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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Monday, 5 December 2005

Topic: Breaking News

Diplomacy: What's the Message and Who Do You Trust?
Some stories have legs, it seems. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's diplomatic mission to Europe seems to be one of them, covered under the title "Dominatrix Diplomacy" in these pages here on December 2nd and here two days later with a few more details.

She's there to discuss all the issues that have come up with our secret prisons in eastern Europe, old soviet jails where we have "disappeared" folks we've grabbed off the streets of Rome and other places, without telling anyone, and who we may be torturing, or as we claim, just using "enhanced interrogation techniques." The Europeans, it seems, don't want any part in all this "disappearing" and possible torture. They're squeamish or something - and are even upset we fly these "non-persons" to places that don't exist, where bad things happen to them, using their airports and airspace. The initial reports were that the line that Rice was going to take was to tell these effete fussbudget European wimps to just "back off." Rice was going to remind these "allies" they themselves have been cooperating in our anti-terror operations - and they should simply "do more to win over their publics." In short, they should get their press and public and various legislatures and commissions under control - and get them to just shut up.

But as Joel Brinkley for the New York Times and Brian Knowlton for the International Herald Tribune report here, Rice is not being that crude, although, as she left for the trip and chatted with reporters, she is being a bit blunt. The public message? Europeans should not complain too loudly about undercover intelligence actions that had helped "save European lives."

This seems to be a variation on the old, "We saved your butt in two world wars, so shut the hell up." The point is we're doing it again now, so be grateful and don't complain.

Of course she again denied that the United States engaged in torture, ever - and said we had violated none of our laws and no international treaties. It's just that "extraordinary rendition," as it is called (some call it kidnapping), is just necessary. And she kind of hinted that "some European governments" knew more about what was going on than they were willing to admit in public. This item quotes her saying this - "It is up to those governments and their citizens to decide if they wish to work with us to prevent terrorist attacks against their own country or other countries, and decide how much sensitive information they can make public."

And she winked? No, not really.

Brinkley and Knowlton do point out that all this "could complicate" the meeting Tuesday with the new German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. That was all about new warm ties between German and the United States. But it seems a German official confirmed Monday that Germany had a list of more than four hundred over-flights and landings in the past few years by planes probably used by the CIA for this work. Der Spiegel was on that - data from German air traffic controllers - 437 flights or landings in Germany by CIA planes, including 137 by one plane and 146 by another. Well, that's something to chat about. In DC on the way out Rice said this - "The United States does not transport, and has not transported, detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture. The United States does not use the airspace or the airports of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee to a country where he or she will be tortured."

That's a non-denial trick, admitting the flights but saying we don't do torture. What we do is really special, but it's not exactly torture. And her endeavor is to say that whatever it is we do, well, it works, and makes you Europeans safe - so cut us some slack here and shut up and be appropriately grateful.

But then late Monday, December 5th, Brian Ross and Richard Esposito hit the wires with an ABC "exclusive" - here, opening with this -
Two CIA secret prisons were operating in Eastern Europe until last month when they were shut down following Human Rights Watch reports of their existence in Poland and Romania.

Current and former CIA officers speaking to ABC News on the condition of confidentiality say the United States scrambled to get all the suspects off European soil before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived there today. The officers say 11 top al Qaeda suspects have now been moved to a new CIA facility in the North African desert.

CIA officials asked ABC News not the name the specific countries where the prisons were located, citing security concerns.

The CIA declines to comment, but current and former intelligence officials tell ABC News that 11 top al Qaeda figures were all held at one point on a former Soviet air base in one Eastern European country. Several of them were later moved to a second Eastern European country.
The Polish and Romanian secret prisons were, then, quite real. And we cleared them real fast before Rice got to Europe.

Cool. And what happens in North Africa stays in North Africa.

And there's this -
All but one of these 11 high-value al Qaeda prisoners were subjected to the harshest interrogation techniques in the CIA's secret arsenal, the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" authorized for use by about 14 CIA officers and first reported by ABC News on Nov. 18.

... These same sources also tell ABC News that U.S. intelligence also ships some "unlawful combatants" to countries that use interrogation techniques harsher than any authorized for use by U.S. intelligence officers. They say that Jordan, Syria, Morocco and Egypt were among the nations used in order to extract confessions quickly using techniques harsher than those authorized for use by U.S. intelligence officers. These prisoners were not necessarily citizens of those nations.

According to sources directly involved in setting up the CIA secret prison system, it began with the capture of Abu Zabayda in Pakistan. After treatment there for gunshot wounds, he was whisked by the CIA to Thailand where he was housed in a small disused warehouse on an active airbase. There, his cell was kept under 24-hour closed circuit TV surveillance and his life-threatening wounds were tended to by a CIA doctor especially sent from Langley headquarters to assure Abu Zubaydah was given proper care, sources said. Once healthy, he was slapped, grabbed, made to stand long hours in a cold cell and finally handcuffed and strapped feet up to a water board until after .31 seconds he begged for mercy and began to cooperate.

