Monday, May 31, 2004


What is "The Brady Bunch?"

America at War for $200

Like Pillsbury's Poppin' Fresh, an American soldier during World War I was called this.

Important addendum for those who want to say it's just campaign posturing

This is from an article in the May 30 Toronto "Star" discussing rising calls in the US, including among Democratic Party activists, for a commitment to a rapid withdrawal from Iraq:
Kerry had to face the question head-on Friday during a town-hall meeting in Green Bay, Wisc.

"What do you plan to do to bring our troops home?" a woman in the audience demanded of the candidate.

"I'm going to get our troops home as fast as possible with honour and the job accomplished in the way it needs to be," Kerry responded.
It is truly depressing to see the man who 30 years ago stung the heart of a nation by asking "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" embracing the Nixonian rhetoric of "peace with honor."

Footnote: A little while ago, the ISP I use actually ran a poll asking if people could see a difference between the positions of Bush and Kerry on Iraq. The very existence of the question speaks volumes.

We are so screwed

It has really, really hit bottom. From Sunday's Washington Post:
Sen. John F. Kerry indicated that as president he would play down the promotion of democracy as a leading goal in dealing with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China and Russia, instead focusing on other objectives that he said are more central to the United States' security. ...

In many ways, Kerry laid out a foreign policy agenda that appeared less idealistic about U.S. aims than those of President Bush or even fellow Democrat Bill Clinton. Although Kerry said it is important to sell democracy and "market it" around the world, he demurred when questioned about a number of important countries that suppress human rights and freedoms.
Atrios calls this "an interesting little bit of rhetorical judo," adding "it'll be sort of amusing to see Kerry strike back at Bush by asking why the hell we're wasting our money and soldiers' lives for those damn furriners."

Ezra at Pandagon says "it's time we had a foreign-policy realist who knows his shit."

In other words, Kerry stakes out a foreign policy position that is in significant ways to the right of Bush and we're supposed to be glad? Oh jeez....

About two weeks ago, talking about John Kerry, I dissented from a friend's comment that "the Anybody But Bush crowd has lost it's way", saying "As soon as your stand is 'anybody but,' you're admitting you have no such way to lose." I can't imagine a more perfect example.

We are, yes, so screwed.

Noted in passing

I expect you've heard about this little dollop of creepiness:
Washington (Reuters, May 31) - A handgun that Saddam Hussein was clutching when U.S. forces captured him in a hole in Iraq last December is now kept by President Bush at the White House, a spokesman confirmed on Sunday.

Time magazine, which first disclosed the gun's location, said military officials had it mounted after it was seized from Saddam near his hometown of Tikrit last year, and soldiers involved in the capture gave it to Bush. ...

"He really liked showing it off," Time quoted a visitor as saying. "He was really proud of it."
But did you hear that him having that gun is probably illegal and in violation of several DC gun control laws?

Jail no bail, wadda ya say?

RIP twice

They were not quite of the same generation, being 13 years apart in age, but they will always be linked in some fashion by the events in whose course they participated. First:
Archibald Cox, 92, the Harvard law professor and special prosecutor whose refusal to accept White House limits on his investigation of the Watergate break-in and coverup helped bring about the 1974 resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, died yesterday at his home in Brooksville, Maine. ...

In October 1973, Cox precipitated what would become known as the "Saturday night massacre." He did this by insisting on unrestricted access to tape recordings of presidential conversations in the Oval Office during the period immediately after five men with links to Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President had been arrested in the June 1972 break-in at the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.

An angry Nixon demanded Cox's firing. But Attorney General Elliot Richardson, who had recruited Cox as the Watergate special prosecutor, refused to carry out the president's order. He resigned, as did his deputy, William D. Ruckelshaus. Robert H. Bork, who as solicitor general was the third-ranking officer of the Justice Department, dismissed Cox.

Almost overnight, from Capitol Hill and in the national media, came the sounds of protest and dismay. ...

In the House of Representatives, members introduced 22 bills calling for the impeachment of the president or an investigation into impeachment proceedings. More than a million telegrams demanding impeachment poured into congressional offices.
It's amazing how far a few simple acts of integrity can sometimes carry events and a measure of how far we've fallen that actions such as those by Richardson and Ruckelshaus, surprising then, are utterly unthinkable now, when ideology trumps integrity at every turn.

And second:
Samuel Dash, 79, the chief counsel of the Senate Watergate Committee whose televised interrogation into the secret audiotaping system at the White House ultimately led to President Richard M. Nixon's resignation, died of multiple organ failure May 29 at Washington Hospital Center.
Dash was a long-time advocate for legal ethics who in 1951, while still a teaching fellow, conducted an undercover investigation into corruption at the Municipal Court of Chicago. He investigated human rights abuses in Northern Ireland, Puerto Rico, and Chile. His 1959 book The Eavesdroppers is credited with helping put legal limits on electronic surveillance. A new book, The Intruders, due out next month, "deals with the violations of individual rights and the Patriot Act," according to Judi Dash, a daughter. And he was planning a third, The Interrogators, on the rights of witnesses.

His last official act was in 1998 when he resigned, loudly and publicly, as ethics counselor to Ken Starr, charging him with becoming an "aggressive advocate" of impeachment and exceeding his authority. It's probably something of the measure of the man that people were surprised that he took the job - but not surprised that (or at how) he left it.


He was best known to most of the country as one of the Chicago 7 (nee 8), tried for a phantom "conspiracy" to incite the violence that occurred during the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention, violence that was later labeled "a police riot" by a commission set up to examine it.

But he was much more. He was a life-long pacifist, an author of several books, a union organizer in the 1930s, a civil rights activist in the 1950s and '60s, a leader of the anti-Vietnam movement in the '60s and '70s. In 1939, inspired by the example of Gandhi, he helped found the Newark Ashram in the heart of the Newark, NJ, ghetto, a forerunner of the interest both in community service and organizing and in communal living in the '60s.

During a 3-year prison term (one of many imprisonments over the years) during World War II for being a conscientious objector, he was among those who forced an end to Jim Crow seating in the dining halls of US prisons.
Greg Guma, editor of the political magazine Toward Freedom, called [him] "one of the major figures in terms of peace and social justice of the last half century."
His name was David Dellinger, and he died last week at the age of 88 in Montpelier, Vermont, at the retirement home where he'd been living.

He was at it until the end.
Just three years ago, at age 85, Dellinger got up at 2:45 a.m. at his home in Montpelier and hitched a ride to demonstrations in Quebec City against the creation of a free trade zone in the Western Hemisphere.
During the Chicago 7 trial, there were a number of stormy confrontations between the defendants and their lawyers on the one hand and the judge on the other, often triggered by the judge's patent bias in favor of the prosecution (which led to the convictions being overturned) and featuring shouted accusations. One observer later wrote that while some of the other defendants may have been louder or more dramatic, Dellinger was the one who was totally without fear.

A pretty good summation.

There's nothing artificial about this AI's intelligence

"Bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle."

The words were unsparing.

"Violating rights at home, turning a blind eye to abuses abroad."

The source was Amnesty International.

"Double speak."

The target was the US and its "war on terror."

Its 2004 annual report, issued this past Wednesday, was one of the strongest and harshest Amnesty International has produced,
saying governments, as well as armed groups, have declared a war on universal human values that is unprecedented in the last half century. ...

[T]he London-based organization said a worldwide decline in rights included the justification of abuse by powerful governments, hundreds of lives lost to terrorist attacks, indiscriminate killing by armed guerrillas, and a lawless environment in which the wheels of justice often seemed to be in reverse.
The US was, thus obviously, by no means the only target of criticism, nor were governments: AI's Secretary-General, Irene Khan, referred to the need to "confront the callous, cruel and criminal acts of armed groups and individuals." But, she added,
[i]t is also frightening that the principles of international law and the tools of multilateral action which could protect us from those attacks are being undermined, marginalized or destroyed by powerful governments,
among them, the US, which she charged with disregarding the rule of law and having "damaged justice and freedom, and made the world a more dangerous place." Amnesty
also rapped partners across the world in the United States' self-declared "war on terror" for jailing suspects unfairly, stamping on legitimate political and religious dissent, and squeezing asylum-seekers
as part of a "backlash against human rights created by the single-minded pursuit of a global security doctrine that has deeply divided the world."

But, to paraphrase the famous (but, it seems, possibly apocryphal) quote from Vietnam, we had to destroy the rights in order to save them. Doesn't Amnesty International know there's a war on?

Footnote: I want to re-emphasize that neither the US nor the broader "war on terror" were AI's only concerns. In fact, the report covers 155 countries and territories and points to
government repression and brutality continu[ing] against the Uygurs in China and Islamists in Egypt, while gross violations of human rights are unchecked in "forgotten conflicts" such as Chechnya, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nepal.
And when Kahn was asked as a press conference
whether a particular case of human rights violations in the world demanded immediate attention, Khan named Sudan's western Darfur region without hesitation.

