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Saturday, August 28, 2004

"With a little help from my friends..."

Being a pilot is not easy. I know,- I tried it. And that is why I am in disagreement with many detractors of George W Bush who claim that his service in the Texas Air National Guard amounted to nothing other than drinking with his buddies. That sort of activity was likely part of the picture, but our current President actually did fly fighter jets, and that is a difficult and dangerous job.

As I have said before, what rubs me a wrong way about Bush's service is that, having received millions of dollars worth of pilot training, he failed to fly the sorties expected of him. Unlike some, I do not consider him a coward, and unlike many, I do not view personal courage as the main qualifier for one's aptitude to be President.

It was also widely speculated that Bush got into the Guard through family connections. According to this Salon article, that is no longer a mere speculation.
In a video originally posted on the Web by a pro-Kerry organization in Austin, Texas, Ben Barnes, a former lieutenant governor of Texas, apologized for his role in getting a young George W. Bush into the Texas Air National Guard while young men who were not from prominent or wealthy families "died in Vietnam."

"Let's talk a minute about John Kerry and George Bush, and I know them both," said Barnes in the video, which was filmed at a gathering of about 200 Kerry supporters in Austin on May 27. "I got a young man named George W. Bush into the Texas National Guard when I was lieutenant governor, and I'm not necessarily proud of that. But I did it. I got a lot of other people in the National Guard because I thought that was what people should do when you're in office, and you help a lot of rich people."
So according to Mr Barnes, he helped a number of privilleged young men to enter the National Guard for the express purpose of avoiding deployment to the frontlines of Vietnam. That, as Mr Barnes courageously admits now, is indeed not something one should be proud of. However, those avoiding a war like Vietnam are not necessarily to be faulted for that, in my opinion. That was not a war whose benefits to the US security were obvious, and thus a man avoiding a war like that was not necessarily acting unpatriotically.

However, a man avoiding a war he supports can hardly be viewed as a highly moral character. And that appears to have been the case with the man who some years later became President. Whatever your political affiliation happens to be,- I think that if you are a US citizen, these are facts you need to think of long and hard before the upcoming Presidential Election this Fall.

Lucky Escape

The IDF soldiers arrived just in time to rescue three Israeli truck drivers who made a wrong turn and ended up in Ramallah. The scenario sounds awfully similar to the October 2000 lynching of two Israeli reservists. I think both events are proof to the fact that the Palestinian Authority as a society needs to really work on imposing order within itself. Given the vigorous resistance Yasser Arafat is putting up against the Israelis', Egyptians', Americans' and others' attempts to get him to pare down and simplify his security services, law and order are not high on Mr Arafat's agenda.

A Good Article on PTSD

This is a good article on the psychological problems faced by some of the soldiers who served in Iraq.

Gore Vidal's "State of The Union"

Gore Vidal is clearly a controversial figure. I first heard of him in connection with his correspondence with the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Vidal has also written about McVeigh.

This Nation article presents what Mr Vidal envisions as his alternative "State of The Union, 2004". In spite of somewhat extremist rhetoric of the article, I think Mr Vidal is indeed raising some important concerns and making some important points.

In the article, Mr Vidal quotes extensively from his 1972 "State of The Union". At times, it is difficult to tell whether a particular passage is contemporary or a 32-year old quote. That confusion appears to be part of the author's intent.
I speak of legalizing gambling. Bingo players nod. Then: "All drugs should be legalized and sold at cost to anyone with a doctor's prescription." Most questions, later, are about this horrific proposal. Brainwashing on the subject begins early, insuring that a large crop of the coming generation will become drug addicts. Prohibition always has that effect, as we should have learned when we prohibited alcohol from 1919 to 1933; but, happily for the busy lunatics who rule over us, we are permanently the United States of Amnesia. We learn nothing because we remember nothing. The period of Prohibition called the "Noble Experiment" brought on the greatest breakdown of law and order that we have ever endured--until today, of course. Lesson? Do not regulate the private lives of people, because if you do they will become angry and antisocial, and they will get what they want from criminals, who work in perfect freedom because they know how to pay off the police.

What should be done about drug addiction? As of 1970, England was the model for us to emulate. With a population of 55 million people, they had only 1,800 heroin addicts. With our 200 million people we had nearly a half-million addicts. What were they doing right? For one thing, they turned the problem over to the doctors. Instead of treating the addict as a criminal, they required him to register with a physician, who then gives him, at controlled intervals, a prescription so that he can obtain his drug. Needless to say, our society, based as it is on a passion to punish others, could not bear so sensible a solution. We promptly leaned, as they say, on the British to criminalize the sale and consumption of drugs, and now the beautiful city of Edinburgh is one of the most drug-infested places in Europe. Another triumph for the American way.

This goes pretty much along the same lines as my view on the "war on drugs". In the same article, Gore Vidal says,

In 1972, "roughly 80 percent of police work in the United States has to do with the regulation of our private morals. By that I mean controlling what we smoke, eat, put in our veins--not to mention trying to regulate with whom and how we have sex, with whom and how we gamble. As a result our police are among the most corrupt in the Western world."
I am not sure his measure of the police corruption in the US is accurate,- either referring to the situation today, or that of 1972. But he is certainly right in saying that police tasked with prosecuting victimless crimes, be that drug consumption of consensual sexual practices by adults are prone to corruption; such a police force is also likely to become political and unprofessional, and thus less effective in addressing the issue of real crime.

The article is not devoid of incoherence and inconsistencies,- I would say, neither are most of Mr Vidal's writings, at least those I had a chance to read. Mr Vidal acknowledges as much:
I must say, I am troubled by the way I responded to the audience's general hatred of government. I say we are the government. But I was being sophistical when I responded to their claims that our government is our enemy with that other cliché, you are the government. Unconsciously, I seem to have been avoiding the message that I got from one end of the country to the other: We hate this system that we are trapped in, but we don't know who has trapped us or how. We don't even know what our cage looks like because we have never seen it from the outside. Now, thirty-two years later, audiences still want to know who will let them out of the Enron-Pentagon prison with its socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor. So...welcome to Imperial America.
It is not exactly clear why he calls America an imperial power, I would say. However, I think this article is stimulating overall, and Mr Vidal is doing a good job of making his readers think of things accepted as "common knowledge",- things that may turn out to be anything but a sure thing.

