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Monday, December 20, 2004

The WTC Collapse: A Crime Scene Never To Be Investigated

NOTE: This article was originally published here on 2 October 2004. Republished for the purpose of newsfeed distribution.

The following is a collection of audio and video materials related to the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Among other things, it includes this reference to "WTC 'Investigation'? A Call to Action" by Bill Manning, Editor-in-Chief of Fire Engineering, an American firefighters' professional publication.

In his initial article, Mr Manning calls for a full investigation of the WTC collapse scene.

There are many, many questions to be asked by us about the World Trade Center collapse and its implications on high-rise firefighting across the nation. Some questions are political, many are technical, others are philosophical. Here are a few (in no particular order) to think about.

* Given the typical resources of most fire departments, can we be expected to handle every high-rise fire thrown at us? When was the last time your city manager asked you for a complete list of resources that you need to fight a high-rise fire, including personnel? When was the last time a high-rise building owner asked if you would like him to install a special "firefighter elevator" for your exclusive use during a high-rise fire? When was the last time a building code committee called up a "downtown" battalion chief and asked him what he thought of the unlimited area and height provisions found in all of the model building codes-is it OK if we allow a 400-story building in your battalion, Chief? The bottom line is, Can we really handle high-rise fires adequately? Who are we kidding? Isn't this the "big secret" that Chief Vincent Dunn has been talking about for years?

* Beware the truss! Frank Brannigan has been admonishing us for years about this topic. It has been reported that the World Trade Center floors were supported by lightweight steel trusses, some in excess of 50 feet long. Need we say more?

* Modern sprayed-on steel "fireproofing" did not perform well at the World Trade Center. Haven't we always been leery about these materials? Why do many firefighters say that they would rather fight a high-rise fire in an old building than in a modern one? Isn't it because of the level of fire resistance provided? How much confidence do we have in the ASTM E-119 fire resistance test, whose test criteria were developed in the 1920s? ASTM E-119 is an antiquated test whose criteria for fire resistance do not replicate today's fires.

* The defend-in-place strategy was the wrong strategy at the World Trade Center. Many of those who ignored the directions to "stay where you are" are alive today because they self-evacuated. Do you still use defend-in-place strategies for large high-rise fires? When should you use them, and when should you not?

* We can see live broadcasts from Afghanistan, but we can't communicate via radios in many high-rise buildings. What gives?

There are many more questions, more than we have answers for. What is clear is that things must change. Where do we begin? By putting things in perspective. The World Trade Center disaster was

* The largest loss of firefighters ever at one incident.
* The second largest loss of life on American soil.
* The first total collapse of a high-rise during a fire in United States history.
* The largest structural collapse in recorded history.

Now, with that understanding, you would think we would have the largest fire investigation in world history. You would be wrong. Instead, we have a series of unconnected and uncoordinated superficial inquiries. No comprehensive "Presidential Blue Ribbon Commission." No top-notch National Transportation Safety Board-like response. Ironically, we will probably gain more detailed information about the destruction of the planes than we will about the destruction of the towers. We are literally treating the steel removed from the site like garbage, not like crucial fire scene evidence.

The World Trade Center disaster demands the most comprehensive detailed investigation possible. No event in our entire fire service history has ever come close to the magnitude of this incident.
Both Fire Engineering articles date back to January 2002. It was by then already clear to the fire professionals that there was nothing resembling a proper investigation taking place. In fact, in this accompanying article Mr Manning condemns what was happening at the WTC scene in no uncertain terms as he tries to draw parralels to other high-profile fires.
Did they throw away the locked doors from the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire? Did they throw away the gas can used at the Happyland Social Club Fire? Did they cast aside the pressure-regulating valves at the Meridian Plaza Fire? Of course not. But essentially, that's what they're doing at the World Trade Center.

For more than three months, structural steel from the World Trade Center has been and continues to be cut up and sold for scrap. Crucial evidence that could answer many questions about high-rise building design practices and performance under fire conditions is on the slow boat to China, perhaps never to be seen again in America until you buy your next car.

Such destruction of evidence shows the astounding ignorance of government officials to the value of a thorough, scientific investigation of the largest fire-induced collapse in world history. I have combed through our national standard for fire investigation, NFPA 921, but nowhere in it does one find an exemption allowing the destruction of evidence for buildings over 10 stories tall.

Hoping beyond hope, I have called experts to ask if the towers were the only high-rise buildings in America of lightweight, center-core construction. No such luck. I made other calls asking if these were the only buildings in America with light-density, sprayed-on fireproofing. Again, no luck-they were two of thousands that fit the description.

Comprehensive disaster investigations mean increased safety. They mean positive change. NASA knows it. The NTSB knows it. Does FEMA know it?

No. Fire Engineering has good reason to believe that the "official investigation" blessed by FEMA and run by the American Society of Civil Engineers is a half-baked farce that may already have been commandeered by political forces whose primary interests, to put it mildly, lie far afield of full disclosure. Except for the marginal benefit obtained from a three-day, visual walk-through of evidence sites conducted by ASCE investigation committee members- described by one close source as a "tourist trip"-no one's checking the evidence for anything.
When an arson or a murder occurs, it is routine procedure to thoroughly investigate the scene. Apparently, not so when an arson takes close to 3,000 lives.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Ellen Mariani: The Story That Could Have Been Big

NOTE: This article was originally published here on 18 September 2004. Republished for the purpose of newsfeed distribution.

Ellen Mariani is suing "Bush et al". One would think that I need not go any further here,- anyone suing the US President, one would think, would get so much publicity that I could hardly stand a chance of being able to add anything of value to it. Unfortunately, that is hardly the case. Most people in the US would probably never know whom you are talking about if you mentioned Mrs Mariani's name to them.

So, who is she? She is a widow of Louis Neil Mariani, and late Mr Mariani was one of the passengers on United Air Lines flight 175, one of the doomed planes involved in the September 11, 2001 tragedy.

Mrs Mariani was not happy with the official version of the events of that fateful day and decided to seek justice in the US Court System.

(Philadelphia, PA – 11/26/03) - Philip J. Berg, Esquire, announced today that he, attorney for Ellen Mariani, wife of Louis Neil Mariani, who died when United Air Lines flight 175 was flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9-11 at a news conference regarding the filing of a detailed Amended Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on 11/26/03 in the case of Mariani vs. Bush et al that he is alleging President Bush and officials including, but not limited to Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and Feinberg that they:

1. had knowledge/warnings of 911 and failed to warn or take steps to prevent;

2. have been covering up the truth of 911; and

3. have therefore violated the laws of the United States; and

4. are being sued under the Civil RICO Act.

It is certainly comforting to know that in the US we have a rule of law, not men, and anybody, even the President, can be named a defendant in a court of law. The US media, however, did a shameful job of covering this case,- which most would view as being of paramount importance.

Grieving New Hampshire widow who lost her man on 9/11 refuses the government's million dollar hush money payoff, studies the facts of the day for nearly two years, and comes to believe the White House "intentionally allowed 9/11 to happen" to launch a so-called "War on Terrorism" for personal and political gain.

She retains a prominent lawyer, a former Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania, who served with distinction under both Democrats and Republicans and was once a strong candidate for the governor's seat.

The attorney files a 62-page complaint in federal district court (including 40 pages of prima facie evidence) charging that "President Bush and officials including, but not limited to Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Ashcroft and Tenet":
1.) had adequate foreknowledge of 911 yet failed to warn the county or attempt to prevent it;
2.) have since been covering up the truth of that day;
3.) have therefore abetted the murder of plaintiff's husband and violated the Constitution and multiple laws of the United States; and
4.) are thus being sued under the Civil RICO (Racketeering, Influence, and Corrupt Organization) Act for malfeasant conspiracy, obstruction of justice and wrongful death.

The suit text goes on to document the detailed forewarnings from foreign

governments and FBI agents; the unprecedented delinquency of our air defense; the inexplicable half hour dawdle of our Commander in Chief at a primary school after hearing the nation was under deadly attack; the incessant invocation of national security and executive privilege to suppress the facts; and the obstruction of all subsequent efforts to investigate the disaster. It concludes that "compelling evidence will be

presented in this case through discovery, subpoena power, and testimony [that] Defendants failed to act and prevent 9/11 knowing the attacks would lead toтА| an 'International War on Terror' which would benefit Defendants both financially and politically."

Press releases detailing these explosive allegations are sent out to 3000 journalists in the print and broadcast media, and a press conference to announce the filing is held in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia on November 26th (commemorating the end of the first futile year of the independent National 9/11 Commission).

Imagine the world-churning implications of these charges. Imagine the furor if just one was proved true. Imagine the courage of this bribe- shunning widow and an eminent attorney with his rep on the line. Then imagine a press conference to which nobody came.

(Well, more precisely, imagine a press conference at which only FOX News appears, tapes for 40 minutes, and never airs an inch.)