"I would say that there is an emerging situation where international action and pressure can stop a humanitarian catastrophe and that would be western Sudan right now," she said.
Still, though, the "war on terror," probably because of the international scope of its reach, loomed over the report. Kahn noted that it had been used to justify relaxation of export controls of arms to governments with "appalling human rights records" and in her message with the report, she wrote
Iraq and the "war on terror" have obscured the greatest human rights challenge of our times. According to some sources, developing countries spend about US$22 billion a year on weapons and, for $10 billion dollars a year, they would achieve universal primary education. These statistics hide a huge scandal: the failed promise to attack extreme poverty and address gross economic and social injustice.

According to some analysts, there is a real risk that the targets of UN Millennium Development Goals - such as the reduction of child and maternal mortality, getting all children to primary school, halving the number of people with no access to clean water - will not be achieved because international attention and resources have been diverted to the "war on terror".
Like the man famously said:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. - President Dwight Eisenhower, April 16, 1953
Or, as the other man said:
Everything is connected to everything else. - Barry Commoner's First Law of Ecology
Which also means, I suppose, that our actions are connected to others' actions in a web of change that keeps getting shredded but some have the strength to keep trying to reweave. All praise to the dreamweavers. Keep hope alive.

Trust us, we're experts

Last Wednesday, British journalist Peter Hounam was arrested in Jerusalem by the Shin Bet security services
on suspicion that he was involved in interviewing former nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, who was freed in April after serving 18 years for spilling Israel's nuclear secrets,
reported the Israeli daily Haaretz on Friday.

Vanunu has been banned from any contact with foreigners and any journalists, even Israeli ones, without permission from the security services. Hounam was part of the team at The Sunday Times of London that broke the story by reporting Vanunu's revelations 20 years ago and has remained his friend.

The deep seriousness of the matter was affirmed by Israeli officials.
Danny Seaman, director of the Government Press Office, said that if Hounam was arrested it was for serious offenses. ...

"This is irregular and so I assume they did not arrest him as a journalist but because they have real reasons," Seaman told the radio. "The Shin Bet is a serious organization that deals with serious issues." ...

[Yuval] Steinitz[, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee,] said Thursday that "In general, the Shin Bet does not arrest people arbitrarily, but with considered judgement. I am not saying that the Shin Bet does not err at times, but it is generally a very responsible organization, and things like this are done after profound consideration."
Hounam was released without charge that same evening, one day after his arrest.

Footnote, Democracy Div.: The possible threat to Hounam arising from Israel's draconian state secrets law was real, Haaretz reports in another article.
"Israeli criminal law has clauses allowing legal action to be brought against journalists, providing that the alleged violations are in the security sphere," said legal commentator Moshe Negbi.

"This is something that is not generally an accepted norm in proper democracies, but it exists."

Hanegbi was referring to Clause 13 in Israel's criminal code, the same clause under which Vanunu was originally charged. According to the clause, "Whoever publishes a state secret in a newspaper has committed a crime punishable by 15 years imprisonment, without connection to the question of whether the information poses or is liable to pose a danger to the state," Hanegbi said.

Mere possession of the secret information - whether dangerous or not - by a journalist is punishable by seven years in jail.
It's easy to imagine a scenario for dealing with a troublesome journalist: Just feed them some meaningless "secret" - and then arrest them for possessing it. Free nations shouldn't just not do such things, they should aspire to not have the means to do such things.

Footnote, Oops! Div.: The International Herald Tribune reports that Israeli officials tried to keep the matter quiet; indeed, the Jerusalem District Court issued an order on Thursday barring release of details about Hounam's arrest. Unfortunately for officialdom, when five Shit Bet agents arrested him at his hotel, they walked him out - right past Donatella Rovera, an official of Amnesty International.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Keep your eyes on the prize

Massachusetts Governor Witness Wrongly is following through on his threats to try to use a old, almost-forgotten law that was originally intended to block interracial marriages to nullify marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples from outside the state.
Earlier this week, as gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts, Mr. Romney's administration demanded copies of marriage license applications from four cities and towns that were defying the governor by issuing licenses to out-of-state couples.

On Thursday, the governor said he had received the applications from two communities, Provincetown and Springfield, and found 10 out-of-state marriage applications that the state would not record, effectively nullifying those marriages. Out-of-state applications from the other two cities, Somerville and Worcester, would be treated the same way, he said.

Mr. Romney's actions are based on his interpretation of a 1913 law which says that the state cannot issue marriage licenses to couples if the marriage would be illegal in their home state. Mr. Romney has concluded that because no other state allows gay marriage, only Massachusetts residents, or people who intend to move to the state, can receive marriage licenses.
In addition, Governor Rockhead has asked the state's attorney general to consider taking legal action against the city clerks that issued the licenses.

While Wrongway's supporters say he's acting out of conscience, many others - me included - think there's another reason.
The gambit, capping months in which he has stood as the most visible opponent of gay marriage here, could jeopardize Romney's chances for reelection even as it thrusts him more prominently onto the national stage. Indeed, any political calculations behind his latest moves, experts say, are directed more at winning office in Washington than in Boston. ...

Analysts believe he is using the gay-marriage debate to build on his national profile. Some suggest he is being groomed as a possible replacement for vice president Dick Cheney on Bush's 2004 presidential ticket,
says the Christian Science Monitor for May 24. I don't know that I'd go quite that far, but it's well-known that his aspirations go far beyond a corner office on Beacon Hill and I'm convinced there's more of presidential politics than personal passion here.

There will undoubtedly be suits arising from this; what I noticed particularly is that among the marriages nullified, at least one was from New York - but the attorney general of New York has said that his state will recognize same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts, so on what basis did Robbery void it? It will be interesting to see him defend that.

Footnote, Hypocrisy Div.: Gen. Rommel, in the course of announcing his intention to invalidate same sex marriages via a racist law that would have been overturned long ago if anyone remembered it was there, declared "this is a time for opening ourselves to others and for respecting other individuals."

Footnote, Unintentional Humor Div.: Romney downplayed his threat of action against the clerks, saying
his expectation was that the attorney general would tell the defiant town clerks, "Gosh, you need to get back on track."
"Aw gee, c'mon, pleeeze? C'mon! Golly gee whillikers!"


Who are priests?


TV show inspired by an article that said about 30 percent of those who married in 1965 had kids from a previous marriage.

As long as I'm admiring my own insights

This is from the International Herald Tribune for May 29.
Five days after Salvador Allende was toppled in a violent coup as the Marxist president of Chile on Sept. 11, 1973, Henry Kissinger chatted on the phone with President Richard Nixon about the event, which clearly had delighted both men.

After telling the president that he might go to the Washington Redskins' football season opener, Kissinger exulted in the toppling of a pro-Communist government and complained about how much the news media was lamenting the coup, in which Allende was killed. The press's attitude, he said, was steeped in "unbelievable filthy hypocrisy."
That despite their protestations in favor of democracy, Kissinger and Nixon were thrilled with Pinochet is by now well-known. What intrigued me was this part of the exchange:
In the 1973 conversation, Kissinger tells the president that "of course the newspapers are bleeding because a pro-Communist government has been overthrown."

Nixon responds: "Isn't that something." To which Kissinger says that he and the president would have been hailed as heroes during "the Eisenhower period," 1953 to 1960.

Nixon then says: "Well, we didn't, as you know - our hand doesn't show on this one, though."

Kissinger replies: "We didn't do it. I mean we helped them." The transcript then says, with a long dash that seems to indicate that a word or words were deleted, "- created the conditions as great as possible."
At the time, there were a good number among my colleagues on the left who insisted that the US actually ordered the Chilean army to overthrow and murder Allende, who the White House visibly hated as the summation of all their fears: He was not only a Marxist who believed the welfare of the poor of Chile was more important than that of Kennicott Copper, he was a democratically-elected Marxist, something they maintained was impossible.

I demurred, insisting that there was no need for the US to order the generals to carry out a coup; they were quite willing to do that on their own. The only thing they needed from us was a wink-and-a-nod assurance that we would not oppose such a move. So we set out to create the conditions that would make a coup more likely: We sought to undermine the economy of Chile by halting economic assistance and cutting off its access to international credit while simultaneously strengthening the hand of the army by tripling military aid. Then we could stand with our backs to Chile, whistling an idle tune, rocking back and forth on our heels, until we could turn back around and with a gasp say "Oh-my! Look-at-what-has-happened! A-coup! Oh-my!"

It seems to me that the references above to "our hand doesn't show," "we helped them," and, significantly, "created the conditions" strongly hint that my analysis was spot on. After 31 years, vindication!

Okay, it's an ego thing....

