Friday, March 11, 2005

Cutting Through the Bullshit

Jerry Fresia, writing in Counterpunch, gives anyone willing to look a wake-up call in the matter of journalist Guiliana Sgrena and slain officer Nicola Calipari:

The top U.S. general in Iraq, Army gen. George Casey, has stated that the US had no indication that Italian officials gave advance notice of the route of the vehicle...As a former Air Force intelligence officer, I would argue that this statement is absolutely ludicrous. Based upon intelligence collection capabilities of even 3 decades ago, it is reasonable to assume that the US intercepted all phone communication between Italian agents in Iraq and Rome, monitored such traffic in real time and knew precisely where Sgrena's vehicle was at all times, without advanced notice being provided by Italian officials...

One can only assume that the intelligence capability of the US during the past 28 years has improved significantly. Thus, the wrong questions are being asked. It is reasonable to assume that 1) satellite and aircraft intelligence (photographic and electronic) intelligence was being collected in real time and 2) that my contemporary counterpart in Iraq was monitoring this intelligence and vehicular traffic (and possibly the conversations within such vehicles) within a radius of several kilometers around the airport if not the entire city. Anomalies would be reported immediately to those in command. The question, then, becomes what communication occurred between those in command and those who fired upon Sgrena's vehicle.

I also believe that a clear motivation for preventing Sgrena from telling her story is quite evident. Let us recall that the first target in the second attack upon the city of Fallujah was al-Fallujah General Hospital. Why? It was the reporting of enormous civilian casualties from this hospital that compelled the US to halt its attack. In other words, the control of information from Fallujah as to consequences of the US assault, particularly with regard to civilians, became a critical element in the military operation.

Now, in a report by Iraq's health ministry we are learning that the US used mustard, nerve gas and napalm--in the manner of Saddam--against the civilian population of Fallujah. Sgrena, herself, has provided photographic evidence of the use of cluster bombs and the wounding of children there. I have searched in vain to find these reports in any major corporate media. The American population, for the most part, is ignorant of what its military is doing in their name and must remain so in order for the US to wage its war against the Iraqi people.

Information, based upon intelligence or the reporting of brave journalists, may be the most important weapon in the war in Iraq. From this point of view, the vehicle in which Nicola and Giuliana were riding wasn't simply a vehicle carrying a hostage to freedom. It is quite reasonable to assume, given the immorality of war and of this war in particular, that it was considered a military target.

It's good to see SOMEONE offering a sober assessment--yes, admittedly with conjecture, but conjecture based on experience and solid hypothesis (i.e., does ANYONE who isn't a lunatic think our intelligence capabilities, particularly regarding the monitoring of electronic communication, somehow managed to DEGRADE over time? C'mon). However, if Sgrena DOES have something, the sooner it gets out, the better, as the public has already shown a remarkable capacity for ignoring abuse and torture of prisoners, other reports of cluster bombs in populated areas, the checkpoint insanity (thanks to YRHT--again--for the link), etc. etc. and so on. If there's evidence the US HAS used chemical weapons, it certainly would be yet another black mark in this horrible war, although at this point I seriously wonder if the US public would blink an eye if Bush went even nuttier and started using atomic weapons. I'm not saying Bush WOULD do that--even he's not quite that insane, and the international ramifications would be devastating for us--but, if somehow the decison could be made in a vacuum (hey, like inside Dubya's head), I'm afraid that the number of folks who just don't care is...well, large enough to elect the guy we've got.

OK, it's Friday--and the thought above just got me a little worried. Time for some liquid relaxation.
Justice Delayed

I was reading a link from Timshel about Bush's Shreveport Hay Ride, when I noticed this story at the bottom of the page:

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Michael Williams insisted he was innocent when he was convicted of rape, then locked up in Louisiana's top security prison in 1981. He was a skinny 16-year-old.

He was released on Friday, 24 years later, after DNA evidence proved him right: He had nothing to do with the rape of the woman who identified him in court as her attacker. Now 40, he left the state penitentiary at Angola for his first day of freedom as an adult.

"I would like to thank God," Williams said at a Baton Rouge news conference after his release.

On his release, the state gave him a check for $10.

Williams is the eighth Louisiana prisoner freed because of DNA testing in the past two years. The last was Ryan Matthews, 24, who was released from death row last August after DNA cleared him of a 1997 murder.

Here's hoping the state will be a tad more generous in the not-too-distant future (IIRC, Williams can appeal to the legislature for a special bill to be written for compensation). As the article makes clear, the young man was subjected to harrowing assaults while in Angola--essentially torture, albeit not specifically at the hands of guards. No, instead, they looked the other way while inmates did the dirty work.

Having gone and watched The Exonerated last weekend, and having seen Burden of Innocence more than once, I'll note for the record that while it's damn good the wrong man is no longer in jail, Mr. Williams's is now proven to be the victim of a crime, too--a crime that lasted 24 years.

The article doesn't mention whether the DNA that exonerated him implicated someone else. Hopefully, the real criminal will be found, tried, and judged guilty. And hopefully Williams will manage to overcome the terrible injustice done to him.
Intellectual Honesty

OK, today I don't have the "Goddamned BLAW-grrr" excuse (update: so much for that--Blogger is acting like hell AGAIN), but I DID manage to knock out a few things at work that had me spinning a death spiral over the last few days--for those who don't mind a little techno-babble, my problem centered around changes to a switch in our setup room. Would've been nice if someone had mentioned this to me, because I thought the issue was old network card drivers on our boot disks. The good news is that our boot disks now have up-to-date drivers (this after loading everything from old, old legacy files to the latest and greatest, without success), AND the new switch, which was actually causing the trouble, will soon be assigned to surplus...

