29 March 2006

Let Abramoff off?

The Abramoff case just goes to show that there are some advantages to being "well-connected."

More than 260 people wrote letters asking a federal judge for leniency when Abramoff and a former partner are sentenced, which was scheduled for Wednesday. Both pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud stemming from the 2000 purchase of a gambling boat fleet.

If I were the judge, I'd add a month sentence for every letter.

28 March 2006

Meritocracy: A myth?

Dollars & Sense recently published an interesting interview with Lani Guinier, the author of the upcoming book: Meritocracy Inc.: How Wealth Became Merit, Class Became Race, and College Education Became a Gift from the Poor to the Rich. In the interview, she brings up some excellent points, touching on some topics that our normally taboo in our society. First, she claims that our system, while claiming to be democratic and egalitarian, in fact reproduces aristocracy. (Volumes could be said about this, and should be said about this. Orwell's pigs do indeed start looking more and more like human beings after a while.) She then touches on the taboo subject of class, pointing out that race often forms a cover for what are actually class issues.

27 March 2006

RNA interference

Ah, the wonders of science! We will soon get to have our cake (and our salted pork rinds) and eat them too.

A single injection of a new type of drug could cut cholesterol levels by two thirds and significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and blocked arteries, a study has found.

Scientists have successfully interfered with the gene involved in producing high levels of harmful cholesterol in the bloodstream using a treatment that promises to revolutionise medicine.

Using synthetic molecules of RNA - a close relative of DNA, the molecule of inheritance - scientists have silenced the gene for apolipoprotein B (apoB), which plays a critical role in the metabolism of cholesterol.

The treatment is one of many that are being developed using the phenomenon of RNA interference which promises to create new ways of tackling a range of illnesses from cancer and genetic disorders to viral infections.

George W. Bush's Resume

George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,
NWWashington, D.C. 20500

    Past Work Experience
  • Ran for congress and lost.
  • Produced a Hollywood slasher B movie.
  • Bought an oil company, but couldn't find any oil in Texas; company went bankrupt shortly after I sold all my stock.
  • Bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in a sweetheart deal that took land using taxpayer money. Biggest move: Traded Sammy Sosa to the Chicago White Sox.
  • With father's help (and his name) was elected Governor of Texas.
  • Accomplishments in Previous Positions
  • Changed pollution laws for power and oil companies and made Texas the most polluted state in the Union.
  • Replaced Los Angeles with Houston as the most smog-ridden city in America. Cut taxes and bankrupted the Texas government to the tune of billions in borrowed money.
  • Set record for most executions by any governor in American history.
  • Became president after losing the popular vote by over 500,000 votes, with the help of my father's appointments to the Supreme Court.