Can't win for losing

Okay, as long as I'm bashing left analyses, let's go one more. Mother Jones' "Daily MoJo" for May 28 had this to say about the truce in Najaf:
The rebel Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr - whose Mahdi Army has been battling U.S. troops for almost two months - may come out the winner in a deal reached by Shiite religious and political leaders by which U.S. and Sadr's troops will pull out of the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Kufa.
Billmon at The Whiskey Bar chimes in, saying
[a]ll that's been achieved by the past month of fighting in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala has been to further trash America's reputation in the Arab world (on the Shi'a side, this time) and to make Sadr the second-most respected leader in Iraq, according to the coalition's own pollster.
Meanwhile, The Independent (UK) for May 28 calls the deal an "embarrassing capitulation" by the US, saying that Sadr "appeared to have got the most out of yesterday's deal."

This "Sadr is winning/Sadr has won/Sadr is the winner" meme (to which Hesiod was another contributor) has gotten to be annoying not only because of the irritation of repetition, like getting repeatedly poked in the same spot, but because it is so out of synch with what I think has really happened. In fact, Sadr hasn't "won" anything. What he's done is survived. Now, I suppose that may be victory enough for someone still theoretically facing murder charges, but that's not what the meme means. It means that because of the agreement, under which he remains free and his Madhi Army is not disbanded, he's now a player, he's "beaten" the US, at least politically, and has become a force to be reckoned with.

But claiming he's the "winner" based on that, on looking just at the last couple of days, is, if I can use a lefty buzzword, ahistorical. That is, it ignores context and background and thereby creates a false picture. Sadr did not suddenly appear out of nowhere in April and measuring his status now requires a comparison with that he held before the confrontation started, not with that of three or four days ago.

I first mentioned the "hardline ayatollah Moqtada al-Sadr" on January 22, when I noted he was credited with turning out the thousands of Iraqis who were demonstrating for immediate elections, adding that he and Ali al-Sistani were rivals, indeed
some have suggested that Sistani's stiffening insistence on immediate elections was driven in part by a fear that he was losing influence to Sadr.
And on March 26, I called him "an extremely powerful voice."

This is not to puff my own knowledge; I am by no means any kind of expert on Iraq's internal politics. Indeed, that makes the point even more strongly: If I, no more than an interested observer, was aware of Sadr and his degree of influence, shouldn't the voices now treating him as some new factor have known as well?

If anything, Sadr's influence has declined over recent weeks. The poll to which Billmon refers was done in mid-April, shortly after the confrontation began, when Sadr was at the peak of his popularity as a symbol of resistance to heavy-handed US rule. But earlier this month, on May 6, I described the increasing chorus of criticism of Sadr from other religious leaders in Iraq, pointedly referring to the fact that they acknowledged that they had refrained from speaking out until it was clear public Shiite opinion had turned against him. I also referred to the reports showing that opposition within Karbala and Najaf to the presence of the Madhi Army was becoming open.

Sadr was, I argued, becoming isolated both physically and politically, and had perhaps realized he had "overplayed his hand, perhaps severely." I went on to say that "perhaps taking advantage of [the] opening" provided by the criticism, US military forces moved to the outskirts of Najaf. That proved prescient, as the military soon began moving into the city itself. On May 27, the New York Times agreed that the clerics had
sent a series of signals that many interpreted as a green light for the Americans to move into Karbala and the other holy city, Najaf.
Indeed, the ceasefire itself did not come as a result of Sadr's pressure on the US, but of those other clerics. The New York Times says that
[a]ccording to two Iraqi Shiite leaders, American officials signed onto the agreement with Mr. Sadr after they received a forceful note from Ayatollah Sistani and other senior clerics, passed to them by Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie.

"The religious leadership passed a strong warning to the Americans yesterday to end the stand-off in Najaf peacefully," said Hamed Khafaf, an aide to Ayatollah Sistani.

Had the Americans refused, Mr. Khafaf said, the ayatollah, convinced that the presence of American forces so near the Imam Ali Shrine was unsustainable, "would not stay silent."
Even the Mother Jones piece acknowledges that Sadr's truce/withdrawal proposal was not based on the strength of his position.
While Sadr claimed that the truce stemmed from his desire to prevent further damage from holy sites ... [his] decision stemmed from more earthy considerations. For one, Sadr's forces have sustained heavy casualties and one of his key commanders - also his brother-in-law - has been captured this week. The damage to religious sites has undercut Sadr's own authority, since it is widely understood that the actions of his militias made holy sites military targets. Morale among many of his fighters is dwindling after the mounting casualties and the disruption of trade and services in Najaf.
In short, being ground down militarily, hundreds of his fighters dead, the rest increasingly demoralized, the mass uprising he called for never having materialized, his influence waning, the target of increasing criticism from the religious leadership (Sistani's deputy, Mohammed al-Mehri, went so far as to blame the Sadr militia for the assault on the holy shrine of Imam Ali - Iraqi Press Monitor, May 26.), and facing open opposition within Najaf itself, Sadr simply cut the best deal he could under the circumstances, one in which he made a significant, little-noted concession: allowing for the presence of US military forces in Najaf, "protecting their headquarters and the governorate building" and running security patrols though the city center, until such time as Iraqi police can take over. Previously, Sadr had declared the city red-lined to American forces. And he wouldn't even have gotten what he did if it wasn't for the intercession of Sistani.

Meanwhile, letting his "army" stay "intact," which has been presented as a major concession to Sadr, actually means nothing at all.
"In Iraq many people have guns, every family has a gun, and these people are simply armed Shias from urban areas," Joost Hiltermann, director of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank based in Amman which has been studying the militias, told BBC News Online [on May 27].

"As they aren't a real army there is nothing to disband. What they are likely to do is just melt away, they will go back to their homes and their jobs and just keep their guns with them," he added.
Frankly, if all this adds up to Sadr being the winner, then to paraphrase Arthur Dent, this must be some new meaning of "winning" with which I'm unfamiliar.

Footnote: Just for the heck of it, I think it might be interesting to compare what has developed with what I wrote back on April 8:
I expect that the fighting will die down, perhaps with some face-saving agreement about releasing people seized "now that the situation is stabilized" and a vaguely-worded guarantee to Sadr about there being "no plans to take him into custody at the present time." For his part, I think that Sadr is going to realize that in the absence of that non-occurring general uprising, his people are going to be ground down - slowly, perhaps, but still ground down - by the sheer mass of the overwhelming numbers and firepower they face. I see him announcing an end to the fighting in a way that doesn't constitute any sort of surrender, perhaps something along the lines of "we have bloodied the enemy's nose, let us give him a chance to consider his error," at which point his militia melts back into the general population.
Okay, certainly not 100% accurate and things went on longer than I expected, but close enough to what's come out - the assurance that Sadr's case will be dealt with at some vague point in the future, the grinding down, the no-surrender end, the moving of the Mahdi Army back into the general population - to be no embarrassment.

How about others make the same sort of then/now comparison?

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Now, if you want be a little conspiratorial, try this

I remember the scene clearly, but unfortunately, I can't really date it. I think it was in the '80s, during the Reagan administration, and the US was undertaking some military exercises in the Persian Gulf. It was considered a bad idea because the area was tense and the maneuvers provocative, but the acolytes of the certifiable Lyndon LaRouche went well beyond that: They claimed that the deployment was part of a plan to initiate a nuclear war, in fact to launch a first strike.

(N.B.: The info on the link is more than fair to him, even favorable, in that it takes him seriously, but it was the least partisan one I could find.)

When the war didn't happen, the LaRouche people declared that the reason it didn't was because they had revealed the plot before it could be executed! Since they were talking about an intent to produce a worldwide nuclear holocaust, you might think they would feel some need to explain why people knowing about it two or three days in advance would be a deterrent, but alas, that was left for the rest of us to figure out.

It's in that light that I offer the following.

You are aware, of course, that
Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a news conference that intelligence reports and public statements by people associated with Al Qaeda suggested that the terrorist group was "almost ready to attack the United States" and harbored a "specific intention to hit the United States hard."
You are likely also aware that others have cast doubts on both the timing and the necessity of the warning, noting that there was no new information, the people named had been named before, and there wasn't even a change in the "terrorist threat advisory" level. Even Asscraft was reduced to saying "We believe the public, like all of us, needs a reminder" as an excuse for the hyperventilating pronouncements.

However, what you may not have noticed is this:
Panama City, Panama (AP, May 27) - Global intelligence and police agencies are on a worldwide hunt for terrorists with ties to places as disparate as Boston, Islamabad, and Panama City, part of a U.S. scramble to head off what officials fear could be a massive attack this summer.
So if there's an attack, they can say "we told you so" and if there's no attack, they can say "it was because our massive effort protected you." A win-win for the WHS*, yes?

Footnote: It turns out that Burnedland couldn't even do melodrama right, according to MSNBC for May 28.
In warning Americans to brace for a possible attack, Ashcroft cited what he called "credible intelligence from multiple sources," saying that “just after New Year's, al-Qaida announced openly that preparations for an attack on the United States were 70 percent complete.… After the March 11 attack in Madrid, Spain, an al-Qaida spokesman announced that 90 percent of the arrangements for an attack in the United States were complete."

But terrorism experts tell NBC News there's no evidence a credible al-Qaida spokesman ever said that, and the claims actually were made by a largely discredited group, Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, known for putting propaganda on the Internet. ...

