October 31, 2004

Everyone Loves A Parade Magazine

This week's Parade Magazine includes a piece I wrote about Waste Reduction Partners. WRP is a team of retired engineers and scientists in Asheville, North Carolina that works to help area industries reduce their environmental impact. They're wonderful, impressive people doing important stuff, and hopefully I got that across. If you're curious but don't get Parade in your Sunday newspaper, the article will be online at the Parade site in a week or so.

My Journey to the Land Of Cheese

I'm writing this from Wisconsin, where I've traveled to work on get out the vote efforts. So far it's included lots of phone banking along with a little leaflet-handing-out and a lot of cheese-sampling. The cheese-sampling wasn't directly related to getting out the vote, but, you know, when in Rome.

This is one of the most beautiful passages of writing about America I've ever come across. It's from the non-fiction book Family by Ian Frazier. Frazier wrote Family after his parents' deaths; it's about the intertwining of his family tree and American history.

* * *

From Family by Ian Frazier, p. 347-8

... everyone believes in something; a lot of us just don't know what that something is. And if you don't know what you believe, someone will always be glad to tell you. At the moment we are being told -- by advertising, and by the powers that can pay for it -- that we mainly believe in fear and greed.

A meaning I discovered among the relics in my parents' apartment is that meaning exists, but you have to look for it. Or rather, you must look for it, we are all obliged to look for it. Of all Stonewall Jackson's beliefs, the one I could subscribe to most easily is that keeping the Sabbath is important -- not in the sense you must never mail a letter on Sunday, but in the sense that every person should spend a certain amount of time thinking about what he or she believes. Because what you really believe in coincides with meaning a larger sense, with meaning that connects to other people alive and dead and yet to be born. And the belief is there inside you, just like your preference for certain foods or music or hobbies, but deeper. You have to know what it is because, first, if you don't someone else will enlist you in what they believe, and the next thing you know you've spent your life participating in confusion; and, second, because one day children, yours or someone else's, will ask what you believe, and if you don't know, that just leaves them more to figure out for themselves and less to react against or accept, and they'll have to unearth your beliefs before they can get started on their own. They might just take the short route and assume that our fear-and-greed advertising expressed all, in the deepest sense, we had inside us; and they might not be wrong.

From the beginning, America was an aspiration; and against odds, the aspiration is still out there. The people who founded this country came from a tradition of thinking about God and man and about how people best should live, a tradition more passionate then than it became or is today. And if the founding words about freedom and justice and equality were traduced the moment they came out of the speakers' mouths, traduced by crimes against people unlike the speakers themselves, still no fact of history tells us we cannot believe the aspiration. The words could not be unsaid; the aspiration, once brought into existence, existed. Because the country was based on it, the country could go beyond boundaries, could live in the minds of people far away. Its aspiration was set at large in the world. The dream of this country came from somewhere and is going somewhere. We came from somewhere and are going somewhere. We must pursue.

October 30, 2004

Interesting Details On Al Qa Qaa

Iraqi nuclear scientist Imad Khadduri sends along this email from someone "who was on the scene for many years in Iraq." I don't know who this person is, but it sounds like they're either from UNSCOM or the IAEA.

* * *

Al Qa Qaa consist of close to 1000 buildings and Hatteen is another very large number. It would take many weeks just to walk through them all.

Qa Qaa makes ordinary chemicals into raw explosives. They produce some finished products. The storage areas at Qa Qaa have lots of raw materials, newly produced raw explosives, and fewer finished items.

Hatteen takes explosives and turns them into finished products.

The administration is claming they have rounded up umpteen thousand tons of MUNITIONS. This includes the weight of shell casing, bomb casings, bullets etc. The weight of a lead bullet contains no explosives whatsoever and just a little propellant charge. Once again they are highly misleading. The HMX is a pure explosive, ideal for things like car bombs and very formable to the problem at hand, unlike some artillery shell that has to be jury rigged.

There are clear signs in the Pentagon press statement and other places that the US troops may not have been collecting at Al Qa Qaa. In particular the major said he collected white phosphorous shells. He said this more than once. These were made and stored at Hatteen State Establishment, a few miles south of the storage bunkers for the HMX at Al Atheer. These are two different sites! Note the major’s comment yesterday that he had never heard of Al Qa Qaa until that day, only his operations are Elmwood or something like that.

Iraq made their own RDX and it was certainly all over the country in the form of military explosive ammunition items, like the 20,000 81 mm rocket warheads.

The truck parked outside the bunker in the DoD image is not at a bunker that contained HMX. It did contain conventional items that would be of immediate use in countering the invasion. It would be quite logical to disperse them the day before a war, assuming that they were taking things out of the bunker and not putting them in.

(The second truck in the satellite photograph is a fire truck. Look more carefully. Powell used the presence of such trucks to prove that chemical munitions were being moved. Presumably this story has fallen out of favor but at least we can conclude that only one truck is moving munitions in or out and the fire truck is there for safety.)

I cannot understand why anyone would expect them to disperse raw explosive powder, which has no military value, outside the bunkers. The war was clearly going to be short so there was no time to turn the HMX into military items, especially since they hadn’t tried in the previous years.

None of this proves anything, other than when you have facts you can conduct analysis and when you are speculating without facts you can cause chaos!

I Didn't Realize I Could Hate Bin Laden More

Wall of Hope and Remembrance

I just read the transcript of the latest bin Laden tape. It made me loathe him more than I did already, something I wouldn't have believed possible. Fortunately I didn't see it on television, because I might have tried to leap into my large screen Daewoo and strangle him. This would have led to an unhappy outcome, unless of course the inside of my television is where he's been hiding.

There are two reasons for my increased hatred, hatred so intense I'm concerned I will break my computer by typing this too hard.

1. After the terrorist attacks, Bush predictably claimed Al Qaeda did it because they "hate our freedom." So I started calling friends, pretending to be bin Laden, and telling them: "Now that we have gotten the United States, we will turn our freedom-hating attention to our number one enemy -- SWEDEN."

Maybe you had to be there, but let me tell you, I really killed with that. So to speak.

So guess what? Here's one of the things bin Laden said in the new tape:

Security is an important foundation of human life and free people do not squander their security, contrary to Bush's claims that we hate freedom. Let him tell us why we did not attack Sweden for example.

I knew bin Laden was a religious fanatic. I knew he was a mass murderer. But I never considered he would stoop so low as to STEAL MY MATERIAL.

He is the Robin Williams of terrorists. Next thing you know, he will be sprouting extraordinary amounts of bodily hair and appearing in roles which celebrate our common humanity so relentlessly that you vomit.

2. More seriously, bin Laden demonstrated himself anew to be just like all the other bloodthirsty maniacs who've dogged mankind for the past 20,000 years.

Bloodthirsty maniacs have a limited number of tricks up their sleeve. One of them is to claim that somehow they're not really responsible for the results of their monstrous crimes. Sure enough, in the new tape bin Laden also said this:

It never occurred to us that the commander in chief of the American forces (Bush) would leave 50,000 citizens in the two towers to face those horrors alone at a time when they most needed him because he thought listening to a child discussing her goat and its ramming was more important than the planes and their ramming of the skyscrapers.