... Of the 12 high value targets housed by the CIA, only one did not require water boarding before he talked. Ramzi bin al-Shibh broke down in tears after he was walked past the cell of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the operational planner for Sept. 11. Visibly shaken, he started to cry and became as cooperative as if he had been tied down to a water board, sources said.
Of course, some call all this torture. Some don't, and have various other names for it.

Some say all this is necessary and quite effective, and others say what information is given up is unreliable at best.

Some say this sort of thing makes us hated and scorned around the world, while others say this sort of thing makes us feared, and that's a very, very good thing for our safety. On the other hand, hatred and scorn, and fear, may lead to the very angry acting against us, making us less safe.

Choose your side.

Rice says this - "The captured terrorists of the 21st century do not fit easily into traditional systems of criminal or military justice, which were designed for different needs. We have had to adapt."

And so we have.

Did much of this take place in the old KGB prison in Poland, in a sort of homage to the good old days? Consider -
Polish Defense Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told ABC Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross today: "My president has said there is no truth in these reports."

Ross asked: "Do you know otherwise, sir, are you aware of these sites being shut down in the last few weeks, operating on a base under your direct control?"

Sikorski answered, "I think this is as much as I can tell you about this."
Geez, this is a Tom Clancy movie. There's this secret prison in Romania, at a military base visited last year by Rumsfeld, and the new Romanian prime minister said there is no evidence of a CIA site - but that he will investigate. But ABC has sources saying it's been there since March 2002, and the approval for another secret prison was granted last year by some unnamed North African nation, and the CIA has a system of secretly returning prisoners to their home country when they have "outlived their usefulness" to the United States - and we use Jordan, Syria, Morocco and Egypt to extract confessions quickly "using techniques harsher than those authorized for use by US intelligence officers."

And what of the mistakes? It's not just the German fellow in the December 4th Washington Post story - the ABC reporters were told that Jordanians, Egyptians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Algerians, Saudis, Pakistanis, Uzbekistanis and Chinese citizens have been returned to their nations' intelligence services. Sorry about that.

As before, someone at the CIA doesn't much care for what we're doing - some stuffy traditionalist, no doubt - and is trying to stop it. One thinks of Deep Throat meeting the young Bob Woodward in the parking structure late at night, to put an end to the Nixon crew's nastiness - first Dana Priest of the Post and now these two guys from ABC News. Something is up.

And Rice's mission to slap the Europeans back into line and make them grateful to us for saving their butts once again - to put these childish people in their place - is undermined.

This sure is interesting.

Posted by Alan at 23:29 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 5 December 2005 23:32 PST home


Topic: The Economy

The Business of Business

Odd business news, Monday, December 5, 2005 -

This tidbit from the Washington Post, on what happens when you make a major corporation angry -
Hours after New Orleans officials announced Tuesday that they would deploy a city-owned, wireless Internet network in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, regional phone giant BellSouth Corp. withdrew an offer to donate one of its damaged buildings that would have housed new police headquarters, city officials said yesterday.

According to the officials, the head of BellSouth's Louisiana operations, Bill Oliver, angrily rescinded the offer of the building in a conversation with New Orleans homeland security director Terry Ebbert, who oversees the roughly 1,650-member police force.

City officials said BellSouth was upset about the plan to bring high-speed Internet access for free to homes and businesses to help stimulate resettlement and relocation to the devastated city.
Around the country, large telephone companies have aggressively lobbied against localities launching their own Internet networks, arguing that they amount to taxpayer-funded competition. Some states have laws prohibiting them.
There are a number of points of interest here.

Several cities have done what New Orleans is trying to do here, create a public utility actually, like the street maintenance folks filling potholes or a city-run electrical grid providing the juice to light the place, or some other such service, like a police force. Some things for the general good have, in the past, been seen as something everyone should chip in on and let the government do. On the national level one thinks of the interstate highway system, the armed forces, and on the state level roads and bridges and public schools, and prisons.

Now the current crew in power have long held that far more of such stuff should be privatized - as in home schooling is better than kids going to school in schoolrooms, and if they must go to schoolrooms, unregulated market-based private schools are better than synchronized and standards-qualified public schools (distribute vouchers for them and let the public school system wither and die, as Bill Bennett wanted when he was Education Secretary). So now we have private utilities, and for-profit prison systems here and there, and the armed services have contracted out a whole lot of what they used to do to private "security firms" - and the range of what is for everyone and should be a public thing and provided by the government, local, state or national, has gotten narrower and narrower.