The group has claimed responsibility for the power blackout in the Northeast last year, a power outage in London and the Madrid bombing. None of the claims was found to be credible.

"The only thing they haven't claimed credit for recently is the cicada invasion of Washington," said expert Roger Cressey, former chief of staff of the critical infrastructure protection board at the White House and now an analyst for NBC News.
I'd already mentioned al-Masri in connection to the Madrid attacks, noting then the assessment that the group might be "little more than one person with a computer trying to take credit for events." I'd suspect some chickenhawk attempt at real deviousness here, but then again, these are the same crack minds that apparently really bought Ahmed Chalabi's Just So Stories ("How the Saddam Got His WMDs"), so I'm not really sure.

Thanks to David Neiwert, noble proprietor at Orcinus for the tip.

*White House Sociopaths


What is a pyramid?

Seems Like Ancient Times for $2000

Scholars assign the writing of the Book of Leviticus to "P," which stands for these religious officials.


Area 51 calling

You know, it's not as if we don't have enough provable conspiracies, inanities, and cruelties to choose from. I don't see why we have to go looking for bogus ones. We know about the in-fighting, the deceptions, the double-talk, deceit, and disinformation, the CYA about WMD, leading up to the Iraq War. We know about the deliberate attempts to connect Saddam Hussein falsely to 9/11. We know about the torture of prisoners and that the White House was specifically warned about "abuses" at Abu Ghraib months before anything was done (and then done only because of a gutsy whistleblower); and we know that the methods used had to be approved at a Cabinet level (i.e., by Donald Rumsfeld). We know about the curtailment, confinement, and criminalization of dissent at home, about the increasing practice of "arrest first and investigate later." We know about the deaths, the murders, the bombings, the blood on our hands.

So why are we wasting our energy on fantasies?

First, there was Nick Berg, his murder drowning in "unanswered questions" and "contradictions" and OHMIGOD!! "facts" that are usually the currency of choice of the black-helicopter crowd. Now, there are indeed questions and confusions about his arrest by Iraqi? US? is there really a difference? forces with a string of officials going "not I" and referring inquiries to someone else. (My own suspicion, as I've said before, is that he was in some legalistic, technical sense in the custody of the Iraqis but at the behest of the US, giving each a way to say that they weren't the ones holding him.)

But the fact is, as I mentioned the other day, he was released, after which he not only contacted his family, he was seen by two friends and the staff of the hotel where he was staying. His arrest and his subsequent kidnapping were two separate events - but you'd be hard put to find a conspiracy claim that doesn't conflate them.

I simply have no time for that kind of nonsense.

But now there's a new one: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

In discussing the Berg conspiracists, I noted that one outfit called Zarqawi "a flimsy propaganda creation" who only came to light in January, 2004. I figured that reflected simple (but rather large-scale) ignorance of the issue, but apparently they're not the only ones casting a wary eye in his direction.

Hesiod, the person behind Counterspin, had this to say on Thursday:
Anyone notice who's missing from the United States' "Most Wanted Terrorist" list?

This is another piece of a puzzle that indicates to me that Zarqawi is in fact an American agent.

He's being pumped up as part of a disinformation campaign by the CIA in order to gather intelligence against terrorist operations. He's got to be given credibility in the eyes of terrorists, so he's credited with all sorts of evil deeds.

That would explain his "letter" to Bin Laden offering an alliance, and complaining about how successful the U.S. was in Iraq.

It would explain why his terrorist camp wasn't bombed before the Iraq war.

It would explain why his name was grafted onto the Nick Berg video, and why other people unaffiliated with Al Qaeda were arrested for the crime. (How did they even know who these people were?)

It explains why, despite his being terrorist bogeyman number one right now, he's not listed on the most wanted list. And it cannot be because he's dead. They still list Mohammed Atef, even though he was supposedly killed in Afghanistan.

I may be crazy, but this smells.
Oh my. Have we really come this far? This is the caption on the web page to which Hesiod links; it's a list of the FBI's "most wanted terrorists."
The alleged terrorists on this list have been indicted by sitting Federal Grand Juries in various jurisdictions in the United States for the crimes reflected on their wanted posters. Evidence was gathered and presented to the Grand Juries, which led to their being charged. The indictments currently listed on the posters allow them to be arrested and brought to justice. Future indictments may be handed down as various investigations proceed in connection to other terrorist incidents, for example, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

It is also important to note that these individuals will remain wanted in connection with their alleged crimes until such time as the charges are dropped or when credible physical evidence is obtained, which proves with 100% accuracy, that they are deceased.
Note first that it says those on the list have been indicted in the US, which Zarqawi, as far as I'm aware, has not. So there'd be no reason for him to be on the list. And it says that the name would only come off when they are absolutely sure the person is dead, which lets out the "supposedly" dead Atef. When the very evidence you cite flatly contradicts you, you've got a pretty damn weak case.

But just for the sake of completeness, let's glance at the rest of the arguments.

The letter to bin Laden: At the time, many among us, including Hesiod, suspected that it was a forgery (although, in fairness, he was less certain than some). He even linked to my analysis that expressed my own doubts about it. (Full disclosure: At the time, I concluded it was probably genuine but deliberately over the top in its descriptions of US successes, the better to argue for assistance.) Yet now it would have to be genuine for the argument to have any validity at all.

The terrorist camp: Another metamorphosis. It was widely noted that once journalists got to this supposed "camp" they could see that there really wasn't much of anything there. And since it was in Kurdish-controlled territory, bombing it could have angered people whose assistance we were counting on in the invasion.

The video: "Grafted on?" What the hell does that mean? Is he saying the video has been altered? That it's a fake? Are we back to that?

Other people arrested: There were four people arrested, two of who were quickly released. They are supposedly former members of Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen paramilitary - but
Iraqi sources would not say whether any of the four suspects in custody were among [those in the video], or whether the detainees were linked to the case in another way.
How that says anything at all about Zarqawi one way or another is quite beyond me.

People unaffiliated with Al Qaeda: Zarqawi is unaffiliated with al-Qaeda! He associates with bin Laden, sometimes has worked with bin Laden, but he's an independent agent who heads his own organization! Why is that so hard for us to get into our heads?

And all of this is supposed to show somehow that Zarqawi is a US agent. Hello? Do we think that terrorists operating now in Iraq have no contact with each other? That they would not very quickly smell a very big rat when all kinds of operations are connected to this Zarqawi fella which they know from their own sources were done by someone else?

I also can't help but note another aspect that always seems to arise with these kinds of speculations: the need for US spy agencies to be either Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Clouseau, either as devious as Machiavelli or as dumb as Ogrons, and to shift smoothly and instantly from one to the other, to whichever is required at any given moment for the conspiracy notions to hold up. In this case, we are to accept that the US set up someone as Zarqawi, in effect created a terrorist profile for him, had him in the field for years, tried to build his importance with a bunch of phony attributions of evil deeds (even though attention is the last thing any good spy would want to draw to themselves) - and then were so stupid as to leave him off a "most wanted" list.

This just won't fly. I admire Hesiod, read Counterspin regularly (I'm sure you've noticed it on my shortlist of links), but this is taking a running jump off the deep end. And I have no time for this kind of nonsense, either. Although I might later offer, at greater length than I did in discussing Nick Berg, some thoughts as to why we seem so intent on manufacturing deviousness when the real deviousness should be more than enough to keep us busy. We'll see.

Footnote: As relevant here as anywhere, I suppose. It seems the experts feel the same way I did about the blood during Nick Berg's decapitation. For example,
Dr John Simpson, executive director for surgical affairs at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, told Ritt Goldstein of the Asia Times, "I would have thought that all the people in the vicinity would have been covered in blood, in a matter of seconds ... if it [the video] was genuine".

Simpson agrees with other experts who find it highly probable that Berg had died before his decapitation.
Some are, bizarrely, trying to use this as evidence the video was faked. It seems to me it just supports the contention that Nick Berg was actually killed sometime during the 11-hour gap between segments of the tape and they were cutting off the head of a dead man.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Trying to return with some cool news, chapter two

According to the Greek newspaper Kathimerini for May 27, a Polish archaeological mission has discovered the first physical evidence of the University of Alexandria in ancient Egypt.

Earlier knowledge of the university came only through historical and literary documents. Now archaeologists have unearthed lecture halls used during the later years of the institution, which survived into the 7th century.

The destruction of the university's world-famous library is considered one of the great intellectual tragedies of history, with many ancient works lost permanently, their existence now known only through references to them (and sometimes only to their titles) in other volumes.

Trying to return with some cool news, chapter one

"Oh, my goodness, it knocked our socks off."

That was the reaction of University of Wisconsin astronomer Ed Churchwell to a trio of discoveries made by the Spitzer Space Telescope, an orbital-based infrared NASA telescope launched last summer.

Not only has the telescope shown that protostars (young, developing stars) "are as common as the cicadas in the trees here on the East Coast" but also that the areas around infant stars contain a considerable amount of ice that could produce future oceans on developing planets - and where there is liquid water, there is the possibility of life developing.

