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Posts Tagged ‘Iraq

Obama Moves to Massively Expand Covert Military Abroad

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Via The New York Times, President Obama has just ordered a “broad expansion of clandestine military operations” in an attempt to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda”. The ‘covert operations’ will likely include anything from target assassinations, ‘drone’ attacks in Pakistan, secret bombing campaigns, money transfers to client states (a la Karzai and Maliki), and many things in-between. This is a significant move for a variety of reasons, not least of which stands the utter lack of public consultation for such a policy.

Mr. Greenwald has a timely essay on why Mr. Obama can undertake such extreme actions in the absence not only of opposition to his imperial policy, but indeed, any discussion whatsoever. Our major news outlets have reported the order in classic ‘objective’ style, assigning as little controversy to it as possible and treating it instead as a run-of-the-mill executive action. But it is interesting to examine why, in this year 2010, after nine continuous years of war, public opinion is such that a unilateral expansion of our secret military complex can occur with as little discussion as imaginable.

First, Mr. Greenwald notes, because this military expansion is taking place under a “Democratic” President, it creates the illusion of so-called ‘bipartisan support’. Back when President Bush was carrying out covert operations in Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc., they were painted as the actions of an ‘extremist’ administration, one which regards the opposition with disdain and made a point of treating international law with utter contempt. However, after 18 months of military escalation, these wars are as much Mr. Obama’s (that is, “Democratic” wars), as they were Mr. Bush’s. As such, the number of “Democrats” willing to risk their political futures by opposing military action has dropped precipitously, as have the number of war-opposers in the general population. Specifically, the subset of people for whom Mr.Obama can do no wrong will automatically agree with his war policy – or if they disagree, put forth some excuse as to how Mr. Obama ‘has no choice’.

The biggest reason Mr. Greenwald identifies, however, is the complete lack of documented impact these wars have on our livelihood. It has been often mentioned that, unlike in Vietnam, very few Americans have had to go to war against their will. Our press is largely censored as to the true cost of our warfare not only on the beleaguered people of Iraq and Afghanistan, but even our own soldiers. Recall the recent dust-up when our Secretary of War, Robert Gates, “harshly condemned” the media’s display of a flag-draped coffin. And that was just one soldier, who had admittedly died in combat, but whose grisly death we had been totally shielded from.  As much as possible, we citizens are encouraged not to think about our military “commitments” abroad, and instead to simply carry on with our daily lives, a few dollars shorter than the day before, a little more ragged perhaps, but still inestimably “proud” of our “commitment” to “democracy in the Middle East”. One wonders just how far that pride would take us if more than 1% of the US population was involved in our military escapades, as the statistic stands now.

But beyond that, what Mr. Greenwald hints at but never explicitly states, is the psychology of powerlessness to which we citizens are routinely subjected. We literally have no say in what our government does abroad, and we have less and less of a say in even its domestic policies. In the 2008 elections, both candidates were unabashedly pro-war, Mr. Obama more so than even his most fervent supporters might have dreamt. For whom are we to vote if we wish to exit Iraq and Afghanistan immediately? Which Congressman, which Senator would even entertain such a possibility? To whom do we donate that we can be sure our paltry $50 will not be rendered irrelevant by the millions of dollars industry interests donate in order to keep these wars going? It is an implacable question, one made all the more urgent by President Obama’s dramatic escalation of our already over-stretched ‘commitments’.

The feeling of powerlessness can lead to apathy, but also to fear. When one recalls the brutality to which previous “anti-war protesters” have been subjected in the US, including savage beatings with nightsticks, water-cannons, ear-splitting sound emitters, tear gas and rubber bullets, it is not hard to imagine from whence this fear of dissent arises. Recall, also, that since the Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007 passed, civil disobedience – the mere act of peaceful protest – has been defined as ‘terrorism’. And once you are accused of ‘terrorism’, citizen or no, you are immediately stripped of every right you think you have.

This latest move towards military hegemony is particularly insidious, and I suppose it follows that Mr. Obama merely announced his policy, in true decree style, with little or no discussion. With one stroke of a pen, Mr. Obama has resserved the right to carry out military operations anywhere around the globe, from “surgical strikes”, bombing campaigns, ground incursions, assassinations, or, indeed, anything his enigmatic mind may wish. It is worth remembering at this point that Mr. Obama also reserves the right to assassinate US citizens in their beds (that is, far from a battlefield), and ‘render’ accused terrorists to a global prison complex where no defense attorney dares enter. There, they can be beaten, tortured, or even murdered, far from the watchful eye of the Red Cross.

It is easy to imagine this latest move on the part of Mr. Obama is merely a continuation of Mr.  Bush’s odious policies. It is that, of course, but its implications go far deeper. Mr. Bush’s covert actions were largely piecemeal: an assassination here, a few ‘drone’ attacks there, maybe some ‘cash assistance’ to some friendly dictator or another for spice. In contrast, Mr. Obama’s new ‘national security strategy‘ systematizes these covert acts of aggression, and sets up, in essence, a new governmental body, with no congressional or popular oversight, to carry out his murderous will around the globe. It is difficult to overstate the significance of this ‘overhaul’, yet it is even more difficult to convince anyone of that significance.

Mr. Hitler once coined the term for the Germans as a ‘sleep-walking people’, but the same could easily be said of Americans (or, for that matter, anyone else). We face, in our generation, a confluence of crises of which we are only just beginning to see the magnitude, and unfortunately the first step to solving a crisis is to realize it exists, something for which, at least with regards to our present constitutional crisis, we still have quite some ways to go.

Written by pavanvan

May 27, 2010 at 10:05 pm

How The US Funds the Taliban

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I want to draw attention to this article by legendary investigative journalist Aram Roston in last November’s The Nation, which gives some pretty compelling evidence that the US plans Afghanistan to be an endless war. The US taxpayer is apparently the Taliban’s single biggest donor.

Now, many would argue that we’re merely ending the war through monetary means, but you have to really think about what this implies. The Taliban may decide not to shoot at us for the time being, but this money being  given to them now can be used against us at any future date. The Taliban are evidently a cheap organization to run, and with millions of US dollars they can continue resisting forever.

This is simply not rational behavior for a country who’s avowed goal is to “defeat the Taliban”. It is rational for a country who wishes always to have a “Taliban” around to fight.

As one of the truck drivers on the route we pay the Taliban not to fire upon says:

Hanna explained that the prices charged are different, depending on the route: “We’re basically being extorted. Where you don’t pay, you’re going to get attacked. We just have our field guys go down there, and they pay off who they need to.” Sometimes, he says, the extortion fee is high, and sometimes it is low. “Moving ten trucks, it is probably $800 per truck to move through an area. It’s based on the number of trucks and what you’re carrying. If you have fuel trucks, they are going to charge you more. If you have dry trucks, they’re not going to charge you as much. If you are carrying MRAPs or Humvees, they are going to charge you more.”

We have been pursuing the same strategy as part of our “Surge” in Iraq with the so-called “Sunni Awakening”, and while every pundit to the right of an anarchist crows that “The Surge Worked”, we have not seen any political reconciliation there, no disarmament, and no end to suicide attacks (an average of 1.5 of which occurred every week in 2009).

I have no doubt that the “Afghan Surge” or whatever it is they’re calling it nowadays will be trumpeted from every news outlet within six months as the greatest victory since Julius Caesar. But, as in Iraq, I think we will find a full withdrawal to be still in the infinite future.

Written by pavanvan

April 18, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Why Ben Metcalf Pays His Taxes

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Harper’s has just made for free an outstanding essay by their literary editor, Ben Metcalf, entitled “Why I Pay My Taxes“. It was first published in April, 2008, and should be required reading for everyone on tax day.

Excerpts:

Who has nottoppled republics and tyrannies alike so that a corporation he took no personal interest in might enhance by meaningless increment an already criminal profit? Who has notwatched on his television set as a bomb or a tank he helped personally to pay for made a charred and limbless stump out of what previously was an innocent (if un-American) child? I might also ask, if only out of curiosity: just how many of these children needed to be chopped up and burnt before at last my fellow citizens thought to stop payment on the meat grinder and the furnace? One hundred? One thousand? Ten thousand? More?

Does not a single such death constitute a villainy no latter-day tax protest could hope to overcome? Was even that one small tragedy not predicted by our military accountants well in advance of any physical war, to be folded neatly into their projections of “collateral damage”? And have we not all of us long understood this phrase to be but a transparent attempt to log beforehand a formal regret over the slaughter to come while implying also that said slaughter will be accidental and therefore, magically, unforeseen?