    Accomplishments As President
  • Attacked and took over two countries.
  • Spent the surplus and bankrupted the treasury.
  • Shattered record for biggest annual deficit in history.
  • Set economic record for most private bankruptcies filed in any 12-month period.
  • Set all-time record for biggest drop in the history of the stock market.
  • First president in decades to execute a federal prisoner.
  • First president in U.S. history to enter office with a criminal record.
  • First year in office set the all-time record for most days on vacation by any president in U.S. history.
  • After taking the entire month of August off for vacation, presided over the worst security failure in U.S. history.
  • Set the record for most campaign fundraising trips than any other president in U.S. history.
  • In my first two years in office over 2 million Americans lost their job.
  • Cut unemployment benefits for more out of work Americans than any president in U.S. history.
  • Set the all-time record for most foreclosures in a 12-month period.
    Appointed more convicted criminals to administration positions than any president in U.S. history.
  • Set the record for the least amount of press conferences than any president since the advent of television.
  • Signed more laws and executive orders amending the Constitution than any president in U.S. history.
  • Presided over the biggest energy crises in U.S. history and refused to intervene when corruption was revealed.
  • Presided over the highest gasoline prices in U.S. history and refused to use the national reserves as past presidents have.
  • Cut healthcare benefits for war veterans.
  • Set the all-time record for most people worldwide to simultaneously take to the streets to protest me (15 million people), shattering the record for protest against any person in the history of mankind.
  • Dissolved more international treaties than any president in U.S. history.
  • My presidency is the most secretive and unaccountable of any in U.S. history.
  • Members of my cabinet are the richest of any administration in U.S. history (the 'poorest' multimillionaire, Condoleezza Rice, has an Exxon oil tanker named after her).
  • First president in U.S. history to have all 50 states of the Union simultaneously go bankrupt.
  • Presided over the biggest corporate stock market fraud of any market in any country in the history of the world.
  • First president in U.S. history to order a U.S. attack and military occupation of a sovereign nation.
  • Created the largest government department bureaucracy in the history of the United States.
  • Set the all-time record for biggest annual budget spending increases, more than any president in U.S. history.
  • First president in U.S. history to have the United Nations remove the U.S. from the human rights commission.
  • First president in U.S. history to have the United Nations remove the U.S. from the elections monitoring board.
  • Removed more checks and balances, and have the least amount of congressional oversight than any presidential administration in U.S. history.
  • Rendered the entire United Nations irrelevant.
  • Withdrew from the World Court of Law.
  • Refused to allow inspectors access to U.S. prisoners of war and by default no longer abide by the Geneva Conventions.
  • First president in U.S. history to refuse United Nations election inspectors (during the 2002 U.S. elections).
  • All-time U.S. (and world) record holder for most corporate campaign donations.
  • My biggest lifetime campaign contributor presided over one of the largest corporate bankruptcy frauds in world history (Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron Corporation).
  • Spent more money on polls and focus groups than any president in U.S. history.
  • First president in U.S. history to unilaterally attack a sovereign nation against the will of the United Nations and the world community.
  • First president to run and hide when the U.S. came under attack (and then lied saying the enemy had the code to Air Force 1)
  • First U.S. president to establish a secret shadow government.
  • Took the biggest world sympathy for the U.S. after 9/11, and in less than a year made the U.S. the most resented country in the world (possibly the biggest diplomatic failure in U.S. and world history).
  • With a policy of 'disengagement' created the most hostile Israeli-Palestine relations in at least 30 years.
  • Fist U.S. president in history to have a majority of the people of Europe (71%) view my presidency as the biggest threat to world peace and stability.
  • First U.S. president in history to have the people of South Korea more threatened by the U.S. than their immediate neighbor, North Korea.
  • Changed US policy to allow convicted criminals to be awarded government contracts.
  • Set all-time record for number of administration appointees who violated U.S. law by not selling huge investments in corporations bidding for government contracts.
  • Failed to fulfill my pledge to get Osama Bin Laden 'dead or alive.'
  • Failed to capture the anthrax killer who tried to murder the leaders of our country at the United States Capital building. After 18 months I have no leads and zero suspects.
  • In the 18 months following the 9/11 attacks I have successfully prevented any public investigation into the biggest security failure in the history of the United States.
  • Removed more freedoms and civil liberties for Americans than any other president in U.S. history.
  • In a little over two years created the most divided country in decades, possibly the most divided the U.S. has ever been since the Civil War.
  • Entered office with the strongest economy in U.S. history and in less than two years turned every single economic category heading straight down.

    Records and References
  • At least one conviction for drunk driving in Maine (Texas driving record has been erased and is not available)
  • AWOL from National Guard and deserted the military during a time of war.
  • Refuse to take drug test or even answer any questions about drug use.
  • All records of my tenure as governor of Texas have been spirited away to my father's library, sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.
  • All records of any SEC investigations into my insider trading or bankrupt companies are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.
  • All minutes of meetings for any public corporation I served on the board are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.
  • Any records or minutes from meetings I (or my VP) attended regarding public energy policy are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public review.
  • For personal references please speak to my daddy or uncle James Baker (they can be reached at their offices of the Carlyle Group for war-profiteering.)
Source: Kelley Kramer

23 March 2006

Energy problem solved (Whew!)

Now I was aware that our government was very secretive and all, but I really had no idea that some mad-scientist types working in some hidden White House laboratories had managed to create cold-fusion while also coming up with a way to produce instance hydrogen through the force of prayer. But if our great President suggests this, I'm sure it's so. The man surely wouldn't be telling a lie:

"Our nation is on the threshold of new energy technology that I think will startle the American people," Bush said. "We're on the edge of some amazing breakthroughs -- breakthroughs all aimed at enhancing our national security and our economic security and the quality of life of the folks who live here in the United States."

Great news, eh? I guess we can just use all the hydrocarbons we want. (Time to buy that new Hummer and stop driving around like a girly man!) When things get real bad, the White House scientists will wheel out their new inventions for the rest of us to see. I can't wait to see the shock and awe on the faces of all those uppity experts and professor types who keep telling us that no technical breakthroughs are around the corner.

(Hat tip to Tech Policy)

Don't leave home without it...

Check out Paul Jordan's video "American Excess."

22 March 2006

Captcha blues

Is it just me, or are the anti-spam captcha thingamajigs getting impossible to decipher. I can't post comments on my blog due to my failure to read the following:

Any ideas on what it could be? I've tried srnenita and smenita. Am I missing something? (Of course, if you get the same captcha and are wrong, you'll never be able to comment...quite a catch-22 situation, eh?)

Holding out hope for that Mormon coup d'etat

Radical Writ has an interesting animated map showing state-by-state the electorate's growing distaste for Shrub. I think Shrub's only hope at this point is that the state of Utah takes over the entire U.S. and establishes a Mormon theocracy in which only Mormon men will have the right to vote. (Unfortunately for Shrub, even the glimmer of hope represented by a Mormon coup d'etat may prove transient--the level of support in Utah is also rapidly plummeting.)