A Suspect has Been Named

The suspect in the Israeli spy investigation has been named. According to this report,
That individual is Larry Franklin, a veteran DIA Iran analyst seconded to Feith’s office.
Well, if the investigator's suspicions pan out, I believe an independent commission must be impaneled with a minimum mandate to review all documents to which Mr Franklin had any connection, direct or indirect. If a spy were part of the decision-making process, it is clear that the process may have been sabotaged and effectively may end up being nothing but a special operation conducted by the intelligence apparatus of the country which planted the spy,- in this case, Israel.

I am Sorry You had to waste Your Time, Mr Cleland

According to this New York Times column by Bob Herbert, Max Cleland, an ex-US Senator and a Vietnam veteran who lost three limbs on the battlefield had shown up at the entrance to the President Bush's Crawford, TX ranch in an attempt to urge the President to "take the simple and decent step of condemning the slime that is being spread by Bush supporters against the war record of John Kerry". That mission did not go very far.
The president was busy vacationing and had neither the time nor the inclination to meet with Mr. Cleland, a former U.S. senator who was himself the target of vicious, unconscionable attacks by the G.O.P. slime machine when he ran for re-election in Georgia in 2002.

Later, at a press conference under the hot Crawford sun, Mr. Cleland told reporters: "The question is, where is George Bush's honor? Where is his shame?"

Mr. Cleland reminded reporters of the scurrilous attacks by Bush forces against Senator John McCain in the Republican presidential primary in 2000 and said: "Keep in mind, this president has gone after three Vietnam veterans in four years. That's got to stop."

The Herbert's article is a fine piece of reporting, and I am happy that a major publication has brought it to the masses. Personally, I think that given the treatment McCain, Cleland and Kerry have been subjected to, they should simply ignore Mr Bush and not even talk to him. That's what I would most likely do if I were in their shoes. And I am honestly surprised at McCain's support for Mr Bush's reelection campaign.

But I am happy that Mr Cleland has shown up at the ranch in Crawford. That was a nice demonstration, a good public spectacle displaying the true state of affairs in the American politics today.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Who is That Israeli Spy?

According to this CNN report, the US federal authorities are investigating an "analyst in an undersecretary's office" for possible espionage on behalf of Israel. While the report is too vague to get a clue about the identity of the subject in this investigation, the fact that this person worked for the Department of Defense is worrying in itself.

"The Bush Betrayal"

This is the title of James Bovard's new book which I will likely order because I certainly liked its first chapter. I didn't see anything there I had never thought of. However, its excellent narrative is way beyond my level, and I kept thinking to myself as I read it that I wished I could have written such a clear, concise and to-the-point summary of the Bush administrations' numerous problems.

Of 9/11 attacks, Bovard writes,
Bush is wrapping himself in a flag drenched with the blood of Americans who died due to the failure of the federal government he commanded. The Bush reelection campaign is running television ads showing an American flag flying in front of the ruins of the World Trade Center towers and a flag-draped corpse being carried out of Ground Zero by firefighters. The Republicans will hold their national convention in New York days before the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Bush exploits the 9/11 dead while he stonewalls the 9/11 Commission. The Bush reelection team seems convinced that Bush’s actions on that day entitle Bush to rule Americans for four more years.
This is the point few have made. Essentially, whether you agree with the official version of the events of that day or not, you've got to acknowledge that the administration's activities prior to the event amount at the very best to gross incompetence, if not participation in the events as some claim. But let us assume that the 9/11 Commission Report is absolutely correct,- even though, as I have said earlier, that is unlikely. The Report pretty much indicates gross intelligence failures, incredible lack of action on the administration's part even in the face of dire warnings, "failure of imagination",- in other words, failure to think outside the box and picture scenarios long detailed in various documents,- in short, the Report lists a whole bunch of reasons why this administration ought to be summarily fired from their jobs, not reelected for another four-year term. If the public perception were not so clouded, they would do their best not to remind us of 9/11; yet, the way it is Bush uses it as a reelection platform and to an extent that approach appears to be successful.

And why is the perception so clouded? The answer is simple: fear. "9/11 changed everything", became the administration's mantra. As Bovard observes,
After 9/11, almost every expansion of government became a coup for homeland security. When Bush announced plans to bloat the AmeriCorps “paid volunteer” program, he declared: “One way to defeat terrorism is to show the world the true values of America through the gathering momentum of a million acts of responsibility and decency and service.” While Bush portrays AmeriCorps recruits as heroes, AmeriCorps members busy themselves putting on puppet shows to persuade three-year-olds of the value of smoke alarms, hoeing corn at tourist farms, and sanctimoniously picking up litter in bad neighborhoods. Bush summoned every citizen to give four thousand hours of “service.” After dubious federal statistics showed a marginal rise in volunteering, Bush hyped the uptick as proof that his leadership is morally rejuvenating America.

The Transportation Security Administration and its 45,000-member airport occupation army is one of the Bush administration’s biggest shams. Despite more than $10 billion spent since 9/11, airport screeners are not any more competent than they were in 1987. Yet, as long as TSA brags about seizing millions of pointy objects each year from grandmothers and other scofflaws, Americans are supposed to believe that the endless delays are worthwhile. TSA is punishing critics, slapping fines of up to $1,500 on airline passengers guilty of showing the wrong “attitude” as they pass through TSA checkpoint gauntlets.
But mostly I like this concise and, in my opinion, very appropriate definition of what is fundamentally wrong with Bush's overall approach to the job of Presidency.
Bush governs like an elective monarch, entitled to reverence and deference on all issues. Secret Service agents ensure that Bush rarely views opponents of his reign, carefully quarantining protesters in “free speech zones” far from public view. The FBI has formally requested that local police monitor antiwar groups and send information on demonstrators to FBI-led terrorism task forces. Thanks to the campaign finance act Bush signed, Americans have also lost much of their freedom to criticize their rulers — at least in the 60 days before an election.
President George W. Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and other administration officials continually remind Americans that everything changed after 9/11. But does that include the Constitution? Are the myths of 9/11 undermining the truths of 1776?
This sounds like a right book that came out at the right time. You can order it here.