Ah, I see. The unsophisticated might have thought the blame for the slaughter of 3,000 of my neighbors fell squarely on the shoulders of THOSE WHO ACTUALLY KILLED THEM. But don't fall for that simplistic propaganda. You see, al Qaeda assumed that George Bush would fly in, much like Superman, and save everyone from "those horrors" bin Laden created.

This reminds me of nothing so much as those who explain that the deaths of Iraqis under UN sanctions were all the fault of Saddam Hussein. If only bin Laden had the State Department and hundreds of right wing websites to repeat his bullshit, he might really get somewhere.

The picture above is from the "Wall of Hope and Remembrance" on the south side of St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan, a block and a half from my old apartment. St. Vincent's was one of the hospitals anticipating a flood of people injured in the attacks, so it was covered with thousands upon thousands of flyers from people looking for missing family members.

It quickly became clear none of the missing were alive. St. Vincent's couldn't just throw the flyers away, and so they used them to create this memorial. However, it was still too soon to say outright what everyone knew -- that none of these people were ever coming back -- so it was named a wall of hope and remembrance, rather than remembrance alone.

I used to walk by it every day. As months turned into years, I was surprised to find it always had the power to make me cry with frustration and fear and anger and sadness. Just like I'm doing now.

October 29, 2004

It's Raining Robert Parry

As I've mentioned before here, I'm a big admirer of the work of the investigative journalist Robert Parry. You'd think he'd be better known, but he has an unfortunate tendency to focus on things that actually matter. How can Viacom make money off THAT?

Anyway, there's a rash of new Robert Parry stuff online, all of which is worth checking out.

1. This new story in Salon by Parry details how John Kerry's Senate investigation revealed the unsavory links between the Contras and cocaine traffickers. Parry mentions how Newsweek derided Kerry as a "randy conspiracy buff." I guess that's because the media's so liberal.

Someday, I suspect, someone will investigate the unsavory links between our current buddies in Afghanistan and opium traffickers. They too will be randy conspiracy buffs.

2. Buzzflash is running a two part interview with Parry here and here about his new book Secrecy and Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. You can get Secrecy and Privilege from Buzzflash for a contribution of $29.

3. At Parry's website, he's put up the chapter from Secrecy and Privilege dealing with Kerry's investigation of the Contra-cocaine connection. This has a little more detail than the Salon story.

Now go forth and learn about how our leaders are even more awful than you suspected.

UPDATE: Joshua Bregman points out that Parry was interviewed on October 31 on the show Media Matters, hosted by Robert McChesney.

October 28, 2004

100,000 Iraqis Dead In War?

The British medical journal The Lancet is estimating that as many as 100,000 Iraqis have died in the war to date. But who cares, right? The political payoff from these small wars is fantastic!

If America's right wing even deigns to notice this, they will shriek about how no one knows what the real number of dead Iraqis is. And indeed they're right. But they will never, ever ask the next question: why is that, exactly? They will never ask why the US spent A BILLION DOLLARS on the Iraq Survey Group report in a desperate attempt to justify the war, but has spent zero dollars on finding out how many Iraqis have died.

The answer, of course, is that the political careers of people in the US government are worth something, while the lives of Iraqis are not.

I am becoming less funny every day.

"Start A Small War. Pick A Country..."

I've always believed most leaders like war. If they don't destroy their country in the process, it's usually good for them -- people rally around the flag, they can accuse their domestic enemies of being traitors, all that good stuff. To me, this explains the prevalance of war through history. It's not normal people who're warlike; it's politicians.

And now we have perhaps the closest thing ever available to proof: reports by George W. Bush's former ghostwriter, Mickey Herskowitz. You should read all of this article, but here's an important excerpt. I can't really make any jokes about this. It's too horrifying:

According to Herskowitz, George W. Bush's beliefs on Iraq were based in part on a notion dating back to the Reagan White House -- ascribed in part to now-vice president Dick Cheney, Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee under Reagan. "Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade."

Bush's circle of pre-election advisers had a fixation on the political capital that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher collected from the Falklands War. Said Herskowitz: "They were just absolutely blown away, just enthralled by the scenes of the troops coming back, of the boats, people throwing flowers at [Thatcher] and her getting these standing ovations in Parliament and making these magnificent speeches."

Republicans, Herskowitz said, felt that Jimmy Carter's political downfall could be attributed largely to his failure to wage a war.

TheJohnCleese.Com Is Open

I urge you to go to John Cleese's website, TheJohnCleese.Com, and join. It's just $50 for a year, and from what I can tell, will be more than worth it. Plus, if John Cleese succeeds, it would demonstrate that writers/performers/etc. can actually make money via the internet(s), completely cutting out the sometimes unpleasant middlemen.

And while I have your John Cleese-focused attention, let me also plug his wonderful books on human psychology: Life and How to Survive It and Families and How to Survive Them. He co-wrote them with his former therapist Robin Skynner, whom Cleese has referred to as one of the few genuinely wise people he's ever met. I'd certainly agree about Skynner; the books are fantastic, and some of the few things I've ever read about psychology that make sense to me.

In fact, if you read the books, you will get a firm handle on why people continue to lie so shamelessly about Iraq's purported WMD. Indeed, if you are very lucky, I may explain what I mean without you having to read the books. But you should read them anyway.

What We Think About When We Think About Iraq

Here's a (non-funny) article of mine about the unsettling survey finding many Bush supporters still believe Iraq had WMD. Sources will be provided in a separate post.

* * *
What We Think About When We Think About Iraq
How So Many Americans Can Be So Wrong About WMD

In a functioning democracy, opinions always differ but facts remain facts—which is why a recent survey by the Project on International Policy Alternatives is so dismaying. PIPA, you've probably heard, found supporters of President Bush hold views on Iraq strikingly at odds with reality; for instance, 47% of Bush supporters believe Iraq had actual WMD, while an additional 25% think Saddam Hussein at least had a major program for developing them.

As we approach the election, this should concern everyone. No nation can be self-governing if so many of its citizens reside in a fantasy world. So how did we get here? Steven Krill, PIPA's director, points to a bond between Bush and his supporters forged by 9/11, which "makes it difficult for his supporters to imagine that he could have made incorrect judgments."

This is probably true, as far as it goes. However, America's conservative media also bear a heavy burden of responsibility. Unembarrassed by their pre-war performance, they still relentlessly promulgate a mixture of half-truths and full lies about Iraq's WMD. And the right-wing press is now so omnipresent, anyone susceptible can be swayed by their worldview—one that is superficially convincing, internally consistent, well-argued—and completely false.

Imagine a Bush supporter—let's call him Sam, after the muppet Sam the Eagle—who is honestly interested in the truth. Sam doesn't have the time or inclination to delve into the minutiae of the WMD issue, but tries to keep up.

On October 14, Sam reads a column in the Wall Street Journal by Richard Spertzel. Spertzel, a member of UNSCOM during the nineties, returned to Iraq to work for Charles Duelfer's Iraq Survey Group on the CIA's final WMD report. Thus, it's certain Spertzel knows exactly what the report says. Indeed, that's the whole point of his piece, titled "Have War Critics Even Read the Duelfer Report?" In it, Spertzel argues Iraq was an imminent threat to America, but that the liberal punditocracy refuses to pay attention to what the ISG actually discovered. For instance, Spertzel writes,

many clandestine laboratories operating under the Iraqi Intelligence Services were found to be engaged in small-scale production of chemical nerve agents, sulfur mustard, nitrogen mustard, ricin, aflatoxin, and other unspecified biological agents.