Here there is an implicit question with a new technology. You can create a city-wide array of wireless "hot spots" that allow anyone with a computer and the right chip inside to access "the grid" and surf the web and send and receive email - and you can call it a public utility, like roads and bridges, something everyone can use - and pay for setting it up and maintaining it with public funds.

Or you can say that model is not the one to follow - let the private service providers complete, set up incompatible grids, charge what they think will attract costumers and earn them a healthy profit, and see what happens as market forces determine what is available at what price and what level of service and reliability.

Is this something the "invisible hand" of profit-driven economics will create and sustain at maximum efficiency, or is this something that should be just one of those basic things that's better shared? An analogy, perhaps not that close, is to think about whether a privately developed system of tolls roads is better than a network of public taxpayer funded highways. There's no tax burden with the former, there are no pesky tolls with the latter.

Of course, private "pay for use" systems exclude those with low income in one way or another. But that may be the idea - they chose to be poor and live off the dole and be parasites on those with the proper work ethic and positive attitude, so maybe making everything "pay for use" will be one more incentive for them to show some personal responsibility and all that.

Should a wireless grid of "hot spots" be a public utility? It's all how you look at it. It's a matter of where you draw the line between "this is free-market stuff" and "this is something basic everyone uses or could use." That line moves around a lot.

The second point of interest as to do with what the public relations folks at BellSouth were thinking. Yeah, we could give you this damaged building we don't want for your new police headquarters, seeing as how the whole city was pretty much wiped out. But you want to define a wireless network is a utility? Screw you. And screw your police force. We'll leave that building empty, and let it eventually collapse, and your police force can go pound sand for all we care.

This seems unwise. But then again, every Republican in the country is standing up and cheering.

A third point of interest is what ever happened to the massive national effort to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast? We really do have a short attention span.

On another front, where ideology meets the free-market, one sees here that "Focus on the Family," James Dobson's group out in Colorado Springs, has dumped Wells Fargo Bank. Wells Fargo will handle their funds no longer. This is to protest the bank's "ongoing efforts to advance the radical homosexual agenda." It seems that part of the bank's regular corporate charity program is to match employee contributions to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. And the bank gave money to the Human Rights Campaign. And there was that gay festival held in the empty parking lot at a Wells Fargo branch in San Francisco. Enough is enough. All the accounts have been moved to the First National Bank of Omaha - a "family-friendly institution."

Wells Fargo Bank pretty much shrugged -
Chris Hammond a vice president of business development for Wells Fargo, said the bank agreed to match contributions to a media campaign fund for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation...

"We simply made a grant to one of many nonprofits Wells Fargo supports in the San Francisco Bay Area," Hammond said. He said he told Focus officials that the bank contributes to many charities, "including nonprofit agencies Focus on the Family believes in."

A bank statement on its Web site said, "We direct our giving to areas that we believe are important to the future of our nation's vitality and success: community development, education and human services."
Dobson may be close with Bush and the administration, but Well Fargo Bank does business in San Francisco and West Hollywood and such places. They do their charities, left and right, to come off as good folks, and narrowing their "focus" is clearly not in their business interest. Dobson can fume. Taking sides here is just bad business.

Note also here Dobson tells the Rocky Mountain News that "gay and lesbian activist groups have picked off all the big companies in the United States."

It seems "the big companies in the United States" see no profit in antagonizing blocks of prospective customers. The idea is to make money, or keep in the black somehow - and joining Dobson's crusade to eliminate the threat of mincing queens overrunning America and making us all listen to the soundtrack to "Cats" while our pure children are forced to watch SpongeBob SquarePants is a loser. The world is a competitive place - you just don't choose sides and narrow your market.

There is the exception of course - the Ford Motor Company has informed gay media outlets that they will no longer place any advertising for their Jaguar and Land Rover lines in those nasty, godless pages. This may or may not be so. You have to take the word of the American Family Association. They say they are calling off their plan to boycott Ford. Their president Donald Wildmon - "They've heard our concerns; they are acting on our concerns."

Maybe. Ford Plans To Axe Factories And Jobs In Bid To Restore Fortunes - closing eight major plants in North America (one in Canada, one in Mexico, the rest here), and some small ones, laying off thousands. One suspects they're just cutting back on their advertising budget, generally. Believe this was the result of pressure from "the truly godly" when each new Ford Focus has picture of James Dobson or the "Focus on the Family" logo on the hood.

As noted here, the American Family Association was all over the Lowe's chain of home improvement stores for advertising Christmas trees as "holiday trees." And they are calling for a boycott of Target to punish it for an effort to "ban Christmas." And there's this Ford thing. Whatever.

The American Family Association wants these businesses to drive away Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and agonist or atheist customers. Dobson wants Wells Fargo to drive away homosexual customers and "focus on the family." (Gay folks don't have family - they just hang out together - and work on their plans to corrupt our youth and destroy the country.)