Diebold is Just Doing Business

According to this report by David Corn, Diebold corporate officials are busy promoting the company's electronic voting technology. That is perfectly fine. After all, isn't that what business is all about?
This week, scores of elections officials from across the country have gathered in Washington for a conference sponsored by the Election Center. A Houston-based nonprofit, the Election Center is an organization for government employees responsible for voter registration and elections administration--such as voter registrars, elections supervisors, city clerks, state election directors, and secretaries of state. According to the group's website, its purpose "is to promote, preserve, and improve democracy." The Election Center keeps its members up-to-date on regulations and court decisions. It performs research for registration and elections officials. It offers classes in professional practices.
According to the center's program for the conference, the conference's welcoming reception on August 26 was underwritten by Diebold Election Systems. The next day, a scheduled "Dinner Cruise on the Potomac and Monuments by Night Tour" was cosponsored by Sequoia Voting Systems. And Election Systems and Software (ES&S) agreed to pick up the tab for the final day's "Graduation Luncheon and Awards Ceremony."
Diebold is not alone in that. Which is also understandable. Just about everywhere around the globe business groups are trying to find their way into the government,- and what better way than by entertaining and feeding government officials?

For some reason, there are still quite a few Americans who believe that this sort of thing is completely un-American, that it simply can not happen in the good ol' US of A. That belief is, in my opinion, irrational. People who still hold it need to read David Corn and others and reassess the situation.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Not a Bad Heist Indeed

I like heist movies. In films like "Heat" you see some really tough, intelligent guys take well-defended scores, effectively prosecuting a difficult war against both the police and their rivals in the mean streets. They may be immoral,- but they are definitely good.

The real life, I guess, is a bit more prosaic. The heists one sees happening are less risky, done mostly through shuffling the right papers the right way, bribing the right officials, writing vague enough rules and regulations. The work may be mundane, but the results are nonetheless impressive.

In his report Col David Hackworth details the $8.8 billion dollars alleged to have "gone South" in Iraq. This reads like a detective novel, though is a little bit dull for a novel, I'd agree.
For example, the CPA paid 74,000 guards even though the actual number of guards couldn’t be validated. On one site alone, 8,206 guards were on the payroll, but only 603 warm bodies could be counted. Elsewhere, more than $17 million was allocated to guards and the Iraqi army without one piece of backup paper. Pals in Iraq say this has been standard drill since the birth of “a very dysfunctional” CPA.

The report cites, “An improper $120 million disbursement was made in May 2004 because of miscommunication between CPA/OMB and Comptroller's office.” In other words, $120 million went south but was blithely rationalized as some clerks getting their wires crossed!
However, it appears that the GIs whose arms made this little party possible in the first place are not quite invited to it.
Meanwhile, the armed forces’ PX system (AAFES) is into charging our GIs in $9 for a 12-inch pizza. A similar pizza is $8.99 at a pizzeria near Greenwich, Conn., where prices compete with Beverly Hills. The manager told me that about half of this price was gross profit. Lt. Col. Debra Pressley of the AAFES insists the $9 price is “fair and competitive with commercial outlets, including locations in Greenwich.”

And so it seems to be. But why? Don’t our soldiers deserve a better deal? Or is our government reduced to trying to make up the AWOL bucks on our soldiers’ backs?

The powers that be sure planned to make a profit by charging $3 per head for watching movies in Iraq – at least until we blew the whistle. But once we broke the story, I got e-mails and phone calls from generals and colonels denying that the $3 charge had been scheduled, even though on July 3, 2004, the deputy commander in Balad, Iraq, put out this communication: “CG (Commanding General) has directed that we begin charging movie fees beginning on 7 July 2004 in the amount of $3.00 per show.”

The local general now says it wasn’t ever going to happen. Ditto the AAFES general and her spinner minions. Like the 9/11 report and the missing money in Iraq, no one will ever be held responsible.
War is good business, I suppose.

The Right to Vote is an Inalienable Right

Every US citizen,- excepting (in some states) convicted felons,- has a right to vote. That is what the law on the book says. But if Florida 2000 is any indication, that is not always the case in actuality.

According to this report, what happened in Florida in 2000 is hardly history. The voter disenfranchisement continues apace. I have seen isolated reports of this activity coming from a variety of sources. The People For the American Way report provides a country-wide study of this phenomena.

According to the report, minority disenfranchisement has as of late been predominantly the domain of Republicans as minority voters are more likely than not going to vote against them. Some seem to make little effort to make a secret of their intents regarding the minorities.
This summer, Michigan state Rep. John Pappageorge (R-Troy) was quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election.” African Americans comprise 83% of Detroit’s population.
Now, I am not a partisan observer here. I would be equally livid if Libertarians, Democrats, Communists or any other party made any attempt to tamper with the democratic election process. As it stands, it appears that at this point it is mostly Republicans who are doing it.

And before I sign off,- the following is a petition urging Republicans to put an end to this ignoble practice.

Since When Is Being a Soldier in a War a Crime?

David Hicks was a Taliban soldier in Afghanistan. When the war started between the US and the Taliban he did what every soldier is expected to do,- namely, he fought, trying his best to kill the enemy. And this is the reason why he is on trial now. Hicks is not an American; he is an Australian citizen, and thus by fighting with the Taliban he did not commit a treason by the US legal standard.

