You'll love this.
From a blog called Xymphora...
Comes this concise summary of the Bush/Blair war crimes case:

Bush says there is no difference between Saddam's having weapons of mass destruction and the possibility that he could move to acquire such weapons. Of course, there is all the difference in the world. The Bush/Blair argument for war absolutely depended on an imminent threat, and for that Saddam actually had to have the weapons in hand and be able to use them. Thinking about getting weapons, pondering getting weapons, planning getting weapons, having the capability to attempt to acquire weapons - none of these is good enough. After the Second World War the world community decided on the sanctity of the sovereignty of nations, and prohibited wars waged on the basis of the various excuses used by people like Hitler. To say that the war was fought as Saddam would be a threat if he acquired weapons is ridiculous, as any war could be fought on that basis. There has to at least be either an imminent threat of attack and no other way to avoid war, or the agreement of the United Nations. Otherwise, the war is illegal, and allowing it destroys the understanding carefully created to ensure that another Hitler couldn't hide behind vague claims of security to wage colonialist wars. Bush in fact may not be smart enough to understand this, but the American attack on Iraq was clearly illegal, and sets a terrible precedent for the world.

David Kay is getting tired of looking for something which he knows isn't there, and wants to quit as the man in charge of dragging the search for WMD out long enough so Bush won't be embarrassed. I assume he believes that Bush no longer needs to pretend that there are such weapons now that a Saddam-like figure is in the bag, and so he can give up the charade. Kay, who has spent much of the last fifteen years mongering for the obscene attack on Iraq, has become a rather pathetic figure, dragging his ass around the desert so he and Bush won't look like bloodthirsty fools.

With Saddam in custody all the war criminals seem to feel comfortable about brazenly admitting that the weapons that provided the excuse for the attack didn't exist. Complex diplomacy and the lessons of the Second World War have been laid waste, and the world is a more dangerous place.

Clark and Milosevic
Left I has an interesting comparison of various news reports on Wesley Clark's testimony in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic.
Cheney, Drugs, Halliburton
Need I say more to get you to read this article?

Okay, how about this little excerpt:

Dick Cheney's footprints have come closer to drugs than one might suspect. The August Center for Public Integrity report brought them even closer. It would be factually correct to say that there is a direct linkage of Brown and Root facilities - often in remote and hazardous regions - between every drug producing region and every drug consuming region in the world. These coincidences, in and of themselves, do not prove complicity in the trade. Other facts, however, lead inescapably in that direction.
Cheery thoughts from George Monbiot
(with which I totally agree)
Every generation has its taboo, and ours is this: that the resource upon which our lives have been built is running out. We don't talk about it because we cannot imagine it. This is a civilisation in denial.
No one with expertise in the field is in any doubt that the global production of oil will peak before long.

The only question is how long. The most optimistic projections are the ones produced by the US department of energy, which claims that this will not take place until 2037. But the US energy information agency has admitted that the government's figures have been fudged: it has based its projections for oil supply on the projections for oil demand, perhaps in order not to sow panic in the financial markets.

Other analysts are less sanguine. The petroleum geologist Colin Campbell calculates that global extraction will peak before 2010. In August, the geophysicist Kenneth Deffeyes told New Scientist that he was "99% confident" that the date of maximum global production will be 2004. Even if the optimists are correct, we will be scraping the oil barrel within the lifetimes of most of those who are middle-aged today.
As the price rises, the sectors which are now almost wholly dependent on crude oil - principally transport and farming - will be forced to contract. Given that climate change caused by burning oil is cooking the planet, this might appear to be a good thing. The problem is that our lives have become hard-wired to the oil economy. Our sprawling suburbs are impossible to service without cars. High oil prices mean high food prices: much of the world's growing population will go hungry. These problems will be exacerbated by the direct connection between the price of oil and the rate of unemployment. The last five recessions in the US were all preceded by a rise in the oil price.
We seem, in other words, to be in trouble. Either we lay hands on every available source of fossil fuel, in which case we fry the planet and civilisation collapses, or we run out, and civilisation collapses.
In view of all this, the notion that the war with Iraq had nothing to do with oil is simply preposterous. The US attacked Iraq (which appears to have had no weapons of mass destruction and was not threatening other nations), rather than North Korea (which is actively developing a nuclear weapons programme and boasting of its intentions to blow everyone else to kingdom come) because Iraq had something it wanted.

There's a limit to broadband
Comcast, which provides the broadband cable-modem service to my house, has apparently disconnected some customers for downloading too much. I haven't looked at my contract, but according to the article, there are no stated limits on broadband usage. You pay for broadband because you want to access a lot and download a lot. But now if you do, they may cut you off.
There's an ad on TV now which shows a seventh-grade class deciding to help a needy family for Christmas. They raise money through odd jobs and bake sales and such, and then they go and buy presents--at Wal-Mart. The same Wal-Mart that has done so much to increase poverty in this country. Heck, the mother of the needy family may actually WORK at Wal-Mart! Or maybe she lost her job at the textile mill because Wal-Mart buys mostly from China.