Yeah, yeah - but turning away customers with cash in hand seems really dumb. BellSouth doesn't want to lose customers with the City of New Orleans defining one of their products, wireless services, to be a public, shared utility. And no one wants to play along with Dobson and Wildmon and lose customers who are sinners, or haven't found Jesus yet.

Making a buck is getting harder all the time. That fact trumps all the rest.

Posted by Alan at 21:17 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 5 December 2005 21:37 PST home

Sunday, 4 December 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Sunday Funnies in Six Panels: Now Don't Get All Excited

The Sunday past, December 4th, was supposed to be a day off. Just Above Sunset had been put to bed, as they say in the news business when all the edits are complete, the pages composed and the presses are running. In this web world that means the Earthlink host servers in Atlanta got the new pages, had done all the compiling and re-indexed all thirteen hundred pages - there are almost three years of archived words and images - and linked the domain name to the new issue. So it didn't seem fair that lots of news stories broke Sunday. The Steelers were on television. But they lost to Cincinnati, the team with those odd helmets.

What's this with big news on Sunday?

ONE

A friend in upstate New York sent this, an item discussing a new General Accounting Office (GAO) report on the voting irregularities in the 2004 presidential election, particularly in Ohio.

Yes, the new electronic voting machines leave no paper trail so they cannot be audited, they're easily hacked, lots of votes went missing, the results matched no survey data and seemed anomalous, and the machines were developed and operated by corporations owned by friends of the president, and some programmers testified to some shady stuff - but the headline "GAO Confirms - 2004 Election Was Stolen!" was not quite right.

No crime has been alleged, and no one has been charged with anything. There was only means, method, opportunity and motive. Specific "acts" have not been alleged. That something is probable doesn't establish a crime has been committed. More is needed, and it's not yet there.

And what are you going to do? Toss Bush out? It's a little late for that. You go to war with the president you have, not the president you want.

That's not to say nothing should be done. You can fix the voting stuff, somehow. But reversing the election? Remember, liberals (are they "progressives" now?) are the ones who like gun control. The other side is well armed. You don't want trouble.

TWO

And email the say day brought a copy of a November 25th letter to the editor of the Fairbanks Daily-Miner (no link available, but we're talking Alaska here). The letter was written by Douglas Yates, a reader who has been discussed in the pages previously, here (June 2004) and here (January 2005) - a Marine Corps veteran and a writer, and photographer, living in Ester, Alaska.

Yates always sends interesting things, and this letter is about military recruiting. The letter is relevant here, as is the title - "Treasonous War"

Opening -
Unlike most in the Bush administration, I served in the U.S. military. During my tour, I was stationed at Marine Corps headquarters, Washington, D.C. While near the corridors of power, I came to value the historic trust that exists between our civilian and military leadership.

For a democratic trust to be nourished and sustained, it cannot be blind or naive. We don't raise children to be cannon fodder. We don't attack countries on a pretext.

In America, it's essential that civilian leaders be held accountable for military conduct. When mistakes happen, they must be exposed and corrected. That's the essence of integrity. Yet, lately, some people target Heather Koponen's opinions about military recruiters, suggesting such concern is un-American and damages morale.

Consider these facts: Army recruiters in Denver conspired with a high school student to forge a graduation diploma, falsified blood tests with a de-tox kit, and routinely threatened others with arrest for canceling appointments.

According to the Army, these are not isolated incidents. Last year, 325 recruiter fraud cases were prosecuted, hundreds more received reprimands. Most were issues of ethical conduct (lies, inflated promises, distortions about military benefits); one involved forcing laxatives on prospects to meet weight limits.

... Further narrowing local dialogue, this newspaper's fawning posture toward Bush's military adventure in Iraq ignores facts on the ground. See dahrjamailiraq.com for unfiltered reportage.

As Bush's wagon loses its wheels, the folly of this personal war (Bush families hold significant commercial interests in the region) will shame us all. Misled with lies from the civilian leadership, the U.S. military has been thrown into a meat grinder. There's no denying it; our troops are being abused, ridden hard and put up wet.

While many jarheads and GIs may find the truth painful, there's nothing noble about being deceived. When a nation's trust has been used in the service of a lie, it's more than a mistake. It's called treason.
So Murtha is not the only ex-Marine who sees a problem here. (Correction - there are no former Marines - "Once a Marine, Always A Marine.") Honor and honesty, and doing the right thing, means something to these guys.