My own preference for the new piece of shit switch involved ritual destruction with a sledge hammer, but I'll accept a working setup room...

Onto other, more interesting topics, though. Last night I noticed Your Right Hand Thief nominating this from Crooked Timber as Post of the Year--well, that certainly caught my attention, although I'd been previously distracted by a bottle of wine that found its way into my living room. So...I took another, more sober look this afternoon, making sure to follow Oyster's instructions--read the post, read the links, read the post again--and while I'll hold on for just a bit before seconding it--after all, there are nine and a half more months of 2005--but, yeah, it's pretty good.

This, though, really caught my eye--a longish essay by Timothy Burke entitled At the Checkpoint. I'll reprint some of what Oyster thought worth mentioning, plus a bit more (although the post itself is highly instructive for anyone with time to read the whole thing).

The beginning of the essay is, to be honest, disappointing: Burke comes across as either a typical librul, ready to concede a mile before being asked for an inch, or a closet reactionary, expressing some admiration for David Brooks AND Paul Wolfowitz...but I bit my lip, until I came across this:

The criticism of Wolfowitz has always come from much more powerfully serious thinkers and activists who question the generality of his theories and models and the specificity of his understanding of the region he’s experimenting with. The defenders of the war in Iraq, and Wolfowitz in specific, usually refuse to engage with this criticism at all. If they do, they’ll gloss it, carelessly, as amoral “realism”...

What’s at stake here is both an abstract theory but also a quite empirical argument about how and when liberal democracy has taken hold in the world, and what actually defines “liberal democracy”. What's at stake here is also a principled argument about the conditionalities and realities of interventionism, one that asks in all seriousness that the pro-interventionists explain how they know which injustices require the immense cost and suffering of an intervention and which do not. Here it’s not just that Wolfowitz’ theory is up against a very strongly detailed, intellectually meticulous, and wide-ranging opposition, but also that Wolfowitz and his defenders are prone to a kind of horribly sloppy, contemptibly instrumental tendency to grab at any shred of evidence supporting their theories and complete ignore anything else...

Well, yes. That's putting it a hell of a lot more diplomatically--well, and intellectually--than I have lately, but it's no less troubling. I've noted, as recently as this week, that I find it interesting (not in a good way) that pro-war folks show a remarkable lack of sympathy or even concern with the people they're liberating (which Burke gets to as well). They're mere pawns, disposable, with no more regard from the pro-war folks than this week's garbage.

Burke devotes a couple of paragraphs, again describing better than I'm able, to Lebanon, and, by extension, the various faux concerns mouthed by the neo-con crowd about the "necessity for democracy," which is boiled down to a plebescite, with virtually zero concern for who's actually running. In that context (and in disagreement with the author), the Iraqi "election" makes perfect sense--if the only thing that matters is an "X" on a ballot, who actually cares about the candidate? (Of course, one TINY problem with that underscores a valid criticism of the neo-con movement, namely, that there's an underlying authoritarian streak to it).

Then, as Oyster noted, you get to the paragraphs that (to paraphrase A.J. Liebling) if Burke's essay was a concerto, would be the part where the soloist begins playing the loud, banging notes that signal even to the casual listener that the end is near:

This week’s news about the shooting of an Italian intelligence agent at a US-manned barricade is a good example. For months now, both Iraqis and observers have been talking about a pattern of reckless military aggression at checkpoints. They have often been met with overwrought, hysteric condemnation from pro-war pundits and bloggers, with accusations that showing concern over such incidents is just a tactic in a conspiratorial attempt to weaken the war effort...Sorry, but that’s got it exactly opposite. If the war really is following the most generously constructed version of the neocon argument, it is absolutely crucial to treat every Iraqi citizen with the same presumptive respect as the US Constitution instructs the US government to treat its own citizens...

If there is anyone who ought to be deeply, gravely concerned about unwarranted shootings at checkpoints, accidental deaths of civilians, torture in US prisons, killings of surrendered prisoners, it’s the advocates of the war, at least the ones who believe in the Wolfowitz vision as it is represented by Brooks, Hitchens and others. They ought to be concerned for very functional reasons, because failures of these kinds are effectively losses on the battlefield...They ought to be concerned also for philosophical reasons, the same way I would be concerned if the police started busting down the doors in my own neighborhood for what seemed flimsy reasons and then hauling away some of my neighbors without any real due process.

Wolfowitz and his defenders want to convince us that humanity is united by its universal thirst for liberal democratic freedoms, well then, how can they possibly fail to react to injustice or error in Iraq with anything less than the grave and persistent concern they might exhibit in a domestic US context? Where’s the genuine regret, the mourning, the persistent and authentic sympathy? I don’t mean some bullshit one-liner you toss off before moving on to slam Michael Moore again for three or four paragraphs, I mean the kind of consistent attention and depth of compassion that signals that you take the humanity and more signally the rights of Iraqis as seriously as you take the humanity of your neighbors. Only when you’ve got that concern credibly in place, as a fundamental part of your political and moral vision, do you get to mournfully accept that some innocents must die in the struggle to achieve freedom.