Now imagine the air time, column inches and talk show hysteria that same night devoted to the legal hassles of Michael, Kobe, and Scott Peterson, and divide that by the attention paid to our little case of mass murder, war profiteering and treason. (OK, this is really a trick question because no number divided by zero yields any answers whatsoever, which evidently in this case is the result preferred.)

This is not to say that Ellen Mariani and her attorney Phil Berg have no support. Thousands of people are backing their efforts, and, according to this press release, they have got at least one member of the US Senate, Sen. Mark Dayton, Democrat of Minnesota, making statements that bolster their argument. However, the unfortunate reality appears to be that the majority in the US is not even aware of this case. And this contributes to a widespread illusion that no one disputes the official version of what went down on 9/11 in any meaningful way. However, an illusion it is,- to which the multitude of alternative media sources challenging the official version of events is testament.

For additional info, links to articles on the Mariani court case, an online petition supporting Mrs Mariani's effort, etc. you may want to go here.

Iraq: Some Facts To Consider

NOTE: This article was originally published here on 25 November 2004. Republished for the purpose of newsfeed distribution.

The Nation
's Ari Berman has compiled a short summary of facts regarding the situation in Iraq today. It is a poignant article. Consider this:

** 400,000 Iraqi children suffer from chronic diarrhea and dangerous deficiencies of protein, according to a UN development report. Iraq's child malnutrition rate now roughly equals that of Burundi--a war-torn central African nation--and is far above both Uganda and Haiti.
One of the official goals of the US-led invasion was to free the Iraqis from the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein and alleviate their suffering. It appears that,- while they may or may not find themselves free,- the Iraqis are definitely suffering from the lack of food to a much greater extent than they did under Saddam. But help is on the way, isn't it? Maybe it is, but it seems awfully,- some may say, criminally,- slow in coming:
** Of the $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds allocated last year by Congress, the US has spent only $1.7 billion.

Was It Really That Difficult, Mr Secretary?

According to this Reuters report,
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will now personally sign letters of condolence to families of troops killed in action, after the Pentagon (news - web sites) acknowledged signing machines had been used in the past.
This official acknowledgement confirms what had earlier been alleged by Colonel David Hackworth.
And now, apparently, Rumsfeld's obsession with machines and their efficiency has translated into his using one to replace his own John Hancock on KIA (killed in action) letters to parents and spouses. Two Pentagon-based colonels, who've both insisted on anonymity to protect their careers, have indignantly reported that the SecDef has relinquished this sacred duty to a signature device rather than signing the sad documents himself.
When I went to Jim Turner, a good man saddled with a tough job as one of Rumsfeld's flacks at the Pentagon, for a confirmation or a denial, he said, "Rumsfeld signs the letters himself."
I then went to about a dozen next-of-kin of American soldiers KIA in Iraq. Most agreed with the colonels' accusations and said they'd noticed and been insulted by the machine-driven signature. One father bitterly commented that he thought it was a shame that the SecDef could keep his squash schedule but not find the time to sign his dead son's letter. Several also felt compelled to tell me that the letter they received from George Bush also looked as though it was not signed personally by the president.
Dr. Ted Smith, whose son Eric was among the first 100 killed in Iraq, notes that the letter he received "from the commander in chief was signed with a thick, green marking pen. I thought it was stamped then and do even now. He had time for golf and the ranch but not enough to sign a decent signature with a pen for his beloved hero soldiers. I was going to send the letter back but did not. I am sorry I didn't."
I am not particularly big on memorial ceremonies. To me it is the feelings that matter. One may be too busy to attend a funeral or express one's sympathy at length, but there is always time for a personal gesture,- a brief phone call, an e-mail, or,- in this particular case, a letter signed by one's own hand (and, preferably, at least read prior to that). However, it appears that Mr Rumsfeld could not squeeze the time to sign a little over a thousand letters over the period which lasted in excess of one year into his busy schedule,- that is, until negative publicity forced him to act otherwise. It is also highly likely, in my humble opinion, that a signing machine feels more sympathy for fallen soldiers than our Secretary of Defense.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

What US$400 Billion Buys You

NOTE: This article was originally published here on 1 November 2004. Republished for the purpose of newsfeed distribution.

It certainly looks like one can afford to get quite a number of toys on Pentagon's budget. And toys are certainly there,- GPS-guided bombs, Navy carrier groups, tanks, submarines...

However, some things a soldier might really need in battle are in rather short supply:
With a $400 billion defense budget you might think U.S. troops have everything they need to fight the war, but that's not always the case.

Correspondent Steve Kroft talks to a general, soldiers in Iraq, and their families at home about a lack of armored vehicles, field radios, night vision goggles, and even ammunition - especially for the National Guard and reserve units that now make up more than 40 percent of U.S. troops.
I have commented on this problem before and it certainly looks like it has been there for awhile, has been reported on for awhile, but is still to be resolved.

What can I say? On several occasions, the aftermath of 9/11 being one of them, I considered signing up with the US military. Now I am glad I did not. And that is not because of fear,- it is certainly there, which is natural, but I am perfectly comfortable with the notion that everyone dies one day. No. The reason for that change of attitude is that I consider soldiers human, and I believe that protecting them to a reasonable extent is the nation's responsibility, a basic measure of respect and care for someone sent into the harm's way. And if $400B can't provide soldiers with enough bullets,- that says it all.

I consider those responsible for this outrage guilty of imperial arrogance, their attitude being that of "legionaires are paid to fight and die". And wasn't this Republic founded specifically to make sure this sort of governance never happens?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Disbar the legal illiterates!

NOTE: This article was originally published here on 6 August 2004. Republished for the purpose of newsfeed distribution.

It is certainly welcome news that many lawyers condemn their colleagues employed by the US Government who authored legal memos authorizing torture and essentially advising the administration on how to avoid responsibility for torture which according to the legal codes of all the civilized nations is listed amongst the gravest of offenses. However, a verbal condemnation only goes so far. I think some action is in order here.

I believe the lawyers as a profession must take a stand and eject those administration lawyers from the legal profession. I believe that not only emotionally and morally, but also professionally this would be the right course of action. While no expert myself, I certainly believe that many statements made by the US government's legal representatives are void of logic and go against the letter, not only the spirit, of many laws that are on the book in the US. That means, they are, in layman's terms, illiterate when it comes to knowing their trade,- or they act that way, which in the final run is immaterial. I believe lawyers acting that way must be prevented from ever practicing law again. I also think it would be a powerful lesson to this administration and its successors when they end up facing the reality of some of the critical governmental decisions having been made based on the legal advice of those found to be unfit to litigate the placement of a farm fence in a rural county courthouse.

Have We Got What It Takes To Look Them in The Face?

Supporters of our invasion of Iraq cheerlead from their armchairs for the women and men of our military. Some folks send packages of goodies and letters to soldiers and sailors. Veterans for Peace stand on a street corner each week asking to bring our troops home. These are all examples of different ways we express our support for U.S. soldiers.

But what about support when they come back? While some historical references reflect an effort to support our soldiers upon their return from battle, our history of neglecting soldiers also flourishes and seems to be getting worse.

This is an excerpt from an article by Tim Pluta, a US Armed Forces veteran himself. In it, Pluta writes about the experience of those soldiers lucky enough to make it through the war and come back home to the US. And oftentimes that experience is anything but pretty:

Korean and Vietnam veterans received little of the support and recognition that previous veterans received. Thirty years after being exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and suffering numerous medical problems, a neighbor of mine finally began to receive compensation from our government's admission that Agent Orange is toxic.

Because of situations like this, nearly three times the number of Vietnam veterans died after coming home than died during the war.

Today, there are reports of U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, being secretly transferred from Andrews Air Force base, under the cover of darkness, to military transport planes and dispersed out to military hospitals across the country. Why? So that we do not see them.

I have written on this topic before. And I just get to hear too many reports about the problems associated with how veterans are treated in this great land of ours to believe that these problems can be written off as an occasional oversight on the part of this official or other, or as a situation caused by the lack of planning or lack of resources. No,- at least in my humble opinion, this is lack of compassion, lack of concern we are talking about here.

Asks Pluta,

Is it easier to support the mythical, invisible image of a brave soldier fighting for "glory" and "freedom" than it is to support the very real limbless, psychologically damaged or lifeless person returning from Iraq?
It certainly very much appears so.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Not In My Name

NOTE: This article was originally published here on 4 August 2004. Republished for the purpose of newsfeed distribution.

Racism as a problem is nothing new; it can likely be traced to the times immemorial. We mostly notice it when we find ourselves being the target of racists; that is also not particularly surprising as we the humans always possess a certain measure of self-centeredness. But what goes around comes around, and whatever behaviour you consider morally wrong is wrong universally, regardless of whether it is your group that is practicing that behaviour, or some other group. The same goes for racism.