Treason? Hard words. But you don't mess with the Marines. Bush's vague service in the Texas Air National Guard in Vietnam War years has mightily impressed the folks at Fox News and the National Review - and Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin - as Kerry was seen as an effete coward for his combat tours on the rivers in Vietnam (remember the flowered band-aids worn by folks at the Republican convention, mocking Kerry's Purple Heart and all that). Some of the guys in uniform, or now with uniforms in the closet, aren't as impressed. Paul Hackett still stands by his calling Bush and his crew chickenhawks, and remember Murtha's outburst at Cheney - "I like guys who got five deferments and (have) never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

It's funny you don't hear the obvious reply from the president and vice president - "Yeah, you may think you know a lot about war because you fought ion one - but we STARTED one."

Don't expect a military coup to keep Bush in power after 2008 - there are too many honorable men who know something smells here.

But that was just the email. The regular news was full of odd, smelly stuff.

THREE

Dana Priest in the Washington Post had another one of those Sunday scoops she does so well. Two or three weeks ago she broke the story of our chain of secret prisons, those "black sites" around the world where we use "enhanced interrogation techniques" on people we have snatched without authority all over the world and have "disappeared" - those non-persons who are not charged and have no rights to challenge anything about this or will ever speak to anyone on the outside ever again. Well, this week Dana Priest has a follow up to that story of how our government is keeping us safe by refusing to play by any babyish rules. She reveals we're doing this badly.

That would be here -

Wrongful Imprisonment: Anatomy of a CIA Mistake
German Citizen Released After Months in 'Rendition'
Dana Priest - Sunday, December 4, 2005 - Page A01

The long and short of it is we grabbed a German citizen in Macedonia, we imprisoned him and beat him up and all that, held him for five months of that sort of thing, and realized he was a nobody. We decided to release him - what was the point of keeping him? But we told the German government no matter what the guy said, they should keep quiet and not reveal we goofed on this one. We didn't need any legal crap, so they needed to lie and maintain our cover. We don't do such things - no kidnapping, no secret prisons, no harsh treatment. Not us. We asked them to back us on this. Deny everything.

The opening is this -
In May 2004, the White House dispatched the U.S. ambassador in Germany to pay an unusual visit to that country's interior minister. Ambassador Daniel R. Coats carried instructions from the State Department transmitted via the CIA's Berlin station because they were too sensitive and highly classified for regular diplomatic channels, according to several people with knowledge of the conversation.

Coats informed the German minister that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned one of its citizens, Khaled Masri, for five months, and would soon release him, the sources said. There was also a request: that the German government not disclose what it had been told even if Masri went public. The U.S. officials feared exposure of a covert action program designed to capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them among countries, and possible legal challenges to the CIA from Masri and others with similar allegations.
Okay, there may be three thousand folks we've grabbed and disappeared. It seems two or three dozen may have been goofs - like the guy who turned out to be a college professor who gave a bad grade to someone who later joined al Qaeda.

No, that's in there -
Unlike the military's prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - where 180 prisoners have been freed after a review of their cases - there is no tribunal or judge to check the evidence against those picked up by the CIA. The same bureaucracy that decides to capture and transfer a suspect for interrogation - a process called "rendition" - is also responsible for policing itself for errors.

The CIA inspector general is investigating a growing number of what it calls "erroneous renditions," according to several former and current intelligence officials. One official said about three dozen names fall in that category; others believe it is fewer. The list includes several people whose identities were offered by al Qaeda figures during CIA interrogations, officials said. One turned out to be an innocent college professor who had given the al Qaeda member a bad grade, one official said.

"They picked up the wrong people, who had no information. In many, many cases there was only some vague association" with terrorism, one CIA officer said.
Ad they say, close enough for government work.

This isn't going to make Condoleezza Rice's upcoming European trip with its exercise in Dominatrix Diplomacy any easier. If she's going to tell European leaders they'd better back us on this, and get their press and public and uppity legislatures and commissions to back off, it would be nice to be able to say at least we do this stuff well.

The odd thing here is, of course, how Dana Priest got these two scoops. Someone at the CIA doesn't much care for what we're doing - some stuffy traditionalist, no doubt - and is trying to stop it. Shades of Deep Throat meeting the young Bob Woodward in the parking structure late at night, to put an end to the Nixon crew's nastiness. Seems like old times.

Someone wants their country back, the one with values, and the country that was the good guy in the story? Too late - September 11 changed everything.

Hey, they've been telling us all! Like we weren't told?

So much for the Washington Post.

FOUR

Kevin Drum points out here that the New York Times tells us that security at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan is so bad that genuinely dangerous al-Qaeda members held there can pick the locks on their cells and sneak out through the fence. That's here, but it's more depressing than intriguing.

We grab the wrong people while the actual bad guys pull a Houdini?

Who's running the shop? There's a management problem here.

Like most management problems, someone needs to be promoted to a position where they cannot screw up. But that might not be wise here.