The Wolfowitzian defenders of the war want to skip Go and collect $200.00 on this one, go straight to the day two centuries hence when the innocent dead recede safely into the bloody haze of anonymous tragedy. Sorry, but this is not on offer, least of all for them. If they can’t find the time, emotion and intellectual rigor to be as consumed by the case of a blameless mother and father turned into gore and sprayed on their children as they are by what Sean Penn had to say about the war last week, then their entire argument about the war is nothing more than the high-minded veneer of a more bestial and reasonless fury. If Brooks or anyone else wants to rise to toast Paul Wolfowitz, then they’ll have to live up to the vision they attribute to him, and meet the real problems and failures of that vision honestly and seriously.


Madrid looks back one year ago and remembers the victims of the bombings in Madrid. More here, including a report that Muslim clerics have issued a fatwa against Osama bin Laden:

Asked if the edict meant Muslims had to help police try to arrest the world's most wanted man -- who is believed to be hiding along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan -- [Mansur] Escudero said: "We don't get involved in police affairs but we do feel that all Muslims are obliged to ... keep anyone from doing unjustified damage to other people."

I hope those who crow about how "The United States hasn't been attacked" since 9/11 remember that that doesn't mean there haven't BEEN attacks. Like it or not, Spain, France, Germany, etc., i.e., countries the war crowd barks and brays about, are STILL our allies--allies which we need and could learn from.

¡Recuerde Madrid!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Top Foxes Report: Henhouse Raids WEREN'T Condoned

Knight-Ritter provides the details:

A Pentagon report Thursday cleared top civilian and military officials in the abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, but its conclusion drew a critical response from some senators who questioned the report's scope and objectivity...

By declining to blame top military leaders for the abuses, Church implicitly held individual soldiers, some of whom have been charged or already convicted of criminal offenses, as responsible for their actions in abusing the detainees...

Church told the Senate Armed Services Committee that his mandate was not to assign blame, but rather Rumsfeld told him to determine how abusive interrogation techniques were adopted and then migrated among several areas of U.S. military operations.

"There was no policy, written or otherwise, at any level that directed or condoned torture or abuse," Church said. "There was no link between the authorized interrogation techniques, and the abuses that, in fact, occurred."

While Church found no deliberate attempts to order the abuse of prisoners, his report found two "missed opportunities," in which commanders could have issued clearer guidance to subordinates who had contact with prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the committee, told Church that his review joins other Pentagon inquiries that have failed to address the possibility that high-ranking officers and politically appointed civilians, such as Rumsfeld, are culpable in the abuse scandal.

"There's been no assessment of accountability of any senior officials," Levin said, "either within or outside of the Department of Defense, for policies that may have contributed to abuses of prisoners."

The Pentagon released a 21-page summary of Church's conclusions, but the full 378-page report has been classified and will not be made public.

Deniability is alive and well.


Maybe Blogger has finally calmed to the point where I can note this interesting one line statement from Alicublog--he links to Ann Althouse, who lives in my temp location during the 90's-- Madison--I dunno, maybe she and Matt Lavine have crossed paths.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that Wisconsin, land of butter, lakes, cheese, liberal "disneyland" Madison, um Joe McCarthy, Tommy Thompson, and sadistically long winters (notice the downward spiral there)--anyway, some Wisconsinites are trying to take steps to eventually declare cats an "unprotected species," like weasels, skunks, and opossums. Meaning--open season on cats.

Now, the provision will have to pass at spring hearings in all 72 Wiconsin counties of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress--and then would have to be placed before the State legislature. And the proposal would apply only to "feral cats," that is, animals that have no identifying tags and are roaming about.

Still--as the proud owner of a not-entirely-small-and-collarless feline (I tried--it was the most miserable half-hour of his life under my care), I don't like the idea. And the article above suggests that a different approach to feline control--so-called "catch, neuter, and release"--is more effective at reducing feral cat populations (which admittedly kill native bird species on a large enough scale to make reduction a worth goal). And the potential for offing Tigger--or Guy Noir (my sister's cat, who survived a bullet wound a few years ago, probably shot by some moron who wanted to prove how "tough" he was by firing a .22 at a ten pound animal)--is large enough.

Besides, as Althouse notes (via link), it could come to this (one hell of a Friday cat-blog, if you ask me).
John Bolton, in 50 Words or Less

The Rude Pundit's description:

But we can make some pretty solid conlusions about John Bolton: For most of his career, he's been a nationalistic liar with shitty judgment. A motherfucker. A nasty little plague-flea-infested gutter rat that thinks he's got the sharpest teeth in the sewer. That's why he fits in perfectly with the Bush adminstration, no?

That sums it up for me, although check out the rest of today's post.
Reality Check
(speaking of reality check--Blogger STILL is combining all the callous disregard for posting with a high handed lack of explanation that makes me think of the Bush administration).
This op-ed from The Guardian, (link via Angry Arab) as well as these two Robert Fisk reports undercut the bizarre notion that Bush somehow is influencing "democratic change" in the Middle East--or even THAT democratic change is behind the various recent events, most prominent in the US press being the demonstrations in Lebanon.

At last there was a democratic "cedar revolution" to match the US-backed Ukrainian "orange revolution" and a photogenic display of people power to bolster George Bush's insistence that the region is with him. "Freedom will prevail in Lebanon", Bush declared this week, promising anti-Syrian protesters that the US is "on your side". The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, is expected to join the cheerleaders for Arab democracy in a speech today and warn the left not to defend the status quo because of anti-Americanism.