Racists tend to seek legitimacy by claiming that they are spiritually best endowed members of their ethnic or religious group. They tend to view those who do not hold their radical views as apostates. Quite in agreement with that pattern of behaviour, Jewish racists claim to be the
truest Jews ever to tread the Earth. On a number of occasions, people of that mold informed me that they consider me not to be a real Jew. I disagree with that assessment, and I also consider racism incompatible with true morality. Sometimes extreme expressions of bigotry and prejudice make me feel that I must no longer remain silent, and thus I feel that I have to make my views known. Later in this piece I am going to address the radical publication whose existence ended up being a catalyst in motivating me to write this piece. It is just that I believe that silence in the face of extremism can sometimes be viewed as acquiescence,- and on the part of myself and hopefully many others, there is no acquiescence here.

I have recently come across the name of Rabbi Saadya Grama who had authored a Hebrew book titled "Romemut Yisrael Ufarashat Hagalut" (one possible translation: "The Grandeur of Israel and the Issue of Exile"). Among other things the book establishes the idea of Jewish superiority.
The book was written in Hebrew and proved controversial enough for the only bookstore in Brooklyn, New York that was for a brief period of time selling it to pull it off the shelf. One would be correct in saying that I did not put in as much effort as I could have in obtaining the book and checking it out for myself. I certainly did not; I have reason to believe, however, that that book is not something which I would want to spend much effort locating, or much money subsidizing by way of purchase. So I am relying on third-party translations and quotes in forming my opinion of this book.

In its December 19, 2003 issue "Forward" published an article about the book titled "Charedi Rabbis Rush To Disavow Anti-Gentile Book". This, along with other "Forward" articles, is the source I am using for my analysis of Rabbi Grama's book. It is worth noting that some of the Rabbis denouncing the book had earlier endorsed it. Thus it appears incorrect to claim that this book can be dismissed as an opinion of one individual, not supported by anybody of import.

However, Rabbi Grama and his book is just a side-show to the topic that I would like to address: the Jewish racism. Just like any other form of racism, it takes many forms and varies in its intensity as well as in its choice of a target. Based on what I get to see the prevalent strain is the idea of superiority of Jews and inferiority of others, derisively referred to as "goyim". Rabbi Grama, whose racism is radical and uncommon in its intensity, formulates it thusly:

The difference between the people of Israel and the nations of the world is an essential one. The Jew by his source and in his very essence is entirely good. The goy, by his source and in his very essence is completely evil. This is not simply a matter of religious distinction, but rather of two completely different species.
This is clearly a justification for a racist view of the world. While few Jews would openly make this kind of a racist statement, a certain percentage of them appear to follow this sort of notion in some way or other. Some believe that Jews in Diaspora should avoid certain jobs that are not sufficiently prestigious. Some think that Jews should only abide by Jewish morals and customs, disregarding moral norms and customs of other societies even if they happen to reside in those societies. Some radicals believe that Jewish interests simply override any moral obligations towards the non-Jews. Racism is a complex phenomena; so is Jewish racism, and the list of its manifestations could be continued.

It would certainly be wrong to say that racism is a universal affliction amongst the Jews; I would think that it is only a minority that shares this sort of worldview. Jews as a people know
as well as anybody what the toll of racism can be. That may be why Jews have been so active in many liberation movements, such as the civil rights struggle of the Black Americans in the US. And Jews have every right to fight the new wave of anti-Semitism today.

However, to bolster the morality of our demand that racism directed against us be stopped, we must first stop racism emanating from us. To that end, I would like to unequivocally state that Rabbi Grama does not speak in my name. I hope the majority of other Jews share this perception.

Unfortunately, the racist minority receives a tacit support of a silent majority that is too complacent to denounce them. Or, in some cases, that majority may be too selfish to denounce them, thinking that bigots promoting Jews are "good bigots". This perception is myopic and wrong, both from a moral perspective and from a pragmatic one. Jewish racism must be denounced,- and neither the tragic Jewish historical experience, nor the rabid racism of Israel's enemies can be used as an excuse.

As extremist minorities often are, the one proclaiming Jewish superiority as the cornerstone of its political agenda is very active politically and has enough influence to affect millions of people, both Jews and non-Jews. Those who view Arabs as subhumans certainly help perpetuate oppression of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and lack of equal rights for the Israeli Arab citizens. To the cohorts of those racists belong such prominent Israelis as the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, late Rehavam Zeevi and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. It only appears logical, following their racist assumptions, to conclude that the suffering of the lower race (Arabs) should not be viewed as a priority problem and can be allowed to continue indefinitely so long as the master race (Jews) is not affected. That sort of sentiment is also heard at times from ordinary Jews, Israeli and otherwise, who, when pondering the various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, only concern themselves with the well-being of Jews without giving any thought as to what the other side's circumstances are.

Even if a racist ideology can win a momentary success at any given point, it corrupts the society that succumbs to bigotry and is likely to cause more suffering and misery in the future. Those who seek to humiliate others always humiliate themselves in the process. It also helps to keep
in mind that victims tend to have a long memory and they are likely to try to get their payback when an opportunity presents itself. That is yet more reason for the Jews to fight racism, not espouse it.

We as Jews must send a clear message to the world that we are ready and willing to build ties with other ethnic and religious groups based upon equality and respect. That we are ready to shoulder the same responsibilities as those shouldered by others. That whether in Israel
or in Diaspora we demand no special rights or privilleges not afforded to others, nor accept special responsibilities not shared by others; nor do we view ourselves superior to non-Jews. Not only is defeating the racism emanating from the Jews our collective moral duty,- it is also an integral part of the struggle against anti-Semitism.

Friday, December 03, 2004

"What Did We Do to Deserve Condoleezza Rice?"

Asks the title of Sheldon Richman's FFF article. That is, in my opinion, not a bad question to ask. But before I address it allow me to make a couple of side points.

When I am faced with the task of assessing a political or furthermore an executive official I prefer to spend as little time as possible furthering any purely political agenda but instead to assess that official's qualifications and credentials, concentrating purely on the their aptitude for, and performance in, the office in which they serve, or for which they are being considered. I also prefer to stay way from analyzing their private lives aside from where an obvious interference with the individual's ability to perform the duties of office may arise. Let us try to apply this method of analysis to our Secretary of State nominee, Condoleezza Rice.

Here's how Richman begins his article:

Is this a great country or what? Thanks to President George W. Bush, we will now have the first secretary of state who once had an oil tanker named after her. No kidding. Chevron put Condoleezza Rice’s name on a tanker when she served on its board of directors, from which she resigned just before the 2001 inauguration. Chevron later changed the name, and President Bush appointed her national security advisor.

But that factoid is overshadowed by her career since moving from Chevron’s board. Does she deserve this career move? Set aside her lack of experience as a diplomat. Except for some time spent as provost of Stanford University, before her government appointments she was a specialist in Russian studies. I presume one can learn diplomatic skills on the job. Also set aside her weak management skills, which were manifest during her tenure as national security advisor. One might pick up those skills as the head of the State Department.

But can she learn to tell the truth to the American people? Her record is not encouraging.

Rice was one of the key administration people in the massive deception campaign leading up to the invasion of Iraq, which continues to cost the lives of countless Iraqis. (The U.S. government refuses to keep count.) More than once Rice stood before the American people and blatantly lied to them. On at least one occasion the White House acknowledged that she fell down on a crucial job.

It was Rice who told us shortly after the 9/11 attacks that she and the rest of the national security apparatus never dreamed that al-Qaeda would ever fly airplanes into buildings. We learned later that the CIA had warned of this. She also said she was unaware that the CIA doubted that President Saddam Hussein of Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from the African country Niger. The CIA had made its doubts more than obvious and had even gotten Bush to remove the claim from a speech. That was before he used it in his state of the Union address, although the claim was no more solid then.

So, in short, we've got somebody who is not only known to be marginally competent for the job she is being nominated for, but also is known to bend the truth if not lie outright. On top of that, the way in which she communicated the statements that we now know were not true makes it clear, almost, in my opinion, comically clear that only two possibilities existed at the time those statements were originally made: either the person making them was lying, or she was hopelessly incompetent to occupy the office she at the time occupied,- that of the National Security Advisor.

Let us just consider one instance,- Rice's statement after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 to the effect that such attacks could not even have been imagined. Saying that some 50 years after the technique of using an airplane as a bomb was massively employed by the Japanese Air Force in WWII and some six years after Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 WTC bombing attack, admitted to having considered the same technique for attacking US Government buildings would, in my opinion, be tantamount to one's admission to ignorance of the relevant national security history,- essentially, the sort of ignorance that is likely to disqualify one from performing the duties of that office.

Says Richman,
Some years ago Laurence Peter formulated the Peter Principle: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” If Rice is confirmed as secretary of state, Dr. Peter’s principle will have to be revised.

The question is not, “Does she deserve it?” No. The question is, “Do we?”

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

And Who Are Those Valiant Guards?

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) is tasked with guarding our nation's transportation infrastructure in order, to a large extent, to prevent the tragedy akin to the 9/11 from ever again taking place. Given the risks associated with a potential disaster on a scale even significantly lower than what one saw happen on that terrible day some three years ago, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the agency manning the first line of defense would settle for nothing short of excellence as far as its standards are concerned. That, however, does not seem to be the case.