Molly Ivans on Alternet discusses a wonderful way to transform the American electoral system--by-passing the need to amend the Constitution:

National Popular Vote has a dandy new approach. Instead of trying to amend the Constitution through a long, difficult process that can and will be stalled by small sates, the campaign proposes a simpler, elegant solution. According to the Constitution, each state legislature can instruct its own electors to cast their votes however the state decides, usually as winner-take-all for whichever candidate carries the state. But there is no reason a state legislature cannot instruct its electors to vote for whomever wins the popular vote. . . . Wouldn't it be fun? Candidates campaigning everywhere -- everyone's vote wanted?

Fun indeed! Personally, I'm sick of our system where certain states matter while we know how other states will vote even before the candidates are announced.

21 March 2006

237 lies

Rep. Henry A. Waxman has put together Iraq on the Record, a searchable collection of 237 specific misleading statements made by Bush Administration officials about the alleged threat posed by Iraq. The record contains only the most egregious fabrications yet still lists 237 deliberate falsehoods! As the website says:

[The record] "contains statements that were misleading based on what was known to the Administration at the time the statements were made. It does not include statements that appear mistaken only in hindsight. If a statement was an accurate reflection of U.S. intelligence at the time it was made, it was excluded even if it now appears erroneous."

Reading through this pile of lies, I can't believe this idiot we are forced to call "president" hasn't been impeached yet.

Lay down those rocks?

We always wonder what would happen if the Palestinians were to lay down their rocks and peacefully demonstrate for peace. Surely, in the face of peaceful protest, the world would be forced to listen. Right?

If history is to be believed, the answer seems to be a resounding "Hell no". Examples of unlawfully-occupied peacefully-protesting peoples abound. One such case, discussed by Carne Ross in a recent Slate article, is that of Western Sahara. For as long as I can remember, every globe or world map I've looked at has listed the country as "occupied" by Morocco. It seems that cartographers and everyone else firmly believes the occupation lacks legitimacy. And the Western Saharan people themselves have been relatively peaceful. So where's all the news and outrage?

I suppose the fact that Morocco is currently a friend of Uncle Sam's might help explain why the mood of the Western press is that we frankly don't give a damn. Little can change this. Nasty terrorists/insurgents/freedom-fighters (take your choice) would make the area a little more worthy as a newsbite in a Shrub speech (as the embattled prez drones on in his faux Texas accent about saving the world for apple pie and freedom fries) but unfortunately (from the perspective of Western Saharan nationalists) the area's short on terrorists.

I must confess that I'm not bringing this up due to any strong feelings about a dusty country the size of Colorado with only a quarter of a million people in it. Instead of creating little countries for every ethnic group on the globe, I'd rather see the national borders erased altogether, to tell you the truth. But the situation does point to the hypocrisy of U.S. politicians, who, like Dr. Seuss's Horton, are somehow able to hear every Who in Whoville as long as there's some financial interest involved but in all other situations, find themselves suddenly deaf.

20 March 2006

19 March 2006

Crime and Abortion

While in one of them kewl bookstore-slash-coffeeshops over the weekend, I finally read a chapter from Freakonomics. Each chapter of the book discusses statistical arguments that run counter to conventional wisdom. One chapter in particular caught my eye due to the current resurgence of the abortion issue. Discussing crime-related statistics, the author claims that most of the factors associated with the drop in the crime rate since the early '90s actually have little to do with it. While agreeing that more imprisonment and more police do in fact reduce crime, the author, after analyzing all the stats, says that the most directly relevant factor is--now get this--abortion. Evidently, the crime-rate drop directly coincides with the advent of Roe vs. Wade--that is, the crime rate went down right when the unborn criminals would have come of age to commit crimes. (Evidently, this drop in crime cannot be explained via general demographic trends.) The argument is that the people who don't feel that they are able to raise a child properly tend to get abortions. The most convincing element of the author's analysis is the odd correlation between states who legalized abortion early and those who experienced an earlier drop in crime rates.

The book's author is to be praised for bringing up another point in passing--the idea that the life of a fetus, while important, isn't to be valued as much as the life of a newborn infant. As I've discussed at length before, I think if we could peer into people's innermost minds, we'd find that virtually everyone believes this, but due to people's attachment to both sides of the abortion debate (and to the way their side has framed the debate) nobody wants to say this. Those on the "pro-life" side claim, on purely doctrinal grounds, make the audacious claim that a fertilized egg is no different than a person, while many of those on the "pro-choice" side make the illogical claim that the unborn fetus, at any stage of development, has none of the features of a person. A more reasonable position (one which virtually everyone probably intuitively accepts) is that the fertilized egg slowly develops into a person. Our positions on the abortion debate should reflect this.

15 March 2006

It's spring, and the flowers are blooming.

The U.S. has been in Afghanistan now for years. And the accomplishments?