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In 2007, to take but my most recent foray, I paid something on the order of $20,000 into the federal pail. Of this sum, I can be assured that 31 percent, or $6,200, was put toward current military expenses (which would strike me as almost miserly if it did not far surpass what I have given at any one time to any other cause). Of this $6,200, I know that roughly 23 percent, or $1,400 (also more than I have given at any one time to any other cause), went immediately to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which our current administration, the second Bush, claims already to have won.

_____

Surely, though, I can say with some certainty that the $1,400 I sent last year to the wars abroad scored at least on occasion. That unassuming sum, after all, would have paid for 5,000 M16 machine-gun bullets at 28 cents per. Five thousand bullets! Is notone of these now lodged in a foreign corpse on my tab and my behalf? True, the price has gone up since then (by a whopping 2 cents), but that still promises a good 4,666-bullet year, and with luck I might get a cost-of-living raise to make up the difference.

The whole thing is grimly hilarious, and well worth reading.

Written by pavanvan

April 16, 2010 at 10:09 am

Iraq Elections: US Chooses its Favorite

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It looks as though our trusty client Maliki will come out ahead in the 2010 Iraqi elections after all, if this McClatchy dispatch is any indication. Carrying out long-standing political discrimination against the disgraced Ba’ath party, six major candidates will lose their votes and seats, costing Allawi (another US client) his victory. The six candidates committed the awful crime of having been associated with the Ba’ath party before the US invasion:

Six winning candidates in Iraq elections will be stripped of their votes and lose their seats – which would cost secular politician Iyad Allawi’s bloc its narrow victory – if a federal court upholds a broad purge of candidates who are suspected of past involvement with the late dictator Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party, Iraqi officials said Monday.

What’s most appalling about this development is not that the Iraqis had to choose between two pro-occupation candidates, but that Ahmad Chalabi is in charge of the so-called ‘de-baathification”, and thus in a position to unilaterally decide who can and cannot contest elections in Iraq. Chalabi, you must remember, was a major architect of the 2003 invasion, and went so far as to provide fake intelligence to convince Bush to bomb Baghdad. Astoundingly, Chalabi also contested the 2010 Iraqi Elections, while retaining the power to disqualify candidates at will. (Unsurprisingly, he won re-election.)

Aram Roston has written several excellent articles detailing Ahmad Chalabi’s crucial role in the Iraq invasion, and his 2008 article in The Nation entitled “Chalabi’s lobby” is a must read. Why Chalabi is still in such a powerful position after the Senate Intelligence Committee determined he had (in their words) “attempted to influence United States policy on Iraq by providing false information” is totally beyond me.

Somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon, some master brain or another must have decided that the US would rather have Maliki in the Prime Minster’s seat rather than Allawi, and gave the order to Chalabi (who has been collaborating with the US Department of War since the ’90s) to disqualify such-and-such candidates to make Maliki come out on top.

The truth is, it doesn’t really matter – not to the Iraqis, anyway. Either Allawi or Maliki would have carried out US policy like the obedient servants they are. Whoever won, the Iraqis would still be saddled with a long-term occupation force of 50,000, their oil would still have gone up on the international market, with no chance of nationalizing it, and their elections would continue to be rigged in favor of the US – just as this one was.

When they said we’d be bringing “democracy” to Iraq, I’m sure our leaders meant “US-style democracy”. You know, the kind where the electorate chooses between two candidates with identical policies and who are funded by the same corrupt sources. Just like we have it here!

Written by pavanvan

March 30, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Mendacity and the Recent Iraq Elections

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The Times has a review of Iraq’s recent parliamentary elections that is written from a rather blatant pro-occupation standpoint. Our main client, Nuri al-Malki, the current Prime Minister, has apparently just lost, leaving Iraq’s future “uncertain” and maybe provoking “violence that could threaten plans to withdraw American troops.”

The rest of the article covers how our client is outraged that he lost and demands a recount, something of which the Times would seem to approve. The Times quotes some scary-sounding US generals to justify its fears of “violence”, even though very little has yet occurred. Then comes the obligatory “one side says – the other side says”, as they give us a couple spot interviews with Allawi supporters and detractors. They end the article with speculation that Allawi may  not be able to form a government, and if this is the case, the Prime Ministership will go back into the hands of our faithful client Maliki. After reading the article one gets the distinct impression that the Iraqis have to choose between Allawi and Maliki, with Al-Sadr (the “anti-American cleric) a somewhat distant third.

Mind-bogglingly, The Times completely neglects to mention that Ayad Allawi is also an American client, having led the Iraqi interim government along with Ahmed Chalabi, the main Iraqi collaborator in the US invasion. (It was Chalabi that sold us fake records of Saddam’s WMD program). I cannot wrap my mind around why The Times would not consider this important information. All they say is that Allawi was “once derided as an American puppet”, a phrase that gives the distinct impression Allawi has stoped collaborating with the US – but he hasn’t.

By focusing primarily on the mysterious “violence” that may or may not occur as a result of this election, the Times elides the true scandal of this election, that only pro-occupation candidates are allowed to win. Hyping up this rather pathetic squabble between to very similar candidates does nothing to help us understand the political undercurrents in Iraq. Al-Sadr was mentioned only once in this article (as a “possible kingmaker”), but remains largely irrelevant to the narrative The Times purveys, one which seeks to justify further US occupation of Iraq and gives voice only to candidates who will ensure that.

Written by pavanvan

March 27, 2010 at 11:46 am

Obama Covers Up FBI Fraud in Anthrax Case

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You may remember the so-called anthrax attacks in 2001, which were widely cited as a reason to attack Iraq. The lasting image in the run-up to the war is of Colin Powell sitting in front of the UN, shaking a vial of anthrax and saying “We know this came from Saddam”. Of course it didn’t. And for years afterward, no one quite knew who the mysterious “anthrax attacker” was.

Then, in 2008, the FBI came out with its decision that the anthrax attacker was one Bruce Ivins, an apparently disgruntled Army biodefense expert who committed suicide just days before the justice department planned to formally charge him. Since Mr. Ivins was dead, the FBI saw no need to gather any additional evidence or reveal what evidence they had already gathered. Case Closed!

Not quite. Glenn Greenwald and several other bloggers have cast deep aspersions on the FBI’s investigation, stopping just short of calling it a fraud. In his sublime article, Greenwald noted several unresolved questions in the FBI’s investigation – questions which, it would now seem, will never be solved. Also see this, this, and this.

Greenwald isn’t the only one with questions. Last Thursday, Rep. Steve Holt called on Congress to begin a new investigation. As he wrote in a letter to Congress:

To date, there has been no comprehensive examination of the FBI’s conduct in this investigation, and a number of important questions remain unanswered.

We don’t know why the FBI jumped so quickly to the conclusion that the source of the material used in the attacks could only have come from a domestic lab, in this case, Ft. Dietrick. We don’t know why they focused for so long, so intently, and so mistakenly on Dr. Hatfill.

We don’t know whether the FBI’s assertions about Dr. Ivins’ activities and behavior are accurate. We don’t know if the FBI’s explanation for the presence of silica in the anthrax spores is truly scientifically valid. We don’t know whether scientists at other government and private labs who assisted the FBI in the investigation actually concur with the FBI’s investigative findings and conclusions.

We don’t know whether the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Postal Service have learned the right lessons from these attacks and have implemented measures to prevent or mitigate future such bioterror attacks.

You can read the full letter here. Rep. Holt joins Senator Pat Leahy, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Arlen Specter, and several others in expressing deep skepticism on the FBI’s narrative. What would cause all these senators and representatives, from both sides of the aisle, to question the FBI’s findings?

And on top of it all, President Obama has threatened to veto an intelligence budget bill (a move which I would normally be all for), because it carries a provision to investigate the FBI’s handling of the anthrax case. Why would he do this?

Well, according to him, an investigation “would undermine public confidence in a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of the attacks and unfairly cast doubt on its conclusions,”. To tell you the truth, that statement did far more to undermine my confidence in the FBI than any investigation would have.

This whole thing stinks of a cover-up. At this point I think it extremely likely that the anthrax scare was deliberately put on by the Bush Administration (at the cost of five lives) in order to drum up support for the Iraq War. It was just too convenient! Think of how many speeches in which President Bush or one of his flunkies accused Saddam of manufacturing anthrax. The only thing that made those threats credible was the anthrax attack that already happened in the US.