Some facts are truly telling. Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas and a 1988 Libertarian Party candidate for President, writes in a article:
Problems within TSA are legion. In the rush to hire a new workforce, 28,000 screeners were put to work without background checks. Some of them were convicted felons. Many were very young, uneducated, with little job experience. At Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York, police arrested dozens of TSA employees who were simply stealing valuables from the luggage they were assigned to inspect. Of course, TSA has banned locks on checked luggage, leaving passengers with checked bags totally at the mercy of screeners working behind closed doors. None of this is surprising for a government agency of any size, but we must understand the reality of TSA: its employees have no special training, wisdom, intelligence, or experience whatsoever that qualifies them to have any authority over you. They certainly have no better idea than you do how to prevent terrorism. TSA is about new bureaucratic turf and lucrative union make-work, not terrorism.
The TSA is known for its intimidating tactics. I have noted that earlier, and Rep. Paul seems to be sharing my view:
TSA has created an atmosphere of fear and meek subservience in our airports that smacks of Soviet bureaucratic bullying. TSA policies are subject to change at any moment, they differ from airport to airport, and they need not be in writing. One former member of Congress demanded to see the written regulation authorizing a search of her person. TSA flatly told her, "We don't have to show it to anyone." Think you have a right to know the laws and regulations you are expected to obey? Too bad. Get in line and stay quiet, or we'll make life very hard for you. This is the attitude of TSA personnel.
While judging a large organization is never an easy proposition, it is my impression,- based upon both personal observations of the TSA personnel at work and what is being reported about them,- that the TSA is certainly adding a cloud of intimidation over the heads of the traveling public without being obviously effective as an anti-terror force. As a society, we should not just blindly accept the government's position on either who should do the important work the TSA is tasked with doing, or how it ought to be done. I do not believe that they know better, as they so often claim. And they hardly ever fail to prove the opposite to me.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Iraq: Some Facts To Consider

The Nation's Ari Berman has compiled a short summary of facts regarding the situation in Iraq today. It is a poignant article. Consider this:
** 400,000 Iraqi children suffer from chronic diarrhea and dangerous deficiencies of protein, according to a UN development report. Iraq's child malnutrition rate now roughly equals that of Burundi--a war-torn central African nation--and is far above both Uganda and Haiti.
One of the official goals of the US-led invasion was to free the Iraqis from the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein and alleviate their suffering. It appears that,- while they may or may not find themselves free,- the Iraqis are definitely suffering from the lack of food to a much greater extent than they did under Saddam. But help is on the way, isn't it? Maybe it is, but it seems awfully,- some may say, criminally,- slow in coming:
** Of the $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds allocated last year by Congress, the US has spent only $1.7 billion.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Secret Laws

Helen Chenoweth-Hage recently had an encounter with the Transportation Security Agency personnel during which she learned that there are laws and legal standards us common folks are not allowed to know.
Last month, Helen Chenoweth-Hage attempted to board a United Airlines flight from Boise to Reno when she was pulled aside by airline personnel for additional screening, including a pat-down search for weapons or unauthorized materials.

Chenoweth-Hage, an ultra-conservative former Congresswoman (R-ID), requested a copy of the regulation that authorizes such pat-downs.

"She said she wanted to see the regulation that required the additional procedure for secondary screening and she was told that she couldn't see it," local TSA security director Julian Gonzales told the Idaho Statesman (10/10/04).

"She refused to go through additional screening [without seeing the regulation], and she was not allowed to fly," he said. "It's pretty simple."

Chenoweth-Hage wasn't seeking disclosure of the internal criteria used for screening passengers, only the legal authorization for passenger pat-downs. Why couldn't they at least let her see that? asked Statesman commentator Dan Popkey.

"Because we don't have to," Mr. Gonzales replied crisply.

"That is called 'sensitive security information.' She's not allowed to see it, nor is anyone else," he said.

Thus, in a qualitatively new development in U.S. governance, Americans can now be obligated to comply with legally-binding regulations that are unknown to them, and that indeed they are forbidden to know.
To someone who grew up in the Soviet Union this definitely sounds like a blast from the past. Both the Communist Party and the security apparatus there often enforced internal regulations that were secret. Not infrequently, those regulations also ran counter to the official legal norms.

Welcome to Boise, Idaho of 2004. There you may just be lucky enough to get a taste of Voronezh, Russia of 1980.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Future State of State

Colin Powell is retiring as Secretary of State. While the resignation is officially presented as an amicable parting facilitated in order to accommodate Powell's desire to return to private life, the reality of the situation is likely different.
Bush accepted the resignation Friday, Powell said, adding, "It has always been my intention that I would serve one term."

But a senior State Department official characterized Powell's departure this way: "He was not asked to stay."

Condoleezza Rice has been named a likely successor. This likely means that the State Department will now be dominated by the same variety of neo-conservatives as those in charge at the White House, the Pentagon, the Justice Department and most other key governmental departments and agencies. However mild Powell's opposition to the neo-con thinking, even that little is likely to now become a thing of the past.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The US Uses Napalm in Iraq

According to this August 8, 2003 report the US used napalm against the Iraqi forces during the 2003 invasion in contravention of an international ban against the use of such weaponry:
The use of napalm was banned by a United Nations convention in 1980 although, as with many such international agreements, the US refused to sign.
While the invasion was underway there already were reports, such as this one by the CNN, stating that napalm was used during the battle of Safwan Hill. Those reports were initially denied by the Pentagon. However, should much credence be given to those denials given that months later, in August 2003, the UK Indymedia had received multiple statements to the effect that napalm (or napalm-like substances) were in fact used? Quoting from the above-mentioned August 8, 2003 report:
However, quoted today in the Sydney Morning Herald, Colonel Mike Daily of the US Marine Corps said:
I can confirm that Mark-77 firebombs were used in that general area.

While there may be technical differences between the Napalm-B used in the Vietnam war and the chemical in the Mark-77, the effects are very similar. Both consist of inflammable fuel thickened into a gel; the main difference is simply the thickening agent used.

The German TV program Monitor got a different response when they inquired about the use of napalm on Iraqis. In the report, you can hear one US soldier say:

We only used 30 canisters [of Napalm] in 30 days of war.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

In The USA Today...

Government officials will deny me right to counsel, due process of law, and habeas corpus by simply labeling me an “enemy combatant” before executing me. Just like in North Korea. But I’m free because I voted, right?
Asks Jacob Hornberger in his article titled I’m Free Because I Voted, Right?. How poignant. No further comment.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

They Put Their Lives On The Line. And Now...

These US soldiers fought in a war. Now they are back home. And how are we welcoming them back home?

We organize parades and spread "WELCOME HOME" banners across streets and on bridges. But that is not enough. A soldier who returned from a war carries his wounds, both physical and mental, and he needs help,- and that help can be awfully slow in coming. According to this Detroit News Online article,

Soldiers from Michigan who risked their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan are returning home to a veterans' benefit system that is overwhelmed, causing delays in medical and mental health treatment.

"I'm very frustrated I can't get the treatment I need," said Nathaniel Ganzeveld, 22, of Dearborn, a discharged lance corporal in the Marine Reserves who fought in Iraq and who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ganzeveld says he has waited five months for any determination on most of his claim.

The problems in Michigan are part of a national logjam of 334,611 veterans from across the country who awaited approval of benefits at the end of October, according to statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs. That is 40 percent more than the VA says it deems optimal, and far beyond what members of Congress and veterans' groups consider justified.

Since the end of October 2003, the number of pending cases has jumped 14 percent.

Many veterans are waiting for nearly six months. From October 2003 to October 2004, the number of cases pending nationally for more than 180 days increased by about 25 percent, from 57,414 to 71,406.

The VA seems to think there is not a systemic problem. Clearly, the vets who need its services opine differently.

"We've treated about 30,000 or 35,000 veterans of the war against terrorism, and they are in the network that is going to be taking care of about 5 million veterans," said Phil Budahn, a spokesman for the VA in Washington. "That should not strain the system."

But veterans say it does.

Ganzeveld says he cannot work and his condition puts pressure on his marriage and young family.

"My wife is at her wits' end dealing with me and dealing with the VA,' Ganzeveld said. "I mean, let's do something about my problems. They won't do anything without being kicked in the rear and scooted along."

Veterans groups are outraged. A presidential campaign event at the American Legion Fort Dearborn Post on Oct. 18 was interrupted by veterans who shouted questions at Dingell about when they would receive necessary medical services.

In Metro Detroit, the backlog of claims is 6,984, and 1,400 new cases are filed each month. There are two VA hospitals in southeast Michigan, one in Detroit and one in Ann Arbor.

"They are treated like dogs when they get home," said Dingell, who had already sent an official letter of inquiry to the secretary of the Army before he was confronted.

"I am trying to get the numbers on how much the VA is short of money. There is some claim that the entire VA has been underfunded in recent years by $9 billion. The two hospitals in Michigan are $2 million and $9 million short."