The first decisive rebuff to this fairy tale of spin was delivered in Beirut on Tuesday, when at least 500,000 - some reports said it was more like a million - demonstrators took to the streets to show solidarity with embattled Syria and reject US and European interference in Lebanon. Mobilised by Hizbullah, the Shia Islamist movement, their numbers dwarfed the nearby anti-Syrian protesters by perhaps 10 to one; and while the well-heeled Beiruti jeunesse dorée have dominated the "people power" jamboree, most of Tuesday's demonstrators came from the Shia slums and the impoverished south. Bush's response was to ignore them completely. Whatever their numbers, they were, it seems, the wrong kind of people...

What the US campaign is clearly not about is the promotion of democracy in either Lebanon or Syria, where the most plausible alternative to the Assad regime are radical Islamists. In a pronouncement which defies satire, Bush insisted on Tuesday that Syria must withdraw from Lebanon before elections due in May "for those elections to be free and fair". Why the same point does not apply to elections held in occupied Iraq - where the US has 140,000 troops patrolling the streets, compared with 14,000 Syrian soldiers in the Lebanon mountains - or in occupied Palestine, for that matter, is unexplained. And why a UN resolution calling for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon has to be complied with immediately, while those demanding an Israeli pullout from Palestinian and Syrian territory can be safely ignored for 38 years, is apparently unworthy of comment.

The rest of the Guardian report points out several ironies (irony being the term of the day, I guess). In addition to the notation above about occupations precluding "free and fair" elections, here's their take on the recent Palestinian election

The Palestinian elections in January took place because of the death of Yasser Arafat - they would have taken place earlier if the US and Israel hadn't known that Arafat was certain to win them - and followed a 1996 precedent.

In addition, the election in Iraq was an exercise in, well, nothing, when you see how violence is proceeding apace, the cosmetic changes being offered in Egypt and Saudi Arabia don't amount to a fingernail's worth of difference in how power is held, and, as AbuKhalil notes in several posts, demostrations by Kuwaiti women (and Jordanian workers) complaining about lack of political rights have been pretty much ignored by the mainstream media.

But, to go back to Lebanon for a moment: the demonstrations there (to which the government responded by re-appointing the pro-Syrian Prime Minister), more than anything else underscore the fact that the nation has an inverse relationship between geographic size and political complexity. Furthermore, Bush and his minions braying about one set of demonstrations (but ignoring the others) highlights a dangerous naiivete about "democracy" while simultaneously admitting more or less that they couldn't give a damn about genuine rule of the people (which, if implemented throughout the Middle East, would most likely result in a decidedly anti-Western swing).

Bush wants to have his cake--in fact, he wants to have THEIR cake as well--and he wants to greedily suck the icing off before stuffing it in his piehole, no pun intended. His hollow rhetoric will presumably be counterbalanced by advisors who will know how to stick to the script of public posture versus private agreement, but anyone thinks Lebanon is anything but a Pandora's box waiting to be unlocked doesn't know a thing about the country. Which is truly ironic, given that for some 15 years Beirut literally defined the futility of urban conflict for anyone paying even a minimal amount of attention to the news.
On Irony & Tragedy
(note: 4th attempt to post--this is getting mighty frustrating)
Now that I've gotten some emotion out regarding the absolutely awful nature of Blogger lately (see below), I'll try to actually note something I thought was/is significant.

Browsing around, I came across a link from Suburban Guerrilla to Deficient Brain that that again hammers home the tendency of the war bloggers to ignore the needs of the people they claim to be liberating:

After two wars where oil wells were torched, chemical factories bombed and radioactive ammunition fired, the first thing Iraqi women ask when giving birth is not if it is a boy or a girl, but if it is normal or deformed. The number of cancer cases and children born with deformities has skyrocketed after the two Gulf Wars.

In other words, while the outcome of the war is still in doubt, there's NO doubt that the country is poisoned. So, congratulations, "liberators," although I seriously doubt overall public health in Iraq will EVER make it to the pro-war radar screen (although I'd give odds of no worse than 50-50 that these same folks howl and bay if the checkout line at the local Wal-Mart has more than a 5 minute wait).

Oh, and as for supporting the troops? Well, the "radioactive ammunition" referred to above--Depleted Uranium--is considered by some to be a contributing factor in the numerous ailments collectively referred to as Gulf War Syndrome. Yeah, DU keeps on killing long after the shell hits the target (by inhaling DU dust, for example). And it does not discriminate between ally or enemy, soldier or civilian.

So, that's the tragedy--what about the irony? Here:

A US federal court in New York has dismissed a legal action brought by Vietnamese plaintiffs over the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War...

Agent Orange was named after the colour of its container. The active ingredient was a strain of dioxin that stripped the jungle bare.

In time, some contend, the dioxin spread to the food chain causing a proliferation of birth defects.

Some babies were born without eyes or arms, or were missing internal organs.

The Judge, Jack Weinstein (Lyndon Johnson appointee, noted, among other things, for opposing mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes as well as his REFUSAL to hear drug cases after attaining the status of "senior" judge)--anyway, Weinstein ruled that the manufacturers of the "product" were not liable for damages, apparently agreeing at least in part with Justice Department thugs lawyers that refusal to supply dioxin to the army would "seriously threaten" the ability of the president to wage war. Reuters also seems to suggest that the "red-flag defense" applied, i.e., how does a plantiff prove (via preponderance of evidence) that a specific condition was caused by a reaction to a specific chemical agent? Call it the tort version of the O.J. defense.