So Wal-Mart is using the good intentions of school kids to promote their vile brand of commerce. They're also promoting the insidious notion that there's nothing sadder than Christmas without crappy presents. Why not just give the money to the mother and let her pay the rent or buy the food her family really needs?

Bah humbug.

(Warning: Half-formed thought follows)

I'm thinking about Wal-Mart, and about Henry Ford. Henry Ford was an interesting individual, a bizarre collection of great and terrible ideas. He was an innovator, an anti-Semite, a pacifist, a failure, and an amazing success. And while in his later years, during the 1930's, he was vehemently anti-union, he also had some interesting ideas in the labor field. One for which he is best known is the $5 work day, which I believe he introduced around 1914. This was a substantially higher wage than most laborers could get at the time. Ford's reasoning was that his workers had to be paid enough to be able to buy his cars. I'm not sure that the logic was really sound, but it was an interesting concept.

What strikes me now is that Wal-Mart takes the opposite approach. By keeping wages low, they make it so that the only place people can afford to shop is Wal-Mart.
Women's Lib
Supposedly beneficiaries of the Bush wars, women in Afghanistan and Iraq are not doing well, according to Juan Cole:

The sad reality is farther from this extended political commercial than even the most hardened cynic could easily imagine. Women have been frozen out of significant political office in Afghanistan and have been silenced with death threats from hardened warlords when they have dared speak out.
In Herat, warlord Ismail Khan's policies toward women differ only somewhat from those of the Taliban!
Likewise, in Iraq, the US invasion and occupation has certainly been a disaster for Iraqi women.

Juan Cole on the security situation in Iraq:
Just a personal note. I lived in Beirut during the early years of the civil war there in the mid to late 1970s. When I see correspondents reporting from downtown Baghdad, and hear the repeated gunfire and bombings in the background, I cannot help flash on Beirut then. Apparently Baghdad closes up at 9 pm every night, and people are desperately afraid for their security. It isn't even clear whom the gunmen are fighting. These obvious signs of near-anarchy are visible whenever Wolf Blitzer or some other anchor talks to an American in Baghdad nowadays. It is incredible to me that anyone is optimistic, given this obvious lack of security in the country's capital, which is occupied by thousands of American troops! I mean, this really is an 'emperor has no clothes' scenario, but Wolf and others seem too polite to just say so. -- Juan Cole

Justice for Gitmo?
In another legal setback for the Bush administration, a federal appeals court has concluded terrorist suspects held in secret U.S. custody on foreign soil deserve access to lawyers and the American legal system. -- CNN

I had to search several news web sites to find one (CNN) which actually accorded this important decision its own headline. The NY Times, Washington Post, even the Globe & Mail all simply added it on to the Padilla decision which was delivered earlier yesterday.

Of course, CNN's web site is giving the main headline to the all-important Michael Jackson story, while the attack on Bremer (which has apparently been covered up for two weeks) and another explosion in Baghdad get minor billing. The headline for the Gitmo case was only to be found hiding, for some strange reason, in the "World" section near the bottom of the page.

In any case, no matter how the media tries to hide it, this is great news for justice and bad news for Bush. Win-win.

Billmon has a much more thorough post on the legalities and history behind these decisions. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 18, 2003
Some day, some of this may matter
Michelle has dug up another bizarre tidbit regarding the 9/11 investigation: Thomas Kean, chairman of the 9/11 commission, has had business dealings with Osama bin Laden's brother in law.

According to a 1998 Senate testimony of former CIA director James Woolsey, powerful financier Khalid bin Mahfouz' younger sister is married to Osama bin Laden. (US Senate, Senate Judiciary Committee, Federal News Service, 3 Sept. 1998, See also Wayne Madsen, Questionable Ties, In These Times,12 Nov. 2001 )

Bin Mahfouz is suspected to have funnelled millions of dollars to the Al Qaeda network.(See Tom Flocco, 28 Aug. 2002)

Now, "by sheer coincidence", former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, the man chosen by President Bush to lead the 9/11 commission also has business ties with bin Mahfouz and Al-Amoudi.

Thomas Kean is a director (and shareholder) of Amerada Hess Corporation , which is involved in the Hess-Delta joint venture with Delta Oil of Saudi Arabia (owned by the bin Mahfouz and Al-Amoudi clans). Delta-Hess "was established in 1998 for the development and exploration of oil fields in the Caspian region...In Azerbaijan Delta Hess is involved in the Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli PSA (2.72%) and the Garabaghli-Kursangi PSA (20%). It is also an equity holder in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline"

A reminder: The families of 9/11 victims were promised by Bush that they could pick one of the five Republican members of the 9/11 commission. Their choice was former New Hampshire senator Warren Rudman. Instead, Bush appointed Henry Kissinger, who withdrew rather than reveal his conflicts of interest. So Kean was selected. No Rudman. Kean therefore may have the extremely dubious distinction of being one of the few people in the world having fewer scruples than Henry Kissinger (Bush and Cheney are in that select group as well).