Treatment delayed

As Nate Ganzeveld marched along the road to Baghdad, witnessing the carnage of war, he said he had no idea his welcome home would be anything like this.

It would also be a mistake to think that the VA is merely failing to properly process the incoming enemies of the ongoing wars. I have an acquaintance whose step-father recently died of lung cancer. The man was a Vietnam veteran with multiple tours of duty under his belt. When he showed up at a VA hospital with an advanced form of cancer he was advised not to wait for help as the line was long and he should not expect to live long enough; that assessment turned out to be correct.

They put their lives on the line, in our name. This is what they get from us in their hour of need.

Monday, November 08, 2004

John Ashcroft's Record: 0 out of 5,000

Since September 11, 2001, the US Justice Department skippered by Attorney General John Ashcroft has ordered the detention of over 5,000 people suspected of being involved in terror activities. Not a single one of them has been tried, found guilty and convicted in the court of law for the offenses they were originally accused of. The following is a nice summary of this spectacular performance.

Saddam Sure Did Have a Lot of Toys...

No, it is not the missing WMD's I was talking about. It is conventional weapons and materiel,- stuff that the former regime was allowed to have, and which it did have,- in significant quantities, I might add.

When the Coalition forces occupied Iraq, it appeared that those weapons were not all that important to the occupation authorities. Which must be why hundreds of tons of high-power explosives went missing from Qaqaa and other storage facilities. The US soldiers assigned to guard those facilities were, according to some reports, so badly outnumbered that they could not possibly stop the looting.

Now it turns out that not only did explosives go missing in Iraq, but also so did up to 4,000 shoulder-fired missiles. Looks like pilots worldwide had better brush up on their emergency landing and fire suppression procedures.

Bush supporters in the US almost unanimously site his aptitude to fight the "War on Terror" as one of the key reasons for their support. That must mean they support such unorthodox ways of fighting that war as allowing the terror groups easy access to the weaponry they might need. To those Bush supporters, I would like to suggest the following idea: let us fight crime by giving criminals access to military warehouses. Personally, I do not believe that doing this will make our life any safer,- but with street gangs using .50 machine guns and mortars instead of knives and handguns we are certainly going to get some entertainment value out of it. We might not be safe,- but sure as hell ain't gonna' be bored.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Election 2004: Early Impressions

I have already commented on the November 2 Election,- both before and after the fact. Here's more.

Let us take a look at the result and its implications. The fact that George W Bush remains President is a message, both to Americans and the rest of the world, that the US, as a society is willing to endorse the sort of policy the Bush Administration has been implementing over the last four years,- and to continue with this policy for the next four years. I would also like to emphasize that this is how the events are likely going to be perceived regardless of whether Bush won fair and square,- or, like in the 2000 Election, through fraud. The US claims to be a country governed by a representative government. "Well", most every observer is likely to say, "if this is who you chose to represent you, that says a thing or two about who you are yourself."

Let us now look at how we got there,- in other words, how the election was conducted. I hesitate to deliver a verdict just yet, but it is increasingly starting to look like this election was stolen using techniques not entirely dissimilar from those used in 2000 in Florida. Reports are starting to trickle in. One must credit the mainstream media with carrying some of them,- though, to get the full picture, one still has to go to the alternative media.

As I've already reported, 3,893 votes were erroneously assigned to Bush in Franklin County, Ohio, due to an electronic voting system glitch. This, in and of itself, is minor, however, it appears to only be a very small part of a highly repetitive pattern.

Here is one such report which,- granted the poster's unknown origin and clear political bias,- must be taken with a grain of salt. The report, however, is highly troubling.
Increasingly the very real possibility that this pResidential election was stolen by the criminal Bush Combine now infesting the Nation's Capitol looms ever larger. Most notably are the discrepencies showing up from districts using Electronic Voting Machines (or Electronic Votefraud Machines as I prefer to call them). Notably the exit polling in Paper Ballot areas was consistently within the Margin of Error and in Districts using E-Vote machines, particularly Diebold and Election Systems and Software (Note that ES&S was started by the brother of the owner of Diebold), the count is coming out with a fairly consistent 5% advantage for Duhbya.
It is worth noting that, statistically, the error in an estimation is equally likely to be in either direction. Thus, it is quite suspicious that in many areas the officially reported percentage of voters who had cast their vote for Bush is noticeably higher than the same percentage reported in exit polls. And it is doubly suspicious that such discrepancy was predominantly observed exclusively in areas where votes were counted by EVSs (Electronic Voting Systems). As I have previously reported, preparations for that sort of fraud were clearly underway before the Election Day, and it appears that the efforts of those behind such activities may, after all, not have been in vain.

It is heartening that not everyone is willing to let this scandal simply pass in silence.
November 3 - Toledo, Ohio Hundreds of angry Ohio residents marched through the streets of Columbus—Ohio’s Capital—this evening and stormed the Ohio State House, defying orders and arrest threats from Ohio State Troopers. "O-H-I-O ! suppressed democracy has got to go,"they chanted. After troopers pushed and scuffled with people, nearly a hundred people took over the steps and entrance to the State’s giant white column capital building and refused repeated orders to disperse or face arrest. People prepared for arrests, ready to face jail—writing lawyers phone numbers on their arms, signing jail support lists and discussing non-cooperation and active resistance (linking arms, but not fighting back).
However, the society at large appears apathetic. And with Kerry's November 3 surrender speech there is almost no chance anyone is going to really fight to find out what the true result of this election was.

"The truth shall set you free", the saying goes. We as a society do not want the truth; it rather looks like we are afraid of it. Well, then maybe we just deserve to be enslaved.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Phantom Bush Votes in Ohio

In Franklin County, Ohio George W Bush received an extra 3,893 votes due to a glitch in an electronic voting system. This is just one system, at one polling station. How many more illegitimate votes did Bush get? How many more systems like that are there out there countrywide? Do we have yet another stolen election?

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Yet Another Case against Bush

As you can see, I've written a few pieces about the sitting President in the run-up to the election. It is Election day, and the polls will close in a matter of some hours. However, if you happen to read this article before you vote, and you still plan to vote for Bush, I urge you to carefully consider it. The article, authored by Judd Legum and published in The Nation, lists 100 points with a link to the source,- all of those points critical of President Bush and his Administration. The article is certainly partisan, and I can not say I agree with all of those points. However, some of them are so poignant as to make me say, "No need to go further. This man must be fired for that alone".

Take #2:

2. The Bush Administration sent troops into battle without adequate body armor or armored Humvees.

Sources: Fox News, The Boston Globe

And this is our "War President"? Think of it, regardless of whether you support the idea that our troops must be Iraq in the first place or not. Would you want to have somebody shoot at you with nothing but your t-shirt to stop the bullets with?

Or take #12:

12. After receiving a memo from the CIA in August 2001 titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack America," President Bush continued his monthlong vacation.


The section on civil liberties the article underscores both the oppressive nature of this administration and its ineffectiveness to make any headway in the counter-terror effort,- the very effort which, they claimed, made it absolutely necessary to start harsh and oppressive practices.

81. Since 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft has detained 5,000 foreign nationals in antiterrorism sweeps; none have been convicted of a terrorist crime.


82. The Bush Administration ignored pleas from the International Committee of the Red Cross to stop the abuse of prisoners in US custody.

Source: Wall Street Journal

83. In violation of international law, the Bush Administration hid prisoners from the Red Cross so the organization couldn't monitor their treatment.


84. The Bush Administration, without ever charging him with a crime, arrested US citizen José Padilla at an airport in Chicago, held him on a naval brig in South Carolina for two years, denied him access to a lawyer and prohibited any contact with his friends and family.


85. President Bush's top legal adviser wrote a memo to the President advising him that he can legally authorize torture.


86. At the direction of Bush Administration officials, the FBI went door to door questioning people planning on protesting at the 2004 political conventions.

Source: New York Times

87. The Bush Administration refuses to support the creation of an independent commission to investigate the abuse of foreign prisoners in American custody. Instead, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld selected the members of a commission to review the conduct of his own department.


If I may insert a point of my own here,- it is worth remembering that, to the best of my knowledge, in the three years that have passed after 9/11 there Bush Administration has not succeeded in securing a single terror-related conviction by a jury. A few plea bargains resulted in terror-related sentences, but, given that data exists that coercion and a threat of indefinite detention was used to secure them, it is safe to say that the contribution of those convictions to the real progress in the fight against terrorism is probably marginal.

And if you believe that, contrary to Kerry The Flip-Flop, George W Bush is man of steadfast integrity,- the Flip Flops section of the article might convince you otherwise. For instance,

90. President Bush said he was committed to capturing Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" before he said, "I truly am not that concerned about him."


This article is truly a must read, and I hope you get to read before you vote today. If not,- read it anyway.

The Election has Not Yet Started...