I am trying to address neither the legitimacy of the so-called "War on Terror" which is waged by the US despite the fact that it was never declared by Congress, nor that of the Military Commission (Tribunal) before which Hicks is to stand trial. I am merely asking, how can a soldier who merely tried to do his job be held responsible for just that,- trying to kill enemy soldiers? If the US military's data on Hicks is correct, he is certainly a POW. If he committed war crimes, he can be tried for that. But if he merely did what every soldier does in a war,- fight his enemy,- then he is just a soldier. And there is no need to de-legitimize the status of a soldier. The US military will hardly be pleased to find its soldiers on trial and facing a severe punishment somewhere in a foreign land for just doing their job.

Attacking in the Wrong Direction

This is an article by Col David Hackworth about the current war in Iraq. He seems to be pretty much on target.

Is The NYPD Really Doing Its Job?

Jamie Chapman has written an interesting report on the police activity associated with the Republican National Convention in New York City. The report is published by the World Socialist Web Site.

The Police Department is certainly taking the event seriously. Given a potential for public disorder or even a terrorist strike at the Convention they are certainly justified to do so. However, the scale of police preparations seems nothing short of mind-blowing. According to Chapman,
In all, the NYPD expects to maintain 10,000 cops 24 hours a day in the Madison Square Garden area. The entire city police force of some 36,000 is being placed on shifts of 12 hours or more for the convention. Helmeted paramilitary police armed with assault rifles have already been deployed in nearby Pennsylvania Station and subways, along with National Guard troops, NYPD canine units and regular beat cops. Other police have mounted stepped-up street patrols.
Chapman also writes about NYPD's activities conducted outside of their jurisdiction; he calls those activities "unprecedented".
The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has dispatched hundreds of cops around the country to put some 56 people under 24-hour surveillance in advance of the Republican National Convention (RNC). The convention, to be held at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, opens Monday, August 30.

According to a report issued by WABC News in New York City, the subjects of this spying operation have been identified as “primary anarchists” by the NYPD. They are each being watched by teams of five detectives plus one supervisor, according to the television news report.

The surveillance teams are being sent as far away as California, North Carolina, Washington DC and Boston. Their assignment is to tail the targeted protest organizers and follow them on their trips to New York.

This mounting of a nationwide surveillance operation by a city police department is virtually unprecedented. Even in the 1950s, when the infamous Red Squads were set up in every major metropolis to spy on socialists and communists, the reach of these agencies seldom extended beyond their own city limits.

Given the WSWS's left-wing focus, one should not be surprised that the report appears to focus on the left-wing subjects of increased police attention. I could imagine that right-wing activists perceived as a threat are followed just as vigorously (though, I must say, the authorities' treatment of the recent case of William Krar makes me doubt that). But that is not what I would like to focus on here.

What I am mainly interested in is whether or not the Convention is receiving the sort of police attention which makes the police fail in its primary responsibility,- ensuring order and fighting crime across the city. I don't doubt that while the Convention is ongoing you should expect very little street crime around the Madison Square garden. But that area is safe as it is, for the most part, and I am far more concerned with the crime in South Bronx or East New York,- the areas I suspect might suffer as a result of the NYPD being stretched thin and providing close to a third of its manpower to the security needs of the Convention.

I am not an expert on the law-and-order matters hence I am not going to render judgment here. However, I would like to know whether or not a study was ever conducted as to how such lopsided police deployment is going to affect the public safety of New York City. And if so, what did that study find.

Iraq Today: A "Green Zone" Insider's Account

Larry Diamond spent several months (January-April 2004) working for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. The following is his account of various problems in Iraq today,- mostly, caused by the Bush administration's blunders before, during and after the invasion.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Dreaded T-Word

US Army Major General George Fay has conducted an investigation into the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and, according to this report, acknowledged that US forces tortured the detainees. For most of us, it has been clear for quite some time that alleged actions of some of the soldiers,- some of the said actions depicted in the now-famous photographs and videos,- do indeed constitute torture. I am happy the military finally found it in themselves to acknowledge as much. Better late than never.

Ivan Eland's Take On Patriotism

We tend to think in stereotypes. This is only human as we try to categorize facts and events around us, form patterns in our knowledge base. Propagandists of all stripes readily prey on this tendency of ours, trying to feed us the stereotypes they see as helpful to their agenda. And that tendency of theirs is also nothing new.

In his commentary, The Independent Institute's Ivan Eland performs the much needed dismantling of the stereotype common in today's America,- namely, that opposition to war and lack of aggressiveness is a sign of the lack of patriotism, or of weakness. That stereotype appears to be well-entrenched; from newspapers columns to barrooms and webforums, one sees anti-war types labeled "sissies", "un-American" or worse. "Is there any ground to that?", one might ask. Not much, says Eland. In fact, at times those who rush to war are hardly the sort of people one would think of as warrior types.
The president dresses up in military garb and lands on an aircraft carrier, pretending to be a war hero to make people forget that he avoided the danger of conflict years earlier.
But the bulk of the discussion is not about who did what when,- it is more about the militarization of the way America thinks and acts as a society.
The profligate use of the war metaphor in unrelated matters demonstrates that the glorification of war runs deep in contemporary America. The word “war” is so effective in raising passions that it is used as a propaganda tool for the cause of the day. For example, there is a war on poverty, a war on drugs, and a war on terrorism. (Terrorist attacks are usually isolated in time and place and often can be better countered when thought of as crime). None of these “campaigns” have been very successful, and often the term “war” is used only as a marketing tool to garner support from an all-too-eager American public.
Mr Eland believes that even the threat of the Soviet Union which fueled massive military spending by the US during the Cold War was vastly overblown. I can't entirely agree with his assessment of the Soviet Union.
Some would argue that much of the post-World War II period was spent in the laudable fight against the forces of totalitarian communism. But that jousting against a second—rate enemy (the Soviets’ dysfunctional communist economic system made it an “Upper Volta with missiles”) masked a U.S. effort to remake the world in its own image. The United States established alliances and military bases around the world and regularly intervened in the affairs of other nations through coercion, covert action and the use of armed force. The best evidence that this U.S. overseas “empire” was not created mainly to fight communism was its retention—and even expansion—after the Soviet rival collapsed into the dustbin of history.
Based on many reputable military sources, the Soviet Union was militarily on the par with the US and its allies, and hardly a second-rate enemy. But the fact that the US military presence worldwide only increased following the collapse of the Soviet Union is certainly an argument supporting the idea that the US is no longer merely content with defending itself, but is indeed seeking world domination. In fact, The Project for the New American Century, the doctrine authored by many prominent members of the Bush administration, stipulates exactly that,- the need for the US to become the force that no one in the world can even come close to challenging.