Even so, this moral cipher may yet be so appalled by what he finds out that he'll do the right thing.

MSNBC's got an online poll.
Weapons found
Saddam's enormous bushy beard contained several mobile bioweapons labs, twelve Scud missiles, some African yellowcake enclosed in a lead capsule, and a dachshund named Mordecai, who had disappeared in early March. -- from Opinions You Should Have
I hate to defend Dr. Dean, but...
This Washington Post editorial is, to use their own word, ludicrous:

The argument that this tyrant was not a danger to the United States is not just unfounded but ludicrous.

Maybe Dean was basing his judgment on that of Colin Powell:

He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. -- Colin Powell, Feb. 24, 2001

If the editorial board at the Post thinks former dictators of disarmed nations hiding in spider holes are a danger to the U.S., they must not be getting much sleep. Which would probably explain the utter stupidity of this editorial.
Of course, calling aWol a hypocrite is like calling Michael Jackson weird. Fish in a barrel, you know. But Michelle reminds us that many months ago, before the bombs and the soldiers started falling, aWol wanted Saddam Hussein to go into exile, presumably escaping the punishment now planned for him:

Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing. For their own safety, all foreign nationals -- including journalists and inspectors -- should leave Iraq immediately. -- aWol's speech, March 17, 2003.

Michelle, whose paranoid suspicions I deeply respect, and not just because they provide cover for mine, seems to suggest all sorts of fancy intrigue for this offer of exile--secret arms shipments and so on. While there may be something to that, I think the explanation is simpler: Bush was going to start a war, and he wanted some way to blame it on Saddam. He confirms this himself later in the speech:

Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation, the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war, and every measure will be taken to win it.

In other words, by not doing something that Bush knew pretty much for sure that he wouldn't do, Saddam was to blame for the war. Still, Michelle has a point. Even as a cynical ploy that he expected, Bush was saying that he was willing to let this tyrant and his sons get away. That sort of puts a chimp wrench into his latest statements about how important it was to remove the threat of Saddam's return to power FOREVER. From aWol's speech on Sunday (emphasis added):

The capture of this man was crucial to the rise of a free Iraq. It marks the end of the road for him, and for all who bullied and killed in his name. For the Baathist holdouts largely responsible for the current violence, there will be no return to the corrupt power and privilege they once held. For the vast majority of Iraqi citizens who wish to live as free men and women, this event brings further assurance that the torture chambers and the secret police are gone forever.

And this afternoon, I have a message for the Iraqi people: You will not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again.

That is, the "rise of a free Iraq" is a lot more important to aWol now than it was back in March, when he was offering different excuses:

Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed. And it will not disarm so long as Saddam Hussein holds power.

Why does anyone believe anything this lying liar says?
Another soldier killed
and one wounded, along with an interpreter. -- NY Times

And, from the same article:

On Wednesday delegates on the Iraqi Governing Council, the 25-member body appointed by the Americans to help run Iraq, denied reports that Mr. Hussein had been taken out of Iraq, possibly to Qatar, on the Persian Gulf.

"Saddam Hussein is still in greater Baghdad and will remain there to be tried in Iraq," Mowaffak al- Rubaie, a council member, said at a news conference here.

So once again we don't really know where Saddam is.

Court orders release of Padilla
President Bush does not have power to detain American citizen Jose Padilla, the former gang member seized on U.S. soil, as an enemy combatant, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The decision could force the government to try Padilla, held in a so-called "dirty bomb'' plot, in civilian courts.

In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Padilla's detention was not authorized by Congress and that Bush could not designate him as an enemy combatant without the authorization.

The former Chicago gang member who converted to Islam was arrested in May 2002 Chicago's O'Hare airport as he returned from Pakistan. Within days, he was moved to a naval brig in Charleston, S.C.

The court directed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to release Padilla from military custody within 30 days, but said the government was free to transfer him to civilian authorities who can bring criminal charges.
-- AP

Finally a court is trying to show Bush the meaning of America justice.

A Mighty, Mighty Union
is what retail workers need.
The best present New York City's retail workers could get this holiday season is a card -- a union membership card, according to a new report issued today by the Economic Policy Institute. "Unionization and Poverty: The Case of New York City Retail Workers" analyzes the 10-year decline in wages and benefits paid to New York's retail workers and reviews the failure of existing public policies to address these declines. It concludes that the surest way for retail workers to improve their lives is by joining a union and the most effective public policy to help them get there would be policies that protect their right to organize.

My brother explained it to me decades ago. During World War Two, millions of working-age Americans went off to Europe or the Pacific, where economically speaking they were strictly consumers and not producers. And even though the quality and quantity of some of the things they consumed, like food and housing, may have declined from their previous standards they were still consuming these, and overall the Americans abroad were far more voracious consumers than before. Ships, airplanes, guns, bombs, ammunition, and so on were being consumed at incredible rates. And not just by American soldiers and sailors. The American "arsenal of democracy" was supplying the British, Soviets, Chinese and several others with whatever they needed to continue fighting the Axis powers. All of this was being produced by a drastically reduced workforce at home. Of course, women and others who hadn't worked in factories before were employed, and many people worked very long hours. Nevertheless, it was demonstrated that America could produce goods in amounts dramatically larger than would normally be needed in peacetime with only a fraction of the workforce.