So the FBI, under immense public pressure to find someone responsible decides upon Bruce Ivins. But they know if the case went to court, their fraud would be exposed. So they “arrange” for him to commit suicide, thus precluding the possibility of a trial but still closing the case once and for all.

Then President Obama uses his muscle to make sure the case stays closed, by threatening his first veto over the matter. It’s all too easy.

Also, see this. Dr. Meryl Nass is an expert in the subject, and was intimately involved with Bruce Ivins’s research. She rounds up 16 major holes in the FBI’s case against Bruce Ivins, including the fact that no autopsy was performed on Ivin’s body (so we’re supposed to just take their word that it was a suicide).

Remember, without these anthrax attacks, President Bush would have had a far more difficult time convincing the country to go to war with Iraq, and many think he could not have done it. The FBI’s case is full of holes and begs for a more thorough investigation. Ask yourself: why is President Obama so intent on letting sleeping dogs lie? What does he think this investigation will reveal? Why is he willing to veto a major intelligence bill to make sure that Bruce Ivins remains the sole anthrax perpetrator?

US Contractors Engage in Massive Iraq Fraud

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The Times with a startling report:

Some of the cases involve people who are suspected of having mailed tens of thousands of dollars to themselves from Iraq, or of having stuffed the money into duffel bags and suitcases when leaving the country, the federal investigators said. In other cases, millions of dollars were moved through wire transfers. Suspects then used cash to buy BMWs, Humvees and expensive jewelry, or to pay off enormous casino debts.

Some suspects also tried to conceal foreign bank accounts in Ghana, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Britain, the investigators said, while in other cases, cash was simply found stacked in home safes.

So the taxpayer paid to invade Iraq, then the taxpayer paid to rebuild Iraq. But really what the taxpayer was doing was paying corrupt “contractors” to shove money into duffel bags and make off into the sunset. Hooray for “deregulation!”

Written by pavanvan

March 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm

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Fallujah Sees Dramatic Rise in Birth Defects After US Battle

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From the BBC:

We went to a house where three children, all under six, were suffering from birth defects.

Two boys were partially paralysed, and their sister clearly had serious brain damage.

Like all the other parents we spoke to, their mother had no doubt that the American attacks were responsible.

Outside, a man who had heard we were there had brought his four-year-old daughter to show us. She had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot.

She was also suffering from a number of other serious health problems. The father told us that the house where they still lived had been hit by an American shell during the fighting in 2004.

There may well be a link with drinking-water, especially in al-Julan.

After the fighting was over, the rubble from the town was bulldozed into the river bank, and most people in this area get their water from the river.

Written by pavanvan

March 11, 2010 at 12:23 am

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Tasers and Ray Guns – The “Soft-Kill” Option

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Harper’s has a sublime report on the Army’s latest weaponry, unfortunately accessible only to subscribers. Over the past decade and more, weapons manufacturers have been pushing the Pentagon on what they call “soft-kill”, non-lethal “crowd dispersal” machines. They can utilize sound (via ear-drum shattering frequencies), or, as Ando Arike describes in his report, intense microwave beams that heat one’s skin to 130 degrees, causing mortal pain – but, as the Pentagon hastens to point out, “non-lethal” pain.

The implications of a device of this nature are enormous. Ando cites a 60 Minutes piece, what he rightly calls “essentially a twelve-minute Pentagon infomercial” emphasizing the “huge numbers of  lives that could be saved” via this technology – the riots in Iraq we could quell peacefully, the protests we could “disperse” without firing a shot, etc. You know those darn Iraqis are always rioting over some fool thing or another.

More troubling is the recent deployment of the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team from Iraq to various American cities to help with “crowd control” in the coming social unrest as oil and other resources become scarce.

The obvious danger of these weapons, and what almost no mainstream outlet has bothered to mention, is that they will eventually be used against the American populace. The First Amendment rather explicitly states our right to assemble, but these weapons render that right obsolete. Who decides which gatherings have become “unruly”, for which “limited force is necessary”?

Unless the nature of their “movement” changes radically, I have little doubt the “Tea Party” protesters will have very much to worry about, but what of the anti-war protesters? One needs only to recall the various “anti-globalization” protests on which the US government employed tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound guns to see how far the government is willing to go.

In earlier days, governments often had no choice to break up a gathering except by lethal violence, and an arms race has developed for the most effective method to disperse crowds without killing them. As Ando remarks, the proliferation of digital media has given truth to the phrase “the world is watching.” – and no one likes a massacre.

Enter the “Ray Gun”. That rather slavish MSNBC article presents it in the brightest possible light, but the result still looks pretty grim. The thing makes you feel like you’re on fire, as Fox News enthusiastically reports. You have no time to think or decide what to do. Your only instinct is “Run.”

The practical value of this for totalitarianism must be enormous, but our press has shown it nothing but enthusiasm. This article from Gizmodo must be read to be believed (emphasis mine):

The U.S. military has developed a non-lethal ray gun that makes people feel like they’re on fire. Yes! It’s supposed to be used in places like Iraq and Afghanistan (where else?) in order to disperse crowds and get people to cooperate. It uses millimeter electromagnetic waves to penetrate the skin and raises body temperature to 130 degrees Fahrenheit near instantly. Combine this with other top notch U.S. military technology and it’s pretty easy to see why we’re number one, now and forever.

“Where else” indeed. I can just imagine some Pentagon hack writing with special care to inject some colloquialisms – to appeal to the kids, of course.

But even our hallowed institutions have succumbed to the Ray Gun’s unnatural charms, like the BBC, whose only quote is of a military flunky describing the device by saying:

“This is a breakthrough technology that’s going to give our forces a capability they don’t now have,” defence official Theodore Barna told Reuters news agency.

“We expect the services to add it to their tool kit. And that could happen as early as 2010.”

Anyone who thinks these devices will only be used in Iraq or Afghanistan has some serious optimism. If the Army has already deployed several contingents to the US, and they have added this device to their repertoire, then I think it’s only reasonable to assume they will use it.

I’m not sure Ando mentions this in his article, but we can also drop this whole bit about the weapon being “non-lethal” and “harmless”. Anyone with a high-school knowledge of chemistry or physics knows that microwave frequencies are carcinogenic.

Written by pavanvan

March 6, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Posted in War

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Bribery in Iraq Elections and NYT Approval

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Well, The Times finally picked up on the story about widespread bribery going on in Iraq’s upcoming elections, and surprise! The article’s thesis is that it’s “no big deal” and “just the way they do things there.” The Times hardly mentions the word “bribe”, preferring instead the far more acceptable phrase “gift”. As you read their “report”, I’d like you to imagine what their reaction would be if, say, Iran had engaged in the same practices:

Across the country, voters are reaping a windfall as candidates in Sunday’s parliamentary elections offer gifts like heating oil and rice. When a candidate recently showed up in a poor village outside Baquba to distribute frozen chickens — in a literal homage to the political slogan “a chicken in every pot” — so many people rushed to get the free birds that many left disappointed after the supply ran out.

You may remember in yesterday’s Guardian a full article describing US darling Al-Maliki’s tactic to win re-election, which was handing out American-made arms to various “tribal leaders”. Now, most people would consider this a serious misuse of American aid, and an extremely dubious election strategy. However, the New York Times is not most people. They bury that story in the middle of the article and select a quote that basically signals their approval of the practice.

When Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was asked about allegations that he gave tribal leaders pistols, emblazoned with a personal stamp, he openly defended the action.

“Some people criticize me for giving people pistols,” he said during a meeting with security officials broadcast on television. “Honestly, I wish I could give a pistol and a rifle to each one who stood beside the government against the gangs to express our appreciation.”

That’s it. That’s all they have to say on the matter. Again, I invite you to imagine what their reaction would be if, say, Hugo Chavez had been accused of buying votes with guns (US-made guns, no less). I think they’d have more to say.

With colorful language and delectable descriptions of “election feasts”, it’s clear the Times wants us to believe that the elections are going A-OK: everyone is campaigning peacefully, and “Democracy” is taking root in Iraq.

Of course, it wouldn’t do to mention the 352 killed in sectarian violence during the month of February – that would go against their narrative of a happy, peaceful election – so they don’t. Similarly, no one at the Times wants to mention the Kurdish activist who was injured in pre-election violence a few days ago.