Writes Eland,
After the demise of the rival superpower, however, the advantages of wanton U.S. global intervention have declined precipitously. And blowback from foreign meddling—for example, the September 11 terrorist attacks—has demonstrated that the dangers of such a policy have increased exponentially, especially if hostile terrorists could acquire a nuclear weapon.

It’s time to reconsider the founders’ original foreign policy of restraint overseas—made possible by America’s blessed geographical position oceans away from the world’s centers of conflict. Today, with the most powerful nuclear arsenal on the planet, the United States remains secure from the vast preponderance of threats, except that of catastrophic terrorism.

That is a very valid argument.

I believe America should not withdraw from the world completely, but it should not be a sole power either. The forces under the Pentagon's command should be used for defense only. It can help in other areas,- peacekeeping, for instance, but US soldiers, people who volunteered to defend the US, should not have to participate in such missions. Forming an American (or, better yet, multilateral) Peacekeeping Corps would be a noble idea. Using US military for wars whose value to the US security is questionable drains the American resources and corrupts the society. And the US forces should certainly never be used to further anybody's imperial ambissions.

"May God bless America's Veterans"

I have earlier commented on the treatment of the US soldiers wounded in the current war in Iraq. The following is, I think, a pretty good Flash presentation about this administration's attitude towards Americans in uniform, courtesy Eric Blumrich.

Ziad Jarrah's Strange Good-Bye

Ziad Jarrah, the terrorist alleged to have been the pilot at the controls of the United Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001 after the passengers overpowered the hijackers, had supposedly written to his girlfriend in Germany the day before the attacks to bid his farewell. According to the official version of the events, this was a pilot, thus we ought to assume that Jarrah knew that he was not to live to the end of the next day. (We are told that the hijackers who provided the "muscle" for crowd control onboard the hijacked aircraft were likely not told about the true nature of the mission and were possibly in the dark about their intended fate. I view that possibility as entirely realistic.)

The above-mentioned BBC report contains a number of curious details about the package Jarrah is alleged to have mailed to his girlfriend.
...Jarrah apparently made a mistake when he wrote the German address, and the package was returned to the US, where it was passed to the FBI, said Der Spiegel.
Well, one would think that the man knew where his girlfriend of five years lived. It also appears a little strange that assuming he knew what the right address was he did not check to make sure he wrote it correctly when mailing such an important piece of correspondence.
German prosecutors have confirmed that the package also contained documents relating to flight training which Jarrah had undergone.
"You should be very proud, because it is an honour, and in the end you will see that everyone will be happy," the letter is reported as saying.

And he tells his girlfriend: "Keep hold of what you have until we meet again."
I am not sure how to interpret that. I can easily believe that the document could have been mistranslated. However, if that is not the case, I am thoroughly baffled here. For one thing, what is the point of those flight-training related materials in the package. Did Mr Jarrah wish his girlfriend undertook flight training too? Possibly. But if he knew he was going to soon be dead, what is the point of instructing her to "keep hold of what you have until we meet again"? The only place where, under that scenario, they would ever meet again would be in the afterlife, and taking material possessions there is not an option under any of the major religions' interpretations of the afterlife.

It appears that I am not the only one who finds it hard to believe in the authenticity of this document.
Jarrah's relatives - who say he was a passenger, not a hijacker - have insisted that the letter is not genuine.

"The letter has been fabricated in an attempt to find evidence against Ziad Jarrah," his uncle, Jamal Jarrah told the US news agency Associated Press.
I remember hearing such rebuttals during the months immediately following the great tragedy of 9/11. At the time, I tended to view such rebuttals by the alleged hijackers' family members as an expression of denial, as a refusal to accept the awful truth. However, knowing what we know now, it would seem to me that Jamal Jarrah and others may well have a good case to make.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

"There’s got to be a better way."

This is how Sheldon Richman concludes his excellent review on how centralization of government makes the society ineffective and vulnerable. And I can't agree more.

Mr Richman offers a libertarian perspective on what has been happening in the US over the last several decades. I would say that what he is saying likely applies not only to the US but to any other society as well. I am not a libertarian to quite the same degree as Sheldon Richman but I do find some of his arguments very persuasive. Of the anti-American ideology of our Jihadist enemies Mr Richman has this to say.
The insistence by the Bush administration and its supporters that U.S. policy has nothing to do with the terrorist threat is a little too fevered to be credible. Those who see in anti-Americanism a reaction to U.S. policy are maligned as excusing violence by trying to understand its perpetrators. But a moment’s thought discloses that excusing and understanding are vastly different activities. Moreover, proponents of the Bush interpretation can’t really be against trying to understand the terrorists, because these proponents themselves claim to understand them. So this is really a debate between competing interpretations. They are welcome to offer their theory of the terrorists’ true motivation, but a little evidence would be nice.
I can't agree 100% that radical Muslim groups do not resent the internal American attitudes or American customs and lifestyle, but I would think that would be a secondary issue whose significance can not possibly compete with that of the American policy in the Middle East.

Another excellent point of Mr Richman's is that by centralizing America the government makes its every mishap more significant as far as its potential negative consequences.
The more highly centralized the governing authority, the easier it is to disrupt the society by disabling that authority. There is simply no way for a bureaucracy to know all that the entire society knows. This is as true for security issues as it is for the production of steel or wheat. “Society” is smarter than any legislature or bureau.
I am in general a supporter of a strong power center. However, I am also a supporter of federalism. The functions of the federal center must be tightly regulated, as must the power of the local government.