The war ended; the troops came home. Rather than figure out a way to share the work and the wealth in some way that guaranteed nobody would get too much of the former or too little of the latter, it instead became common policy and wisdom that the only economy we could have is one with constant growth and excessive consumption. Not only does this economy destroy the environment, it also concentrates wealth. And wealth is power. When you buy something at a store, the clerk you give your money to has basically no say in how that money is distributed. The CEO sitting at his desk will get a much higher cut than the clerk will; probably hundreds of times as much. And since we have this incredible excess of "productivity," the clerk is easily replaceable if she complains or tries to take a larger cut. Only by organizing do the clerks of the world have a chance at anything like a fair share.

I don't know the answers, but I'm quite sure that things can't continue in the direction they're going now. The goal of the "cheap-labor conservatives" is to continue increasing their share of the pie to as close to 100% as possible, and they're already very close. People deserve to be able to live, but that right is systematically being denied them.

So, in the short term at least, do whatever you can to support unions.

From Lalo Alcarez.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
This was not something that had to happen.
September 11, that is. According to Thomas Kean, chairman of the commission investigating 9/11.

"This is a very, very important part of history and we've got to tell it right," said Thomas Kean.

"As you read the report, you're going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn't done and what should have been done," he said. "This was not something that had to happen."

Appointed by the Bush administration, Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, is now pointing fingers inside the administration and laying blame.

"There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed," Kean said.

The CBS story gets a little muddled after that, leaving Kean's statements and going to those of 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser. Between the two, it would appear that Condiloser Rice may take the brunt of the blame. She certainly deserves it for incompetence, if nothing else. As Breitweiser points out, nothing so completely convicts her of incompetence at the least as Rice's incredibly stupid (naive, ignorant, duplicitous--choose one or several) statement from May 2002:

I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.

Maybe, in spite of all that the Bushies have done to cover up what really happened on 9/11 and to thwart any and all investigations of it, the 9/11 commission will still come through with the stunning revelations that will guarantee aWol's defeat next year, if not his impeachment. And, just as with Nixon and Clinton, it won't be the initial crime or failure or blow job that does him in, but that he knew about it and lied in order to cover it up.
Bush administration embroiled in Boeing scandal
A good analysis from the WSWS.
Woohoo! I agree with aWol on something!
W: The best day of my presidency was when I was sworn in as President and — because it gave me a chance to assume this high office and implement a strategy that would make the world more peaceful and more free and a country more compassionate. That's so far been the best day of my presidency. -- from the Diane Sawyer interview.

Definitely the best day of his presidency. He was only president for half the day. It's been all downhill ever since.
In case you missed it...
SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction, as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still --

BUSH: So what's the difference?

ABC's Diane Sawyer interviewed aWol last night, and actually pressed him on the phantom WMD's. Liberal Oasis has the "highlights," while ABC has the full transcript.

And since there exists the possibility that any of us might move to acquire WMD's, I guess none of us are safe from the whims of W. But you knew that anyway.
Ashcrotch sanctioned
Chief Inquisitor John Ashcrotch has been sanctioned by a federal judge for twice violating a gag order. A remorseful Ashcrotch promised not to do it again very often.
Saddam's Confession
No need to continue questioning him; Billmon has already written his confession for him:

"I, Saddam Hussein, freely admit to having conspired with agents of the Syrian and Iranian governments to smuggle weapons of mass destruction into the Vatican. I confess to meeting personally with Muhammad Atta at the Prague Airport in April 2001 to plot the September 11 attacks. I am personally responsible for the spread of the global AIDS epidemic." etc. etc.

This as part of a larger post comparing yesterday's NY Times with the old Soviet paper Pravda. Read everything else Billmon has written lately; as the Rasta guy used to say on Dark Angel, "It's all good." (I wrote a much longer post on all these great Billmon rants earlier today, but Blogger crashed and I lost it all. So I'm leaving it up to you, dear readers.)
Brainwashing is easy
I just finished reading Peter Maass's book Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War. Written in 1996, it describes Maass's experience as a Washington Post reporter during the Bosnian war in the early 1990's. The book is excellent, in a massively depressing sort of way. I was particularly struck by these paragraphs:

When the votes were counted, the [Serbian] Socialist Party had picked up twenty-two additional seats in Parliament. Milosevic's remarkable success had nothing to do with slick propaganda--the stuff was crude and badly produced. Dead bodies, stiff anchormen, more dead bodies, more stiff anchormen. It would be tempting to conclude that he succeeded in brainwashing Serbs, and succeeded with such ease, because Serbs were stupid and backward (and very different from us). The theory would appear to be supported by the fact that the war in Bosnia was so despicable that, as any outsider knew, only a nation of mildly retarded people could be conned into waging it. But this notion would be wrong. The propaganda succeeded because it imparted a clear, Reaganesque message: Milosevic was defending Serbs who lived outside Serbia, and defending Serbia itself from the Islamic-Ustashe dangers lurking at its borders. Simple, clean, effective. Serbs swallowed it. In a similar situation, so might we.