...But it looks like the theft of the Election has started already. Greg Palast, the man who reported in detail on the theft of the 2000 Election, has already discovered a few interesting occurrences.
It's not even Election Day yet, and the Kerry-Edwards campaign is already down by a almost a million votes. That's because, in important states like Ohio, Florida and New Mexico, voter names have been systematically removed from the rolls and absentee ballots have been overlooked—overwhelmingly in minority areas, like Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, where Hispanic voters have a 500 percent greater chance of their vote being "spoiled." Investigative journalist Greg Palast reports on the trashing of the election.
Some noteworthy things seem to be happening in Colorado.
Colorado Secretary of State Donetta Davidson just weeks ago removed several thousand voters from the state's voter rolls. She tagged felons as barred from voting. What makes this particularly noteworthy is that, unlike like Florida and a handful of other Deep South states, Colorado does not bar ex-cons from voting. Only those actually serving their sentence lose their rights.

There's no known, verified case of a Colorado convict voting illegally from the big house. Because previous purges have wiped away the rights of innocents, federal law now bars purges within 90 days of a presidential election to allow a voter to challenge their loss of civil rights.

To exempt her action from the federal rule, Secretary Davidson declared an "emergency." However, the only "emergency" in Colorado seems to be President Bush's running dead, even with John Kerry in the polls.

Why the sudden urge to purge? Davidson's chief of voting law enforcement is Drew Durham, who previously worked for the attorney general of Texas. This is what the former spokeswoman for the Lone Star state's attorney general says of Mr. Durham: He is, "unfit for public office... a man with a history of racism and ideological zealotry." Sounds just right for a purge that affects, in the majority, non-white voters.

From my own and government investigations of such purge lists, it is unlikely that this one contains many, if any, illegal voters.

But it does contain Democrats. The Dems may not like to shout about this, but studies indicate that 90-some percent of people who have served time for felonies will, after prison, vote Democratic. One suspects Colorado's Republican secretary of state knows that.
So it appears that some people are already busy at work to use statistics and dirty trick to one party's advantage,- namely, the Republicans.

I think this writing by Mr Palast is a must read for anyone concerned with the democracy in America. Personally, I find myself equally appalled and outraged by any kind of voter purging, regardless of who the perpetrator is. If you happen to know of an instance of election tampering by democrats, feel free to contact me with your stories, and if they are noteworthy I will publish them too.

However, as it appears at the moment, it is the Republicans who are mostly doing it,- from Republican election officials to the CEO of Diebold committing to deliver victory for Bush.

Monday, November 01, 2004

So, Who Took The Hot Loot at Qaqaa?

I have recently commented on the hundreds of tons of high-power explosives missing in Iraq. It is unclear what exactly happened to those explosives; some reports quote US military officials as saying that the explosives were removed from several storage facilities, including Qaqaa, prior to the Coalition forces' arrival. However, here is a report by Sara Daniel, a French journalist who claims to have witnessed the looting in progress as late as six months after the fall of Saddam's regime.
The account of Sara Daniel, which will be published Wednesday in the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, lends further weight to allegations that American occupying forces in Iraq failed to protect hundreds of tons of munitions from extremists plotting attacks against their own troops.

Much of the controversy has centered around the disappearance of about 380 tons of the powerful HMX explosive. The material, which had been monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency before the war and subsequently sealed in bunkers by its inspectors, was reported missing by Iraqi officials earlier this month.

Daniel, who spent nearly two hours at Qaqaa with a group that has since become known as the Islamic Army of Iraq, could not confirm seeing buildings that carried the agency's seal or explosives that were marked to be of the HMX variety. But her report is one of terrorists having easy access to a vast weapons inventory.

"I was utterly stupefied to see that a place like that was pretty much unguarded and that insurgents could help themselves for months on end," Daniel said on Friday. "We were there for a long time and no one disturbed the group while they were loading their truck."

A man who identified himself as Abu Abdallah and led the group Daniel was with, told her that his men and numerous other insurgent groups had rushed to Qaqaa after U.S.-led troops captured Baghdad on April 9 last year. The groups stole truck-loads of material from what used to be the biggest explosive factory in the Middle East in the expectation that coalition forces would move quickly to seal it off, Daniel was told.

Abu Abdullah and his men showed her the arsenal of rocket launchers, grenades and explosives hidden near their small farm houses, she said.

But much to the insurgents' surprise, Qaqaa was not sealed off by U.S. soldiers, leading many groups to stop hoarding and instead going for regular refills of explosive materials, according to Abu Abdullah.
Whoever has got it right here,- the US military or Sara Daniel,- no one appears to seriously dispute, at least at this point in time, the fact that the Qaqaa explosives storage facility has been emptied of its content by those other than the occupation military authorities. And it was just "the biggest explosive factory in the Middle East",- no big deal, really.

Questions, Questions...

In his The Nation article David Corn provides a list of questions and controversies surrounding President George W Bush. He mentions the absence of any sort of "October surprise" from either side of the divide,- something I view with relief as any such surprise could have had unpredictable consequences.
As of today--at least as of this moment--there has been no dramatic October Surprise orchestrated by the Bush crowd: no invasion of Iran, no capture of Osama bin Laden, no anti-Kerry charge that derails the challenger's campaign. And the time for any last-minute play is passing quickly. But Bush and his aides have successfully prevented another sort of October surprise, for in the weeks leading up to E Day a number of inconvenient and uncomfortable questions for Bush have continued to go unanswered. On several fronts, the Bushies have been able to dodge controversies without providing complete accounts. For example, as has been widely reported, the CIA's inspector general's report on the screw-up over Iraq's WMD is not being released before November 2. With voting already under way--thanks to early voting--and about to finish in days, they have run out the clock on critical matters, several of which might have had an impact on the final tally. Here is merely a partial list.
Corn then goes on to list those issues: the MIA WMD's in Iraq, the issue of planning of the war in Iraq (or lack of such planning), the Wilson leak, the phony Niger documents, the anthrax investigation (or, may I add, lack thereof), letting al-Zarqawi go, the censored Senate report on 9/11, Bush's past (his questionable military record and business career) and the controversy around his bother Neil's career (personally, I don't know how proper it is to bring this up,- I try to judge a person only based on his or her own record, disregarding that of their relatives). As Corn states, the list is partial, not complete. Yet, the question remains,- can the man who is at the center of all those unanswered questions be trusted to lead us for another four years?

For Those Who Are Undecided...

Here is a recommendation, courtesy Max Blumenthal. Basically, Max believes that if you still don't know who to vote for tomorrow, this is a website you ought to pay a visit to. Frankly, I only had time to watch the Eminem's "Mosh" video, which is a bit offensive but certainly powerful emotionally. Overall, the site looks like a good resource,- and definitely a good antidote to those who got exposed to too much of the neocon smear campaign against Kerry and others.

Republicans: You Don't Have To Vote Bush-Cheney!

At least this is the way many senior Republicans feel.
If the United States had major media that covered politics, as opposed to the political spin generated by the Bush White House and the official campaigns of both the Republican president and his Democratic challenger, one of the most fascinating, and significant, stories of the 2004 election season would be the abandonment of the Bush reelection effort by senior Republicans. But this is a story that, for the most part, has gone untold. Scant attention was paid to the revelation that one Republican member of the U.S. Senate, Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee, will refrain from voting for his party's president -- despite the fact that Chafee offered a far more thoughtful critique of George W. Bush's presidency than "Zig-Zag" Zell Miller, the frothing, Democrat-hating Democrat did when he condemned his party's nominee. Beyond the minimal attention to Chafee, most media has neglected the powerful, and often poignant, condemnations of Bush by prominent Republicans.
The observation Nichols makes above about the shortcomings of the media is I think very apt. But that is a side point. The important thing is, in my humble opinion, that many Republicans have realized how much they differ from neo-conservatives now in power. Frankly, I don't even understand why the party has not split up,- but I am not going to address this issue at the moment.

Says Nichols,
Former Republican members of the U.S. Senate and House, governors, ambassadors, aides to GOP Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush have explicitly endorsed the campaign of Democrat John Kerry. For many of these lifelong Republicans, their vote for Kerry will be a first Democratic vote. But, in most cases, it will not be a hesitant one.

Angered by the Bush administration's mismanagement of the war in Iraq, record deficits, assaults on the environment and secrecy, the renegade partisans tend to echo the words of former Minnesota Governor Elmer Andersen, who says that, "Although I am a longtime Republican, it is time to make a statement, and it is this: Vote for Kerry-Edwards, I implore you, on November 2."

Many of the Republicans who are abandoning Bush express sorrow at what the Bush-Cheney administration and its allies in Congress have done to their party: "The fact is that today's 'Republican' Party is one that I am totally unfamiliar with," writes John Eisenhower. But the deeper motivation is summed up by former U.S. Senator Marlow Cook, a Kentucky Republican, who explained in a recent article for the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper that, "For me, as a Republican, I feel that when my party gives me a dangerous leader who flouts the truth, takes the country into an undeclared war and then adds a war on terrorism to it without debate by the Congress, we have a duty to rid ourselves of those who are taking our country on a perilous ride in the wrong direction. If we are indeed the party of Lincoln (I paraphrase his words), a president who deems to have the right to declare war at will without the consent of the Congress is a president who far exceeds his power under our Constitution. I will take John Kerry for four years to put our country on the right path."
I second Senator Cook's sentiment, and hope that tomorrow we indeed do put the country on a path that is closer to being right.