About 345,000 acres of poppies are believed to have been planted this year — an increase of up to 40 percent from 2005. The opium is refined into heroin before being smuggled out of the country to meet 90 percent of the world's supply.

In the same article, we find the following interesting comparison:

Afghanistan's drug traffickers have acted with virtual impunity since U.S.-led forces in 2001 ousted the Taliban, which in its last two years in power enforced a virtual ban on opium cultivation.

A ban? Why aren't the much more powerful U.S. forces banning the drug then?

14 March 2006

Have you paid your 7 grand?

According to stats cited by Katherine at Cut to the Chase, we all currently owe about 7 grand each for the war in Iraq--a number that will keep climbing. Which makes me wonder: what would have happened if the government would have asked every American family to sign a personal IOU for 7 grand for every member of their family (with the stipulation that bankruptcy wouldn't be an option) and would have insisted on this before going to war--how many families would have complied? This is one rare area of life where I wish we lived in a libertarian utopia. Those who felt strongly that Iraq was an impending threat could cough up the cash. The rest of could laugh at them. (I guess when those fearsome Iraqi commandoes hit the California beaches, we could send them to attack houses that didn't pay.)

12 March 2006

7 March 2006

Cost plus = "plus" with a capitol P

With a wink and a nod, we're supposed to accept the use of cost-plus contracts as the normal modus operandi of U.S. operations within the Empire. The practice has created a lucrative field for corrupt politicians and government bureaucrats, who retire from their government jobs to walk across the hall to the sub-contractor--bringing with them all their contacts and skills at covering up corruption. I'm convinced that the extreme secrecy involved with virtually everything the government does nowadays is largely motivated by the need to keep the workings of the kleptocracy hidden from the prying eyes of the public.

Moshe Adler, of the L.A. Times, has an excellent piece that calls into question not just the current war-profiteering but the very practice of contracting everything out to private firms. Adler points out that government agencies actually do things more cheaply. The example he uses (Halliburton's hiring of the Kuwaiti government who then overcharged) is hilarious--and leaves little room for argument. Either:

the government firm was efficient ==> ergo Halliburton was right in hiring it ==> ergo government firms do a better job


the government firm gouged the U.S. tax-payer (creating higher profits for Halliburton) ==> ergo Halliburton can't be trusted with tax-payer's money

The short of all this is that the tax-payers are forking over nearly a 50% mark-up on services rendered--all in the name of greater efficiency. The only efficiency I can see is a more efficient process for taking the wealth from the hands of those who create it and giving it to those who sit around in an office once a month when they aren't being paid to fly to Hawaii.

The Adler article (my highlighting) is to be praised for its straightforward conclusion:

Even though the contractor's job is to serve the American taxpayer on such contracts, whenever it can inflate its costs, it will. The paycheck of a government employee, however, is the same no matter what he does. Therefore there is no conflict between his personal interest and his duty to the taxpayer. If Halliburton had been denied reimbursement for overcharging the American taxpayer, the story would have had a happy ending. But it didn't. The Army decided to reimburse Halliburton nearly $204 million out of the $208-million overcharge. However, the last thing that needs to come from this fiasco is another investigation into how to make government contracting more efficient. Government contracting worked as well as it possibly could here. All the bells and whistles were in place, and they did what they were supposed to do. And although this was a cost-plus contract, that in and of itself wasn't the problem. The government did discover the overcharge, and it could have denied reimbursement for it.

WHAT DID BREAK down is what normally breaks down when the work of the government is outsourced. All too often there is someone in the government who has both the power to decide on the contracts and a personal stake in the well-being of the contractor he supervises.When the Army brass ignored the audit, were they doing what they thought Vice President Dick Cheney — who once headed Halliburton — expected of them, or were they currying favor with Halliburton because they would perhaps like to work for the contractor after retiring from the military? Whenever a government employee supervises a private contractor, the inclination to do an honest job may come into conflict with his personal interests.

And this is why, as the Defense Department audit so clearly shows, the taxpayer is better off when the government fulfills its function with government employees instead of private contractors who are supervised by government employees.

The power of propaganda

Alex Sabbeth, a highly insightful political analyst, has just penned an article on the unofficial U.S. misinformation campaign which has officially stopped but like the little energizer bunny seems to just keep going and going and going . . .

America Anesthetized

The new Zogby poll gauging the opinions of American troops in Iraq has drawn attention mostly because it finds that 72 percent believe the United States should withdraw in a year or less and only 23 percent favor George W. Bush’s plan to “stay the course.”

But the poll also illustrates the power of propaganda.

Shockingly, 85 percent of the troops questioned believe they are fighting in Iraq “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks” – one of the key Iraq War myths built by Bush’s frequent juxtaposition of references to Osama bin-Laden and Saddam Hussein.