I sought guidance from Milos Vasic at Vreme magazine. The wall above his desk was papered with cartoons, one of which showed a map on which America was identified as "the United States of Serbia," and the caption said, "What's Serbian pacifism? Greater Serbia to the Pacific!" Vasic was a master at exposing the lies of nationalists and the conceits of foreigners, and he had a standard response when asked for the secret behind Milosevic's brainwashing success: "You must imagine a United States with every little TV station everywhere taking exactly the same editorial line--a line dictated by David Duke. You too would have war in five years."

Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Free Trade is just for those poor countries
First the steel tariffs, and now the Iraq contracts, violate the terms of the World Trade Organization:

Incensed that foreign countries were playing favorites in doling out billions of dollars to build airports, roads and dams, the U.S. became a prime cheerleader for a global agreement on government procurement.

Now, the U.S. stands accused of violating the very pact it worked so hard to create.

The Pentagon said last week that companies from France, Canada and other countries that didn't contribute militarily to the Iraq war would be barred from bidding on $18.6 billion in U.S.-funded reconstruction contracts. That sent officials from excluded countries to their lawbooks, looking for ways to strike back.

The European Commission, which called the Iraq bid decision "ill-thought-out," is considering filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization in Geneva. Under the WTO procurement pact for which the U.S. heavily lobbied, governments in most cases must open their purchasing processes to international competition and treat domestic and foreign firms equally.

Attacks on Supremes' McCain-Feingold Decision
I'd heard many suggestions that the McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan campaign finance bill was flawed, that it wouldn't stop the corruption, that there were too many loopholes and ways around it. But my impression was that most people were on board with it, thinking it was a necessary first step, however flawed. I thought that only neanderthals like Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell tried to use the "campaign contributions are free speech" argument. The bill passed, Bush signed it. McConnell challenged it in the Supreme Court, which just recently upheld almost all of it as constitutional.

But now I'm seeing a surprising number of political cartoons berating the Supremes for "destroying free speech." It might be expected from normally right-wing cartoonists like Mike Lester and John Cole, who even takes a personal swipe at Reagan appointee Sandra Day O'Connor.

But I've also seen cartoons with the same message from normally liberal cartoonists, like Steve Benson and Signe Wilkinson, more than I recall seeing back when the bill was being debated in Congress (and when it was more in the news). I'll confess I don't know all of the details about the bill, but I don't think that cash is free speech. We all know that there are limits even to free speech (yelling "Movie!" in a crowded fire station, for instance). And there are rightly limits on spending money (unless you're Rush Limbaugh). Theoretically, in my dream world at least, democracy is not supposed to be for sale. So where are all these complaints about the Supremes' decision on M-F coming from, and why now?

From Drew Sheneman.
NY Times Editorial on Smith-gate
Or maybe we should call it MoNICKa for the younger crowd: the attempted bribery of a Republican congressman to get his vote on the Medicare destruction bill.

The Times doesn't say much, nor do they suggest that their paper will start a full-scale investigation. They just suggest it's sort of sordid and whimper. SCLM, indeed.
Kids say the darnedest things
Doesn't the University of Michigan have any admission requirements?

"It is great that we have captured the man who has been responsible for the whole war and hardship of the Iraqi people," said LSA freshman Amy Stein. -- from a Michigan Daily article on student reactions to Saddam's capture.
Borders cancels negotiations
Some sort of vandalism was done to the Borders store in downtown Ann Arbor between midnight and 5 AM on Monday morning. I haven't seen it, and it hasn't appeared in the Ann Arbor News, and I can't get to the Michigan Daily web site, so I don't know what happened. All I have is two e-mails, one from the union and one from Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality. Both deny any involvement with the vandalism. Borders has apparently used the vandalism as an excuse for cancelling the negotiations which were scheduled for yesterday. Accusations appear to be flying in all directions. The whole thing could get very ugly.
Monday, December 15, 2003
The big story of the weekend
Was the attack on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Billmon suggests that "Musharraf's survival is probably a hell of a lot more important than the precise dimensions of Saddam's spider hole, or how many cavities they found when they examined his teeth."

Why? Because Pakistan has nukes, and missiles to deliver them. Because the attack on Musharraf may have been an inside job. And Billmon thinks that overthrowing Musharraf is now al Qaeda's number one priority. He concludes:

Musharaff remains the key to keeping the uneasy peace in Pakistan. The day he dies is the day a new front opens up in the war against terrorism -- one more central to the ultimate outcome than Iraq will ever be.

Quote du Jour
What happened Sunday was that the Republicans captured a former ally, with whom they had later fallen out. -- Juan Cole.