Huh, Sam thinks. So Iraq did have chemical and biological weapons.

What Sam doesn't know is that Spertzel, despite the schoolmarmish title of his op-ed, is glad nobody reads the report in full. In fact, he's counting on it—because while the ISG did discover clandestine labs run by the Iraqi Intelligence Services, the report states "ISG has no evidence that IIS Directorate of Criminology (M16) scientists were producing CW or BW agents in these laboratories."

The closest thing in the Duelfer report to Spertzel's assertion is scattered testimony by low-ranking Iraqis that the labs may have been planning to produce such agents at some undefined point in the future—but, the ISG says, it was "unable to corroborate" this. And of course Spertzel doesn't mention the one thing the ISG says the labs definitely were used for: testing the food of senior regime officials for poison.

Interest piqued by Spertzel, Sam rereads some columns by William Safire and John Podhoretz. Both Safire and Podhoretz have written that the British government's report by Lord Butler, released in July, vindicated President Bush's claim that Iraq "sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Butler, Safire explains, determined the statement was "well-founded"—which thereby proves Iraq was actively seeking nuclear weapons.

Not so fast. What Butler decided, and Safire and Podhoretz slyly elide, is that the uranium statement was reasonable based on intelligence available at the time—that is, before coalition troops occupied Iraq and captured the regime's documents and top officials. (Butler also decided it was reasonable for Blair to say Iraq was seeking mobile bioweapons labs.) The determination about whether Iraq actually had tried to buy uranium overseas was the job of the ISG.

And what did the ISG find? Its final report states flatly: "ISG has not found evidence to show that Iraq sought uranium from abroad after 1991." Indeed, "ISG has found only one offer of uranium to Baghdad since 1991—an approach Iraq appears to have turned down."

Unfortunately, Sam doesn't know this. Neither Safire nor Podhoretz has seen fit to mention it.

Tired of reading, Sam then turns on Sean Hannity's radio show. Hannity is talking about the Duelfer report, and explains Duelfer is "out there saying today that a lot of the weapons went to Syria."

Did Duelfer say this? Nope. The ISG determined Iraq hadn't had any WMD since 1991. What Duelfer did state in his Senate testimony—under prodding from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)—was, "A lot of materials left Iraq and went to Syria... But whether in fact in any of these trucks there was WMD-related materials, I cannot say."

By this point, fed on a diet of untruths and misdirection, Sam believes Iraq (1) had biological and chemical weapons, (2) sent lots more to Syria, and (3) had an active nuclear program. (He's probably also wondering why "the liberal media" is ignoring all this.) But what about Iraq's intentions for the future? For that, Sam goes online.

On Glenn Reynolds' Instapundit.com, he finds a link to a story in the Scotsman claiming the ISG "found documents which showed the 'guiding theme' of [Saddam's] regime was to be able to start making [WMD] again with as short a lead time as possible."

Too bad the ISG did not find such documents. Rather, the report states, "The former Regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions." Reynolds knows this, since he and I exchanged email about it. But Sam doesn't know, because Reynolds declined to post any correction.

Lastly, Sam reads a NewsMax.com story about Mahdi Obeidi. Obeidi is the Iraqi nuclear scientist who, after the invasion of Iraq, produced uranium centrifuge blueprints and parts he'd buried in his garden. Newsmax explains Obedi was "awaiting orders from Baghdad to proceed. 'I had to maintain the program to the bitter end,' Obeidi said recently. His only other choice was death."

Surely, thinks Sam, this is hard proof of Iraq's duplicity and nefarious plans. (Sam isn't alone in this; mainstream publications like The Economist and Los Angeles Times have recently said much the same.)

But is it? When Obeidi turned himself in, Scott Ritter appeared on CNN, telling Wolf Blitzer, "I think he maintained these components and these blueprints of his own volition"—ie, without Saddam's regime knowing about it.

The ISG concurs. Obeidi, the Duelfer report says, "retained prohibited documents and components in apparent violation of the Regime's directives." Imad Khadduri, an Iraqi nuclear scientist who escaped in 1998 and now lives in Canada, also agrees with Ritter, saying Obeidi's story is implausible and that he was "well known for his dishonesty."

In fact, Khadduri compares Obeidi to Khadir Hamza—a notorious fraud who made wild claims about Iraq's nuclear program before the invasion. (Not coincidentally, Hamza is another favorite of the right-wing press.) Obeidi, Khadduri says sardonically, "is simply paying back the Americans for their refuge. Ditto Hamza, whom I assume is having tea with Mahdi."

Of course, Sam is unaware of the ISG's conclusion about Obeidi. It hasn't been reported by any news outlet, conservative or not.

And all this is, believe it or not, just a small sampling of the right-wing media's attempts to obfuscate and distort the reality of Iraq and WMD. Thus it is that Bush supporters like Sam—in perfectly good conscience—are eagerly preparing to vote for the president. After all, he kept America safe from the terrible threat Sam knows about in such detail.

What does this mean for everyone living back here on Planet Earth? Walter Lippman famously wrote about the difference between "the world outside and the pictures in our heads," and the problems this poses for self-governance. But Lippman never anticipated a time when billions would be spent each year to drive false pictures into as many heads as possible. Can democracy survive under such conditions? We may be about to find out.

October 27, 2004

I Request A Transfer To A Less Bizarre Planet

Antiwar.com mentions this story about four car bombs in Mosul in northern Iraq that fortunately didn't kill anyone. Antiwar.com also shows this picture:

Ed Pugh Car Bomb

You're probably thinking what I'm thinking: four car bombs, flaming wreckage, yes, very bad, but -- WHO IS ED PUGH? And why is someone in Mosul wearing a shirt telling us to vote for him?

Well, thanks to the miracle of Google, I've got the answer to the first question right here. This is Ed Pugh:

Ed Pugh

Ed is a state senator in Kansas; previously, from 1994-97, he was a state representative. The shirt the Mosul guy is wearing appears to be asking us to vote for him for "State Rep," which means it's probably 8-10 years old. He seems to have kept the shirt in top condition, I must say. Perhaps he only wears it on special, car bomb occasions.

Of course, the mystery of how the shirt migrated to Mosul remains unsolved. Perhaps I'll give Sen. Pugh a call and ask his opinion.

UPDATE: I spoke to Ed Pugh, who was understandably amused and perplexed to see the picture. He said the shirt was from his campaign ten years ago. The only likely path he saw for the shirt from here to Mosul is that Kansas State and the University of Kansas have lots of students from overseas, and perhaps someone picked it up there.

I was impressed to learn from Mr. Pugh that, having initially run on the issue of term limits, he's retiring to keep his promise. Not too many politicians have the integrity to do that. Perhaps this is why he gets such rabid support, even in northern Iraq.

Never Too Sleepy For Democracy

I'm going to be talking about the Duelfer report and the general issue of Iraq's WMD on The Mike Webb Show on KIRO in Seattle for about an hour, starting soon at 2 am ET, 11 pm PT, or 8 pm NT (Nome time). I'm told by Seattle friends this is a great station and a great show.

I hope to show my deep commitment to democracy and a well-informed citizenry by not falling asleep. But then, I've been told I often talk in my sleep, so even if I lose consciousness I might continue with the interview.