This subliminal message has stuck with the vast majority of U.S. troops even though Bush eventually acknowledged publicly that there is no evidence linking Saddam to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

In other words, more than eight in 10 of the U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq think they are there avenging the 3,000 people killed on Sept. 11, even though the U.S. government lacks evidence of the connection.

The poll also found that 77 percent think that a major reason for the war was “to stop Saddam from protecting al-Qaeda in Iraq” – another myth nurtured by the Bush administration even though Hussein’s secular government was a bitter enemy of al-Qaeda’s Islamic fundamentalists.

Traitorous Troops?

Despite this confusion over the reasons for the war, the poll exploded another myth promoted by the administration and its media allies – that Americans are unpatriotic if they criticize Bush’s policies, because to do so would damage troop morale.

It turns out the troops want the war brought to a quick end because they have concluded it’s unwinnable based on their own experiences, not from the carping of home-side naysayers, often denounced as “traitors” by Bush’s supporters.

It seems somehow that 72 percent of the U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq have become “traitors,” too.

But what’s going on? How can the Bush administration and its supporters get away with spreading so much confusion about the reasons for invading Iraq? How can they justify demonizing so many Americans who disagree with the war policy?

The answer seems to be that the relentless application of propaganda was always part of the administration’s strategy for herding the American public in the direction favored by Bush and his neoconservative advisers.

Remember Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Office of Strategic Influence, the secretive project designed to manipulate international opinion but which was expected to “blow back” some of its propaganda onto the American people.

On Feb. 19, 2002, five months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and 13 months before the invasion of Iraq, the New York Times reported that this Pentagon office was “developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations” in order “to influence public sentiment and policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries.”

News of this disinformation program caused outrage and led to a Pentagon announcement that the office had been shut down. But Rumsfeld later explained that the concept was kept alive even though the office was closed.

“There was the Office of Strategic Influence,” Rumsfeld said. “You may recall that. And ‘Oh, my goodness gracious, isn’t that terrible; Henny Penny, the sky is going to fall.’ I went down that next day and said, ‘Fine, if you want to savage this thing, fine, I’ll give you the corpse. There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done’ and I have.” [See Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting press release, Nov. 27, 2002]

So the Pentagon continued its propaganda project of placing stories, possibly false, in the foreign media, with some of them surely feeding back into the U.S. political debate though the U.S. government is barred from disseminating propaganda at home.

In 2003, the Pentagon produced another propaganda program described in a document called “Information Operations Roadmap,” which describes the need for influencing journalists, enemies and the public.

The document recognizes that Americans consume propaganda – on TV and through the Internet – that is intended for foreign audiences. [BBC, Jan. 28, 2006]

Propaganda Abroad

While the Pentagon insists that its public information is accurate, albeit promoting images favorable to the United States, the BBC registered a different opinion about the stories circulated by the U.S. military during the Iraq invasion.

“We’re absolutely sick and tired of putting things out and finding they’re not true,” a senior BBC journalist told the Guardian. “The misinformation in this war is far and away worse than any conflict I’ve covered, including the first Gulf War and Kosovo. …

“I don’t know whether they (Pentagon officials) are putting out flyers in the hope that we’ll run them first and ask questions later or whether they genuinely don’t know what’s going on – I rather suspect the latter.” [The Guardian, UK, March 28, 2003]

Military analysts also shake their heads at how reliant the administration has become on propaganda for promoting its goals. Sam Gardiner, an instructor in strategy at the National War College, said the Bush administration has waged a systematic P.R. campaign to sell the invasion of Iraq to the American public.

“There is absolutely no question that the White House and the Pentagon participated in an effort to market the military option,” Gardiner said. “The truth did not make any difference to that campaign. To call it fixing is to miss the more profound point.

“It was a campaign to influence. It involved creating false stories; it involved exaggerating; it involved manipulating the numbers of stories that were released; it involved a major campaign to attack those who disagreed with the military option; it included all the techniques those who ran the marketing effort had learned in political campaign.” [Kevin Zeese, Democracy Rising, June 23, 2005]

Government Propaganda

So, there was the tale about Pfc. Jessica Lynch, both her fierce resistance under fire and her daring rescue from a hostile Iraqi hospital – when the reality was that she never fired a shot and the hospital staff presented no opposition to her rescue. [AP, Nov. 11, 2003]

Then, there was ex-football player Pat Tillman, who died in Afghanistan. Contrary to official reports of his death in a firefight while on patrol, he actually was killed by friendly fire, a reality that was suppressed for five weeks while the Bush administration milked the propaganda advantage of Tillman’s death.

“I’m disgusted by things that have happened with the Pentagon since my son’s death,” his mother, Mary, told the Los Angeles Times. “I don't trust them one bit.”

The truth was stretched, too, when it came to containing negative stories, like the abuse of prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. Bush said the problem was limited to a few guards on the night shift and that the United States doesn’t engage in torture.