That said, consider the following:

After World War II, two manufacturers of Zyklon B were convicted of war crimes and executed.

--Note: This site provides a good summary of the trial of Bruno Tesch, Karl Weinbacher, and a certain Dr. Drosihn (the latter being acquitted). Another trial at Nuremberg resulted in 13 convictions and 10 acquittals, with no sentence longer than 8 years.

I'm sure they all thought that they were just Good Germans--and that's part of the problem today. I'll bet Dow Chemical thinks they're likewise being good citizens, helping the commander in chief--and I'll bet the manufacturers of DU weapons and/or armor think the same. But Nuremberg and the other trials were held specifically to note that blind obedience to authority is morally unacceptable, particularly when it contributes to mass suffering. But, how easily we forget--to the extent that now arguing in favor of blind obedience is a speciality of some in the Justice Department, while at the same time we're managing to create yet another parallel between Iraq and Vietnam...
Blogger v.

BLAW-grrr: term meaning "won't publish." At times, high probability of losing something you've spent an hour or more to write.
See also "Bloggered," "Godd$#m piece of s#$t," etc.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

"Bury Your Head in the Sand: 49%"

I saw this at Today in Iraq:

Of course this has nothing to do with Iraq, but I noticed the online poll today at CNN (Contains No News) has to do with how people will respond to the severe price rise in gasoline anticipated for this summer. The responses broke down as follows: Drive less, 41%. Buy a more efficient car, 10%. Close your eyes and pump, 49%.

Wow. Half the country has no intention of changing any habits, not even cutting down on unnecessary trips, if gas goes up over two bucks a gallon. I wonder if there could be any correlation between people who responded that way and their political affiliation. Do ya think?

Daily Grind

After the post below, I took a look at Baghdad Burning, and was happy to see that Riverbend found time to write. As always, I'll recommend just linking to her site, but if you're short of time, here are some highlights:

There really is no good excuse for what happened [the attack on the car carrying Guiliana Sgrena to the Baghdad airport]. I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out what the Pentagon will say short of an admission that it was either on purpose or that the soldiers who fired at the car were drunk or high on something…

I have a feeling it will be the usual excuse, “The soldiers who almost killed the journalist were really, really frightened. They’ve been under lots of pressure.” But see, Iraqis are frightened and under pressure too- we don’t go around accidentally killing people. We’re expected to be very level-headed and sane in the face of chaos...

I don’t understand why Americans are so shocked with this incident. Where is the shock? That Sgrena’s car was under fire? That Americans killed an Italian security agent? After everything that occurred in Iraq- Abu Ghraib, beatings, torture, people detained for months and months, the stealing, the rape… is this latest so very shocking? Or is it shocking because the victims weren’t Iraqi?

I’m really glad she’s home safe but at the same time, the whole situation is somewhat painful. It hurts because thousands of Iraqis have died at American checkpoints or face to face with a tank or Apache and beyond the occasional subtitle on some obscure news channel, no one knows about it and no one cares. It just hurts a little bit.

Riverbend also has some news about an ugly incident in a Baghdad hospital, where Iraqi National Guard personnel beat up doctors and nurses during an argument over a lack of space to treat wounded people. And, she tries her hand at a bit of snark, suggesting (tongue in cheek, of course) that Ahmad Chalabi should be nominated for the Nobel Prize:

“You know who’s really bad? Ahmed Chalabi. He’s such a lowlife and villain.”

Voila. Like magic the air clears, eyebrows are raised in agreement and all arguing parties suddenly unite to confirm this very valid opinion with nodding heads, somewhat strained laughter and charming anecdotes about his various press appearances and ridiculous sense of fasion. We’re all friends again, and family once more. We’re all lovey-dovey Iraqis who can agree nicely with each other. In short, we are at peace with each other and the world…

And that is why Ahmed Chalabi deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

In addition, she provides a link to Imad Khadduri, who in this post cuts through the bullshit:

Despite all the rhetoric about "building a new democracy", daily life for most Iraqis is still a struggle for survival, with human rights abuses engulfing them. A typical Iraqi day begins with the struggle to get the basics: petrol, a cylinder of gas, fresh water, food and medication. It ends with a sigh of relief: Alhamdu ilah (thanks, God), for surviving death threats, violent attacks, kidnappings and killings.

For ordinary Iraqis, simply venturing into the streets brings the possibility of attack. Most killings go unreported. With no names, no faces, no identities, they cease to be human beings. They are "the enemy", "collateral damage" or, at best, statistics to argue about.

That, in a nutshell, is why we're losing in Iraq. I've mentioned before, and will say again, that one interesting observation about the right-wing/pro-war crowd is that they've never taken seriously the people they're ostensibly liberating. No, the whole concept behind Iraq was a mix and match of various elements--the greater glory of the dauphin, the agenda of PNAC, blind rage about "terrorism" with more than a little racism to boot, etc., etc.,--but the "suffering Iraqi people" are an afterthought to these folks--Khadduri captures this perfectly: "statistics to argue about." As long as the number killed is "less than Hussen's total," then everything is just fine by them.

That's hardly a formula for success.
But Hey, They Had an Election

Forty-one bodies were found in two locations in Iraq:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Iraqi officials said Wednesday that 41 bodies - some bullet-riddled, others beheaded - have been found at two sites, and they believe some of the corpses are Iraqi soldiers kidnapped and killed by insurgents. At least 30 American contractors, meanwhile, were wounded by a suicide bombing near a hotel.