October 26, 2004

A Big Surprise For Me

Christopher Hitchens writes in Slate:

"...nobody before the war had claimed that Iraq had no covert weaponry at all."

Interesting. I'm surprised to find out I believed Iraq DID have banned weapons, but still bet someone $1000 that Iraq had NO banned weapons. What a peculiar person I must be.

Either that, or I don't exist. Well, you learn something new every day.

Two Iraqis On The US Election

Imad Khadduri, the former Iraqi nuclear scientist whom I've mentioned before, has written a column about the US elections here.

Khadduri also recommends this latest entry from Baghdad Burning. It's always amazing to see how people in other countries understand American politics better than many Americans:

War and peace in America are in the average American’s hands about as much as they are in mine. Sure, you can vote for this man or that one, but in the end, there’s something bigger, more intricate and quite sinister behind the decisions. Like in that board game Monopoly, you can choose the game pieces -- the little shoe, the car, the top hat… but you can’t choose the way the game is played. The faces change but the intentions and the policy remain the same...

Still, she writes:

Who am I hoping will win? Definitely Kerry...

So is Kerry going to be much better? I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s going to fix things or if he’s going to pull out the troops, or bring more in. I have my doubts about how he will handle the current catastrophe in Iraq. I do know this: nothing can be worse than Bush. No one can be worse than Bush...

Americans -- can things be worse for you? Can things be worse for us in Iraq? Of course they can… only imagine -- four more years of Bush.

Holy Crap

You will be very encouraged if you watch this new Eminem video. Ted, a frequent visitor here, has sometimes wondered where the protest music for this war is. Well, here you go:

Rebel with a rebel yell, raise hell we gonna let em know
Stomp, push up, mush, fuck Bush, until they bring our troops home

Let the President answer on high anarchy
Strap him with AK-47, let him go
Fight his own war, let him impress daddy that way
No more blood for oil, we got our own battles to fight on our soil
No more psychological warfare to trick us to think that we ain't loyal

Look in his eyes, it's all lies, the stars and stripes
They've been swiped, washed out and wiped

And speaking of Bush and Eminem, here's a joke Mike Gerber and I wrote for Weekend Update on SNL a few years ago:

Before the Grammys this week, Madonna defended controversial rapper Eminem, saying that she finds the things President Bush says much more offensive. The President immediately responded, “Bitch, I’ma kill you and put you in the trunk of my car.”

UPDATE: I'm told the above link to the video only works intermittently. But Daily Kos has posted more sites that have it.

October 25, 2004

Paul Wolfowitz: "I'm Astonished By Paul Wolfowitz"

The New Yorker has a long article here about Paul Wolfowitz. There's a lot about Wolfowitz in the article to make fun of, but one of the most obvious things is this:

Wolfowitz said that he was astonished by the argument of some war critics that, with no imminent threat from Iraq, the overturning of Saddam was unwarranted—an argument that he believes implicitly accepts Saddam’s brutality.

It must be hard for Wolfowitz to get to sleep at night, considering that he finds himself so astonishing:

"...there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people... The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it."

October 24, 2004

Thank God Our Leaders Are Completely Different From Saddam Hussein: The Next Generation

Maybe you've noticed my obsession with the odd similarities between the worldview of the Bush administration and Saddam Hussein. (If not, see here, here, here and here.)

So of course I was struck by this line in the new Bush wolves ad (via The Talent Show, via Atrios)

... weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.

Compare to:

Back in the 1980s, in a relaxed meeting with a group of visiting journalists from the Gulf States, Saddam related an illuminating anecdote. "When I was a child, a man walked through my village without carrying a weapon. An old man came up to him and said, 'Why are you asking for trouble?' He said, 'What do you mean?' The old man replied, 'By walking without a weapon you are asking for people to attack you. Carry a weapon so that no blood with be spilled!'"
-- Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein by Andrew and Patrick Cockburn, p. 104

Another Blow Struck For Freedom

According to this article in Egypt's Al-Ahram (via Antiwar.com), our assault on Fallujah has efficiently eliminated a toddler terrorist, his seven months-pregnant terrorist mother, and of course her terrorist fetus. Plus, seven other members of the terror network the terrorists called by the sinister code name "Our Family."

Victory is ours!

A Journey Of A Thousand Inches Begins With A Single Step

You know what would be great? What would be great is if I linked to essentially every post on websites that anyone coming here certainly visits anyway. Then, original content by me could diminish until it was vestigial, like an appendix. And soon we would reach the day when reading this was utterly pointless.

Let's get started:

1. "We Need Cheaper Lives" at Under The Same Sun

Zeynep Toufe explains America's crying need for troops who can die without Americans caring.

2. "NASA: Einstein was Right" at BobHarris.Com

Another of Einstein's weird predictions about the universe appears to be true.

3. Radio Commentary Comparing Iraq and Algeria at Empire Notes

Rahul Mahajan argues Iraq is more likely to end up like Algeria than Lebanon. Yes: incredibly enough, there are things worse than being Lebanon.

4. "Why the U.S. Attacks on Fallujah are Lethally Counterproductive" at Direland.

Journalist Doug Ireland agrees with Mahajan's point and adds more detail

Damn The Editors And Their Unrelenting Funniness

As I've mentioned before in reference to Bob Harris, I'm always resentful and irritated when people are funnier than me. Perhaps you think I am kidding and this is an amusing rib-tickling ha ha joke. Oh how I wish it were.

So, you can imagine the intensity of my emotion regarding The Editors at The Poorman. Specifically, see:



and, why not


My only solace is that I am just one man fighting against The Editors multitude, which I believe numbers over 17,000.

My Brilliant Idea Remains Unexecuted

The Los Angeles Times has a story here about a film producer who agreed to pay a couple $1000 to call off the loud tree-trimming they had planned for the day of a shoot on their block. But the producer was so irritated about it he sent them the $1000 in the form of 100,000 pennies.

This is similar, but inferior, to a concept I've had for a long time. I've always thought: if there's someone you have to pay $1000, but you're really pissed off about it, why not give them 100,000 checks all in the amount of $0.01? You could print the checks via computer, but they might have to endorse them all individually.

True, my scheme has flaws, such as possibly being illegal. But my job is to be the idea man. It's not my responsibility if my ideas are completely unworkable, highly dangerous, against the law, or all three. (For instance: I think America should invade the Vatican and install Ahmed Chalabi as Pope. But how this should be implemented is up to my subordinates.)

October 23, 2004

Why We Must Stamp Out All Knowledge Of History

I'm a big admirer of Rahul Mahajan's website Empire Notes. Mahajan is particularly good at using history to illuminate current events, something I do more rarely and feebly.

Some excellent recent examples are this look back at various anti-colonial revolts, and this examination of the work of the recently-deceased uber-Crazy Paul Nitze. I especially enjoy this observation: "... even a nutty military fundamentalist [like Nitze] can appear quite sane next to Bush."

Am I Shocked That People Have Websites Named "A Tiny Revolution"? Frankly, No

In the annals of craven lickspittle-dom, few have reached the heights achieved by Ted Koppel in his relationship with Henry Kissinger. If you could test Kissinger's shoes for DNA, you would surely find traces of the saliva Koppel has left there while vigorously polishing them with his tongue.