To top it off, the device has discovered what is likely the youngest planet ever found, just about 1 million years old. That's about as old compared to the Earth as a 1-day old infant is compared to a 12-year old child.
The object is in the constellation Taurus, 420 light-years away - quite close by astronomy standards. It is believed to be on the inner edge of a planet-forming dusty disk that encircles a 1-million-year-old star.

University of Rochester astronomer Dan Watson said a sharply defined hole in the middle of the disk suggests that a planet created the opening. That gaseous planet would have been formed sometime since the star's formation.
Footnote: Spitzer is the fourth and last of NASA's Great Observatory series of space-based telescopes, which have included optical, x-ray, infrared, and gamma ray-detecting devices. The first of the four is the best known: the Hubble, now 14 years old and in danger of being shut down because of safety concerns for the astronauts who would do the repair work via the space shuttle.

However, on Thursday, a petition signed by 26 present and former astronauts was sent to President Bush in which "we, the real risk-takers," urged that the shuttle mission to Hubble be reinstated.


What is rice?

Seems Like Ancient Times for $1200

Egyptian ruler Snefru had to have a second one of these built after architects messed up the first.

Trying to return with some good news, chapter four

There may be - certainly can be - some difference of opinion as to whether or not this, relating to Oregon's Assisted Suicide Law, is good news, but I think it is. From the New York Times, May 27.
A federal appeals court yesterday upheld the only law in the nation authorizing doctors to help their terminally ill patients commit suicide. The decision, by a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, said the Justice Department did not have the power to punish the doctors involved.

The majority used unusually pointed language to rebuke Attorney General John Ashcroft, saying he had overstepped his authority in trying to block enforcement of the state law, Oregon's Death With Dignity Act.

"The attorney general's unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers," Judge Richard C. Tallman wrote for the majority, "interferes with the democratic debate about physician-assisted suicide and far exceeds the scope of his authority under federal law." ...

"We express no opinion on whether the practice is inconsistent with the public interest or constitutes illegitimate medical care," Judge Tallman wrote. "This case is simply about who gets to decide."

The states do, the court ruled.
The law became effective in 1997; the Times notes that about 30 people a year have taken advantage of it since that time. That's about 0.1% of all deaths, hardly the flood of people ending their lives for transient reasons or on whims, contrary to predictions of opponents, who said it would undermine the respect for life - as if hanging on to the painful, excruciating, wasted-away, hollow-cheeked, gasping end advanced it.

Footnote: Cigarettebuttcroft relied on the Controlled Substances Act, under which doctors can be penalized for prescribing drugs for anything other than legitimate medical purposes. The court found that the law did not apply because it was meant to fight drug abuse, not regulate what constitutes medicine.
Judge J. Clifford Wallace, in a dissenting opinion, said the attorney general had the authority to issue his directive.

"There is simply no textual support for the majority's conclusion that 'the field of drug abuse,' as discussed in the Controlled Substances Act, does not encompass drug-induced, physician-assisted suicide," Judge Wallace wrote.
In other words, the DOJ had the authority to prosecute because the law didn't specifically say it couldn't.

This guy must be wrangling for a Supreme Court nomination in the event of a second Bush term.

Trying to return with some good news, chapter three

On May 19, the Bush administration's attempt to put the hammer to Greenpeace by prosecuting it under a rarely-enforced, 132 year-old law collapsed in complete failure. Judge Adalberto Jordan threw the case out without even the need for Greenpeace to make a defense, ruling that the government had failed to make a case.

The matter arose in February 2002, when Greenpeace volunteers as part of a peaceful protest boarded a cargo ship off the Florida coast that was transporting illegally-harvested mahogany from the Brazilian Amazon. John Ashcan, taking time off from color-coding our civil liberties, ignored those who actually boarded the vessel in favor of charging the entire organization under an 1872 law banning "sailormongering," the practice of having prostitutes board vessels approaching harbor in order to lure sailors off their ships and into brothels. It had previously been invoked exactly twice. The persecution, if successful, could have put the entire organization out of business.
Speaking from the Miami Federal Courthouse, Executive Director John Passacantando said, "America's tradition of free speech won a victory today, but our liberties are still not safe, the Bush administration and its allies seem bent on stifling our tradition of civil protest, a tradition that has made our country stronger throughout our history.

"Greenpeace is grateful to everyone who stood with us, from Al Gore and Julian Bond to the citizens of Miami and people around the world. We will never give up the struggle to protect our forests, our air and oceans, and to build a green and peaceful future."
Greenpeace is not without its problems, common among the so-called "Big Greens," of forgetting its roots, both grass and spiritual, but it still stands as a good example of the power of direct action and retains a valuable role to play. The victory should be celebrated both on civil liberties and environmental grounds.

However, we can't forget that even victories such as these are not unalloyed: Often, the government's purpose is not to win their case (they had to know that was a far-fetched possibility here) but to drain resources and distract attention, to make opposition groups less effective by making them spend their time and energies in legal defenses rather than political battles: a government form of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, suits filed by corporations to intimidate and financially drain opponents). Until there is some form of redress, some variation of a SLAPP-back (the practice of counter-suing corporations when their SLAPPs failed, as they usually did, which has cut back on their use), until the government can be held accountable for its misuse of courts as a means of squelching opposition, this kind of thing will continue.

Trying to return with some good news, chapter two

The Agriculture Department, under pressure from trade groups and some members of Congress, has agreed to drop proposed guidelines that would have allowed produce treated with pesticides and antibiotics to still be labeled "organic," CNN reports on May 28.
[Agriculture Secretary Ann] Veneman's action is "refreshing," said Jim Riddle of Winona, Minn., chairman of the National Organic Standards Board, a 15-member panel that advises the department. Veneman directed department officials to listen to the board; Riddle said the department often has not heeded its recommendations. ...

The executive director of the Organic Trade Association, Katherine DiMatteo, said Veneman's action was "exactly what we wanted." DiMatteo said any future clarifications of the organic standards ought to meet consumer needs.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) applauded the decision, saying that the label "organic" should "mean something." Indeed it should, and there is already more than enough deception from the WHS* going around. What this does indicate, moreover, is that people's desire for food products free of unnecessary chemicals (i.e., pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.) and overuse of medications is a big enough market to support a big enough industry to get the corporate bootlickers in the White House to listen.

*White House Sociopaths

Trying to return with some good news, chapter one

In an unexpected move, a Chilean court has stripped former dictator Augusto Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution, clearing the way for him to be tried for human rights abuses, the BBC reports on May 28.
The BBC's Clinton Porteus in the Chilean capital Santiago says the decision came as a big surprise, provoking gasps - and cheers - in the courtroom.

He adds that a recent lengthy interview given by Gen Pinochet to a US television station might persuade judges that he is not mentally unfit to stand trial,
significant because the claim that he suffers from dementia was used to get previous cases dismissed on medical grounds.
Prosecution lawyer Francisco Bravo said: "This ruling makes the relatives of the victims and the whole Chilean society again trust Chile's justice."
Pinochet's legal troubles started when he was arrested in the UK after Spain requested his extradition on charges of torture. In 2000, however, he was allowed to return to Chile after being adjudged too ill to stand trial. Health reasons have kept him out of the dock since, but his luck may have finally run out.


What is teasing? (Do not accept: ratting)

Hair Care History for $600

Helene Curtis Inc. was the first to market this aerosol product in the 1950s.


What hair spray? (Acceptable: Spray Net)

Hair Care History for $1000

In the twentieth century, cortisone joined coal tar and sulfur as a treatment for this flaking of the skin from the scalp.


What is dandruff

It's a Long Story for $400

A 1968 film based on this Russian novel was released in a shortened six-hour, thirteen-minute version.


What is "War and Peace?"

It's a Long Story for $1200

Dorothy Dunnett's six-volume Lymond Chronicles begin in this UK country in the aftermath of war with England.


What is Scotland?

It's a Long Story for $2000

This "little" Dickens novel of 1857 runs about 900 pages.


What is "Little Dorrit?"

National Heroes

A statue of this Italian national hero of the nineteenth century is in New York City's Washington Square Park.


Who is Giuseppe Garibaldi?

Presidential Pets for $200

In 1989, this springer spaniel made the cover of "Life" magazine along with her new puppies and Barbara Bush.


Who is Millie? (Acceptable: Mildred Kerr)

Presidential Pets for $600

You'll earn a feather for your cap if you know Caroline Kennedy had a pony named this.


What is Macaroni?

Presidential Pets for $1000

Thomas Jefferson's pet grizzly bears were a present from this pair of travelers.


Who are (Meriwether) Lewis and (William) Clark?

Seems Like Ancient Times for $400

In olden Japan, agricultural groups called "be" were mainly busy producing this.

He's baaaack.....

Well, I'm back but not back with it, as you can see. They say travel broadens one, but I don't think broadening your waistline is what was originally intended by the phrase. But eight days on a train, taking in more scenery than you can actually absorb in that time, with surprisingly good food three times a day, will tend to have that beltline effect.