What US$400 Billion Buys You

It certainly looks like one can afford to get quite a number of toys on Pentagon's budget. And toys are certainly there,- GPS-guided bombs, Navy carrier groups, tanks, submarines...

However, some things a soldier might really need in battle are in rather short supply:
With a $400 billion defense budget you might think U.S. troops have everything they need to fight the war, but that's not always the case.

Correspondent Steve Kroft talks to a general, soldiers in Iraq, and their families at home about a lack of armored vehicles, field radios, night vision goggles, and even ammunition - especially for the National Guard and reserve units that now make up more than 40 percent of U.S. troops.
I have commented on this problem before and it certainly looks like it has been there for awhile, has been reported on for awhile, but is still to be resolved.

What can I say? On several occasions, the aftermath of 9/11 being one of them, I considered signing up with the US military. Now I am glad I did not. And that is not because of fear,- it is certainly there, which is natural, but I am perfectly comfortable with the notion that everyone dies one day. No. The reason for that change of attitude is that I consider soldiers human, and I believe that protecting them to a reasonable extent is the nation's responsibility, a basic measure of respect and care for someone sent into the harm's way. And if $400B can't provide soldiers with enough bullets,- that says it all.

I consider those responsible for this outrage guilty of imperial arrogance, their attitude being that of "legionaires are paid to fight and die". And wasn't this Republic founded specifically to make sure this sort of governance never happens?

Who Is Truly in Power in The US?

The answer might be obvious,- the President, of course, George W Bush. However, a more thorough analysis might reveal that another figure, Vice President Dick Cheney, is the person who really is behind this Administration's key decisions.

As Robert Sheer observes in this article of his,
Whatever one thinks of George W. Bush--do you see a smile or a smirk?--it is now patently obvious that the most powerful vice president in US history is in charge of the White House. Cheney's ultra-secretive, anti-democratic and crony-capitalist instincts have defined this Administration.
I think this assessment is not entirely groundless. After all, Bush openly admits to listening to his advisers for words of wisdom,- as he admits to mostly forgoing reading the news himself. The incurious President is likely to a large extent dependent upon the opinions of his second-in-command.

Writes Scheer,
Perhaps we should have expected all this from a man who, as head of the Bush vice presidential search team, selected himself. It was a forewarning of the Machiavellian arrogance that has made him the leading individual in an Administration that has consistently believed that self-serving ends--such as helping Enron at the expense of California's energy needs or boosting Halliburton's profits at the expense of American troops--justify lying, secrecy and pre-emptive war.

In the hours after the 9/11 massacres, some Americans may have been reassured to have the older Cheney around at a time when the "real" President was confusedly sitting in a classroom listening to a story about a pet goat. However, in hindsight, this was clearly misguided faith in a man who presents himself as a stern father figure but is just an irresponsible ideologue whose disrespect and disregard for the US Constitution are manifest in all his actions.

It was the Vice President who served as the power behind a tiny group of fringe right-wing lawyers that secretly created a system of unaccountable White House-controlled military tribunals. Despite indelibly staining America's reputation as a leader in democratic principles and endangering the lives of American prisoners of war in current and future conflicts, these proceedings have proved totally useless in the war on terror, with zero terror convictions to date.

Never mind: After the tribunals decree was signed by Bush, Cheney was off leading a new misguided crusade, deploying a slew of manipulated and misrepresented intelligence factoids, clever innuendoes and outright lies to fool Congress and the public into supporting the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

There are, all in all, few things that bother me more than the notion of a nation going to war just because a small group of people happens to think that this is "the thing to do",- on top of that, knowing that they are going to personally benefit from that "thing". We are the nation "by the people" and "for the people",- and this sort of thing simply does not stand.

While some of Robert Scheer's views are too leftist to my liking, I certainly would agree with him on the point that a policy secretly cooked up by Dick Cheney and his clique is not what should become the official policy of the United States of America.

Vice President Cheney certainly believes that persistence is key to making his views believed.
As recently as June and contrary to the 9/11 commission's final report, to give but one of many examples, Cheney was still insisting that lead hijacker Mohamed Atta had a meeting in Prague with a high-ranking Iraqi intelligence agent before the 9/11 attacks. This is an unconscionable and obviously knowing use of the Big Lie technique, given that the CIA and FBI repudiated that baseless yet titillating claim in 2002.
Well, I suppose Mr Cheney is entitled to his views. And if reality gets in his way, he has a right to disregard it. However, we the people are free to go to the polls and express our will, too.

Here is how Scheer concludes his article on Cheney:
Next Tuesday, voters should retire this malevolent force.
What can I say? Let us try and make it happen!

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Why Are Iraqi Explosives Missing?

The news has recently broken out that 380 tons of explosives that belonged to the Saddam Hussein's military has disappeared after the 2003 invasion by the US and Coalition forces.

(CNN) -- Some 380 tons of explosives powerful enough to detonate nuclear warheads are missing from a former Iraqi military facility that was supposed to be under American control, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency says.

Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the interim Iraqi government reported to the agency several days ago in a letter that the explosives were missing from the Al Qaqaa complex south of Baghdad.

The explosives -- considered powerful enough to demolish buildings or detonate nuclear warheads -- were under IAEA control until the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. IAEA workers left the country before the fighting began.

"Our immediate concern is that if the explosives did fall into the wrong hands, they could be used to commit terrorist acts and some of the bombings that we've seen," Fleming said.

Fleming's concerns certainly do not seem overblown. Personally, if someone were to put together a truck bomb consisting of a mere ton of plastique, I wouldn't want to be anywhere near the point of detonation.

This sort of news is naturally followed by an attempt to make sense of such an enormous event. Clearly, many were quick to blame the US military for failing to secure the facility.

According to this WorldNetDaily report, the military counters such accusations by stating that the explosives were removed prior to their arrival at the storage depots were the materiel had been previously stored. The photos presented to back up this argument display pickup trucks alleged to transport the explosives out of the storage facilities.

The photos show fedayeen, Saddam's most loyal paramilitary troops, in white pickup trucks transporting weapons, likely including missiles, from a storage facility a few kilometers north of Bayji and 100 kilometers north of Tikrit, as part of what the officer says was a coordinated effort to empty country-wide storage facilities before U.S. troops arrived in various areas. He said facilities in the south were likely emptied by fedayeen earlier in a similar fashion.

In one picture, two men in the back of a white pickup truck are seen sitting on three green ammunition crates. The truck's body, particularly toward the rear, is dragging low, an indication it was carrying a heavy load. The officer says the fedayeen regularly used such pickup trucks, which are less conspicuous than military trailers.

In one photo the officer says was taken seconds later, a separate truck can be seen driving from an area of the same facility which looks identical to al-Qaqaa, transporting a green box of what appears to be missiles. The truck passes a former Iraqi checkpoint at the facility entrance.
The US military stands accused of using excessive force in many incidents during the war in Iraq. And in light of that, it seems especially baffling that, according to what we know today, the force was not used to prevent the enemy from spreading around a humongous arsenal of explosives which can now be put to deadly use just about any place in the world.

Read Before You Vote on November 2

This is a nice set of points to think over before you vote on Tuesday. I am especially fond of this one:
No individual, party or ideology has cornered the market on truth or God's blessing.
As I said earlier, I think if you are eligible to vote, you should vote in this election. Vote your conscience,- but please think over the points listed above.

Cannon Fodder

Or, perhaps, I should have titled this one "Tax Cuts At Work". Here is the essence of it,- the US troops in Iraq are still not properly fitted with the armor protection, GPS's and other items they need to do their job and stay alive doing it. At times, soldiers (or their families) end up buying the gear themselves.

Here is yet another piece on this problem in The New York Times. The gist of it can be surmised from the first two articles.
When the 1544th Transportation Company of the Illinois National Guard was preparing to leave for Iraq in February, relatives of the soldiers offered to pay to weld steel plates on the unit's trucks to protect against roadside bombs. The Army told them not to, because it would provide better protection in Iraq, relatives said.

Seven months later, many of the company's trucks still have no armor, soldiers and relatives said, despite running some of the most dangerous missions in Iraq and incurring the highest rate of injuries and deaths among the Illinois units deployed there.
Every time I read an article of this sort, my first reaction is, predictably, the issuance of a stream of invective directed at those responsible. The invective grows in its intensity as days and months of the occupation of Iraq tick by.

The problem is not something that just popped up. Col. David Hackworth, one of the highest decorated US warriors of all times, has written about these same issues previously, as have many others.

In every street in the US one gets to see the "Support Our Troops" banners. But without real action, these banners are bound to remain just that,- a bunch of pieces of plastic with lettering on them.