And now that the State Department has made transcripts of Kissinger's phone conversations available online, anyone with an internet connection can enjoy the horrific spectacle:

December 4, 1976

KOPPEL: You looked sensational [on TV]. Tanned and well rested... How was your vacation?

KISSINGER: Very pleasant. We missed you. We expect you to show up.

KOPPEL: Normally I don't let you go without me... How is your schedule for the next couple of weeks because we wanted to have you and Nancy over some evening?... In fact, I am not sure we would have anybody else over. Just a quiet evening.

Ah, a "quiet evening" with Ted Koppel and Henry Kissinger. Nothing could be more enjoyable, except perhaps dying of dysentery.

It's not just Koppel, though. The archives contain the shameless groveling of many other reporters. Still, Koppel remains #1, not least for his unembarrassed reaction to the release of the transcripts:

"Am I shocked by the notion that people were sucking up to a very powerful official they relied on for information?" said Koppel... "Frankly, no."

Well, who can argue with that? It's hard to be "shocked" by the idea that "people" are doing things you already know about because you're doing them yourself. It's like Henry Kissinger saying:

"Am I shocked by the notion that people gave orders to secretly bomb Cambodia, killing hundreds of thousands?... Frankly, no."

Or George W. Bush, saying:

"Am I shocked by the notion that people would invade Iraq over the objections of 90% of humanity?... Frankly, no."

To Koppel's credit, he told the New York Times things haven't gotten better, admitting that "I think if you got the transcripts of yesterday's press phone calls, you'd find the same things."

And after all, he should know:

[Colin] Powell then regaled the audience...

"Every couple of years, Ted will come by my house on the spur of the moment and we'll sit in the back yard and have a cup of coffee... And so about, oh, four or five years ago, he came by the house and he had this real muscle car, and after we had a cup of coffee and chatted for a while, he says, 'You've got to take it out and drive it, Colin. You've just got to drive this thing. I want you to feel that power.' "

October 22, 2004

The New Boss Isn't Doing A Great Job At Differentiating Himself From The Old Boss

I'm always amused when people seize upon Iwad Allawi's rhetoric about democracy as though it means something. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. (Current odds: twelve billion to 1 against.) But just the fact that a leader speaks about their commitment to democracy means nothing.

As an example, let's look at a recent statement by Allawi:

"Our decision to build a democratic society based on the constitution, the rule of law and political pluralism is a decisive, irrevocable decision... it is time to start building the pillar of the new faith, in spite of all the difficulties."

Sounds good, doesn't it? That Allawi, he really wants a democratic Iraq! And he won't back down!

Except... I lied. Allawi didn't say that. Those were the words of Saddam Hussein on March 16, 1991.

I'm Impressed With This Young Guy John Kerry

At the urging of Zeynep Toufe at Under the Same Sun, I read all of John Kerry's 1971 Senate testimony.

As Zeynep says, it's kind of amazing. Kerry doesn't just condemn the Vietnam war; he speaks of its origins in colonialism and American racism. No wonder it causes so many people's tiny monkey brains to overheat and call him a "traitor." As we know, calling Kerry a "traitor" is actually an accusation that he was "telling the truth."

But I was just as intrigued by Kerry's 1971 comments about government intelligence, where he was also completely right:

The intelligence missions themselves are based on very, very flimsy information... It is not reliable; everybody is feeding each other double intelligence, and I think that is what comes back to this country.

I think that the intelligence which finally reaches the White House does have serious problems with it... I have seen exactly what the response is up the echelon, the chain of command, and how things get distorted and people say to the man above him what is needed to be said, to keep everybody happy, and so I don't -- I think the entire thing is distorted.

Too bad that 32 years later, when he spoke before his vote on giving Bush the authority to invade Iraq, he'd completely forgotten about that:

In 1991, the world collectively made a judgment that [Saddam Hussein] should not have weapons of mass destruction. And we are here today in the year 2002 with an uninspected 4-year interval during which time we know through intelligence he not only has kept them, but he continues to grow them.

October 21, 2004

More On Europe And Israel/Palestine

Seymour Hersh recently had some interesting things to say about what Europe might do on the world stage during a second Bush term -- specifically regarding Israel/Palestine. If you're interested in that, you should also check out this article by Baruch Kimmerling posted at Aron's Israel Peace Weblog:

There is one factor that could instantly change all the parameters and constraints in which the Israelis and the Palestinians are thinking and acting, and could also change the rules of the game between them - and this factor is none other than the European Union - and not the United States as many believe.

Yet More Hersh

The New York Observer has a front page piece about Seymour Hersh which prominently mentions the story he told at Berkeley.

The New York Observer does some good things, but mostly it disseminates gossip about Manhattan's overclass. Also, as far as I know it's the only newspaper besides the Financial Times printed on pink paper. Maybe there's something about having an extremely wealthy audience that forces publications to do that. Or maybe EVERY newspaper would do it if they could, but you're only allowed to if the people reading you are really rich.

Great Moments In Drunken Revelry

This RealVideo segment shows Red Sox fans celebrating in Boston last night after the game.

If you go to 0:45 you'll see someone trying to throw a trash can through the window of a McDonald's. But he throws it too high -- so it misses the window, bounces off the building's facade, and would have fallen directly on top of him if he hadn't run away, falling down himself in the process.

Sox! Sox! Sox! S -- bbbbleaaaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhh!

October 20, 2004

"You Can't Keep Your Job In The US Government By Saying What You Think Is True"

Okay, no weapons of mass destruction. No meaningful connections with Al Qaeda. And now no love for us anywhere in Iraq, or indeed, on Earth. But goddamn it, at least we know Saddam Hussein tried to kill George H.W. Bush in Kuwait in April, 1993. That definitely happened.

Except... no. Jim Lobe at Inter Press Service asks here a question I've been wondering about too: now that we've captured Saddam's entire regime, has anyone bothered to find out whether they really tried to kill Bush #1?

The answer seems to be: no, no one's bothered. And I doubt anyone will, because we wouldn't like the answer. The assassination attempt was probably just as real as the WMD. Here's why:

As Lobe points out, the idea makes little sense on the face of it. From the final WMD report we know Saddam was eager to forge ties with the incoming Clinton administration, so it would be quite strange for him to lead things off with an assassination attempt.

True, the government and US media have always acted 100% sure it happened. But of course, they were 100% sure about WMD, too, and that turned out to be a little off.

In light of that, it's well worth reading this article by Seymour Hersh, which details the shakiness of the case for Iraq trying to kill Bush. It was written in November, 1993, yet parts seem oddly familiar. Like:

In interviews over the summer, many past and present American intelligence officials expressed little surprise that the Clinton Administration had predicated the bombing of Baghdad on such conflicting and dubious evidence. One C.I.A. analyst explained, "Of course nobody wants to say, 'There's nothing to it, Mr. President,' especially when other guys are pushing it. The President asks the intelligence analysts for the bottom line: Is this for real or not? You can't really lose by saying yes." That hard-line attitude—"hanging tough" in a crisis—has marked many of America's intelligence failures since the beginning of the Cold War.

And you know what else seems familiar? The dramatic case, complete with pictures, made by America to the UN Security Council. This is from the New York Times on July 28, 1993, just after we bombed Iraq:

Showing pictures of bomb components, [Madeleine Albright] presented detailed evidence today to support the Clinton Administration's case that it was legally justified in carrying out a missile attack on an Iraqi intelligence site in Baghdad.