The reality has turned out to be much worse. Torture and other abuse of prisoners have reached from Guantanamo Bay to Iraq and Afghanistan – finally overwhelming official denials.
The Bush administration has practiced propaganda on domestic issues as well. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office objected to the broadcasting of fake “news videos” that were designed to look like independent news stories. The GAO said the stories appeared to violate federal rules against propaganda. [AP, Feb. 19, 2005]

The GAO also reported that the administration spent more than $1.6 billion on public relations and media contracts in a 2 ½ year span, including hiring advertising firms to sell its policies to the America public. [http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/]

Beyond this expensive outreach, the Bush administration has succeeded in gaining cooperation from U.S. news organizations in its news management. Bowing to the administration’s national security claims, New York Times executives held the story of warrantless wiretaps for more than a year, possibly altering the outcome of 2004 election.

Violence in Iraq

And what has happened to journalists who act independently and write what they observe in war zones like Iraq?

In 2005, they were killed at a record rate, including a growing number of them becoming the victims of “targeted” killings, according to the International Federation of Journalists. At least 89 journalists were murdered because of their professional work out of a total of 150 media deaths, IFJ said.

“The numbers are staggering,” IFJ general secretary Aidan White said. IFJ listed 38 deliberate killings in the Middle East in 2005, with 35 occurring in Iraq. Five other media workers in Iraq were killed by U.S. troops, bringing the total killed by coalition forces to 18 since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. [Reuters, Jan. 23, 2006]

In April 2003, as U.S. forces were moving into the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, a U.S. tank fired on the Palestine Hotel, which housed foreign journalists, purportedly in “response to hostile fire.” Two journalists were killed, but other reporters monitoring the fighting from their balconies denied that there had been any shooting from the hotel.

“There is simply no evidence to support the official U.S. position that U.S. forces were returning hostile fire from the Palestine Hotel,” said a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. [CBS, May 28, 2003]

U.S. news executives also have complained about strong-arm tactics used to prevent journalists from reporting on incidents that might undermine support for the war back in the United States.
“Our journalists in Iraq have been shoved to the ground, pushed out of the way, told to leave the scene of explosions; we’ve had camera disks and videotapes confiscated, reporters detained,” said Associated Press Washington bureau chief Sandy Johnson. [Nation, Dec. 25, 2003]

As the Iraqi insurgency grew in 2004, so did the heavy-handed tactics against journalists. In May, three Reuters journalists and one working for NBC said U.S. forces subjected them to beatings and other abuse similar to what was later revealed at Abu Ghraib prison.

“Two of the three Reuters staff said they had been forced to insert a finger into their anuses and then lick it, and were forced to put shoes in their mouths, particularly humiliating in Arab culture,” Reuters reported.

“The soldiers told them they would be taken to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, deprived them of sleep, placed bags over their heads, kicked and hit them and forced them to remain in stress positions for long periods.” [Reuters, Oct, 14, 2004]

The British newspaper, The Guardian, described Iraqi police following the American lead in adopting their own harsh tactics toward journalists in 2004: “Dozens of journalists in Najaf, including the entire BBC team, were forced from their hotel at gunpoint and detained by local police. Around 60 journalists from local and foreign news organisations including the Guardian, the Telegraph and the Independent as well as the BBC, were held for almost an hour while police officers delivered what one correspondent described as an ‘unexpected press conference at gunpoint.’ …

“Correspondents in the Najaf Sea hotel said around a dozen policemen, some masked, stormed into the rooms of journalists and forced them into vans and a truck. The Independent's Donald Macintyre reported that the police, some masked, ‘shouted threats and abuse at the reporters, along with their Iraqi drivers and translators, and fired about a dozen shots inside and outside the hotel before taking them before the police chief, Major-General Ghaleb al-Jazaari, to hear his emotional complaints about media coverage and the sufferings of police officers during the present crisis’.” [Guardian, Aug., 26, 2004]

One of the lessons of “democracy” apparently being taught to the Iraqi government is the need to control the information reaching the public, at almost any cost. What American spin doctors call “spreading our values” has become the tireless manipulation of public perceptions within an endless “information war.”

Media stories are planted; public relations firms are hired to shape the opinions of an unsuspecting public; reporters who document contrary facts are deemed the enemy and are subject to bullying or worse.

Rumsfeld’s dictums about the need to wage “strategic” media campaigns may be right in a way that his words didn’t fully articulate. The truth must be managed lest the American people learn what the administration is actually doing.

6 March 2006

Abortion banned in S.D.

This is major news: the South Dakota government has just signed into law a virtual ban on all abortions in the state!

Cancel that plane ticket to Guatemala

Badtux the Snarky Penguin writes to tell us what it's really like living in a 3rd world country (and we ain't talkin' about Antarctica!):

Moving to a third world country

At one time I considered moving to a third world country, but then I realized that I already was moving to a third world country. Or, rather, a third world country was moving to me.