Now, I’m sure many Iraqis are thrilled with the prospect of “gifts” in exchange for votes, and I’m equally sure that those “tribal leaders” were ecstatic with their free American guns. But for the New York Times to take these as the hallmarks of a successful election,  and especially for them not to mention the very real violence occurring behind the scenes demonstrates, I’m afraid, how debauched our own democracy has become.

Written by pavanvan

March 2, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Maliki Giving Away US Arms to Win Election

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Here’s a story the US mainstream wouldn’t dare report. Luckily we have The Guardian! It’s election season in Iraq once again, and these guys buy their votes a little differently than our politicians do. Instead of simply buying votes with cash or misleading advertisements, or via “political action committees”, US-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has decided to just do away with the middleman and directly hand out US arms to his citizens in exchange for votes. I have the feeling these tactics would have done much to ingratiate President Obama with the “tea party” faction in American politics.

As The Guardian says:

A senior Iraqi spy has accused the prime minister, Nour al-Maliki, of handing out thousands of guns to tribal leaders in a bid to win votes. The claim was made by Iraqi National Intelligence Service former spokesman, Saad al-Alusi, a week before Iraq’s general election, in which allegations of vote buying and exorbitant handouts have become widespread

“He has given at least hundreds of them to tribal leaders in Amara, Nasireya, Diwaniya and many other provinces, Sayedi said. “They are American-made and arrived by the middle of 2009. It is a cheap way to buy votes. Saddam used to do the same. Maliki said he gave the guns out so that tribal leaders could protect themselves. So he wants to protect them and yet judges and lawyers die every day. What is the role of the Iraqi army and police? I hope the tribes will see through this.”

How charming. Our efforts at “building Democracy” in Iraq are certainly paying off! I hasten to remind my readers that if Maliki were an “unfriendly” dictator, the US media would be howling against this latest transgression against democracy, this blatant attempt at vote-rigging, and the severe danger that comes from giving away free guns to volatile tribes in Iraq. We’d be screaming about how Maliki is “supporting terror”, blatantly arming the “worst elements” within his polity. As it is, our press is utterly silent on this issue.

Written by pavanvan

March 1, 2010 at 11:02 am

Profiles in Idiocy: Thomas Friedman

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Here we go again! Another evasive, revisionist piece of trash from none other than our favorite warmonger, Thomas Friedman! I hasten to point out that Friedman was one of the Iraq War’s biggest cheerleaders, once exhorting the starving Iraqi masses to “Suck. On. This.” (i.e. our bombs). That linked YouTube video comes highly recommended because it reveals, for all the world to see, just what a slimy reptile Mr. Friedman really is. But no, he’s not finished! In his February 24th New York Times column he takes his complete lack of ethics, his shifting morality, and his base “intellectualism” to a new low.

Tongue-twistingly entitled “Iraq’s Known Unknowns, Still Unknown” (a ‘clever’ play, I suppose, on Rumsfeld’s famous quote), his article begins with one of the most poorly written, eurocentric, history-denying openings I’ve ever seen:

From the very beginning of the U.S. intervention in Iraq and the effort to build some kind of democracy there, a simple but gnawing question has lurked in the background: Was Iraq the way Iraq was (a dictatorship) because Saddam was the way Saddam was, or was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraq was the way Iraq was — a collection of warring sects incapable of self-rule and only governable with an iron fist?

Maybe Iraq was “the way it was” because the Untied States actively funded Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship for decades. Has this man ever read a history book? We supported Saddam all through the ’80s, and then after his failed adventure in Kuwait we imposed “sanctions” on Iraq which had the net effect of strengthening his regime, albeit at the cost of 500,000 Iraqi children (what Madeline Albright called “a price worth paying”). Does he think that may have something to do with it? Nah, it’s much easier to just be a racist and tar Iraq as a “collection of warring sects incapable of self-rule and only governable with an iron fist”. That way the US invasion almost seems justified!

It’s hard to imagine anyone topping that astounding bit of stupidity, but really, Friedman is just getting started:

Ironically, though, it was the neo-conservative Bush team that argued that culture didn’t matter in Iraq, and that the prospect of democracy and self-rule would automatically bring Iraqis together to bury the past. While many liberals and realists contended that Iraq was an irredeemable tribal hornet’s nest and we should not be sticking our hand in there; it was a place where the past would always bury the future.

But stick we did, and in so doing we gave Iraqis a chance to do something no other Arab people have ever had a chance to do: freely write their own social contract on how they would like to rule themselves and live together.

Oh boy! I’m sure the Iraqis were just thrilled that we gave them the chance to “freely write their own social contract” – I mean, sure, it was at the barrel of US artillery, but it’s not nice to talk about that, right, Friedman? And I think you’re missing something here. Do you remember something called “WMDs”? You know, the ones that we never found? I think that was the real reason we attacked Iraq, in blatant violation of international law. All this talk of “supporting democracy” came afterward.

Also, the “liberals and realists” did not contend that Iraq was an “irredeemable tribal hornet’s nest”, you miserable racist. We said that America shouldn’t “stick [its] hand there” because attacking a country that was not actively preparing to declare war would be a monstrous act of aggression and an express violation of international law. It’s “irredeemable” to “contend” otherwise.

Then Mr. Friedman talks about his latest meeting with Gen. Odierno, who, along with Joe Biden, has apparently done the most to “coax, cajole, and occasionally shove Iraq away from the abyss”. You know, the abyss that we opened up. The Iraqis sure are lucky they had Uncle Sam around to “cajole” them away from it!

I found the general hopeful but worried. He was hopeful because he has seen Iraqis go to the brink so many times and then pull back, but worried because sectarian violence is steadily creeping back ahead of the elections and certain Shiite politicians, like the former Bush darling Ahmed Chalabi — whom General Odierno indicated is clearly “influenced by Iran” and up to no good — have been trying to exclude some key Sunni politicians from the election.

Wrong, you colossal ass, a thousand times wrong! Jesus Christ, I can’t believe you work for the New York Times. The real reason “some key Sunni politicians” are being excluded from the Iraqi election is because of a specific order by our own Paul Bremer that banned former Ba’ath party members from contesting elections. Your own newspaper reminded us of this just five days before your column ran. Don’t you read newspapers? But it’s so much easier to shift the blame onto our scapegoat Chalabi, isn’t it? Facts are just too cumbersome.

How does Friedman think the elections might play out? Well…

The ideal but least likely scenario is that we see the emergence of an Iraqi Shiite Nelson Mandela. The Shiites, long suppressed by Iraq’s Baathist-led Sunni minority, are now Iraq’s ruling majority. Could Iraq produce a Shiite politician, who, like Mandela, would be a national healer — someone who would use his power to lead a real reconciliation instead of just a Shiite dominion? So far, no sign of it.

Okay, you want to see a “Shiite Nelson Mandela”. What has the US been doing to promote this? Well, we’ve been arbitrarily arresting and throwing Shiites in jail on false pretexts for a while now. Didn’t Nelson Mandela go to jail? We’ve brutally occupied their country and left it swarming with mercenaries. I guess that’s kind of like South Africa? I don’t know. Maybe Mr. Friedman could just drop this dishonest comparison to Nelson Mandela and try and give some real solutions. Nah, that’s too hard.

So tell us what you don’t want, Mr. Friedman:

The two scenarios you don’t want to see are: 1) Iraq’s tribal culture triumphing over politics and the country becoming a big Somalia with oil; or 2) as America fades away, Iraq’s Shiite government aligning itself more with Iran, and Iran becoming the kingmaker in Iraq the way Syria has made itself in Lebanon.

Again with the racial overtures! Good lord, what kind of human being are you? “Iraq’s tribal culture”, eh? “A big Somalia with oil”? Did you really write that with a straight face? You “pundits” are all the same. If a country doesn’t have cars and multinational corporations in it, then its automatically a “tribal” culture. Man, you would have fit right in with the European imperialists laying waste to Asia and South America. You were born in the wrong century, Mr. Friedman!

As to your second scenario: forgive me, but why? Why shouldn’t Iraq be friends with its neighbor, Iran? Just because you, personally, wouldn’t like it? What do you mean by “kingmaker”? Iraq’s culture is predominantly Shi’a – so to a reasonable observer it should make sense that Iraq and Iran would be friends. Mr. Friedman, however, is not a reasonable observer.

He ends with a parting shot, and a last bit of historical revisionism:

Why should we care when we’re leaving? Quite simply, so much of the turmoil in the region was stoked over the years by Saddam’s Iraq and Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, both financed by billions in oil revenues. If, over time, a decent democratizing regime could emerge in Iraq and a similar one in Iran — so that oil wealth was funding reasonably decent regimes rather than retrograde ones — the whole Middle East would be different.