FIVE

The local paper, the Los Angeles Times, that arrives with a thud on the doorstep Sunday morning - USC dismantles UCLA, Texas wins big, and they will meet over the hills in Pasadena for the national championship - no one can figure out which schools will totally collapse in the next big quake (the study done was incompetent) - and this -
BAGHDAD - Private security contractors have been involved in scores of shootings in Iraq, but none have been prosecuted despite findings in at least one fatal case that the men had not followed proper procedures, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Times.

Instead, security contractors suspected of reckless behavior are sent home, sometimes with the knowledge of U.S. officials, raising questions about accountability and stirring fierce resentment among Iraqis.

Thousands of the heavily armed private guards are in Iraq, under contract with the U.S. government and private companies. The conduct of such security personnel has been one of the most controversial issues in the reconstruction of Iraq. Last week, a British newspaper publicized a so-called trophy video that appears to show private contractors in Iraq firing at civilian vehicles as an Elvis song plays in the background.

The contractors function in a legal gray area. Under an order issued by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority that administered Iraq until June 2004, contractors suspected of wrongdoing are to be prosecuted in their home countries. The contractors have immunity from Iraqi courts and have so far not faced American prosecution, giving little recourse to Iraqis seeking justice for wrongful shootings.
As Drum comments, this confirms last week's Telegraph story that private contractors are shooting "scores" of Iraqis just for the hell of it and pretty much doing it with impunity.

Well, that was discussed in these pages here, with lots of links to the sources. It's not our problem. The Aegis folks are a UK outfit, so we say it's the UK's job to deal with it. As noted previously, the UK folks are saying Aegis was under contract to us, so its OUR problem. The Iraqis have no say. We set it up so the contractors are immune from their fledgling, work-in-progress legal system.

There's not much more to say.

But there is this from Digby over at Hullabaloo -
Has anyone bothered to ask whether withdrawal of the military would mean withdrawal of contractors? Somehow, I doubt it. Our private army that answers to no one but its owners so it doesn't have to deal with all these messy old fashioned "laws" and "regulations" is going to be in Iraq for a long, long time.

I have little doubt that Rummy and Cheney have realized that it's a little more expensive since you have to pay the soldiers more than a hundred grand a year, but they're worth it. They're not hung up on all this honor and tradition crap. They know how to get the job done...
Hadn't thought of that. Yipes!

SIX

That professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan, the one who knows all the players and knows all the languages, Juan Cole, explains on the same day how Bush has created a theocracy in Iraq.

What?

The item is long and detailed with lots of odd names and odd players, but ends with this -
An Iraq dominated by religious Shiites who had often lived in exile in Iran for decades is inevitably an Iraq with warm relations with Tehran. The U.S., bogged down in a military quagmire in the Sunni Arab regions, cannot afford to provoke massive demonstrations and uprisings in the Shiite areas of Iraq by attacking Iran. Bush has inadvertently strengthened Iran, giving it a new, religious Shiite ally in the Gulf region. The traditional Sunni powers in the region, such as the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, are alarmed and annoyed that Bush has created a new "Shiite crescent." Far from weakening or overthrowing the ayatollahs, Bush has ensconced and strengthened them. Indeed, by chasing after imaginary weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he may have lost any real opportunity to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon should it decide to do so.

The real winners of the Iraq war are the Shiites.
And then there's Nir Rosen in The Atlantic with this -
What about the goal of creating a secular democracy in Iraq that respects the rights of women and non-Muslims?

Give it up. It's not going to happen. Apart from the Kurds, who revel in their secularism, Iraqis overwhelmingly seek a Muslim state. Although Iraq may have been officially secular during the 1970s and 1980s, Saddam encouraged Islamism during the 1990s, and the difficulties of the past decades have strengthened the resurgence of Islam. In the absence of any other social institutions, the mosques and the clergy assumed the dominant role in Iraq following the invasion. Even Baathist resistance leaders told me they have returned to Islam to atone for their sins under Saddam. Most Shiites, too, follow one cleric or another. Ayatollah al-Sistani - supposedly a moderate - wants Islam to be the source of law. The invasion of Iraq has led to a theocracy, which can only grow more hostile to America as long as U.S. soldiers are present.
Okay then, we went there to disarm Saddam. Nothing there. We really went there because he had ties to al Qaeda. Nothing there. We really went there to fight them there so we wouldn't have to fight them here. Madrid, Casablanca, Bali, London - but yes, not here. We really, really went there do build a secular, free-market, tolerant and pluralistic democracy that would transform the region as all nations in area would see what a fine thing that was and all change into secular, free-market, tolerant and pluralistic democracies. It seems we'll have to settle for a theocracy, allied with a nuclear armed Iran, that Saudi Arabia and Jordan, our long-time allies, will see as a real threat they will have to deal with.

Close enough?

Who says Sunday is a slow news day?