The US, 2000-2004

As the Election Day approaches, it is certainly a good idea to take a look at what the last presidential term has brought us. In his Baltimore Chronicle article Chris Knipp attempts to do just that.

The term of George W Bush started in a controversy.
First the period brought us a president who was, in the view of at least half the population, not elected but slipped in over the wire through shifty maneuvering.
Personally, I do believe that the 2000 Election was stolen. That belief is based primarily on the research by investigative reporter Greg Palast whose findings were widely reported on just about everywhere throughout the world excluding the US. In this article of his Palast describes the process in considerable detail.

But let us for now disregard this fact and move on as Mr Bush's Presidency has been a fact of life, whether you like it or not. As Knipp correctly observes, at least at one point during his presidency George W Bush enjoyed an overwhelming popular support,- and that fact in itself lends some considerable legitimacy to his presidency.
A lackluster, shaky leader, he rallied and gained confidence as a public speaker and a figurehead after the shock of the September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda attacks.
However, the question emerges: was that support earned. The answer to this question is, most likely, in the negative.
The 9/11 Commission revealed to everyone the strongest warnings, well prior to the event, ignored by Bush, yet the Commission's final report rapped knuckles but ultimately blamed no one. A new, even more Bush-friendly, arguably even more incompetent CIA director was appointed.
I might add that concerns voiced by many insiders, people like Sibel Edmonds, only serve to further affirm the smokescreen nature of both the 9/11 Commission Report and the measures taken by the US Government in connection with it.

Here is what Knipp has to say about the wars our government has launched as part of its "war on terror".
Afghanistan, Osama's headquarters, was attacked, thousands of civilians were killed, the Taliban were put to flight, but Osama wasn't caught. A Gucci-clad leader whose siblings run American restaurants was put in to head a nonexistent government. The country went back to tribal chaos and opium exportation.

The next push was for Iraq, bombed and invaded without UN or general European approval in spring of 2003. The new "democracy" thus allegedly created was "turned over" to an unelected puppet government in the summer of 2004, and now, in late October, Iraq grows more dangerous every day for the "Coalition," for newsmen, businessmen and mercenaries, and last but not least for Iraqis.

Knipp also makes a good point about the administration's measures diminishing the civil liberties of both Americans and foreigners in the US custody, and the critical perception of this process by the rest of the world.

September 11, 2001 has been the pretext for widespread US human rights abuses. These are of many kinds. Most visible are the crypto-Nazi-named Homeland Security, the civil rights-crushing Patriot Acts I and II, and Attorney General John Ashcroft's Gestapo-esque arrests and lengthy imprisonments of suspect foreigners. Even worse is the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq, but it will have an echo when practices at Guantanamo, where prisoners are held in overt violation of the Geneva Convention, are fully revealed. These are, alas, homemade horrors: investigative reporters say similar conditions already prevailed in US prisons, whose population is the world's largest. All these things are increasingly visible blights on the US's image as a "showplace of western democracy."
In my opinion, a critically important issue is largely absent from the public discourse in the US: how much are we willing to sacrifice in terms of our freedoms in order to defeat the world's evil forces,- if they are indeed attacking us.

In Knipp's article one finds many a critical remark. And this moves us to the next issue,- what to do about this? With the Election only two short days away, it is clearly important to review that issue too. Here is Knipp's take,- and it happens to be one with which I largely agree and which I implore you to consider in the remaining two days.

Does this election matter?

Is Kerry, then, a man from the same background of wealth and privilege and posh schools, even the same establishment secret society (far wealthier, by marriage, than any previous presidential candidate ever) "the lesser of two evils"? Yes, certainly, he is that. But the gap between greater and lesser evil promises to be larger than usual this time, because it's not simply Bush the US and the world need to be freed from, but that dangerous and destructive crew and world view for which he is the figurehead, and whose aims we have seen writ large over the last four years.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

The War in Iraq: What Are The Benefits?

The Iraq War has caused a massive split of opinions within the American society. The Administration attempted to bind it to the terror attacks of 9/11 and,- at least on the emotional level,- those attempts were largely successful. I myself must admit to the sense of fear when I heard the pre-war intelligence data indicating that Iraq had a capability to launch an attack with a weapon of mass destruction on a 45 minute notice.

Given that such intelligence has since been proven to have little basis, if any, I share blame for being too uncritical and too given to blind trust in what the government says. Such weakness is all the more reason to listen to those who, like Jacob G. Hornberger have made an eternal distrust of government part of their credo.

In this article of his, Mr Hornberger takes a look at how America may have benefited from the war in Iraq. In it, he asks two key questions regarding the issue.
In determining whether the invasion of Iraq has been in the interests of America, two questions naturally arise:

One, has the invasion made Americans safer from terrorism? and

Two, has the invasion made Americans freer with respect to their own government?
The answer to both questions, in Hornberger's opinion, is a resounding "no".

Firstly, he asks why Americans are hated in the Middle East and elsewhere.
When the 9/11 attacks occurred, Americans were horribly angry, despite the fact that most of them did not personally know the victims. This phenomenon of empathy, sympathy, and anger was actually shared by people all over the world.

On 9/11, the immediate response of U.S. officials, which they have steadfastly maintained since that day, was that the terrorists attacked America because of their hatred for America’s “freedom and values”—the First Amendment, Wal-Mart, and rock and roll.

As three years have passed, most Americans are coming to the realization of how truly nonsensical that position is — that actually terrorism against the United States is rooted in hatred of the U.S. government’s foreign policy, specifically in the Middle East, including the support of brutal, unelected dictators such as Saddam Hussein, to whom the United States delivered those infamous weapons of mass destruction, and the current unelected military dictator of Pakistan.

The invasion of Iraq is simply a continuation of that U.S. foreign policy.

The invasion has taken the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, including ordinary Iraqi soldiers — innocent in the sense that they had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

What is fascinating about U.S. officials is that they cannot fathom the notion that people in Iraq and surrounding countries become just as angry when their loved ones, relatives, friends, and countrymen are killed as Americans and others around the world become when innocent Americans are killed. It’s a blind spot that afflicts the minds of U.S. officials.
In a sense, this is an invitation to think along the "how would you feel?" lines. And, given that, according to some estimates, over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the US-led invasion, the picture is not rosy.

While I fully support the notion that a dictator like Saddam Hussein is fully illegitimate and his removal from power is a welcome development, one must be aware that this is not a benefit to be obtained at any price. The data regarding the repression under Saddam's rule suggests that about 15,000 Iraqis were being killed by the regime every year. If it is true that over a 100,000 died after the invasion began, than the occupying authorities have thus far managed to kill Iraqis at the rate six times that of Saddam.

Now, let us take a look at what the effect of this war has been at home.
No one can deny that we now live in a country where the ruler has the omnipotent power to send the entire nation into war by attacking any sovereign and independent country for any reason whatsoever or no reason at all.

“That ruler has weapons of mass destruction. Or I think he does. Or he might. He surely is thinking about it. He’s got children contemplating it. He is dangerous. Order the attack, even if it kills tens of thousands of innocent people in the process.”

That type of omnipotent power — the power to both declare and wage war — has been associated with the biggest dictatorships in history.

Why is this important? Because as Madison pointed out, war is the biggest threat to our liberty — the liberty of the American people — because it encompasses all the other threats of liberty. War is the parent of armies, militarism, centralization of power, unrestrained government spending, taxes, regulations, debasement of the currency, bureaucracies, and bureaucrats.

The Framers tried to protect us from that omnipotent power. They divided the power to declare war and the power to wage war. In the Constitution, they vested the power to declare war in the Congress, not the president, and the power to wage war in the president.

That constitutional provision, as everyone knows, is now knowingly, deliberately, and intentionally ignored. And a congressional resolution that unconstitutionally delegates the power to declare war to the president is no substitute for the congressional duty to determine whether war should be declared.

Why is that important? Two reasons:

One, the Constitution is designed to protect our liberty — the liberty of the American people, and it is the supreme law of the land, the law that we the people have imposed on our government officials.

Two, make no mistake about it: When government officials are permitted to ignore one constitutional limitation on power, they will ignore more.

Did you ever think you’d live in a country where the military, following in the footsteps of their counterparts in Argentina and Chile, would actually claim and exercise the power to seize any American and foreigner anywhere in the world, including right here on American soil, and send him to a military brig for the rest of his life, claiming that no federal court had the power to interfere with such operations, denying the accused habeas corpus, right to counsel, and due-process principles that stretch all the way back to Magna Carta? Or even worse, subjecting the accused to torture, sex abuse, or rape? Or more ominously, claiming the power to ship the accused in the dead of night to a secret military base in Cuba to be put on trial before a Cuban-style, Soviet-style military tribunal before being executed?

Our judicial system now has secret court proceedings, secret search warrants, secret courts, redacted court pleadings.

These are all the attributes of some of the 20th century’s greatest dictatorships.
I think this pretty much sums it up as far as the current state of affairs in the US as a result of the current policy. And the only way out of the trap is for all of us to openly think of what is being done in our name,- and whether or not this is truly what we want.

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