Thanks to all those who came back to see if I had; my return hit rate dropped to almost nothing while I was away, which is kinda to be expected when you tell folks you won't be around, but started to pick up again on Tuesday. So I'm flattered that people were checking and thank you for the attention. (On the other hand, my first-time hit rate went way up for a few days; I suspect it was because of what I wrote about the conspiracy theories surrounding Nick Berg's death, since "nick berg conspiracy" appear to have been the main search keywords by which people found the site. Oh, a sidebar on that, and another serious hit to the tinfoil-hat crowd: It develops that the orange jumpsuit Berg was wearing in the video is not standard issue US military prison clothing. Those jumpsuits have zippered fronts and breast pockets, neither of which Berg's did.)

There've been some things to deal with relating to work and personal life (yes, I do have one) that have kept me from jumping right back in, but no, I haven't disappeared and yes, I'm back safe and sound. Oh, and I'm not quite as derelict as it might seem: We missed a connection and so got back a day later than planned.

Riding through places ranging from cities like Chicago where you are just another single thread in the fabric - in fact, one that could be pulled with no damage to the whole - to small towns in northern Montana where frankly the daily passing of the Amtrak is still something of an event (Did you know that people still go out to wave at trains? How cool is that?), got me to thinking about the places we call home and their variety. I don't mean that in any "this great, big, beautiful land of ours" sense, but in an individual one, the idea that for each of us, there may be a place we feel we belong, a place that's home, not just a residence. John Denver said it in "Rocky Mountain High" when he referred to "coming home to a place he'd never been before." It's a place where we can, resorting to a cliche, set down roots.

It's not a matter of the size or the location, although they are part of it, it's a matter of the feel.

It occurs to me as I write this that this is something I've reflected on to one degree or another for a long time, not always to the same effect. In college, way, way back in the '60s, I wrote something I vaguely remember about a "rootless generation" emerging, consisting of young people who were not committed to a certain place and so were free - and I did present it as a form of freedom, something to be welcomed - to move about when, where, and as they would without being bound by things that were of their immediate environment but not of them. Their home, to put it another way, was inside them rather than around them.

In the years since I've come to wonder if I wasn't actually rationalizing my own sense of rootlessness. Well, not rationalizing, more like making a virtue of necessity. I've usually felt out of place everywhere I've been, like I didn't really fit in. I can come up with all kinds of Psych-101 reasons as to why (okay, I'm more adept than that; Psych-202), but they're really unimportant now. I remember once my first wife and I, while living in New England, visited her relatives at the Jersey shore (where we are both from). As we left one brother's house, she said something about "going home." I was somewhat taken aback, since we had planned to stay a few more days - until I realized she meant the motel. She was so adept at settling in wherever she was that she could refer to the motel where we'd been for three days as "home" without any seeming contradiction. I always envied that about her. Still do, in fact.

By contrast, I once said to her as we were arriving at our house after some errands, feeling unusually philosophical, that she had "no idea what it's like to look at the place where you've lived for seven years and feel like you don't belong there." She said "You're right - I don't." And she didn't. (I actually wrote something rather more personal about this whole feeling which I'm not going to include here; this is quite personal enough, thank you. But since I've gone this far, I'll offer to email it to anyone who wants for who knows what odd reason to see it.)

It may be - warning, more Psych-202 coming - that's part of the reason I like to travel: After all, when you travel it's natural to feel a bit out of place. That feeling of difference, of newness, hell, that's part of the allure.

There was, of course, a political side to these reflections as well, a side that hinted at a shift in perspective from my college days. This was written to a friend in the UK; the letter was dated November 29, 1993.
That, in turn, raises another issue which predates NAFTA (and GATT) but is closely connected to them: loss of community or, rather, the creation of what I call rootless workers. For a few decades now, capital has become more and more mobile, shifting from place to place more by electronic transfers than by the movement of actual bonds, bills, and coins. (You've heard of "virtual reality;" this is like virtual money.) Corporations have become freer than ever to chase around a country or the world, leaping from enterprise to enterprise, even industry to industry, in pursuit of profit. The result has been regional booms and busts as one area competes with others to see who could offer the most to Big Business in a downward spiral of self-flagellation that inevitably left the losers gasping for economic breath - and, often, the "winners" with a temporary if not downright pyrrhic "victory." (Consider Texas, whose "boom towns" of the '70s became the empty husks of the '80s; consider Korea, whose "economic miracle" of the '80s, built on the infusion of transnational capital in search of low-wage labor, is turning sour as corporations move on to the Philippines in search of even lower-wage labor.)

The corporate response to this undeniable reality has been to trumpet "emerging opportunities," "growth regions," and "market expansion." Implicit in all this staged euphoria is the notion that working stiffs, ordinary folks, everyday people, or whatever other folksy label we want to put on the 90% of us left out of the considerations of the powerful, are no different than the parts on a machine: replaceable, disposable, even interchangeable. And that the only way for us to survive in this bold new economic future is to be as mobile as capital - that is, to chase work around the country or the world as rapidly as money chases profit. We dare not attach ourselves to a place, a people, a community, or even a particular sort of work because we may have to abandon it on short notice for the sake of our own and our families’ survival, perpetually chasing behind - always, of course, behind - capital in what gives a new, more sinister meaning to "the rat race."

We have to drink the shallow economic water that runs on the surface of a local economy because if we dare to set down roots and try to drink from a deeper source, we may find the watershed pumped away to feed another, distant, plain, leaving the earth cracked, dry, and barren and ourselves (and the stable communities we hoped to find) to wither. We must, that is, become nomads - no, not even nomads, which implies purposeful ranging over well-known territory, but mere wanderers, emotionally isolated in order to be emotionally insulated against the constant risk and frequent reality of loss. We must be homeless, placeless, rootless.

If that sounds melodramatic it's because it describes not what's fully formed today but the end of a process that has been going for some time and will only be accelerated by NAFTA and GATT, which make the macroeconomics of transnational corporations and not the microeconomics of actual human beings not merely the central (that'd be nothing new) but increasingly the only economic standard of measure. On the other hand, if it sounds melancholic, that's because it is.
The melancholy was less in the sense of not having roots per se than in being unable to have roots - but still there was much more of a sense of importance of "place" than I'd had years before.

The truth is, I think what prompted all this was seeing such a variety of scenes and places in such a short time. (The route was Boston - Chicago - Los Angeles - Portland - Chicago - Boston or, put another way, industrial Northeast/Midwest, Central Plains, Southwest, Pacific Coast, Columbia River Basin, Northern Plains, and back.) In just about every one of them I could find something beautiful or intriguing or interesting or thought-provoking or something that could make that place one worth spending some time in. I could see what might attract people to the place. But I began to wonder if familiarity, if not breeding contempt, at least gives rise to indifference. The beauty of the Rockies, the ruggedness of the coast, the incredible sweeping openness of the plains, these are things that some people experience every day. Do they appreciate what they have? Or is there a point at which it becomes sameness? Do we, ultimately, only see value in the exotic?

I recall taking a cross-country bus trip some years ago. At a stop in Indianapolis, a little shop at the station had a poster in the window advertising its new fountain creation: a Coney Island. Now, growing up on the Jersey shore as I did, Coney Island was a place you never went because it was always noisy, overcrowded with tourists spilling beer and ice cream, and expensive. But, I realized, in Indianapolis it might have seemed an exciting, exotic place. Later, when we crossed the Mississippi, the driver announced the fact over that sort of crackling, hissy PA buses always seemed to have. Passengers were looking out their windows going "oooh!" And I was looking out my window going "oooh!" And a girl from East St. Louis was going "Yeah? So?" The situation was reversed: What to me was notable, to her was everyday, not even worth mentioning to the point where she was surprised anyone else would.

Which brings me to the wrapup of this meandering line of thinking, something that the trip drove home and clarified. I've been trying of late to take more notice of the things around me, the views and vistas that normally we let slip into the background because we're too busy, we're too distracted, they're too familiar, they're just town streets or a little hill, they're not grand or special or exotic. I've been trying, that is, to be more aware of place. Because I think, maybe it's a natural progression, maybe it's a matter of age, maybe it's always been there but is now emerging with force, but I think that I want to belong somewhere. I don't know where that is or even how to look for it, but what the hell, I'm here now so I may as well take a really good look around. After all, if I don't know where it is, it might just possibly be here.

And even if it turns out not to be, I may as well enjoy the scenery.

Monday, May 17, 2004

See you soon!

That's it, I'm outta here. I should be back, perhaps with some stories of the road, next Monday evening, so look for me either Monday evening or Tuesday.

Have a quiet and peaceful week. Keep hope alive!


What is Thursday?

Haircare History for $200

"Provocative" name for the 1960s practice of combing from ends to scalp to create a bouffant.

I'll catch up on the rest of the Jeopardy! answers for the week when I get back from vacation.