Posted by Alan at 23:05 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 4 December 2005 23:23 PST home


Topic: Announcements

Accept No Substitutes - Go to the Source

The new issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 3, Number 49 for the week of Sunday, December 4, 2005 - is now available. This is the weekly magazine-format parent site to this daily web log, and there you will find extended versions of items that first appeared here along with wealth of new material.

This week? The national dialog - on what we do, why we do it and who we really are - gets stranger each week and in this issue you will find detail of just how odd it has become. What seem like hot items, news stories that effect us all, gain traction or sink in the noise of the next issue. Do the Iraqis want us there or not, and what are our efforts doing not just to them, but also to us? And what's with their local death squads? Did we encourage what we now must stop? And the big issue hangs above it all - are we leaving there one day, or soon, or not, and who is deciding and who is spinning the issues, and why? The president spoke on this, and no one changed his or her position. Underneath it all, basically, we scorn each other. And we defend ourselves against all sorts of charges, and our government pushes back and perhaps makes things worse. And the religious-minded, some of them, want some radical changes in what we say is real. Oh my!

Well, "Our Man in London," Mick McCahill, sends word from there about chilly times over there too. "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, documents the end of the November madness there and the enthralling season where it seems not much happened - and offers a page of photos of that.

Bob Patterson is back, donning his tin-foil conspiracy hat in his role as the World's Laziest Journalist, but as the Book Wrangler gives solid advice to writers.

Southern California photography this week - The Santa Monica Pier - in eight nested pages of a foggy morning there, and a link to a fifty-eight shot photo album. Of course there are the usual botanical photographs that readers demand (but they're fun to shoot).

As a change of pace, the quotes this week are on language and thought - the basic stuff, said in very odd ways.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

Lining Up the Week: What's Hot News, What's Not
What Cannot Be Said: Done Deal - We're Out of There
Death Squads: Just Like Old Times - Leaving No Fingerprints
The Plan: The President Explains Everything, and Other Things Happen
Basics: Under the News
Hard Rice: Dominatrix Diplomacy
Three Details: Tying Up Loose Ends
Religion: The Devil in the Details

The International Desk ______________________

Our Man in London: Power Out
Our Man in Paris: Goodbye November

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Was "The Blond Ghost" in Dealey Plaza?
Book Wrangler: What Is A Fact Checker Supposed To Do With A Parable?

Guest Photography ______________________

Noël: Oh to be Rich and in Paris at Christmas

Southern California Photography ______________________

On Location: The Santa Monica Pier
Botanicals: December in Santa Monica

Quotes for the week of December 4, 2005 - On Language and Thought
Links and Recommendations: New Photo Album - On Location Again

Posted by Alan at 10:24 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Saturday, 3 December 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Three Details: Tying Up Loose Ends

One: Is it real or is it...?

As mentioned elsewhere, last Wednesday the Los Angeles Times reported the US military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by US information officers. The whole item is here - these stories "are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists."

The military funnels the stories through a Washington-based defense contractor - and those employees or subcontractors sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives. The Times quoted a senior Pentagon official - "Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it."

Think Armstrong Williams. Or this week, Arnold Shwarzenegger – see Judge Rebukes Schwarzenegger Administration for Use of Fake 'Video News Releases' on Nurse, Worker Issues and Gov.'s Fake News Videos Ruled Illegal. Well, California news stations need material, and real reporting is expensive.

And note here that CNN busted FEMA and their "Recovery Channel" in New Orleans. More fake news stories. You're government faking you out, with your money.

On the issue of us spending millions planting fake news stories in the Iraqi press, the left was saying we shouldn't be subverting a newly-born free press with propaganda disguised as news, that we bribe people to print as if it's real reporting, while on the right one hears the idea that of course we should just that - we need to get our message out and this is war. It all depends on your point of view.

The White House said it was "concerned" and the senate, led by Warner of Virginia, a major Republican, held quick hearings. And late Friday, the Pentagon, said, after the news cycle was closed for the week, "Yeah, we did that." The idea was that we wanted the truth out there. We hired this Lincoln Group to help out.

The truth? See this -
In July, one storyboard written by military personnel titled "Children Murdered at the Hands of Terrorists" was recast by Lincoln Group as an opinion column written by an Iraqi citizen. It was published July 19 in Baghdad's Al Sabah newspaper, documents show.

"Have we all given up?" the op-ed piece reads. "What kind of man am I if I tolerate the massacre of our children? What kind of human am I if I condone the slaughter of innocents? What kind of Muslim am I if I stand in silence as immoral cowards kill our children in the name of God and the prophet Muhammad?"

Documents show that Al Sabah was paid more than $1,500 to publish the piece.
Jayson Blair got fired from the New York Times, and brought down his editor with him, for less.