Mr. Friedman, unlike myself, was actually alive to remember the Iran-Contra scandal, and thus has no excuse for this spectacular display of ignorance. “So much of the turmoil” in the region was not stoked by “billions in oil revenues”, as it was by billions in CIA dollars, paid to both sides, with express instructions to keep fighting. I mean Jesus, how can he not remember this? The United States gave arms and funding to both sides of the Iraq-Iran conflict, and used the proceeds to illegally fund a terrorist group in Nicaragua. Doesn’t he think that “stoked” some turmoil in the region? I guess when you’re Thomas Friedman, history just doesn’t matter.

I simply cannot believe this guy is writing for The New York Times while tens of millions of Americans are out of work. Anyone who has graduated from high school has a firmer grasp of history than Thomas Friedman. Anyone short of a Ku Klux Klan member has more ethical integrity. Thomas Friedman is a joke.

Profiles in Idiocy: Anne Applebaum

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Anne Applebaum has won major accolades for her Gulag: A History, for which she owes a huge debt of gratitude to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and which constitutes the poor man’s history of the Soviet Union – for when you want your histories dull and without universal insights into human nature. Her work for The Washington Post, however, has been singularly atrocious, and one wonders what, exactly, she learned from all her research into the depths of evil.

Her columns consistently and unapologetically disavow international law, human rights, or any concern for civilian casualties – each week brings a new and more forceful call to “defend our allies” and “defeat our enemies”, usually with only the most token concern for anyone who might stand in our way.

Her latest article, horrifically entitled: “Prepare for War With Iran – In Case Israel Strikes” displays all of her odious tendencies, and is worth discussing in detail.

She starts by observing that President Obama is unlikely to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran. Why?

The president will not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations for precisely the same reasons that George W. Bush did not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations: Because we don’t know exactly where they all are, because we don’t know whether such a raid could stop the Iranian nuclear program for more than a few months, and because Iran’s threatened response — against Israelis and U.S. troops, via Iranian allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon — isn’t one we want to cope with at this moment.

Apparently this lady hasn’t heard of a little thing called international law. You see, under normal circumstances, countries aren’t allowed to go mindlessly bombing each other on flimsy pretexts. This constitutes “aggression”, and the Nuremberg Principles (to which we supposedly subscribe) consider it “the supreme international crime”. I mean, I get that we basically threw that idea out the window long ago, but isn’t Ms. Applebaum supposed to be a scholar who specializes in international relations? What kind of scholar thinks the only reason we don’t go around bombing other countries is because it probably wouldn’t work?

After this bald refutation of the basic principles of international law, Ms. Applebaum raises another specter of war. Even though we may consider it inconvenient to bomb Iran, that doesn’t mean other countries won’t. Other countries like Israel. As she remarks:

The defining moment of his presidency may well come at 2 a.m. some day when he picks up the phone and is told that the Israeli prime minister is on the line: Israel has just carried out a raid on Iranian nuclear sites. What then?

Yes, “what then” indeed? Well, a reasonable observer might note that such a “raid” would be an act of sheer aggression, not to mention one supremely unjustified. After all, Israel boasts of its nuclear weapons every chance it gets, and Iran hasn’t carried out any “raids” on its nuclear sites.  A country truly interested in the rule of law would chastise Israel for its wanton aggression, cut off the extravagant military aid ($2.5 billion per year) it currently supplies the aggressor, and maybe even impose those sanctions everyone likes to talk about so much. The same sanctions we’re currently threatening Iran with. I don’t remember Israel getting any sanctions when it got the bomb. Oh, that’s right. We gave it to them.

The rest of the article serves as a justification for such Israeli “raids”. As she says:

Many Israelis regard the Iranian nuclear program as a matter of life and death. The prospect of a nuclear Iran isn’t an irritant or a distant threat. It is understood directly in the context of the Iranian president’s provocative attacks on Israel’s right to exist and his public support for historians who deny the Holocaust. If you want to make Israelis paranoid, hint that they might be the target of an attempted mass murder. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does exactly that.

I have a hard time believing she wrote this passage with a straight face. Perhaps she remembers a little speech given by President Bush, charmingly nicknamed the “Axis of Evil” speech. In it, he specifically named Iran to the eponymous “axis”, and then punctuated that slur by invading another member of said axis. The US mainstream press is is full of naked suggestions that President Obama attack Iran, including this endearing piece by Mr. Daniel Pipes, ludicrously entitled How to Save the Obama Presidency: Bomb Iran. “The American people would support it,” Mr. Pipes contends.

For crying out loud, Ms. Applebaum’s own article is entitled “Prepare for War with Iran”! I wonder if she thinks that might make the Iranians “paranoid”.

Of course, Ms. Applebaum doesn’t want war with Iran. But a country’s gotta do what a country’s gotta do:

I do hope that this administration is ready, militarily and psychologically, not for a war of choice but for an unwanted war of necessity. This is real life, after all, not Hollywood.

And here we see, finally, in what an alternate reality our mainstream punditry operates. Defending an Israeli war of aggression is no longer a choice, but a necessity. Should Israel, without consulting us, begin a unilaterial bombing campaign on Iran, the United States has no choice but to fight Israel’s war for it. I mean, does Ms. Applebaum expect us to buy this nonsense?

Next she’ll be telling us that it’s necessary for the US to remain the “sole superpower” for the indefinite future. Oh wait…

Re-Branding the Iraq War – A PR Offensive

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Lilliana Segura of Alternet turns us on to an upcoming change in Obama’s war policy:

In a one-page memo dated Feb. 17, 2010 and signed by Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense officially requested that U.S. Central Command “change the name of Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn.”

“The requested operation name change is approved to take effect 1 September, 2010, coinciding with the change in mission for U.S. forces in Iraq,” Gates wrote to CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petraeus, noting that this would send “a strong signal that Operation Iraqi Freedom has ended and our forces are operating under a new mission.”


“The DoD’s latest attempt to sell what we’re doing in Iraq to the people and international community simply highlights the tenuous position they’ve committed our forces to,” Jose Vasquez, executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War, told AlterNet. “Their latest misnomer, Operation New Dawn, has all the qualities of a George Orwell novel. Perhaps ‘Operation Imperial Sunset’ is more appropriate. No one is fooled by their attempts to spin what is happening over there, namely permanent bases, lopsided oil deals and serious breaches of international law. Let’s bring the troops home and let Iraq enjoy its sovereignty.”

“Operation Imperial Sunset”! That’s a good one.

Written by pavanvan

February 21, 2010 at 11:16 am

Priorities

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U.S. Economic Stimulus spending per month: $32 billion.

U.S. War Expenditures per month: $56 billion.

Written by pavanvan

February 18, 2010 at 7:41 am

Trillions to Burn?

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(c/o Kevin Drum)

The Project for Defense Alternatives has just put up its 2011 guide to Pentagon spending, entitled Trillions to Burn – complete with nine handy charts which excruciatingly detail the United States’ military dominance of the world. We will be hearing a lot in the coming months about the US budget deficit – how this or that proposal will be “unfeasible” because of its budgetary implications, or how we must reduce social spending (via education, social security, medicare, etc.) in order to show “fiscal responsibility”. Just know that all of those statements are hogwash and bullshit (or hogshit, if you like).

In reality, the single biggest contributor to the United States budget deficit is so-called “defense spending”. We spend upwards of $5000 per second in Iraq (source) and spend a similar amount per unit time in Afghanistan. This spending does nothing for anybody. It does not make us “more safe”, it does not help these impoverished people “achieve democracy”, and it certainly hasn’t made oil any cheaper. The only thing – and I do mean the only thing – it does is transfer the nation’s wealth from the taxpayer to a select group of war profiteers.

That’s it. That’s all our “defense spending” does. The next time you hear some “Republican” or “Democrat” spout off about how we need to spend this money in order to “defeat our enemies”, check to see who their campaign contributors are (via OpenSecrets), and ask yourself if these people would still be our “enemies” if we weren’t spending the equivalent of South Korea’s GDP every year attempting to bomb them out of their homes. Remember the Fort Hood shooter, who specifically stated that his motivation was outrage over US massacres of Iraqi and Afghan civilians? Or the so-called “shoe bomber” who similarly claimed he was compelled to attack the US because of its ongoing support for Israeli atrocities in Gaza?  (Aid to Israel = “Defense spending”, in the eyes of our budget office). Osama bin Laden himself, assuming he was responsible for 9/11, repeatedly cited the US occupation of Saudi Arabia and its continued ‘aid’ to Israel as his primary beefs with the United States.