Monday morning special

I deliberately held this back a day so I could post it today.

According to the most recent Newsweek poll,
a majority (51%) of adults approve of some form of legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples; 28 percent say they favor full marriage rights, while 23 percent favor civil unions or partnerships but not gay marriage.
An interesting finding was that total support for marriage and civil unions was directly related to age: the younger the age group, the greater the support; among those under 30, it was nearly 2/3. Even so, only among those 65 and older did such support drop below 50%.

The time is coming. Later than we may have wished but sooner than we may have expected.


It's Monday, May 17, 2004. It should always be an occasion for celebration when human rights are expanded.

And the cause for celebration has grown. According to the Christian Science Monitor for May 17,
New York's attorney general has said his state - which has no defense of marriage act (DOMA) prohibiting gay unions - will recognize the Massachusetts licenses.
In addition, the AGs of Connecticut and Rhode Island will decide Monday how to treat the licenses. Perhaps they, too, will recognize them.

Meanwhile, Governor Witless Rommel's demand that country clerks enforce a 1913 law intended to limit interracial marriages as a means of preventing out-of-state same sex couples from getting marriage licenses in Massachusetts is meeting with resistance, in some cases openly so.
Some town and city clerks have said they won't follow Romney's request that they ask for documentation. At least three others have said they won't even require applicants to answer the question regarding residency.
Nice to see that there are still those somewhere in government, even if it is at a county clerk level, who realize that it's justice that trumps law, not the other way around.

Sunday, May 16, 2004


What is a yellowjacket?

German Words

To the Germans, it's Donnerstag, meaning "thunder day."

Pow! Well?

On April 2, Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that claims about Iraqi mobile bioweapons labs he made in his UN Security Council speech were based on information that was not "solid." Now he's gone beyond that.
Washington (Reuters, May 16) - The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was wrong about Iraq's purported pre-war mobile biological weapons laboratories, a key part of the case about suspected weapons of mass destruction, Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Sunday.

"I'm very concerned," he said in reply to a question on the NBC program "Meet the Press" about having used claims in a U.N. Security Council speech now known to have been "inaccurate and discredited."

"It turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and, in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed, and I regret it," he said.
These are the same non-existent mobile labs that The Big Dick Cheney was pointing to as recently as January as "conclusive" evidence of Iraqi WMD programs.

Add to that the fact that Josh Marshall refers to a Baltimore Sun article in which Powell says that
we kept the president informed of the concerns that were raised by the ICRC and other international organizations [about abuse of prisoners] as part of my regular briefings of the president, and advised him that we had to follow these issues, and when we got notes sent to us or reports sent to us ... we had to respond to them, and the president certainly made it clear that that's what he expected us to do.
That directly contradicts the White House line that ICRC reports never made it up to Cabinet level.

It seems to me, frankly, that Powell might be sensing a sinking ship and is trying to edge slowly away without looking disloyal. But with Powell and Rumsfeld now openly contradicting each other, something will have to give.

Forewarned is forearmed

I will be leaving on a week's vacation tomorrow, that is, Monday, morning. No, I don't do mobile blogging.

So don't expect to see any posts after tonight until next Monday night and possibly not until Tuesday.

With any luck at all, when I come back I will be as ignorant of what's going on in the world as the average American. And you know what they say about ignorance.

"Paul is dead"

I mentioned before the conspiracy theories that have, not surprisingly, popped up around the decapitation of Nick Berg, conspiracy theories that suggest that the US was somehow involved or even that it was a CIA job. That came up on a political mailing list I'm on and I responded, leading to a short exchange. Since this was all on the list (not private email), I see no problem with posting it here. Except for the removal of a few passages that do not present arguments related to the issue, I'm printing them in full. (There has been some minor editing to clean up syntax.)

For the sake of clarity in following who said what, other folks' posts (one person did the first one, the other two were by someone else) are blockquoted (i.e., indented) and mine are not. In my posts, where I quote what someone said to reply to it, the quote is italicized.

Original post:
[Another poster] brought up the similarity between the murder of Nick Berg and that of Charles Horman ("Missing" movie) in Chile. I found it interesting, that in both cases, the fathers and sons were on opposing sides regarding our government's involvement. I'm pasting an email from Liberation News.

"One of the clues the FBI and CIA is studying is the large gold ring Zarqawi is wearing on his right hand, giving off a glare several times during the six-minute tape." - NBC News

Yet a male wearing a gold ring is forbidden by Islam. Nick Berg was held as a prisoner by U.S. puppet forces for 14 days immediately before his beheading. Perfect timing for a CIA black-op distraction.
(The attached article said that "the family firm of beheaded American Nick Berg, was named by a conservative website in a list of 'enemies' of the Iraq occupation." Nick's father, Michael, was known to oppose the war and was on the list along with the firm, Prometheus Methods Tower Service. The site in question is, populated by a collection of reactionary nitwit mouth-breathers known as Freepers. The article proposes that the Freepers' enemies list got into the hands of officials in Iraq, who mistook Nick Berg for Michael Berg and so arrested him.

It goes on to suggest that Berg was "cruelly murdered soon after that release, like many others around the world who suffer such a fate at the hands of state-condoned death squads - sometimes just hours after their release from official detention." It also called Musab al-Zarqawi "a flimsy propaganda creation" who "came to our attention in January, 2004" as the supposed author of the quite possibly forged letter to al-Qaeda bewailing the fact that the US was winning in Iraq.)

My reply:

I'm sorry folks, but I think this goes right past cynicism, flies past paranoia, and lands right in lala land.

The arguments remind me of the type I find on websites denying the moon landings ever happened based on supposedly "telling" details and "obvious" mistakes in lighting and shadows that any photographer could have told them were neither.

I've heard about the "too light" hands. The video is not only of low quality, it's horribly over-exposed, which would make everything lighter. (Note, for example, that the head of the man wearing the white hood almost disappears into the background and the highlights on Berg's jumpsuit are completely washed out.) Significantly, the "too light" hands are still darker than Berg's face.

Now we have the "forbidden gold ring." The person who reads the statement and executes Berg does indeed appear to be wearing a ring. How in hell anyone could tell it was gold as opposed to any non-banned material like silver, copper, etc., is beyond me. (Yes, I know that's what was reported. My statement stands.) And in fact, while it's generally agreed that wearing of gold rings is forbidden for men, that belief is not universal; some scholars insist that it is regarded as distasteful but not actually forbidden. One such discussion is here.

The "convenient timing" argument also doesn't impress me unless someone can tell me a time this would not have been useful to the troglodytes. Yes, it could serve to distract from Abu Ghraib and the growing evidence of torture at other sites (although, happily, it hasn't succeeded), but with things going as badly for the Bushites as they have been in Iraq, at what point would this have not served as a means of distraction? An argument about timing that could be applied literally at any time is no argument.

As for why he was picked up, Nick himself told his family that he thought it was because his Jewish name and his Israeli stamp made them suspicious. He was also investigated by the FBI in 2002 after his email account was used by an acquaintance of Zacarias Moussaoui (no connection was found), which could have been what made the FBI suspicious of him in Iraq. I frankly find either of those much more credible than the idea that the Iraqi police are checking out the Freepers' "enemies list."

And I find it hard to credit's analysis when they say "Al-Zarqawi came to our attention in January, 2004." Zarqawi has been around for several years. I first heard of him about two years ago, when he was accused of the assassination of a US diplomat. Prior to that, in 2000, he had been indicted in abstentia in Jordan. In his 2003 speech to the Security Council, Colin Powell cited him in his attempt to link Iraq to al-Qaeda. In the fall of 2003, the UN froze his financial assets. So if he only came to's attention in January, then attention is what they have not been paying.

Finally, I don't want to hear any responses along the lines of "Are you saying the US couldn't do such a thing? Don't you know about...." That's not the issue at hand. The question is not could US intelligence agencies commit murder to further a political cause - I say they could - but did they in this case - and I say they did not.

Second post:
There are other things that make me suspicious, aside from the arguments you listed. The fidgeting of the two men to the far left and far right to me suggests they've never done anything like that before and don't know how to act. That's just my own gut feeling, though and not evidence of anything.

The things that DO seem suspicious to me are these - Nick Berg was at one point examining communications towers in Abu Ghraib (the suburb of Baghdad at least, however we don't know if he was actually in the prison compound.). He e-mailed a friend back in the States about having taken photographs from the towers. Yesterday I got a link to an article from the NYT. In this article there is specific mention of "an important communications antenna stood broken and unrepaired". Right there is a reason for Nick Berg to have been in the compound because that was his line of work.

Next point, so many people have spoken about the orange jumpsuit. If he was released on Apr. 6th, where was he between that day and the day his body was found? He called home on Apr. 9th so at some point he should have been able to change his clothing, and if he was being held by someone, why would they have allowed him to call home if the intent was to horrify Americans as much as possible?