All this time you were saving for that trip "over there" to see how the "other half" lives only to find out that you've been incorporated in that half. It's always great when you can save on plane fare. The Snarky Penguin continues:

Consider this:

Corrupt government: CHECK. (Government? I hope Snarky isn't referring to the corporations running America as a government!)

Bad roads: CHECK I can vouch for this one. I'd also include trains and subways that break down weekly. (For those who have never travelled outside the U.S., trains in other countries tend to run on time all the time. It's possible to live in most places for years without ever experiencing the breakdowns that are now a weekly occurrence in New York and D.C.)

Dirty polluted air: CHECK. (See: Gutting of environmental regulations) (Does Snarky live in LA?)

Dirty water that causes intestinal diseases coming out of the faucets: CHECK. (See: Gutting of environmental regulations, various outbreaks from contaminated municipal water).

Tiny upper class, shrinking middle class, and huge number of poor people? CHECK. And to add insult to injury, a working class that's working more hours.

Lack of electricity and running water for many homes? CHECK. (See: New Orleans, where the electrical wires in most of the city are lying in the streets, abandoned by the power company which has declared bankruptcy despite its corporate parent making record profits over the past few years, and where the water is still off in most of the city because of breaks in the mains).

Treasury printing money with all the abandon of a Weimer Republic government ministry? CHECK. (See: Money supply figures for past 8 years).

Can be thrown into jail and locked up anytime someone in authority doesn't like the way you look or the people you hang out with: CHECK. (See: Jose' Padilla. Or, rather, you can't.) (Snarky must be a dark-skinned Latino penguin. We white penguins know that that sort a thang can't happen to us.)

Your telephone calls and bank transactions are overseen by the government to see if you might be engaged in subversive activity? CHECK (See: NSA spying, Patriot Act banking regulations). (Are we still allowed to talk about this? Didn't Snarky get his Homeland Security memo that this was no longer a kosher topic?)

Large masses of uneducated people, useful only as brownshirts for the government? CHECK. (See: Entire state of Alabama, entire Fox News viewership). Ouch!

An educational system that serves primarily as a propaganda outlet for the government, and does little educating? CHECK. (See: Your local school board.) Thus we have vouchers and increased government control and massive expansions of government by those who believe that the smaller government is, the better. George, where are you when we need you? (Not George Bush, but rather George Orwell.)

I don't need to move to a third world country, because one is swiftly coming here to where I already live. Ah, the joys of living in the heart of Empire!

Movies great and mediocre

I was happy to see Crash win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. I haven't seen Brokeback Mountain so I can't compare the two, but I thought that the endless whining and wringing of hands by critics about the depiction of race relations in Crash verged on the infantile, making me wonder if it's simply impossible to say anything substantial about the issue in the current politically-correct environment. That said, the film isn't really all that controversial. All it really does is show (in a very clever and artistic way) that there's more to reality than meets the eye.

Last night, I rented Flight Plan. I hate to mention the film in the same post as Crash (although there's probably something clever I could say, using the metaphor for a "crash"). But to be fair, the film is watchable. At Blockbuster, I couldn't resist renting the film simply for its Khafkaesque premise. Having seen the film, I'm still not sure that the denouement really makes sense of the whole story but I suppose we shouldn't think too much of such things. Jodi Foster is starting to fall into the same character in virtually all her films. She's had one hell of a career though. Being the sci-fi lover that I am, I particularly liked her movie Contact.

4 March 2006

I keep hearing the "I" word

Newshounds brings up the possibility of Shrub's impeachment following Republican losses in midterm elections. The irony is that the reasons for impeachment are starting to parallel the litany of Shrub's justification for the Iraqi War--there are so many of them that they're hard to keep track of. But unlike the justifications for war--which are for the most part demonstratably false, I think most of grounds for impeachment are legitimate. At the moment, Katrina's returned to the forefront. I personally hope that this doesn't allow the president's team to slip the domestic spying scandal under the rug.

3 March 2006

Situation now worse than when Saddam was in power

The grounds for Shrub's war just keep crumbling. The following report is especially damning:

Human rights abuses in Iraq are as bad now as they were under Saddam Hussein, as lawlessness and sectarian violence sweep the country, the former U.N. human rights chief in Iraq said Thursday. John Pace, who last month left his post as director of the human rights office at the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, said the level of extra-judicial executions and torture is soaring, and morgue workers are being threatened by both government-backed militia and insurgents not to properly investigate deaths. "Under Saddam, if you agreed to forgo your basic right to freedom of expression and thought, you were physically more or less OK," Pace said in an interview with The Associated Press. "But now, no. Here, you have a primitive, chaotic situation where anybody can do anything they want to anyone."

I'm reminded of a Pink Floyd lyric:

So, so you thought you could tell
Heaven from hell

2 March 2006

Nigerians: Solidly behind Bush!