It is clear that the gargantuan sums of money we allocate for ‘defense’ have precisely the opposite of their intended effect. That we should spend our time squabbling over whether or not health care reform should “add to the deficit” demonstrates just how far removed from reality our discourse has become. Anyone who claims to worry about the deficit yet still thinks we need to prosecute our foreign adventures is either an idiot or in the pay of our ‘defense contractors’. Either way, we should all benefit from their swift and timely death.

Written by pavanvan

February 11, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Tony Blair Being Grilled – liveblog

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Read it at the Guardian.

Some highlights:

2.09pm: Lyne asks about the post-conflict preparations.

Did Bush offer to “go it alone”?

Blair says that at one point, before the Commons debate, Bush said that he would understand if Britain could not join the war.

But Blair thought it was right to go to war.

In the EU, 13 out of 25 members were with America. Japan and South Korea were with America.

Lyne says it was a difficult situtation.

Blair replies:

It was a really tough situation … My judgment, ultimately, was that Saddam was going to remain a threat …. We had been down a UN path that I genuinely thought would work.

Lyne asks about the “plan B” floated by Jack Straw. That would have involved partial military involvement.

Blair says this was a “possibility”. But the military “to their credit” wanted to be full involved.

Blair says:

It would have been a very big thing for us to have kept out of the aftermath as well.

Lyne suggests that, if Britain had not been involved in the invasion, it might have been easier for Britain to send troops into the aftermath.

Blair says deciding to do “option 3” – the full military involvement – was seen as the best option militarily and politically.

If Britain had pulled back, it would not have indicated the strength of support that Blair thought it was right for Britain to exhibit.

Written by pavanvan

January 29, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Posted in War

Tagged with , ,

Blackwater Murdered 9-year-old

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Jeremy Scahill continues his sublime reporting on Blackwater:

As Mohammed and Ali drove through Baghdad that hot and sunny Sunday, they passed a newly rebuilt park downtown. Ali gazed at the park and then turned to his father and asked, “Daddy, when are you gonna bring us here?”

“Next week,” Mohammed replied. “If God wills it, son.”

Ali would never visit that park. Within a few hours, he would be dead from a gunshot wound to the head. While you may have never heard his name, you probably know something about how Ali Mohammed Hafedh Kinani died. He was the youngest person killed by Blackwater forces in the infamous Nisour Square massacre.

In May 2008 Mohammed flew to Washington to testify in front of a grand jury investigating the shooting. It was his first time out of Iraq. The US Attorney, Jeffrey Taylor, praised Mohammed for his “commendable courage.” A year after the shooting, in December 2008, five Blackwater guards were indicted on manslaughter charges, while a sixth guard pleaded guilty to killing an unarmed Iraqi. American justice, it seemed to Mohammed, was working. “I’m a true believer in the justness and fairness of American law,” Mohammed said.

But this past New Year’s Eve, federal Judge Ricardo Urbina threw out all the criminal charges against the five Blackwater guards. At least seventeen Iraqis died that day, and prosecutors believed they could prove fourteen of the killings were unjustified. The manslaughter charges were dismissed not because of a lack of evidence but because of what Urbina called serious misconduct on the part of the prosecutors.

Read the whole article.

Written by pavanvan

January 29, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Tony Blair Grilled on Iraq

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Poor Mr. Blair. Deceived into a war he wanted nothing to do with, too weak and conciliatory to point out a bad idea when he saw it, a veritable Sancho Panza to our dear Bush’s Quixote, he finds himself the subject of an intense series of questions on the Iraq War. By now everyone knows that the original rationales (WMDs, “evil tyrants”, etc.) were mostly lies, and it is now Mr. Blair’s unhappy task to try and justify his slavish devotion to Mr. Bush, seven years after the fact.

Mr. Blair acknowledged that the nature of the Iraqi regime sharpened his perception of Saddam Hussein as a threat not just to the region but to Britain. Calling Mr. Hussein a “probably wicked if not psychopathic man,” Mr. Blair said that if he had been able to pursue a program to develop weapons of mass destruction “at some point we were going to be involved in the consequences of that.”

And so you were, my good sir – so you were.

What’s striking about these hearings is how far removed they seem from American discourse. Witness for instance, the protesters marching outside:

Mr. Blair entered the inquiry building two hours before the scheduled start of hearings in a cramped committee room, using a cordoned-off rear entrance. Demonstrators, outnumbered by police, chanted slogans like “Jail Tony” and “Blair Lied — Thousands Died.”

“We haven’t come here expecting an apology,” one protester, Gary Walker, 31, said, “But it’s important to show seven years on that people still care about the illegal war.”

We in America have moved far from such sentiments, and one cannot help but feel the public just wishes this issue would go away.

The hearings are scheduled all week and they present, at the very least, a humane reaction to an inhumane enterprise.

Written by pavanvan

January 29, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Posted in Politics, War

Tagged with , , , ,

The State of the Union: An Annotated Response

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One year into his prophesied presidency, Mr. Obama addressed the nation on the issues he thinks plague it the most. The speech was 5 parts economy, two parts health care, one part budget, and a few throwaway references to “national security” and Haiti thrown in as well (for spice). Unsurprisingly, the speech was a hit with the mainstream commentariat. The inimitable Joe Klein seemed to think this was “Obama at his best“; Yglesias, of course, thought it was “just great”; and Greg Sargent praised its “mix of charm and good humor”. As we all know, the main things our belaguered republic lacks at this juncture are “charm” (and/or) “good humor”.

I guess nobody took notes on what Mr. Obama said, as the reactions I’ve seen are based on qualitative nonsense (“How did he look? Was he friendly? Did he get the Republicans’ goat?”) A shame, because a close reading of the text of the speech reveals evasions, inconsistencies, and, at times, willful manipulation of data. Let’s dive in, shall we?

As Mr. Obama said early on, “It begins with the economy”.

Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, and everybody in between, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it — (applause.) I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal. (Laughter.)

So I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took that program over, we made it more transparent and more accountable. And as a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we’ve recovered most of the money we spent on the banks. (Applause.) Most but not all.

To recover the rest, I’ve proposed a fee on the biggest banks. (Applause.) Now, I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea. But if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need. (Applause.)

Did you really hate it so much, Mr. Obama? I mean, the largest contributors to your campaign were financial institutions, and they certainly didn’t hate it. And your Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, was practically appointed by Goldman Sachs, and went on to distribute trillions of untraceable dollars to unknown banks. He certainly didn’t hate it. Especially when your read about how Geithner willfully colluded with AIG to defraud the taxpayers of billions, it just seems like you’re making up all this populist “oh I hated it but it had to be done” nonsense ex post facto.

You’re well aware that the largest banks consider your so-called “bank fee” a joke, and that the $90 billion you plan to extract from them doesn’t cover 1/100th of the total money their malfeasance lost our economy. Also, paying back the government was stipulated in the TARP to begin with. When the banks accepted the money back in September ’08, they did so with the knowledge that they’d eventually have to pay it back. So all this “fee” does is force the banks to uphold the contract they already signed.

Moreover, you are well aware what $90 Billion won’t even cover the current outstanding bank debt. As Propublica reports, the net outstanding in the TARP program is $316 Billion. Not $90 Billion.

Concerning the “Recovery Act”:

The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. (Applause.) That’s right -– the Recovery Act, also known as the stimulus bill. (Applause.) Economists on the left and the right say this bill has helped save jobs and avert disaster. But you don’t have to take their word for it.

Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act.Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created. Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn’t be laid off after all.

Or you can talk to this guy, who got a $24 million stimulus award after numerous accusations of bribery. Or you could talk to this crumbling school district unable to access its stimulus funds for “bureaucratic red tape”. Or, again, these six companies, currently under criminal investigation, who nevertheless received $30 million from your free money giveaway. As Mr. Obama says in his speech,

There are stories like this all across America.

Right.

But what about clean energy? Well, he’s glad you asked:

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. (Applause.) It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. (Applause.) It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. (Applause.) And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. (Applause.)

You clearly aren’t a scientist, Mr. Obama, because those suggestions don’t make a lick of sense. As I’m sure you’re aware, no nuclear plant has ever been built on time or on budget. Ever. “Breeder Reactors” are still an experimental technology, and there is no safe way to dispose of the waste current reactors produce. What should we do with “zombie reactors” – those crumbling ’70s-era nuclear plants we can’t find the budget to inspect? They constantly break down, and constitute a major public health risk.  Shouldn’t we do something about those, first? Oh yeah, “Spending Freeze”. Well, I guess we can do like the French and just dump our N-waste in Russia.