Kucinich's Media Plan
Campaigning in Iowa on Sunday, Kucinich issues a detailed plan for reforming the media in America that called for:

* Breaking up the major media conglomerates in order to encourage competition and quality, as well as diversity. Kucinich wants to limit the number of media outlets one corporation can own in a given medium, such as radio, print, or television. He would also prohibit cross-ownership of newspapers, radio and television in the same market by a single corporation.

* Expansion of funding for public broadcasting channels on television and radio, and expansion of support for community-controlled media, in order to ensure the existence of media outlets that are free of the influence of advertisers.

* Requiring broadcast and cable networks to provide substantial free air time for candidates and parties during election campaigns.

* Opening up the regulatory process so that citizens can more easily challenge the licenses of local broadcast outlets that fail to provide local coverage and to direct coverage at the entire community they are supposed to serve.

* Permitting not-for-profit groups to obtain low-power FM radio station licenses. Kucinich wants to encourage the development of new, community- based, noncommercial broadcasting outlets.

* Withdrawal of the U.S. from the World Trade Organization. Media companies have been lobbying the WTO for the creation of policies that would allow trade sanctions against countries that limit foreign ownership of domestic media, establish standards for local content and fund public broadcasting.
-- The Online Beat

Good one, Howie!
Really. Gotta give the doctor his due, although I prefer the liberal candidates.

"George W. Bush is preventing entire nations from bidding on contracts in Iraq so his campaign contributors can continue to overcharge the American taxpayers," Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean said while campaigning in Iowa Friday. -- CBS
AWol obviously holds non-torture means of interrogation in low regard:
Q: Given your skepticism about Saddam Hussein's ability to tell the truth, do you think his interrogation might help resolve any lingering questions about what he did with his weapons of mass destruction and his ties to terrorist groups?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. I would think not. I mean, he's a deceiver. He's a liar. He's a torturer. He's a murderer. I can't imagine why he would change his attitude, since he'll be treated humanely by the U.S. coalition -- U.S. troops.
-- From today's press conference.

AWol's nose skewers two dozen reporters with this one:
David, I think you've seen about our foreign policy is that I'm reluctant to use military power. It's the last choice, it's not our first choice. And in Iraq, there was a lot of diplomacy that took place before there was any military action. There was diplomacy prior to my arrival, diplomacy during my time here, and we tried all means and methodologies to achieve the objective, which was a more secure America, by using diplomatic means and persuasion. -- aWol, from today's press conference.

I guess "diplomacy" means "sanctions and bombs" in the Bush dyslexicon.
aWol babbles to the press
And I can understand why people would be afraid to act in Iraq, afraid that Saddam might come back -- after all, he's a torturer and a killer. I met with a doctor today, the guy took me aside and he said, I want to thank you, my dad was murdered by Saddam Hussein. A lot of people share that sentiment, by the way, because it's happened to them. And you can understand why people feared him -- after all, he stayed in power by fear, by ruling through fear. -- aWol in today's press conference.

Too bad he didn't leave the airport when he was in Iraq. People could have taken him aside and said "I want to curse you, my dad was killed by your dad," or "I hate you, you miserable SOB: my daughter was killed by you." Saddam was just one of the "Butchers of Baghdad." And aWol has certainly learned his lesson from Saddam--stay in power by fear, rule by fear. From earlier in the press conference:

aWol: I will never forget the lessons of September the 11th, 2001. Terrorists attacked us. They killed thousands of our fellow citizens. And it could happen again. And, therefore, I will deal with threats -- threats that are emerging and real.

For the billionth time: Neither Iraq nor Saddam Hussein ever attacked or even threatened the United States.
They only hear what they want to hear, and disregard the rest...
Time claims to have the results from the initial questioning of Saddam Hussein. US officials are unimpressed, saying “He’s not been very cooperative,” said [an] official who read the transcript of the initial interrogation report taken during the first questioning session. By "not cooperative" he means "not saying what we want to hear."

Saddam was also asked whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. “No, of course not,” he replied, according to the official, “the U.S. dreamed them up itself to have a reason to go to war with us.” The interrogator continued along this line, said the official, asking: “if you had no weapons of mass destruction then why not let the U.N. inspectors into your facilities?” Saddam’s reply: “We didn’t want them to go into the presidential areas and intrude on our privacy.”

Apparently Saddam is going on a potty strike to end the occupation:
When offered a glass of water by his interrogators, Saddam replied, “If I drink water I will have to go to the bathroom and how can I use the bathroom when my people are in bondage?”

Same way you did before, old chap!
Welcome back!
Michael Moore has a few things to say about the capture of one of the butchers of Baghdad (the other two are Bush Sr. and Bush Jr.):

Thank God Saddam is finally back in American hands! He must have really missed us. Man, he sure looked bad! But, at least he got a free dental exam today. That's something most Americans can't get.

America used to like Saddam. We LOVED Saddam. We funded him. We armed him. We helped him gas Iranian troops.