The Iraqi denial sounds familiar too:

In response, the Iraqi delegate, Nizar Hamdoon, called the American attack "an unprecedented act of blackmail...Certain organs in the American Government found pretexts in that in order to commit further acts of aggression against Iraq."

But most familiar of all is the facts twisted and distorted to reach a predetermined conclusion. One of Albright's main points at the UN was that the FBI had determined the explosives found in Kuwait matched other known bombs made by Iraq.

Too bad it wasn't true. In fact, Frederic Whitehurst, the FBI chemist who tested the explosives, found exactly the opposite. As the Baltimore Sun reported in 2003:

Whitehurst, now practicing law in Bethel, N.C., says his analysis showed clearly that the material from the car bomb in Kuwait did not match other Iraqi explosive samples.

When he heard reports after the missile attack that Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright had said the explosives matched, "I thought, 'The news has got this wrong.' I said specifically it wasn't a match." When he later saw an official FBI document misstating his findings, he filed an official protest.

The inspector general's report eventually confirmed that Whitehurst's findings had been distorted, but government officials assured investigators that they had other evidence linking the plot to Iraq.

Ah, yes -- "other evidence." Just like, as each part of the government's WMD case crumbled, we were always assured they had "other evidence."

The last word should go to Whitehurst, who said this in a recent interview (scroll down):

I noted that my reports were altered... And I objected to it... I said, "I'm sorry, but I will not be part of placing people in harm's way like that."

These guys who are doing this have never been in combat. They've never seen the blood and gore of what it means to put American soldiers in combat. You better do it based on the truth, not a lie...

You can't keep your job too often in the United States government by saying what you think is true.

God Really Needs To Think These Things Through

This Modern World mentions this from a CNN story about Pat Robertson:

The founder of the U.S. Christian Coalition said Tuesday he told President George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq that he should prepare Americans for the likelihood of casualties, but the president told him, "We're not going to have any casualties."

But This Modern World doesn't quote this part of the CNN report:

"I mean, the Lord told me it was going to be A, a disaster, and B, messy," Robertson said. "I warned [Bush] about casualties."

I don't get it. First: why did God only deliver this warning about Iraq to one person, Pat Robertson? Couldn't He have gone on CNN Himself and told everybody? Instead, 90% of humanity had to figure it out for themselves. And second: even if for some reason He only could tell one guy, wouldn't it have made more sense for Him to tell George Bush directly, rather than telling Robertson and counting on him to pass it on?

Moreover, God's getting a little repetitious in His old age. I mean, isn't "(B) messy" implied in "(A) disaster"? There are very few tidy disasters.

October 19, 2004

A Funny Little Quiz

A recent article from the New York Review of Books mentions these four, oddly similar statements:

A: "... unlike many armies in the world, you came not to conquer, not to occupy, but to liberate."

B: "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerers, but as liberators."

C: "I have not come to you except for the purpose of restoring your rights from the hands of the oppressors."

D: "People of Earth: our galactic fleet has invaded your world not to conquer you, and certainly not to steal your plentiful supplies of the sand that fuels our star-engines, but to liberate you! [Sound in background of photon torpedo firing and explosion] Haw, haw. God, I love saying that."

Okay, yes, I made the last quote up. Get off my back. But the first three are real:

A: 2003, Donald Rumsfeld, addressing US troops in Baghdad

B: 1917, British General Stanley Maude addressing Iraqis in Baghdad

C: 1798, Napoleon's proclamation upon occupying Cairo

So it's not surprising people throughout the middle east are a little... skeptical... of our intentions. Americans might have anticipated that, if we had these things I've heard of called "books." My understanding is these "books" sometimes record events from long ago, which can give you a good sense of what's happening now.

Man, that really would've been great. Unfortunately, we had to cut the money budgeted for books so we could buy more high definition plasma TVs.

(I believe the article got all the quotes from Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America's Perilous Path in the Middle East by Rashid Khalidi.)


A wonderful thing about starting this website has been getting to know like-minded people from all over, in the US and elsewhere. Despite my tendency to focus on humanity's bouts of horrific bloodletting, I actually am naturally optimistic. And e-meeting so many great individuals makes me even more so.

So today I'd like to direct your attention to some writings of one of these people, Anna Ghonim, an American living in Cairo with her family. Just a few of her pieces are online, but as more become available I'll link to them here.

1. "Bad Show: Bush's Appearance on Arab TV"

Apparently when Bush spoke on Al Arabiyya about Abu Ghraib, the US government didn't bother to translate it. And that's as it should be, since when you want to communicate with others you should always be sure to make it as difficult as possible for them to understand you.

2. "Hulagu II: the return of barbarians to Baghdad"

What the 2003 looting of Baghdad looks like to a culture that can remember things that happened before yesterday.

3. "Is Peace in the Middle East Possible?"

What both sides need to do to reach peace in Israel/Palestine. Hint: as in every situation, the stronger side needs to go first.

October 18, 2004

Vote Now At BobHarris.Com

Here are the results of Bob Harris' most recent daily poll. I'm pleased so many people felt the same way as me about envying the dead.

Bob's polls are extremely funny. So funny it makes me resentful and jealous, which really is the highest compliment I have.

secrecy and privilege cover

Let's Join Together And Grotesquely Distort Judaism

All great religions deserve the chance to be grotesquely distorted. After all, what's more beautiful than taking the purest expressions of mankind's best instincts, and twisting them into excuses for hatred and bloodshed? Nothing! What's better than using a religion as an obscene justification for the violation of the religion's most basic tenets? Nothing is better!

Christianity and Islam have had the advantage over Judaism in this area for a thousand years, because they had states claiming to be based on them. Thus, when Jerry Falwell writes that "God is Pro-War," he's drawing on a deep, proud, grotesque tradition. Likewise when Osama bin Laden learnedly explains why it's A-OK with Allah to murder 3,000 people.

So Judaism really has some ground to make up here. Fortunately, the Israeli army is giving it its best shot, most recently by naming an attack on Gaza "Days of Penitence."

The Days of Penitence, of course, are the ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur. During them, you're supposed to think about your sins, seek out those you've wronged, and ask forgiveness.

So -- it's pretty funny to name a military operation after them. What a great joke on the Palestinians! And what a great joke on anyone who thought the Days of Penitence could signify something other than dealing out death! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Too bad Albert Einstein isn't alive to see it. He'd think it was pretty funny too. Right?

"...my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain -- especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state. We are no longer the Jews of the Maccabee period. A return to a nation in the political sense of the word would be equivalent to turning away from the spiritualization of our community which we owe to the genius of our prophets."

I bet what Einstein would enjoy most of all is that now, when you search Google for the phrase "Days of Penitence," the top six results are about the IDF killing people. Only when you get to number seven do they start having anything to do with Judaism.

UPDATE: Rafael Esterson points out: "The Hebrew "Yemei Teshuvah' can be translated as 'Days of penitence', but also as 'Days of responding' - which is the pun at work here."

He adds: "Does this make the action any less deplorable? No. Is it important to get these cultural nuances? I think so." I agree on both counts.