Lawrence DiRita, special assistant to Rumsfeld, acknowledged that our troops or Lincoln Group employees might have acted improperly. "I'm willing to believe that there were some transgressions along the way, and that's what we're trying to figure out."

Two: Christmas, the Silly Season

As mentioned elsewhere, this decade's answer to the fifty's Joseph McCarthy, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, published the first draft of his blacklist - but it was just media operations he considers "guttersnipes" and "smear merchants" - the New York Daily News, the St. Petersburg Times and MSNBC - purveyors of "defamation and false information supplied by far left Web sites." No individuals yet.

And note here O'Reilly warns America about the vast conspiracy to get rid of Christmas:

"There's a very secret plan. And it's a plan that nobody's going to tell you, 'Well, we want to diminish Christian philosophy in the U.S.A. because we want X, Y, and Z.' They'll never ever say that. But I'm kind of surprised they went after Christmas because it's such an emotional issue."

It's the ACLU and the secular Jews like George Soros, of course. Damn those Jews! They hate Christmas.

Best response here -
Personally I have no problem with government sponsorship of Christmas displays, as long as the authorities comply with equivalent requests from any other religionist.

We have to devise a proper display for agnostic/atheist position. Maybe a statue of George Carlin.

Instead of the Ten Commandments, something like the following: "The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness." - Vladimir Nabokov
Not bad.

Three: Buchanan Loses

There was a lot of criticism of the president this week, and here Richard Reeves asks the question, "Is George Bush the worst president ever?"

Oh my. Reeves says this all started with Kennedy, who was considered a historian because of his book "Profiles in Courage" (even if her didn't really write it). Kennedy used to receive requests to rate the presidents. Yeah, yeah - you start with Lincoln then Washington, or reverse it, and move down. When Kennedy actually became president he stopped answering these requests.

So who was the worst? Buchanan -
Poor James Buchanan, the 15th president, is generally considered the worst president in history. Ironically, the Pennsylvania Democrat, elected in 1856, was one of the most qualified of the 43 men who have served in the highest office. A lawyer, a self-made man, Buchanan served with some distinction in the House, served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and secretary of state under President James K. Polk. He had a great deal to do with the United States becoming a continental nation - "Manifest Destiny," war with Mexico, and all that. He was also ambassador to Great Britain and was offered a seat on the Supreme Court three separate times.

But he was a confused, indecisive president, who may have made the Civil War inevitable by trying to appease or negotiate with the South. His most recent biographer, Jean Clark, writing for the prestigious American Presidents Series, concluded this year that his actions probably constituted treason. It also did not help that his administration was as corrupt as any in history, and he was widely believed to be homosexual.

Whatever his sexual preferences, his real failures were in refusing to move after South Carolina announced secession from the Union and attacked Fort Sumter, and in supporting both the legality of the pro-slavery constitution of Kansas and the Supreme Court ruling in the Dred Scott class declaring that escaped slaves were not people but property.
Yep, he left a lot for Lincoln to clean up.

But then Reeve says he's talked with "three significant historians" in the past few months "who would not say it in public," but who think this Bush guy is giving Buchanan a run for his money.

Data? From the History News Network at George Mason University - four hundred and fifteen, about a third of those contacted, answered, so the sample is "informal" as the statisticians say - 338 said they believed Bush was failing and 77 said he was succeeding. Fifty said they thought he was the worst president ever.

Here's the problem as Reeve summarizes it -

? He has taken the country into an unwinnable war and alienated friend and foe alike in the process;
? He is bankrupting the country with a combination of aggressive military spending and reduced taxation of the rich;
? He has deliberately and dangerously attacked separation of church and state;
? He has repeatedly "misled," the American people on affairs domestic and foreign;
? He has proved to be incompetent in affairs domestic (New Orleans) and foreign (Iraq and the battle against al-Qaida);
? He has sacrificed American employment (including the toleration of pension and benefit elimination) to increase overall productivity;
? He is ignorantly hostile to science and technological progress;
? He has tolerated or ignored one of the republic's oldest problems, corporate cheating in supplying the military in wartime.

Other than that, he's doing fine.


BONUS:

In these pages on October 30th here, in the section "The Italian Connection," you'd find a discussion and many links to the idea that maybe the source document showing Saddam Hussein's guys were trying to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger wasn't just a crude forgery, but part of some sort of conspiracy by the Italians, or somebody, maybe some of Cheney's guys, to make this war more "sellable" to the world public, or at least to the frightened American public.

No, no. Couldn't be.

A week ago the FBI was starting to back off their blanket exoneration of the Italian government for any role in this. But Saturday's Los Angeles Times reports that the FBI has decided to 'reopen' the inquiry into the forged documents. That's here.

Probably nothing - but you never know.

Posted by Alan at 17:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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