But then he screwed up. He invaded the dictatorship of Kuwait and, in doing so, did the worst thing imaginable -- he threatened an even BETTER friend of ours: the dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, and its vast oil reserves. The Bushes and the Saudi royal family were and are close business partners, and Saddam, back in 1990, committed a royal blunder by getting a little too close to their wealthy holdings. Things went downhill for Saddam from there.

But it wasn't always that way. Saddam was our good friend and ally. We supported his regime. It wasn’t the first time we had helped a murderer. We liked playing Dr. Frankenstein. We created a lot of monsters -- the Shah of Iran, Somoza of Nicaragua, Pinochet of Chile -- and then we expressed ignorance or shock when they ran amok and massacred people. We liked Saddam because he was willing to fight the Ayatollah. So we made sure that he got billions of dollars to purchase weapons. Weapons of mass destruction. That's right, he had them. We should know -- we gave them to him!
Stay strong, Democratic candidates. Quit sounding like a bunch of wusses. These bastards sent us to war on a lie, the killing will not stop, the Arab world hates us with a passion, and we will pay for this out of our pockets for years to come. Nothing that happened today (or in the past 9 months) has made us ONE BIT safer in our post-9/11 world. Saddam was never a threat to our national security.

Palast Coup
While lauding the capture of Mr. Hussein, experts caution that the War on Terror is far from over, noting that Osama bin Laden, James Baker and George W. Bush remain at large. -- Greg Palast
Gun control in Britain
Katharine Gun told the truth about US spying on UN delegations back in March, and is now paying the consequences.

Katharine Gun's truth-telling did not stop the war on Iraq, but it did make a difference. Some analysts cite the uproar from the leaked memo as a key factor in the U.S.-British failure to get Security Council approval of a pro-war resolution before the invasion began in late March.

The government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair quickly arrested Ms. Gun. In June, she formally lost her job as a translator at the top-secret Government Communications Headquarters in Gloucester. On Nov. 13, her name surfaced in the British news media when the Labor Party government dropped the other shoe, charging the 29-year-old woman with a breach of the Official Secrets Act.

She faces up to two years in prison if convicted.


From Paul Conrad.
What do these actors have in common?
Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, Kevin Peter Hall, Richard Chaves, R.G. Armstrong, and Shane Black.

A Bobber Award to the first correct response, which should be in the form of "They were all in __________ but have never been _________."

What the wingnuts really want
From Tom Tomorrow. (Salon day pass required--just view a brief Powells ad.)
Cheery thoughts for a Monday morning
I got the following from our local e-mail discussion group. The person who posted it says that Shamir is "an Israeli journalist and gadfly." Although I found Shamir's home page, this article doesn't seem to be on it, at least yet. Therefore, I'll post it in its entirety:

Saddam Bound

By Israel Shamir

- Turn on the TV, - my wife, alerted by a phone call, yelled from the kitchen. On the screen was George W. Bush's mug photo with a caption reading 'Bush - the former dictator is arrested'.

I can't deny it was a moment of great elation. Indeed, Mr Bush deserved to be arrested and tried - for his invasion of sovereign Iraq and Afghanistan, for the thousands of dead and tortured men and women wherever he took his War on Islam, for his support of ENRON, and for his doubtful role in September 11. In light of the Patriot Act which gave the government broader surveillance authority and erased the traditional American liberties, and for the unconstitutional way he got to the White House, Mr Bush can indeed be called 'a dictator'. But 'former'? Had the people of the United States shown themselves the worthy heirs to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, risen up in arms and removed the tyrant?

Alas, no such luck. The former dictator referred to was, of course, the deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. What an anticlimax! Pictures of the humiliated Hussein, bearded, tired, confused, treated like a captured tiger in a Zoo, were repeating endlessly. He opened his mouth, and we were forced to look in. He looked human and frail; too human, his dishevelled beard and large innocent eyes make him akin to Leo Tolstoy or Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Indeed, if in December 1941, Hitler's army had not been stopped by the 39 Red Guards of Panfilov on the outskirts of Moscow, this would have been the fate of Joseph Stalin; to be brought in an iron cage to Berlin and presented as 'the captured, bloody dictator'. And it would have been Mao Zedong's fate, too, had the Chinese soldiers not stopped General Macarthur's hordes on the banks of Yalu River in 1950. Vae victis, woe is defeat, especially a defeat to the ruthless and arrogant enemy.

I crossed the street to a Palestinian café, where Jerusalem artists and teachers mingle with villagers on business in the big city over backgammon and cardamom coffee. Gloom was hanging over the low tables like a rain cloud in the December air. The Palestinians were distressed and spoke in hushed tones. Their best feelings were hurt by the dishonourable display of the captive ruler. Whether one liked Saddam Hussein or not, he was the legitimate President of a great Arab nation, and his humiliation was the
humiliation of all Arabs.

He was not the first captured ruler in the world's bloody and long history. More than 800 years ago, the great West European Crusader princes were captured by a victorious Arab army. Then, however, the Arab commander, Saladin, treated the captives courteously. He did not parade them with an open, red-painted mouth in front of his troops. But Chivalry and Honour, so dear to an Arab heart, are not American virtues: the US dared to attack Iraq only after ten years of UN sanctions disarmed it.