In another attack, interim Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafidh escaped assassination after gunmen opened fire on his convoy in Baghdad. One of his guards was killed and two others were wounded, police said.

A U.S. soldier was killed and another was injured Wednesday when a roadside bomb detonated as they were patrolling in the capital, the military said.

Also, contradicting earlier assertions, the British Defense Ministry is now admitting that a C-130 Hercules that crashed in January was likely brought down by a surface to air missile.

And, in a strange story Atrios posted without comment, Saudi media reports on a US soldier's claim that the events surrounding the capture of Saddam Hussein were fabricated. The soldier, Ex-Sgt.Nadim Abou Rabeh, alleges that Hussein was not in a "spider hole" (he further claims it was a deserted well), but in fact fought back during a firefight that left at least one soldier dead. I'll also withhold judgement on the particulars--but in general I'm don't find claims of fabricated stories courtesy of the US government all that surprising.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Instant Analysis

Nightline discovers blogs. It's a wank. Worse than embarrassing. Make it stop, my god, my god, make it stop, make it stop...

Update: and you know what? In spite of a good bit of good emphasis on Blog for Virginia, I STILL think that the Nightline show was, well, crap bullshit. Sort of like supporting the troops... perhaps we should support Maura but forget Nightline, which has shown a remarkable capacity for ignoring real news in favor of garbage entertainment recently--which cheapens their report on bloggers anyway...
What Attaturk Says

A short but VERY appropriate post about the bankrupcy bill--which I expect both Louisiana Senators voted for...yes, they did. Goddamn.
Planning?, Mission Accomplished!

From Today in Iraq, here's an interesting story about an as yet unofficial Army report suggesting that the U.S. Military lost critical momentum in the two months following the lightning raid on Baghdad--momentum that has yet to be gained back:

The U.S. military lost its dominance in Iraq shortly after its invasion in 2003, a study concluded.

A report by the U.S. Army official historian said the military was hampered by the failure to occupy and stabilize Iraq in 2003. As a result, the military lost its dominance by July 2003 and has yet to regain that position.

"In the two to three months of ambiguous transition, U.S. forces slowly lost the momentum and the initiative gained over an off-balanced enemy," the report said. "The United States, its Army and its coalition of the willing have been playing catch-up ever since."

The report was authored by Maj. Isaiah Wilson, the official historian of the U.S. Army for the Iraq war. Wilson also served as a war planner for the army's 101st Airborne Division until March 2004, Middle East Newsline reported. His report, not yet endorsed as official army history, has been presented to several academic conferences.

Let's see...while this was occurring, I distinctly remember the following:

Stuff Happens.

Mission Accomplished!

Bring 'em On! use a rough analogy, that's the kind of stuff you might hear from the people in the stands after a team scores a touchdown--but you'd expect something more from a head coach and his braintrust--and you'd CERTAINLY expect more from the pResident and his top advisors, who should know that war is quite a bit more serious and deadly than a game.

I guess that's the kind of news that Bush et al don't want to hear. After all, it takes away from all that glory to bask in.

But I'd like to note one more sports analogy, because I think of it every time I hear about how quickly the drive to Baghdad went. If I'm not mistaken, the record for the fastest first-ever touchdown for a pro football team is roughly ten seconds. It's held by...The New Orleans Saints.

On the opposite side--sorry for the slow posting got busy in a hurry.
Tinfoil & Bullshit

This morning begins over here with a meta-meta post. Starting at Suburban Guerrilla, and heeding her advice to check out All Spin Zone, I came across this from Watching the

All Spin Zone certainly gets credit for inspiring the title of this post. Richard Cranium nails it--his term for the "official explanation" is "the old bullshit shuffle," and while he can't bring himself to do more than mention "the 't' word," I think I know where he's coming from.

Farfetched or right up Bushit Alley? You decide:

Could it be that, Giuliana Sgrena, was a “friendly” hostage in Iraq? In other words, was her “kidnapping” by Iraqi resistance fighters a cover to allow her to investigate US war crimes in Iraq, and Fallujah specifically? I raise this question only as a possibility because it is apparent that the Bush minion and front man in Iraq, John Negroponte, either believed this, or at least suspected it, and took drastic steps to prevent journalist Giuliana Sgrena from leaving Iraq without first searching her person, and those traveling with her.

Putting my own cards on the table--I doubt seriously that Sgrena would "allow" herself to be kidnapped for ANY reason. It's simply too goddamned dangerous in Iraq, particularly for journalists. On the other hand, it's certainly possible that the insurgents captured her with the intent to both collect a ransom AND deliver a message.

One thing's certain: The Italian government is none too pleased and the Italian public is furious about the death of Nicola Calipari and the wounding of Ms. Sgrena. On the other hand, at least one war blogger continues to show all the grace of a pig in a mudhole (apologies to genuine pigs, who are actually somewhat intelligent mammals):

"Please let her wound fester and please let her die in agony."


Now, that doesn't surprise me at all. Talk about shitting in your own nest.

(note: the insurgents who kidnapped Ms. Sgrena are now claiming that no ransom was paid, but their credibility is more than a little suspect--sort of like the war bloggers, if you ask me).