As for “Clean Coal”, your colleague Al Gore called that a “lie” months ago. There is no such thing as clean coal. You know it and I know it. But, as you and the coal lobby so fervently hope, the American public doesn’t know it. And let’s not even mention the world food crisis your vaunted “advanced biofuels” had a hand in creating. Or the massive deforestation now going on in Brazil and Indonesia to meet our “advanced biofuels” demand. That technology is wasteful, inefficient, and impracticable. Europe would have to use 70% of its landmass exclusively for biofuel crops in order to meet its energy demands. America doesn’t even have enough landmass to grow enough biofuels to meet its demands. And never mind that the distillation of biofuels requires orders of magnitude more energy than we get from them.

We move on to Health Care:

After nearly a century of trying — Democratic administrations, Republican administrations — we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans. The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry. It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market. It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care.

It would also require every American to purchase health insurance, whether they want it or not (indeed, whether or not they can afford it) – but that’s not a popular aspect of the bill, so we better not mention that. In fact, given your recent defeat in Massachusetts, it’s probably better we move on altogether.

So now let’s talk about… the deficit!

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. (Applause.) Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will. (Applause.)

So your plan is to cut everything but the three biggest contributors to the deficit? How is that a good idea? And is “national security” really something we “need” at this point? You are aware, I’m sure, that we spend on the order of $1 trillion per year prosecuting our misbegotten murder rampages in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and whomever else wish to inflict misery upon.This spending benefits no one, and it demonstrably makes us less safe. You think that might be something we would “cut” if we were trying to save money. I really can’t stress this point enough. We spend the equivalent of South Korea’s GDP murdering Arabs. This is completely baffling to me. Would a “cash-strapped family” really refuse to “sacrifice” its largest and most wasteful expenditure that also happens to actively harm it?

But it’s not just a “deficit of dollars” – it’s also a deficit of… trust. Getting that trust surplus back is what Mr. Obama came to Washington, apparently, to do.

That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why -– for the first time in history –- my administration posts on our White House visitors online. That’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs, or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we can’t stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or with Congress. It’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.

Actually, that bolded statement turned out not to be true. When you said “we have excluded lobbyists”, you might have added, “except for the ones I personally approve of.” You know you’ve given waivers to several former lobbyists to work for your administration. Why lie about it? Oh yeah, you’re doing the populist thing. But it kind of detracts from the whole “honesty” message if you have to lie while you’re making it.

So then while he’s on a roll, Mr. Obama attacks the Supreme Court bribery decision, even though the idea that “campaign donations are free speech” was a major reason why he got elected.

With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections. (Applause.) I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. (Applause.) They should be decided by the American people.

Is this some kind of joke? You raised $680,000,000 in the most expensive presidential campaign ever. You took money from every major financial institution, including some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Geithner-Bernanke giveaway. I’m really at a loss for words here.

Finally we come to the part about terrorism. I think he’s almost done.

Since the day I took office, we’ve renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We’ve made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security and swifter action on our intelligence. We’ve prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of al Qaeda’s fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed — far more than in 2008.

No you haven’t. Well, maybe you have, but – wink! – we’ll never know, right? The “black site” at Bagram air base is expanding; Guantanamo hasn’t closed; you believe in extra-legal kidnapping and assassinations (even of American citizens!) And given that you refuse to prosecute Bush-era torturers, even though their actions constitute high crime under the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Code, and our own World War II legal precedent, it’s hard to believe you’re really against torture. Oh, and by the way, I know of a massive plot to take American lives. In fact, it’s killed more than 5,000 Americans already, almost twice as many as 9/11 did. Do you know what it is?

Aaaaand that about does it. A few more references to the “heroic” American response to Haiti (our decidedly ‘un-heroic’ IMF loansharking, of course, went unmentioned), a throwaway reference to some random lady who says “we are tough, we are American”, one last “God Bless America!”, and we’re clear! Another logically inconsistent, factually dubious, rabble-rousing excuse of abuse that managed to tell us nothing. Congratulations, Mr. Obama.

Fraud and Punishment

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You may remember a couple months ago the New York Times reported some fishy business going on in Iraq. The US apparently sold thousands of “bomb sniffing wands” to the Iraqi government, promising that the device could reliably detect all explosives. We got them to spend millions on them altogether. Later it turned out the devices were “completely fraudulent”, work on the “principle of Ouija board”, what James Randi called a “totally worthless product”. The device was a scam.

It really wouldn’t have been a big deal, except for a little incident that occurred last October, when the deadliest explosion since 2007 rocked Baghdad. The suicide bombers had to pass through at least one checkpoint where the bomb sniffer failed to go off. Oops.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise that the bomb sniffer’s promotional material makes no sense at all – it claims the sniffer can detect “any drug or explosive”, without contact, through “concrete, lead, other metals, etc.” Oh, and it uses no batteries. How the hell is that supposed to work?

After defrauding the US and Iraqi governments for years and amassing millions of dollars besides, the “bomb detector” has finally been banned. The BBC has a pretty in-depth article.

Some highlights:

The Iraqi government has spent $85m on the ADE-651 and there are concerns that they have failed to stop bomb attacks that have killed hundreds of people.

The ban on the ADE-651 and other similar devices starts next week.

There is nothing to program in these cards. There is no memory. There is no microcontroller. There is no way any form of information can be stored
Dr Markus Kuhn

Sidney Alford, a leading explosives expert who advises all branches of the military, told Newsnight the sale of the ADE-651 was “absolutely immoral”.

“It could result in people being killed in the dozens, if not hundreds,” he said.

“These are the cheapest bit of electronics that you can get that look vaguely electronic and are sufficiently flat to fit inside a card,” Dr Kuhn told Newsnight.

The ADE-651 has been sold to a range of Middle Eastern countries and as far afield as Bangkok for eye-watering prices.

Iraq paid around $40,000 for each device.

No Western government uses them.

How cynical was this company? “Oh those stupid brown people are so uneducated they’ll buy anything!” Doesn’t the US have laws against war profiteering?

Written by pavanvan

January 24, 2010 at 2:40 pm

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Pentagon Officially Endorses Biblical Jihad

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A few days ago the story broke that US soldiers in Afghanistan use gun-sights with biblical verses inscribed on them. Naturally this caused some discomfort among our “enemies”, who did not enjoy being killed in the name of Jesus. But this was just an oversight, right?

Not quite. ABC reported that Trijcon, a major arms supplier to the US Army and Marines, had been inscribing the verses on its product – to give our soldiers that fightin’ edge, one assumes – since at least 2005. This has been going on for years. But now that they’re aware, I’m sure the Pentagon denounces this, right? I mean how would it look, sending our soldiers to fight with Jesus-branded weaponry?

Well, the Raw Story reported today that the Pentagon is A-OK with Jesus on the weapons, likening it to the phrase “In God we Trust” on money.

“This situation is not unlike the situation with US currency,” Maj. Redfield said. “Are we going to stop using money because the bills have ‘In God We Trust’ on them? As long as the sights meet the combat needs of troops, they’ll continue to be used.”

How do biblical verses meet the “combat needs” of our soldiers? Oh, he didn’t say.

And also:

“Well if that were true, then we would not be allowed to display the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives, because of its explicit reference to a creator,” Sasser said.

Yeah, ’cause it’s the same thing. Do you think this might have something to do with the belief among “terrorists” that America is engaging in a crusade against Islam?

In fact, Bush once specifically told Jacques Chirac that God wanted to “erase” his enemies “before a new age begins”, quoting an old testament prophecy:

“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”

Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling Chirac:

“This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins”.

The story of the conversation emerged only because the Elyse Palace, baffled by Bush’s words, sought advice from Thomas Romer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne.

Baffling indeed. It looks like we’ll be continuing this misbegotten murder rampage for the time being, but can we at least dispense with all this rhetoric against “islamofascism” and these crazy, irrational, religious Muslims? Someone is engaging in a holy war here, but I’m not sure it’s them.

Written by pavanvan

January 23, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Where our $1 Billion per day goes

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H/T: Andrew Sullivan

We spend about $1 Billion per day on oil imports, and nearly all of it comes from highly unstable countries. The Center for American Progress report which features this map is called is called “Oil Dependence is a Dangerous Habit.” I highly recommend reading this.