The Palestinians had additional reasons to worry. Iraq was a big and independent Arab country. It was by no means a counterbalance to the united might of Israel and the US, but its existence could stay the Zionist hand from particularly wild actions. In 1948, Iraqi volunteers stopped the Israeli army expelling the Palestinian residents of Jenin and Nablus, and saved them from the fate of homeless refugees. In 1973, the Iraqi presence stopped Israelis moving on to Damascus. Since then, the Iraqis have supported Palestinians, collecting money to sent to Palestinian widows and orphans of the resistance.

But the American-installed regime in Baghdad is rabidly anti-Palestinian and pro-Israeli. Ahmad Chalabi, the American protégé, called to establish friendly relations with Israel; plans to send Iraqi oil to Haifa refineries are being discussed, and the occupation forces expelled Palestinian refugees from their temporary homes in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein could not do much; his anti-Islamic policy did not endear him to religious Arabs, but he was a friend, and an independent Arab voice.

Israelis in a nearby pub were excited. For them, Hussein's capture was good news politically and economically. Since the US-led victory, the Israeli companies have aggressively moved into Iraq. "All inquiries about doing business in Iraq are referred to a select list of intermediaries issued by the American authorities", I was told by an Australian businessman. "All are Jewish and most of them are Israeli. Heading the list is the Israeli law firm that Douglas Feith (an American extreme-Zionist official) is a partner in". The Iraqi Jews have presented multi-billion dollar claims for properties they claim were confiscated from them. Hussein's capture will undermine the Iraqi resistance and allow the Israelis to increase their share of the war spoils.

But Israeli politicians foresee an even better outcome. "Deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein could be offered a deal in which he would give his captors information on how he smuggled some of the weapons of mass destruction into Syria," said the military observer of the Israeli daily Haaretz. "In exchange, he would face life imprisonment and not be executed for war crimes", It will save George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair' bacon, following accusations that they lied to their people to justify war. More important, it would accomplish an old wish of Israeli leaders: that US tanks would roll into Damascus. With the conquest of Syria, the next stage of the Middle East subjugation to Israel would be complete, and the road to Saudi oil riches would be open.

In short, Hussein's capture will not bring peace to Iraq and the Middle East. Most probably, it will be used to jump-start the new round of war in the troubled area.

Sunday, December 14, 2003
Left I for the smart guy
Eli at Left I on the News is trying to put things in perspective:

At its peak, terrorism killed fewer than 3000 Americans in 2001; historically, the number is an order of magnitude or two lower. The U.S. government is spending hundreds of billions of dollars (not to mention ripping up the Constitution) to "fight" this problem.

36,000 Americans die every year from the flu. Thanks to the decimation of the public health system in America, and the near total reliance on "private enterprise" (a.k.a. the profit system) to solve our health problems, this year there is a well-publicized shortage of flu vaccine. Needless to say, a fraction of a percent of the money being spent to kill innocent people in Iraq or Afghanistan could have prevented that shortage.

A more rational analysis
Okay, I'm a little bitter here. AWol is getting a ton of credit he doesn't deserve, and I hate the guy's guts, so I'm having trouble being objective. Billmon also hates aWol's guts, but I think he does a better job of being objective.
State-run media hard at work
Saddam Hussein's capture lifted a huge political weight from President Bush after months of rising casualties and growing doubts about his handling of Iraq. Around the world, it sent a thundering message of America's resolve to prevail in the war against terrorism. -- AP

Gag me with a friggin' spoon. "War against terrorism?" Even the insane Bushies have conceded that there were no ties between Saddam and 9/11. What has been accomplished, if anything, is the semi-completion of an immensely bloody illegal coup which violated the UN charter and international law. The US has no right to arrest Saddam Hussein, any more than it had any right to invade his country. Thundering message of criminality and barbarism. But the corporate state-controlled media, which continues to downplay aWol's many crimes and coverups, intends to play this BS to the hilt. But like I said before, nothing will improve, and the Bushies will be left without their last excuse.

Wilson! I'm sorry! Wilssssonnnnnn! (Sorry, that was my first thought when I saw the pictures.)
Bushies play their last ace in the hole
By announcing the capture of Saddam Hussein, the neonuts have pretty much used up their last excuse for their miserable failure of an occupation. As the violence continues, people continue to die, and WMD's continue not to exist as former Iraqi officials continue to insist, the neocons won't be able to blame it on old Saddam any more. They're so desperate now, however, that they feel they need the big boost this will give them in the US and the small temporary boost it will likely give them in Iraq. (I'll concede the small possibility that the official story bears some small resemblance to the truth, but in reality Saddam may have been captured at any time since March, or this whole story could be a hoax. And don't hold your breath waiting for a public trial.)

The capture has already knocked the story of another major car bombing, this time in Khalidiyah, off of the front pages. The bombing at an Iraqi police station killed at least 17 and wounded 30.

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