Every chance they get the Bush administration is telling us that because of the terrorist threat we must give them ever more power at the expense of the local power base and our individual freedoms. But I think just the opposite is true,- and to that the deceptions and incompetence of the federal government is a testament.

Shame On Us All!

War is hell. Some die, others suffer injuries,- sometimes grievous physical wounds, sometimes invisible phychological damage, wounds invisible to the eye but nonetheless capable of destroying the soldier's future chances for success and happiness.

And while battlefield suffering is likely unavoidable once the guns have opened up we certainly do have control over what happens to battlefield casualties. For the dead there is little that can be done other than giving them a proper burial and giving their families as much comfort and support as is humanly possible. I don't believe we are doing such a good job of that, but I will save that subject for later. For the wounded, there is a lot more that needs to be done. They need medical care, psychological care, help with readjustment and rotating back into civilian life if they are no longer fit to serve. And it appears that the way we as a nation treat Iraq war wounded is nothing short of a national outrage.

According to this report by Frederick Sweet the wounded are far from being a priority on the military's list.
Mark Benjamin’s investigative report on Oct. 20, 2003 for UPI, revealed that many wounded veterans from Iraq had to wait "weeks and months at places such as the Fort Stewart military base in Georgia, for proper medical help." They had been kept in living conditions that are "unacceptable for sick and injured soldiers." One officer characterized conditions for the wounded by saying, "They're being treated like dogs."
And what are those unacceptable conditions?
At Fort Stewart in Georgia, they waited in hot concrete barracks with no air-conditioning or running water.
Advances in the body armor technology mean that a lot of people who would have died in previous wars now survive as their body is protected,- but the limbs take the brunt of the damage, and thus the percentage of limb loss is unusually high among the wounded. That fact is not being widely disclosed by the Pentagon. In general it appears that the defense establishment is going out of its way to conceal the scale of the issue.
As American casualties increased during the summer of 2003, US military officials suppressed discussion of the total number wounded. Only by July 10, 2003, nearly four months after the invasion of Iraq had been launched, did CNN report that for "the first time since the start of the war in Iraq, Pentagon officials have released the number of US troops wounded from the beginning of the war through Wednesday [July 9, 2003]."

However, Seth Porges wrote in Editor & Publisher (10/23/03) that coverage of injured and wounded U.S. soldiers gets very little media attention. "For months, the press has barely mentioned non-fatal casualties or the severity of their wounds," writes Porges. "Few newspapers routinely report injuries in Iraq, beyond references to specific incidents. Since the war began in March, 1,927 soldiers have been wounded in Iraq, many quite severely."

But newspapers neglected to report or keep a tally on the wounded, as an informal survey of some top papers has shown. This comes on the heels of reports that attacks on American troops in Iraq had increased in recent weeks from an average of 15 to 20 attacks per day to about 20 to 25 attacks a day, with a peak at about 35 attacks in one day, according to the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.
And the mainstream US media were hardly the watchdog one would hope they are trying to be,- they didn't seem to ask the hard questions and pressure the Pentagon to have them answered.

Overall, Dr Sweet's article is a great summary of how we treat our wounded. Whether or not you support the war in Iraq I believe it is your duty as a citizen to face those facts and assess them for what they are.

Oh, How I Wish Politicians Were That Honest!

Billionaires For Bush is a good site to visit and have a good laugh. Actually, it may not be quite that funny as the site likely presents exactly the reasons why George W Bush is so vigorously supported by the corporate powers, as well as the vision of the world those powers have. But I hope you will enjoy it,- a good laugh in hard times is never a bad idea!

Osama Bin Laden and The Election

Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda is a force to reckon with whether we like it or not. Bin Laden claims to be at war with the US, and in the context of that war it is entirely possible that he will order his forces to attack the US in order to influence the political process in the US to his liking. As I have written before, that means Osama may indeed attempt to influence the outcome of the US Presidential Election on November 2, 2004,- and that we should not fall for his tricks.

However, there is a question that appears reasonable to ask under the circumstances,- if Osama were to choose, whom would he like to win the Election? Sam Rosenfeld attempts to answer this question in his American Prospect article. He is making a good argument against the wide-spread notion that Bin Laden desperately wants Bush voted out of office.
...responsible journalists will want to remind themselves that there is not a shred of credible evidence documenting al-Qaeda’s preferences in the election one way or the other. This shouldn’t be a shock; after all, the ideological differences between the two major American parties probably aren’t quite sufficient in scope to sway the hearts of radical Islamic theocrats.

But hey, forget ideology for a moment and think strategy. Let’s speculate: If you were bin Laden, and you had enjoyed a year and a half respite from America’s full, undivided attention, as special ops forces, intelligence operatives, and spy satellites were diverted from the pursuit of al-Qaeda to the invasion of Iraq, for which candidate might you feel the most gratitude? If you were bin Laden, and had watched the United States turn its invasion of Iraq into a cause célèbre for Islamic terrorists worldwide, which candidate might you deem the most useful and effective as a recruiting tool for your organization?

I think Mr Rosenfeld is right on the money here.

Support Our Troops!

This is one of the few rallying cries I always back 100%. I may not support a particular war into which our troops are sent, but I am always concerned about their well-being, and I believe every concerned citizen ought to share this sentiment.

Apparently, some in the military establishment prioritize differently. Here is a report by Colonel David Hackworth about the plight of the of the US Army's 89th Company, 57th Transportation Battalion out of Fort Eustis which is currently deployed to Iraq and whose primary responsibility is traveling that country's dangerous roads and delivering various goods to the units in the field. According to Hackworth,
...they're driving thin-skinned trucks that wouldn't stop a heavy-duty spitball. Fiber doors don't come close to stopping AK-47 slugs, and a rocket-propelled grenade round rips through a truck like a paratroop boot through a barracks window.
That doesn't sound like a safe vehicle to drive through what can become an active battlefield on a moment's notice. However, the officers in charge appear not to consider this a high-priority issue.
When the 89th left Fort Eustis, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Helmick, the unit's former battalion commander, said they'd be issued up-armored trucks in Kuwait. The troops are still waiting. And their new commander, Lt. Col. Myrna Merced, doesn't seem to care if the soldiers are protected as long as the convoys run on time.