The BBC recently ran a poll asking citizens of 35 countries various questions about Shrub's War. Asked whether the war has decreased, increased, or had no effect on the threat of terrorism, only Nigerians (29%, 6%, 49%) and Mexicans (10%, 59%, 12%) felt that it has made terrorism less likely. (Nigeria must be full of very understanding people, willing to buck public opinion to support the president, and also constantly offering to send me money from accounts I didn't know I had.)

Both Iraqis (75%, 11%, 12%) and Americans (55%, 21%, 21%), on the other hand, solidly agreed with the opinion that Shrub's War has made us less safe from terrorism--quite an amazing statistic if one considers that this was one of the primary reasons among the kaleidoscope of justifications for the war (Was this reason number 17? I lost count.)

The poll results showed more ambiguous responses to the question of whether the U.S. and its allies should have removed Saddam from power (overall, 36% for, 45% opposed). People were also split about what the U.S. should do now, although in this case, the question seemed to be very loaded, asking if the U.S. should "stay in Iraq until it becomes stable"? (Someone at the BBC needs to enroll in a survey writing course.) Overall, 35% said it should stay and 32% that it should pull out. I wonder what the response would have been had they loaded the question in the opposite direction, asking "Should the U.S. stay in Iraq until it erupts into full-fledged civil war or should it cut its losses and pull out now?"

If you want a laugh, look at The Big Pharoah's attempt to give this poll a positive rightwing spin on Agoravox. The Shrub misadministration needs to hire this man as a fact-picker. (I'd say "fact-checker" except for the fact that Cheney has done away with that position.)

It's about damn time!

The New York Times is suing the Pentagon which is refusing to comply with its request for information filed under the Freedom of Information Act. The paper says that the Pentagon has ignored its request, even missing the deadline for giving a lawful reason why it can't comply.
All i can say is "it's about damn time"!

1 March 2006

Conservatives defecting from pro-war cause

Fukuyama, that academic paragon credited with resurrecting the tarnished image of manifest destiny, has recently pointed out what he regards as failings in the Bush doctrine. In a long discussion, part of an NPR story, Fukuyama cites the following three mistakes "of the Bush administration in its stewardship of U.S. foreign policy in its first term."

The first was threat assessment. The administration overestimated, or perhaps more accurately mischaracterized, the threat facing the United States from radical Islamism. Although the new and ominous possibility of undeterrable terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction did indeed present itself, the administration wrongly conflated this with the threat presented by Iraq and with the rogue state/proliferation problem more generally. . . .

In addition, the Bush administration failed to anticipate the virulently negative global reaction to its exercise of "benevolent hegemony." The administration came into office with a strong ideological bias against the United Nations and other international organizations such as the International Criminal Court. Officials failed to recognize that they were pushing against a strong undertow of anti-Americanism that would be greatly exacerbated by their seemingly contemptuous brush-off of most forms of international cooperation. The emergence of a unipolar post-Cold War world had made the extent of American hegemony, as it turned out, a source of anxiety even to America's closest allies.

Finally, the Bush administration failed to anticipate the requirements for pacifying and reconstructing Iraq, and was wildly overoptimistic in its assessment of the ease with which large-scale social engineering could be accomplished not just in Iraq but in the Middle East as a whole. This could not have been a failure of underlying principle, since a consistent neoconservative theme, as noted above, had been skepticism about the prospects for social engineering. Rather, proponents of the war seem to have forgotten their own principles in the heat of their advocacy of the war.

I think nearly everyone would agree with the last point and most sane people with all three. Fukuyama then lists what he regards as the "four different approaches to American foreign policy today":

1. neoconservatives
2. "realists" in the tradition of Henry Kissinger, who respect power and tend to downplay the internal nature of other regimes and human rights concerns
3. liberal internationalists who hope to transcend power politics altogether and move to an international order based on law and institutions
4. "Jacksonian" American nationalists, who tend to take a narrow, security-related view of American national interests, distrust multilateralism, and in their more extreme manifestations tend toward nativism and isolationism.

Fukuyama claims that Shrub's War was born out of an alliance of neoconservatives and Jacksonian nationalists.

As if Fukuyama's defection from the cause isn't bad enough, William F. Buckley recently (Feb. 24) wrote an article conceding that one can "can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed." Buckley claims that the postulates upon which the invasion were based have turned out to be untrue, namely:

1. "That the Iraqi people, whatever their tribal differences, would suspend internal divisions in order to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them religious freedom."

2. "That the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymakers to cope with insurgents bent on violence."

Alas, when conservatives like Buckley and Fukuyama start crossing the ideological lines, it's a sad day for the conservative pro-war cause.

Is the Christian God even possible?

Evil Bible has an interesting post (discovered via the Rambling Taoist) titled Why the Christian God is impossible.