October 17, 2004

Thank God Our Political Analysts Are Completely Different From Saddam Hussein

It's not just our leaders who see the world in the same way as Saddam Hussein. So do our political analysts, apparently.

The best example of this is The Threatening Storm by Kenneth Pollack. Read today, it's REALLY funny. First of all, Pollack explains that we innocent Americans will never be able to understand the thinking of someone like Saddam Hussein. Then he describes Saddam in ways that seem consciously chosen to make him sound like George Bush. And then Pollack himself behaves in exactly the ways he says Saddam does.

For instance, this appears on page 268 of The Threatening Storm:

[Saddam's] own determination to interpret geopolitical calculations to suit what he wants to believe anyway lead him to construct bizarre scenarios that he convinces himself are highly likely.

Then Pollack falls into this reverie on page 338:

Imagine how different the Middle East and the world would be if a new Iraqi state were stable, prosperous, and a force for progress in the region, not a source of violence and instability. Imagine if we could rebuild Iraq as a model of what a modern Arab state could be, showing the frustrated and disenfranchised of the Arab world what they should be trying to fashion. Imagine if there were a concrete symbol demonstrating that America seeks to help the Arab world rather than repress. Invading Iraq might not just be our least bad alternative, it potentially could be our best course of action.

Yes... just imagine!

Thank God Our Leaders Are Complete Different From Etc., Etc.

It really is peculiar, and more than a little terrifying, to see the degree to which America's leaders share the worldview of al Qaeda and/or Saddam Hussein. See here, here, here and here.

For more, here's a quote from a new book about al Qaeda and its strategy:

The sheer audacity and magnitude of the massive blow struck against the United States was designed to galvanize undecided Muslims by convincing them that the Islamist militants were irresistibly powerful and that the United States, the arrogant protector of apostate regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, was abhorrently weak.

With sides reversed, this of course was a large part of the American rationale for invading Iraq. Our shock and awe was supposed to show the Muslim world (as well as our recalcitrant allies in Europe) that we're "irresistibly powerful." Or as Richard Haass, Colin Powell's former deputy put it:

"...if there was a hidden reason, the one I heard most was that we needed to change the geopolitical momentum after 9/11. People wanted to show that we can dish it out as well as take it."

The importance of "geopolitical momentum" was put most starkly by Osama bin Laden himself soon after the 9/11 attacks:

"When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse."

This grotesque misunderstanding of human nature was immediately endorsed by our side's psychotics. The only difference is that we're going to out-strong horse bin Laden.

Here's Daniel Pipes, just after the invasion of Iraq:

As bin Laden himself put it,“When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse." An allied victory will establish who the strong horse is.

And here's J.D. Hayworth, a Republican congressman writing in National Review a year ago:

Iraq further showed that we were willing to put lots of Americans on the ground, in harm's way in the heart of the Middle East, to protect our interests... the U.S. revealed itself to be the strong horse, a perceived reversal of fortune that has had positive repercussions throughout the region.

And here's Judith Miller, just as right as she always is:

"And as for the Arab street and the root causes, I think I will have to quote Osama bin Laden himself, "People prefer a strong horse." The United States is emerging as the strong horse."

My favorite thing about Daniel Pipes is that George Bush appointed him to the board of the U.S. Institute for Peace. Too bad there's no Islamic Institute for Peace for bin Laden to belong to.

October 16, 2004

It's Opposites Day At The New York Times!

Today in the New York Times, black is white, rain falls up, and Judith Miller is a hero of the First Amendment. Also, when the government intervenes massively in the marketplace by granting monopoly rights to companies via copyrights, that's the "free market" at work:

Because free-market pricing of drugs and other health care still seems to be so politically sacrosanct, the policy proposals [to lower prices] tend to tinker around the margins.

When the government gives permission to just one entity to manufacture something, and will prosecute anyone else who does, this is the exact opposite of a free market.

Likewise, it would be the opposite of a free market if the government granted one person in America monopsony rights to buy apples, and prosecuted anyone else who bought apples.

But that doesn't matter at the New York Times, where every day is opposites day.

P.S. Ever since I learned the word "monopsony" I have used it every chance I get.

P.P.S. The incredible thing is Judith Miller is sort of a hero of the First Amendment. How did THAT happen?

Thank God Our Leaders Are Completely Different From Saddam Hussein

See here, here and here for previous exciting episodes in this long-running series.

Externally, Saddam applied the... predilection to attack perceived threats preemptively.

-- page 6 of the "Transmittal Message" section of Volume I of the final Iraq Survey Group Report

The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security.

-- The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, George Bush, September 17, 2002

Great Advice From Colin Powell

You may remember how, after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Colin Powell told the world, "Watch America. Watch how we deal with this."

Hey, that's a great idea. Let's watch:

The Pentagon plans to promote Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, former head of military operations in Iraq, risking a confrontation with members of Congress because of the prisoner abuses that occurred during his tenure.

Senior Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have privately told colleagues they are determined to pin a fourth star on Sanchez, two senior defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said this week.

Rumsfeld and others recognize that Sanchez remains politically "radioactive," in the words of a third senior defense official, and would wait until after the Nov. 2 presidential election and investigations of the Abu Ghraib scandal have faded before putting his name forward.

Why is that Sanchez is considered "radioactive"? Oh, now I remember:

Unnamed officials at the Florida headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, which has overall military responsibility for Iraq, objected to some of the 32 interrogation tactics approved by Sanchez in September, including the more severe methods that he had said could be used at any time in Abu Ghraib with the consent of the interrogation officer in charge...

The high-pressure options that remained included taking someone to a less hospitable location for interrogation; manipulating his or her diet; imposing isolation for more than 30 days; using military dogs to provoke fear; and requiring someone to maintain a "stress position" for as long as 45 minutes. These were not dropped by Sanchez until a scandal erupted in May over photographs depicting abuse at the prison.

(Via Under the Same Sun.)

T.G.O.L.A.C.D.F.S.H., Part 3 of 9,704

I'm getting tired of writing out Thank God Our Leaders Are Completely Different From Saddam Hussein so many times, so I think I'll start abbreviating it.

Saddam did not accept the right of the United Nations to impose any conditions on Iraq, Iraq's signature on the U.N. charter notwithstanding.

-- The Threatening Storm by Kenneth Pollack, p. 61

The truth is we should never turn America's national security decisions over to international bodies or leaders of other countries.

-- George Bush, October 15, 2004

The funny thing is that we now know Iraq did -- after many years of deception and noncompliance -- accept its WMD obligations under the relevant UN resolutions. Yes, so funny. Ha ha.

In fact, one of the most startling things about the Duelfer report is it says Saddam repeatedly told regime officials that Iraq would not restart its WMD programs, if the Security Council "abides by its obligations pertaining to these resolutions."

The report presumes Saddam was referring to paragraph 14 of UN Security Council Resolution 687. 687 imposed a WMD ban on Iraq, but also stated this was a step toward making the mideast "a zone free from weapons of mass destruction." America always remembered the part about disarming Iraq, but always seemed to forget this other part. I wonder why.

As far as Bush goes, the simple truth is that every country that signs the UN Charter thereby turns "national security decisions over to international bodies." Of course, no country abides by that if they can get away with it. But that's why I juxtaposed those quotes -- Saddam hated the UN's rules, but so does the US. The main difference is that we can get away with defying them, and Saddam couldn't.