A soldier in Merced's battalion alleges she's "incompetent and certifiably insane. And our chain of command knows this and is doing nothing. In the meantime, my fellow soldiers are paying the ultimate price because we don't have the right stuff."

Another soldier in the 57th says: "She [Merced] is currently under investigation. Three of her company commanders have filed complaints on her. A BDE [Brigade] commander has ordered her to undergo psychiatric care, and medication."
Well, if what these soldiers are saying is correct, ladies and gentlemen, we have a battalion in the war theater under the command of somebody unstable enough to require psychiatric treatment. No further comment. Kudos to David Hackworth for once again telling it as it is, and let us hope these problems are fixed in the shortest possible order.

"We won't be fooled again"

Or maybe we will. Maybe we as a nation will worry more about whether or not John Kerry was wounded severely enough to get a Purple Heart when he was indeed wounded in battle in Vietnam than we will about the fact that George W Bush was at the same time serving in the Texas Air National Guard where he failed to even serve the time he was supposed to. I should also mention the fact that his departure followed his fighter pilot training the cost of which is estimated to be an equivalent of several million of today's US dollars.

In his article Frederick Sweet calls Bush a deserter. According to strict legal terms that definition may not be correct as desertion includes an intent never to return to one's service station, and there is no evidence there was such an intent on Bush's part. However, Bush's failure to fly the missions expected of him is testimony to his utter ingratitude and irresponsibility. Don't be fooled,- this is not the man to lead us.

And Now Available In Print...

Paul Thomson of the Center for Cooperative Research now has a book out titled "The Terror Timeline". Based upon the description available thus far this book is pretty much the Center's 9/11 timeline in print. The online content of the timeline was definitely worth a read; if you would like to read it on paper, you might want to reserve a copy.

Monday, August 23, 2004

On Honor, Race, Guns And Other Matters

Dennis Joyce, the author of this post, is a Black police officer and Chairman of the Southern Independence Party of Texas. While I find his post too emotional, accusatory and intolerant for my taste, I think it raises a number of important points.

One of them is that police can not be there at all times to protect us, and thus the right to carry arms in many situations translates into a right for the citizens to protect themselves against criminal violence,- a right that is not only constitutional, but also happens to be a natural inalienable right of every living being. Joyce says to his fellow police officers,
To advocate this "thing," this "gun control," is the highest betrayal of the primary rule of nature: self-defense. It is a cruel betrayal of the people you are sworn to protect, and a boon to the evildoers among us. It is the ultimate betrayal of your hard-earned Badge and all it stands for.
Joyce is also, in my opinion, correct in characterizing the importance of the Second Amendment rights for minorities in their fight against racism. There is hardly a more effective technique one group can use to subjugate another than making sure the latter group can not acquire defense capabilities.
This brings me to a further assertion. I submit that if you wear the badge and happen to be of Black ancestry ("African-American" is the current "politically correct" term: I choose not to use it), and fit the criteria I have previously described, you should be held in special dishonor. Your ancestors fought and died under a special adversity for the rights you presently enjoy. I know that we still have a long way to go, (and you are unhappy with that last promotion you were "suspiciously" beaten out of). But today you are still freer than any previous generation, and should honor what they fought for by at least acknowledging that fact. A Black officer or group of officers that support "gun control" over the 2nd Amendment, in effect, support a continuation of practices rooted in racism, practices that currently discriminate against a targeted group of Americans not limited only to Blacks. If you support that you have no honor and are a disgrace to your badge, your brothers in blue, your brothers in ancestry, and the public you are sworn to protect and serve. (This goes for the rest of you who seek not to be identified as "Black," but are not, so-called, "white;" so for you "others," accept that you have advanced in large part on the corpses of millions of Black Americans who were here before you: It's a fact: Deal with it.)
I also like Joyce's comments on the subject of assault weapons.
In some jurisdictions, California comes to mind, Police Officers, assumed to be trusted to carry firearms in the defense of the public; are not exempted from these "assault weapons" bans, on or off-duty. Think about that, Lawman, What message is that sending you? What about "Officer Safety?" (Particularly in the wake of the North Hollywood shootout, where Cops had to go begging to local gun shops to borrow "illegal assault weapons" to stop terrorist bank robbers?). They are denying you safety, and survival, and by extension, also the public.
I think he offers a fresh and interesting perspective on the issues related to gun control,- even though toning down his rhetoric would, in my opinion, not be a bad idea either.

Poverty, Isolation, Indifference...

These three seem to go hand-in-hand in today's America. In his article Jim Wallis talks about the plight of a single mother working what is recognized as a staple of dead-end low-paid occupations,- serving customers at a drive-through window at a Burger King.
"Soccer moms" and "NASCAR dads" have received much attention in recent election campaigns. But who will speak to or for Burger King Mom? She may live in a red or blue state, but neither party is much interested in her or her family's issues.
It has been my experience that many in the US view poverty as a stigma. The victims of this affliction have only themselves to blame, is a common opinion. Walking down the streets of Denver where hardly anyone ever walks and most people just drive I have had my share of insults yelled at me out of the passing vehicles. Ironically, at the time I likely was better of than many a yeller. However, the perception is obviously there,- anyone walking,- not driving,- down a suburban street in an all-American city in an old pair jeans and an old jacket or sweater is a loser of some sort, homeless or just too poor to even get a car, that all-American symbol of financial independence and mobility. Needless to say I did have a vehicle at the time, and could indeed afford expensive clothes. For the latter part I simply have not seen a compelling need ever since I left my teenage years and their attendant insecurities behind me.