Next, have a good look at the still shots of Nick Berg in the chair as he's shown in the opening scenes of the video, and then go look up the photos taken inside the corridor of Abu Ghraib depicting some of the prisoner abuse. Abu Ghraib Prison was painted when the Occupation forces took it over (most likely to relieve the minds of those being held there that this was not the Hussein Regime, not that it seems to have made much difference.) The point being that would have been military supplied paint and it's not available to just anyone. You cannot buy paint used in military buildings from your local paint shop, it's very specifically produced in massive quantities for the use of the military in its buildings. The walls are the exact same color.

Look for the chair Nick Berg is sitting in. You'll find identical chairs in Abu Ghraib prison photos, including one of the corridor abuse shots (there are two of those, one from each end of the corridor). In the same corridor abuse photo there is what appears to be an orange jumpsuit lying on the floor along with another dark colored garment. Now that in and of itself is nothing since we all know the orange jumpsuits are standard American detainee clothing, but that one and one barely discernible being worn by a prisoner slightly visible inside a cell are the only two of these suits in evidence.

Then there's the fact that the US Government has lied, repeatedly, about having had Nick in custody prior to his death when there are numerous documents and correspondences confirming it. Why?

My theory is not that this was a planned, staged execution by US black ops or whatever. I suspect Berg was killed by accident during interrogation and someone came up with a way to use it to promote sympathy for our actions in Iraq. He seems entirely too calm and lacking in fear through the entirety of the video until he's knocked to the ground. He speaks calmly at the beginning, and while the speaker is reading he sits quietly with no signs of fear for his life or safety. He looks at the camera the whole time and wiggles around a little bit but seems completely unafraid. If he were a Jew in the hands of Muslim Extremists, he ought to be utterly terrified.
And my reply:

I remain quite thoroughly unimpressed. Ultimately, much of this seems to me to be the result of the desire to have the CIA and/or military intelligence be guilty (and thus the assumption that they are) because it makes it easier to oppose US policy if nothing bad can be pinned on its opponents. Sorry, kids, the world ain't that simple.

The fidgeting suggests they've never done anything like that before and don't know how to act.

Maybe they hadn't. But as you yourself note, what does that prove one way or the other? More to the point, their "fidgeting" looked to me like the normal shifting around that someone will do when standing in one position for nearly five minutes while someone else reads a statement. I suggest you video yourself doing the same and see how much you fidget.

there is a reason for Nick Berg to have been in the compound

If true, it would mean what? Besides that, was he contracted to the military to do such work at military sites? Or are we to assume they would hire someone off the street?

the orange jumpsuit

Ah yes, the jumpsuit, the one that supposedly proves he was in US custody when the video was made. In addition to my not buying into the notion that the CIA is that astoundingly inept in making a fake, what makes us think that rebel groups could not get orange jumpsuits? Indeed, what makes us think they would not have done it deliberately in order to link him visually to imprisoned Muslims?

I actually don't understand the timeline questions you raise. Why would you assume a jumpsuit he might have been wearing while held by Iraqis/US was the same one as in the video? He himself said he was released on April 6 in emails to his family. Not good enough, could have been a forced cover? He was seen between then and April 10 both by a Chilean journalist friend and the staff at the hotel where he was staying.

the chair and the paint

For pity's sake, it's a flaming chair. There is nothing unusual or unique about it. As for the paint, I don't see how you can tell anything about it other than in either case it's very roughly - by no means "exactly" - the same color. And why in hell would military-issue paint not have been available to others? Just because it's bought in quantity doesn't mean it's some special formula. "You cannot buy paint used in military buildings from your local paint shop." Perhaps not, but that hardly means that commercial users can't get it.

Second: Was Abu Ghraib repainted with military-issue paint? How do we know? Did the military actually do the job or was it one of the private contractors, who would obtain their own supply of paint, perhaps even locally? Perhaps the paint used was very common locally.

Finally, at least for now, I'll give you one more alternative: Grant everything you say and conclude the video was taken inside a military building. The sound quality of the video makes it clear that it was taken in a large, empty room. Is there such a place at Abu Ghraib? Certainly, some rebels have from time to time captured some outposts, police stations, government buildings, and so on. Can we say with any confidence at all that none of them had large empty rooms that had seen a coat of military-issued paint?

He seems entirely too calm and lacking in fear

Calm, yes; lacking in fear, no. He looked rather like someone trying to stay calm. And our expectation of fear, of terror, is based on the fact that we know what happens next. Unless he spoke Arab fluently, there's no reason to think he knew what was coming.

I say again, the attempt to prove the video was a US intelligence setup strike me as an example of "conclusion first, reasons after." Could US intelligence murder someone one? Yes. Could Zarqawi murder someone? Yes. Given that undeniable premise, Occam's Razor tells me that the video is real.

PS - As for the business of who was holding Berg after his arrest, I think there's a lot of finger-pointing and CYA going on. My suspicion is that, as they've done before, US agencies are hiding behind technicalities (think "we never said 'imminent'") and that while technically he may have been in the custody of the Iraqis, they were just holding him for the US until we said it was okay to let him go. So we can say "he was never in our custody" while still being in effective control.

Third post:
[Y]ou may be reading and responding on the belief that I have some entity in mind to blame for the Berg death. I don't. I won't say it's a US coverup or propaganda maneuver, but I also won't say it is who official reports claim.

Basically my sole premise right now is that facts are not adding up to what the "officials" claim happened. Something just ain't right. What that "something" is is open to speculation but the fact that the whole sordid mess seems fishy is pretty common consensus from all I've seen and heard.

The reason I replied to your post was not so much an effort to convince you the article was accurate but to say "Don't close the door on questions raised.".

The chair...I don't place a lot of emphasis on it really, except for the fact that it can't be sold in retail outlets because it's under a recall order. That suggests to me anyone who bought that specific model had to have done so with Government approval or Government turning it's head to the deal and was done for a purpose OTHER than retail sales.

The CIA and/or MI? Hell I don't know! I just know it doesn't look like what it's professed to be.
And, once more, my reply:

I'll make this my last comment so we don't keep going around on this.

you may be responding on the belief that I have some entity in mind to blame for the Berg death. I don't. I won't say it's a US coverup or propaganda maneuver

Fine - however, since every doubt you raised pointed to US involvement in his death and you said "I suspect Berg was killed by accident during interrogation and someone came up with a way to use it to promote sympathy for our actions in Iraq," it seemed a pretty safe assumption.

facts are not adding up to what the "officials" claim happened

There are two tracks here, one about his arrest and confinement, the other about his kidnapping and murder. For the first part, I agree that something isn't right; he said the Iraqis arrested him but the US held him, the US says the Iraqis held him, and the police chief of Mosul says they never arrested him and doesn't know what it's all about.

The other track is the validity of the video and the question of who killed him. The two tracks are not the same, but many people seem to conflate them, as in fact you did with your timeline question about his arrest, release, and the jumpsuit. I agree there are valid questions about the first track. I have seen nothing that gives me pause about the second.

Don't close the door on questions raised.

The questions have to be of sufficient strength to open the door in the first place. And in my view, they're not. (Remember, I'm talking about the video.)

The can't be sold in retail outlets because it's under a recall order. ... anyone who bought that specific model had to have done so with Government approval or ... turning it's head to the deal and was done for a purpose OTHER than retail sales.

Or a much simpler and more logical explanation that requires no conspiracies: It was obtained before the recall. And for my own knowledge, how did you identify the exact model of chair and how did you know that it's under a recall order? What order, issued by who, when?

it doesn't look like what it's professed to be

I think the video (and, one last time, that's what I'm addressing) looks exactly like what it's professed to be.

Footnote: I have no doubts that the sort of argument I faced here will be picked up on by folks like the Freepers and pushed widely as another example of how lefties are the "blame America first" crowd and therefore being antiwar is to be anti-American. I maintain, as I said above, that the real impulse is not to blame the US but to avoid blaming others. It's not a new thing; I remember the same thing happening during Vietnam, when there were people who would avoid criticizing North Vietnam or the PRG because to do so, they feared, would appear as an endorsement of US policies.

But I don't see it that way at all. Crime does not justify crime, evil does not justify evil. A May 13 editorial in "Baghdad," the daily newspaper of the Iraqi National Accord (quoted by the Iraqi Press Monitor for May 14) says
"Abu Ghraib no justification for killing the American hostage"

The abuses in Abu Ghraib prison have served the interests of terrorists. Two days ago, an American was killed under the pretext of revenge for prisoners. Thus, what we expected came true: namely, that the wave of violence might open endlessly in spite of reassurances made by the American president and other officials that such abuses would not be repeated. To avoid the wave of hatred, we think all prisoners who were not convicted must be released, especially given news reports that say 60 percent of them were arrested by mistake. Besides, Iraqis' participation in supervising prisons is a prerequisite. As to the hurry in trying those responsible for abuses, it is indisputable. As we condemned abusing Iraqi prisoners, so do we condemn killing the American hostage.
Abu Ghraib does not justify the murder of Nick Berg. The murder of Nick Berg does not justify Abu Ghraib.

It just ain't that difficult to grasp, people.
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