Written by pavanvan

January 18, 2010 at 10:39 pm

War of Attrition (against Terror)

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If, as we are led to believe, Osama Bin Laden truly perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, and is now alive and in hiding, I think we can be sure he regards this past decade as an unqualified success. His whole plan was to draw America into an expensive and pointless war with no clear end, and to be fair he said as much in his various audio and video statements, once going so far as to cackle: “All I must do is send a brother to the furthest mountain east and unfurl an Al Qaeda flag. The Americans will come running!” When one views the trillion-dollar deficits, the open-ended troop commitment (each soldier costs $1 million dollars) and the mass of cash printed to sustain these expenditures culminating in a financial crisis unthinkable in 2001, it seems Mr. Bin Laden could not have wished for better results. Keep in mind, of course, that he cares very little for the lives of his own countrymen (he demonstrated as much when he sacrificed the lives of those 11 WTC hijackers), and indeed, so far as one can tell from his cryptic and contradictory statements, his primary motivation was an outrage at the global power of the US and a desire to diminish that power by any and all means.

9/11 was a trap, and the US did exactly what was expected of it. We are now in our 9th year of war, and a significant portion of the Muslim world has hardened against us. What may once have been seen as a war against the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, is now increasingly seen as a war against Islam itself. How we came to be in this state of affairs, what we might have done differently and where to go now are the pressing questions of this decade.

It is always dangerous to anthropomorphize international relations, to expect whole countries to act as an individual would, but some useful parallels can still be drawn between the behavior of individuals and states. Let us say, for example, you are a member of the popular elite at your high school. On your climb to the top, you have often had to snub others and at times, even openly humiliate some people. It is all a part of governance, as it were – a part of staying on top. Now one of those people you snubbed – perhaps you gave him a scathing insult in the lunchroom, and the whole room stopped eating and laughed at him – he wants revenge. He knows there are others you have so treated, seeks them out, and devises a plan. Every so often, he, or one of his compatriots, will randomly walk up to you, punch you in the face, and run away. He knows how strong you are (in fact, that is a major reason your clique remains loyal), and that he cannot win in an open (“conventional”) battle, but by a series of a thousand pin-pricks he believes he can whittle away your resources.

The plan begins, and your adversary delivers the first sucker punch. Being bigger and stronger, you of course catch and beat him. But curiously, it does not end there; once every two weeks or so, someone runs up to you and hits you in the face. Sometimes it’s your main adversary, sometimes one of his few friends. It begins to tax you, constantly having to chase these hooligans down, and often you can’t; and this begins to fade the aura of dominance you  have concocted around yourself, what the US calls it’s “credibility”. You become paranoid, lashing out (pre-emptively) on those you suspect are plotting to punch you. After a while, the sucker punches stop, but their effect lingers on. You remain consumed with jealousy and anger for the injuries sustained, your security irrevocably damaged.

I do not wish to over-state the significance of this crude analogy, but I think it roughly describes the United States’ response. One particularly notices a strain of machismo in our propaganda, constant repetition of tough-guy statements like, “You cannot run; you cannot hide. We will defeat you.” – this from Barack! And lest we forget, President Bush once professed that his strategy was to “smoke ’em [the Iraqis] out”, whatever that means. And we have remained in these dual quagmires, Iraq and Afghanistan, for no discernible reason, pursuing an ill-defined and probably impossible goal (making us perpetually “safe”) in large part to save face. Mr. Bin Laden saw, with apparent clarity, that the US would not be able to shrug off his blow, and would instead spend untold resources in attempting to retaliate.

Going back to the schoolyard analogy, if you were both popular and wise, you would not have reacted violently to the first sucker punch, and would instead have asked an audience with your adversary and attempted to set things right. You might have said something like, “Look, I’m sorry if I mistreated you in the past. I don’t seek to excuse my actions, but I hope you can forgive me. This fighting won’t do either of us any good; instead, let’s talk about it, and maybe we can come away friends, or at least not bitter enemies.”

That the US leadership, corrupted by 60 years of total victory (plus one forgotten defeat), could not see such a clear and obvious trap speaks, I think, to the nature of their power and the cunning of Mr. Bin Laden. And their refusal, after nearly a decade of fiscal hemorrhage, to stop these misbegotten and absurd “military actions” speaks volumes of the shallow origins of their foreign policy.

Written by pavanvan

January 13, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Yemen: The Next War

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The propaganda presses are running at full steam today, as both The New York Times and The Washington Post run front-page stories describing the dastardly “Al Qaeda” influence in… Yemen.

The Times calls that unfortunate desert a “Qaeda bastion” in its headline, while the Post goes for a vaguer effect by claiming that “Al Qaeda” is merely “gaining prominence” there. These stories come on the heels of a premeditated slaughter of Yemeni civilians via US forces, and they can only be seen as justification for further US attacks on the impoverished Yemeni citizens. Let’s see for ourselves how such acts are justified.

The Times:

The country has long been a refuge for jihadists, in part because Yemen’s government welcomed returning Islamist fighters who had fought in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The Yemen port of Aden was the site of the audacious bombing of the American destroyer Cole in October 2000 by Qaeda militants, which killed 17 sailors.

Audacious! Except it occurred more than 9 years ago, and killed only a  fraction of the Yemeni citizens we killed last week (42 dead in one “drone” strike!). And remember, the Yemeni “terrorists” were kind enough to target the US military (which, after all, has no business in their country.) We, on the other hand, kill their civilians with impunity.

The Post goes for more recent justification, dubious and uncorroborated though it may be:

U.S. authorities say Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, the Nigerian suspect who tried to ignite explosive chemicals with a syringe sewn into his underwear, may have been equipped and trained by an al-Qaeda bombmaker in Yemen. He allegedly made that claim to FBI agents after his arrest.

Emphasis mine. Given that our secret police routinely interrogate by torture, I think it would be wise to take any “confession” thus extracted with a large grain of salt.

The Times treats us to yet more evidence:

Meanwhile, there have been increasing Yemeni ties to plots against the United States. A Muslim man charged in the June 1 killing of a soldier at a recruiting center in a mall in Little Rock, Ark., had traveled to Yemen, prompting a review by the F.B.I. of other domestic extremists who had visited the country.

A Muslim man traveled to Yemen? Stop the presses! Let us review what The Times is trying to say here. A man charged with killing a soldier, who happens to be Muslim, had, at one point, traveled to Yemen. Therefore, Yemen is a “dangerous haven for Al-Qaeda”, and we must pummel them into their dusty graves. Astounding.

Ironically, The Post gives us the real reason for the “increase in terror activity in Yemen” as a closing line:

On Sunday, Al-Qaeda in Yemen issued a communique declaring that it would take revenge for the Dec. 17 airstrikes.

The damned cheek! The US murders 43 Yemeni citizens and they have the audacity to want revenge? Don’t they understand we’re doing this for their own good? As they said in Vietnam, “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.” It should be clear to anyone not in the pay of our “defense contractors” that our actions in the Arab world are a direct catalyst for international terrorism. Even a cursory look at history should demonstrate this quite easily. The US sends its military into a country, and behold! They see a dramatic increase in “terrorism”!

Pakistan, you will remember, had almost no “terror problem” prior to 2007, when the US began a ham-fisted attempt to “combat Al-Qaeda” by waging war on Pakistan’s villagers. Iraq, under the “brutal tyrant” Saddam had no terrorists of which to speak. Now bombings in Baghdad are a weekly affair. Afghanistan… well, just look at it.

So what makes our politicians blind to such an obvious conclusion? Campaign donations! The Times, to take one example, quotes Joe Leiberman as saying:

“Yemen now becomes one of the centers of that fight,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, who visited the country in August. “We have a growing presence there, and we have to, of Special Operations, Green Berets, intelligence,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Could this full-throated endorsement of war have anything to do with his campaign donors? Given that the largest contributor to Lieber-campaign is “United Technologies” a major arms manufacturer that makes, among other things, our Black Hawk helicopters, I think the answer to that question should be clear.

The time will soon come, I hope, when the American public realizes that those who speak out in favor of this insane “war on terror” do so because their campaign donors compel them to. If I am invested in an arms company, I have every reason to see this war drag on indefinitely. And if that arms company gives me a healthy donation every election cycle, you can bet that I will defend this war at all costs, Yemeni citizens be damned!

Written by pavanvan

December 28, 2009 at 12:16 pm