For many, the poverty is there as an affliction, the mere thought of it is too worrisome to concentrate upon. But it is there, and the best I can tell it ain't going nowhere no time soon. Mr Wallis appears to second this perception of mine.
The Republicans look after their wealthy constituents, and the Democrats want to be the champions of the middle class. Neither makes a priority of the needs of the poor. Is that because the problems of poverty are disappearing in America? Hardly. The poverty rate (including that for children) has risen over the past two years. More people than ever are without health insurance. Increasing numbers of people can't find affordable housing. The minimum wage hasn't been raised for seven years.
In many ways, I agree with his views of what is wrong with both major parties, as well as the overall political discourse in the US.
We need to redefine the poverty issue as one of growing income inequality in America, and one that increasingly affects working families. American inequality is now greater than at any time since the roaring injustice of the 1920s or the rampant wealth and poverty of the Gilded Age in the 19th century. The Bush administration's tax policies seem deliberately aimed at returning to the wealth distribution of those periods. But especially since the 1990s, both parties are following the dictates of their corporate donors more than the dictates of compassion or justice. The Republicans run as compassionate conservatives and then govern as corporatists, while the Democrats run as populists, then also govern as corporatists.
While I am not sure what the fix ought to be here, there is definitely a problem that we have to recognize and address. And you don't have to like the poor or even sympathize with them. Just bear in mind one thing,- they are there, they are alive, they are (fortunately) not emaciated from starvation, and yes, they have the strength to stand up for themselves and eventually they will if we force them to. We can work towards finding a compromise that works for everybody,- or else, I am afraid, a civil war will become as inevitable as death and taxes.

Suicide Map And Political Preferences

Max Blumenthal notes an interesting article published in today's Boston Globe by Michael Craig Miller, MD, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. Apparently, the areas of the US whose inhabitants are most likely to end their own life are the same areas where Bush scored the best in the 2000 Presidential Election.

The 9/11 Cell Phone Mystery

"Hello! Hello! Can you hear me?" I would guess that if you use a cell phone at all, this is the sequence you have gone through many a time. To the industry's credit, over the years the quality of the cell phone communication has improved considerably, as has the coverage. However, the whole technology was designed to provide connectivity on the ground, with the assumption that retransmitting towers can be placed relatively close to the cellular phone they are to service. Another major assumption is that the user would only be moving at ground speeds. On the ground, it is reasonable to assume pretty much that any and every vehicle a cell phone user would travel in would move no faster than a bullet train whose speed is about 300 km/h (roughly 200 mph).

All of the above makes it all the more surprising that according to the official version of the events of 9/11 a number of doomed passengers managed to place calls from their cell phones which appear to have gone through with nary a glitch. In this report Michel Chossudovsky provides a review of cellular technology's capabilities, with the emphasis on the state of that technology on 9/11/2001. The author's basic conclusion: the placement of the cell phone calls the doomed passengers are alleged to have placed was highly unlikely if not outright impossible.

Some inquiring minds with a knack for practical experimentation have tried to assess the usability of cell phones on board of an aircraft. What they have discovered largely backs Mr Chossudovsky's assessment.

As I have said before, the 9/11 report is likely at the very best incomplete. The data referenced by Michel Chossudovsky, A.K. Dewdney et al. seems to enhance that notion.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

And A Cheap Shot It Sure Is

This is a good, thorough review of what Swift Boat Veterans For The Truth and their anti-Kerry activities are all about. What worries me is not the fact that such activities are ongoing, but the fact that a certain, non-negligible percentage of the populace is willing to even seriously consider the bogus claims against Kerry. Indeed, as Gerald Rellick laments,
There was a time in America that no one disrespected military service. Veterans from World War II and Korea didn’t challenge each other about whose service was the most dangerous, the toughest. Not everyone could serve in combat, and of those who did, not everyone was in the first wave of a beachhead assault or was in the lead plane in a bombing mission. Everyone in combat understood the fickle nature of war, that luck was everything. It was enough to leave it alone.

Apparently, no more so. Attempts to undermine the reputation of warriors who later in life decided to enter politics are now rampant. Notably, most of those attempts are the work of those who have never seen combat themselves. It is also worth mentioning that most of the time their allegations do not include those of war crimes,- which would be a legitimate concern, merely of not being much of a warrior. Apparently, the time when just being in combat and doing your job was enough to earn a soldier respect and recognition is in the past.

Do You Want To Keep Your Job?

Well, then keep your mouth shut, at least when it comes to politics. That was the lesson Glen Hiller learned when he voiced his disagreements with the Bush administration policies at a rally where Bush was present. According to this CNN report,
Hiller was ushered out of Hedgesville High School on Tuesday after shouting his disagreement with Bush's comments about the war in Iraq and the search for weapons of mass destruction. The crowd had easily drowned out Hiller with its chant: "Four more years."
That Hiller was ushered out of the venue as soon as it became clear that he was not a supporter of our President comes as no surprise to me. His employer's actions are also not entirely surprising. Yours truly has never lost a job for expressing his views on state politics, but he has lost jobs for criticizing on-the-job politics. For my general political views I have at times been shunned by many colleagues but it was their right to do so. However, the general trend appears to be that being different from the mainstream on issues such as material pursuit, subservience to authority and non-critical acceptance of the social order is tolerated less and less in all spheres of the American life. And that, of course, affects employment matters.

Now, I am not going to call the actions of Octavo Designs political oppression as, at least formally, that was a legitimate decision taken by a private business. However, in a country where the gap between the rich and the poor is so wide the threat of being deprived of one's income and an attendant plunge into poverty may be an argument strong enough to rule in many,- and effectively that pressure can effectively be used as a tool of political intimidation and oppression.

And before I sign off here,- I have said time and again that wherever politics is what matters most, professionalism vanishes. That certainly appears to be the case with Octavo Designs. I just tried to see their webpage, and all I got loaded into my browser's window was an orange screen. Well, that is not a very interesting read, nor is orange my favorite color. So it looks like Octavo Designs may not be around for much longer if that is the quality of their output.

And if you think I only bash the mainstream media,- not so, at least not all of the time. I am really grateful to the CNN for publishing their story about Hiller.

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