Monday, March 07, 2005

Frayed Nerves and Death

If this article doesn't illustrate clearly the clusterfuck in Iraq, then I'm not sure what does:

Next to the scandal of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, no other aspect of the American military presence in Iraq has caused such widespread dismay and anger among Iraqis [than checkpoints], judging by their frequent outbursts on the subject. Daily reports compiled by Western security companies chronicle many incidents in which Iraqis with no apparent connection to the insurgency are killed or wounded by American troops who have opened fire on suspicion that the Iraqis were engaged in a terrorist attack.

Accounts of the incidents vary widely, as they have in the incident involving Ms. Sgrena, with the American command emphasizing aspects of drivers' behavior that aroused legitimate concerns, and survivors saying, often, that they were doing nothing threatening. Since few of the incidents are ever formally investigated, many families are left with unresolved feelings of bitterness.

American and Iraqi officials say they have no figures on such casualties, just as they say they have no reliable statistics on the far higher number of civilian deaths in the fighting that began with the American-led invasion nearly two years ago. But any Westerner working in Iraq comes across numerous accounts of apparently innocent deaths and injuries among drivers and passengers who drew American fire, often in circumstances that have left the Iraqis puzzled as to what, if anything, they did wrong...

The American soldiers know that circumstances erupt in which a second's hesitation can mean death, and say civilian deaths are a regrettable but inevitable consequence of a war in which suicide bombers have been the insurgents' most deadly weapon. But Iraqis say they have no clear idea of American engagement rules, and accuse the American command of failing to disseminate the rules to the public, in newspapers or on radio and television stations.

The military says it takes many precautions to ensure the safety of civilians. But a military spokesman in Baghdad declined in a telephone interview on Sunday to describe the engagement rules in detail, saying the military needed to maintain secrecy over how it responds to the threat of car bombs...

The spokesman, as well as a senior Pentagon official who discussed the issue in Washington on Sunday, said official statements issued after the Friday shooting offered a broad outline of the rules. In those statements, the military said it tried to slow Ms. Sgrena's vehicle with hand signals, flashing lights and warning shots before firing into the car's engine block.

But many Iraqis tell of being fired on with little or no warning...

One of the starkest incidents in recent weeks occurred on the evening of Jan. 18 in the town of Tal Afar, a trouble spot west of the city of Mosul, where a platoon from the 25th Infantry Division was on a foot patrol. Chris Hondros, a photographer for Getty Images, an American photo agency, said that soldiers of the Apache company were walking in near darkness toward an intersection along a deserted commercial street when they saw the headlights of a sedan turning into the street about 100 yards ahead.

An officer ordered the troops over their headsets to halt the vehicle, and all raised weapons. One soldier fired a three-shot burst into the air, but the car kept coming, Mr. Hondros said, and then half a dozen troops fired at least 50 rounds, until the car was peppered with bullets and rolled gently to a stop against a curb.

"I could hear sobbing and crying coming from the car, children's voices," Mr. Hondros said.

Next he said, one of the rear doors opened, and six children, four girls and two boys, one only 8 years old, tumbled into the street. They were splattered with blood.

No doubt the propensity to let bullets do the talking is at least in part related to the overall lack of planning--too few people who even grasp the local language, a lack of protective equipment (see below) the tenacity of the insurgents, and so on. The lesson of Bush's foolish war is that imperial hubris is not by itself an overwhelming force for anything except unbelievable stupidity. Thanks to that, we face a real interesting near-term future: all that money spent with NOTHING good coming out of it, either a hostile theocratic government in Iraq or an even MORE hostile revolutionary government, depending on how the insurgency develops, a whole slew of Middle Easterners who hate our guts thanks to the death and destruction we've brought about, western allies who can't trust us--and a whole generation of professional soldiers who, when they DO return to the United States, could well be walking powder kegs. By the way--in their infinite wisdom, the GOP hacks who brought you this war now want to tax the soldiers who wish to use their veteran benefits to seek medical care--to the tune of $230 a year or thereabouts. Nothing like supporting the troops.

Into the ether goes a post centered around this New York Times story:

The Army You Have, Not the One You Want (my title)

The short version is--orders went out to NOT procure body armor, then orders went out TO procure it, causing delays measured by months.

Companies were contracted to manufacture body armor, then the contracts were cancelled. Other companies were contracted, but weren't up to the task (although they had great connections). Humvees were up-armored at a pace that you'd have to be generous to describe as a crawl (though things are getting SLIGHTLY better).

Once the morons in charge of Operation Go Cheney Ourselves realized that flowers and kisses were right out, while I.E.D.'s R.P.G.'s, and plain old bullets were all on the menu, everything shipped priority--which, as the article points out, meant that NOTHING actually WAS other words, the body armor wasn't arriving via rush delivery--but things like socks were.

Devices that could potentially stop I.E.D.s via electronic jamming AREN'T being provided to the troops because they're still being tested--although they seem to work plenty good enough to be used for protecting the oil fields.

While this was happening, Coalition of the Bribed Willing troops bypassed the procurement lunacy, went straight to the manufacturers, and got what they needed in less than two weeks.

Hillbilly armor, i.e., sandbags, are STILL in use on some vehicles, causing problems that at least in one case resulted in a collision. The soldier responsible complained about the lack of real protection, and was presented with a bill for almost $1,000 dollars for damages--fortunately, he won his appeal, but had to demonstrate how the sandbags leaked, causing the accelerator to jam.

You know, with anywhere from $300 to $400 BILLION dollars to play around with every year, you'd think Pentagon planners could, I don't know, USE some of that money for BASIC EQUIPMENT for chrissakes? It's absolutely unfuckingbelievable--and in my mind, criminal--that you could have a military budget that large and somehow NOT manage to provide the basics.

The Democrats should raise this issue and give it the attention it deserves. And heads should roll.

Now here's hoping that Blogger actually posts this rant.
Gated Community

King of Zembla has a list of upwards of forty significant events, etc., from the dauphins reign of error, that, had they occurred in, say, for example, the Clinton White House, might well have resulted in the figurative display of the COIC's cranium on a pike. Interesting.
Get Short

Your Right Hand Thief beat me to the punch on this, so credit where it's be fair, I also saw this over at CNN on Saturday or Sunday...

Short version (no pun intended): Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire-Hathaway, and financial big-wig, is going short on the dollar, assuming that it will continue its slide relative to other world currencies--well, I'll quote Buffet directly (.pdf):

Berkshire owned about $21.4 billion of foreign exchange contracts at yearend, spread among 12
currencies... Before March
2002, neither Berkshire nor I had ever traded in currencies. But the evidence grows that our trade policies
will put unremitting pressure on the dollar for many years to come – so since 2002 we’ve heeded that
warning in setting our investment course...

Be clear on one point: In no way does our thinking about currencies rest on doubts about America.
We live in an extraordinarily rich country, the product of a system that values market economics, the rule
of law and equality of opportunity. Our economy is far and away the strongest in the world and will
continue to be. We are lucky to live here.

But as I argued in a November 10, 2003 article in Fortune...
our country’s trade practices are weighing down the dollar. The decline in its value has already been
substantial, but is nevertheless likely to continue. Without policy changes, currency markets could even
become disorderly and generate spillover effects, both political and financial. No one knows whether these
problems will materialize. But such a scenario is a far-from-remote possibility that policymakers should be
considering now. Their bent, however, is to lean toward not-so-benign neglect: A 318-page Congressional
study of the consequences of unremitting trade deficits was published in November 2000 and has been
gathering dust ever since. The study was ordered after the deficit hit a then-alarming $263 billion in 1999;
by last year it had risen to $618 billion.

Charlie and I, it should be emphasized, believe that true trade – that is, the exchange of goods and
services with other countries – is enormously beneficial for both us and them. Last year we had $1.15
trillion of such honest-to-God trade and the more of this, the better. But, as noted, our country also
purchased an additional $618 billion in goods and services from the rest of the world that was
unreciprocated. That is a staggering figure and one that has important consequences.

The balancing item to this one-way pseudo-trade — in economics there is always an offset — is a
transfer of wealth from the U.S. to the rest of the world. The transfer may materialize in the form of IOUs
our private or governmental institutions give to foreigners, or by way of their assuming ownership of our
assets, such as stocks and real estate. In either case, Americans end up owning a reduced portion of our
country while non-Americans own a greater part. This force-feeding of American wealth to the rest of the
world is now proceeding at the rate of $1.8 billion daily, an increase of 20% since I wrote you last year.
Consequently, other countries and their citizens now own a net of about $3 trillion of the U.S. A decade
ago their net ownership was negligible.

Buffet goes on to suggest the term "sharecropper society," which he admits is a bit of hyperbole--but only just a bit. YRHT offers "perpetual servant class," which is probably just as good...and my own take is "they still need us to buy all the junk they manufacture, but for how much longer and when will they call the bills due? Or, what pound of flesh will they extract from us to keep the money flowing?" China, for instance, has policy concerns that aren't necessarily compatible with our own...Remember a year or so ago when they pulled on Bush's choke chain and he immediately yelped that the "one China" policy was fine with him?

Beggars can't be choosers.
A Dollup of Culture

This weekend Red Stick makes its attempt to score one for culture, cultah, or a reasonable facsimile thereof with the opening of The Shaw Center. You can read the local paper's take here, and my own perspective is that if you're lost in the desert, ANY water is plenty wet enough...

So, in the interest of slaking my cultural thirst, I went and took a look...and, I'll put it this way: considering that the only recent event receiving equivalent coverage was the opening of yet another Wal-Mart in the Capital City, I'll keep my complaints to a minimum. The building is a mix of traditional and ultra-modern, the former being an attempt to maintain a degree of integrity with the remnants of an abandoned parking garage known as "The Auto Hotel" back in its functional days, the latter component displaying lots of glass and metal (to be honest, some of the metal looks, well, cheap). The edifice is the new home of the LSU Museum of Art--it's former name, the "Anglo-American Museum of Art" is apt.

However, a touring exhibit of African gold work is impressive enough, as is a permanent collection of Chinese jade carvings (IMHO, the highlights of the opening weekend), and the small theater has quite excellent sound. The name "Shaw Center," is in homage of what I assume was a more than nominal contribution made on behalf of The Shaw Group (a large BR business).

Downtown Baton Rouge has been for a long time a location in search of a function. The central city was pretty much abandoned by the late 70's/early 80's, and as recently as five years ago I could count on one hand the number of places open after 6 o'clock. This is no longer the case--although, to be honest, the gain in numbers has been offset by a loss in the quality of entertainment--in other words, I haven't seen a decent jazz act in at least a couple of years.

Still, my opening assessment is that this is a hell of a lot better than nothing at all, and if the museum and art center attract quality exhibits and/or quality entertainment, well, I'll plunk down my eight dollar admission (to the museum) on a regular enough basis--and yeah, I'll also probably hit the top floor sushi bar often enough as well. You gotta start somewhere, and I'll take what's offered...although here's hoping this is a first step on a long journey...