October 15, 2004

Exactly How High IS The US Government?

Along with the peculiar ruminations of Charles Duelfer, one of the most puzzling things about the CIA's final Iraq WMD report is an odd illustration on the background of every page of the introduction.

It's a missile wrapped around... something. But what?


As Jack Handey says, "Anytime I see something screech across a room and latch onto someone's neck, and the guy screams and tries to get it off, I have to laugh, because what IS that thing?!"

October 14, 2004

Almost As Gripping As The Extended 1040 Form

The final CIA report on Iraq's WMD was in three gigantic pdf files. And then they put it in columns that made it very difficult to cut and paste sections of it. In fact, it was such a pain in the ass to work with that I suspect they did it on purpose. But now GlobalSecurity.org has turned it into an html document. This is very good news for those people who love to read 1000-page long government documents. I believe there are as many as three of us.

Some friends have questioned whether Charles Duelfer really did say the incredibly strange things in the report's introduction that I attributed to him. Well, now anyone can easily see see for themselves:

This report will also attempt to broaden understanding by recalibrating the perspective of the reader. The Regime was run by Saddam and the calculations he made concerning WMD were based on his view of relevant related factors not ours. Optimally, we would remove the reader temporarily from his reality and time. We would collect the flow of images, sounds, feelings, and events that passed into Saddam's mind and project them as with a Zeiss Planetarium projection instrument. The reader would see the Universe from Saddam's point in space. Events would flow by the reader as they flowed by Saddam.

I must say I'm impressed by Duelfer's professional acumen. The Zeiss Planetarium projection instrument is really the best way to place someone inside the mind of middle eastern dictators. Obviously for far east dictators like Kim Jong Il, you'd want to use the Morgan Planetarium projection device. But the Zeiss is definitely the way to go with Saddam.

Liars? Idiots? Liars AND Idiots?

Some time ago, I mentioned that everyone in America should be praying to god the Bush administration was consciously lying about Iraq. Because if they actually believed everything they were saying, we're REALLY in trouble.

I like to believe I was one of the first people on the praying-to-god bandwagon. Because recently Seymour Hersh said the same thing. And now Charley Reese has chimed in:

Whether the president is actually in denial or is misleading the public for partisan purposes, I will leave to your judgment. It would be less dangerous if he were engaged in deliberate deception. That, at least, is a sign of sanity.

In addition, veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery has made a similar evaluation about Israel. Here he writes about claims by the Israeli army that UN ambulances in Gaza were being used to carry weapons:

Sharon ordered his generals to supply the Foreign Office’s propaganda department with secret army photos, in order to prove that UNRWA cooperates with the “terror organizations”.

The next day, all the Israeli TV channels displayed aerial reconnaissance photos showing a Qassam rocket launcher being loaded into an UNRWA ambulance... Two days later, the whole thing came apart. UNRWA claimed that the man in the picture was not carrying a rocket launcher but a stretcher. The generals first issued a denial, than stuttered, then half-heartedly admitted that, perhaps, a deplorable mistake had occurred: the professional analysts in the army intelligence department, lowly sergeants or second lieutenants, may have misinterpreted the pictures.

Did the analysts lie or did they believe what they said?...

If the experts lied, they did nothing unusual. It can be said that they did what intelligence people do all over the world: supply their bosses with the information they want to hear. Bush wants to attack Iraq? The CIA provides information about Sadam’s WMDs. Sharon wants to destroy UNRWA? Army intelligence provides photos of Hansen’s rocket launchers...

So it is not surprising that army intelligence is lying. In countless appearances before the cabinet and the Knesset foreign-and-security committee, the intelligence chiefs have peddled outright lies and false assessments. That’s nothing new.

But there is also the possibility that the analysts did believe that they were providing accurate information. And that is even more frightening.

Of course, it should also be pointed out that both governments may both be lying and believe their own lies. That may sound weird, but if you haven't noticed, people have the capacity to do all kinds of strange things. Particularly when they've been driven insane by power.

UPDATE: Get Your War On gets on board too:

You know what thought woke me up at three in the morning last night? Rumsfeld, Feith and Perle are actually more incompetent than they are evil. How is that possible?

October 13, 2004

The Grand Re-Opening Of Bob Harris

Bob Harris, longtime contributor to This Modern World and occasional contributor here, has started his own... uh, thing where you link to and post comments about the news. Is there some commonly-used, hideously wrong term for this type of website? Perhaps so, but I prefer to close my eyes to reality.

Anyway, I've admired Bob's work for quite a while. I also admire his career, which is one of the most impressive, unusual and intriguing on earth. He is more than a Renaissance man; he's like five or six Renaissance men welded together. He has:

• Written for the hit show CSI • Been a five-time winner on Jeopardy, as well as a participant in their all-time championship at Radio City Music Hall • Authored Steal This Book and Get Life Without Parole • Hosted a show on Working Assets Radio • Done radio commentaries distributed worldwide, including on Armed Forces Radio • Written a widely published humor/political column • Been a successful standup comedian • Read the audiobook version of Noam Chomsky's The New Military Humanism • encountered a polite mugger in a European church (only partly career-related) • ...and more!

If you like this site, you will love his. Likewise, if you dislike this site, you will loathe his. Or if you feel neutral about this site, you will feel neutral toward his site in a way you've never felt neutral before. The point is, Bob Harris stirs strong emotions in people. Go to BobHarris.com.

Hersh On European Opposition To Bush

A few years ago William Greider wrote a great article for the Nation about what Europe might do to restrain the Bush administration. As Steven Bodzin has pointed out in the comments section here, this subject was also addressed by Seymour Hersh in his talk at Berkeley.

Here's what Hersh said, as transcribed by Bodzin. This section begins at 1:08:34.

If Bush gets in, what's going to happen, I think, he's going to escalate. I think Europe's gonna change. The UN's gonna change because Europe's going to unite against us. The Germans and the French will definitely lead. I think the Brits, even with Blair, I think Blair's beginning to soften all the way now, he's probably going to get reelected. I don't know what's gonna happen in Australia, but that guy might lose, the pro-war guy, but in any case, Blair will probably get to be reelected. But I think he's softening. Europe's going to be a new collective against us. Against Bush. There's that much anger against him now. It's really serious.

And I think the other thing that will happen is that the Europeans might do what I KNOW some of their foreign ministers are thinking. This I know personally. I know first hand. They think it's time, if we're going to get the Middle East resolved, it's got to come, to start with Israel and Palestine, they think it's time to take it away from us. We're not the legitimate interlocutors anymore. (applause) Well, yeah.

But tell that to Schroeder. Schroeder's too weak to do it. Schroeder has a very weak campaign coming. He's got a weak very right-wing candidate. If Schroeder does better in the next election, if Schroeder feels stronger, and Bush is reelected, and he continues this madness, which he's going to do, he is absolutely going to do it, he is going to believe that whatever the cost to him in his judgment in history, the bodybags, he's going to carry this war. He's going to bomb and bomb, because he's got no other options. I think the Europeans are actually going to become a very violent bloc against us. And that's going to be very interesting.

Letters To Americans

The website Open Democracy is running a series called Letters to Americans. The current, twelfth letter is particularly interesting. It's from Faiza Al-Araji, an Iraqi mother who runs a website, with a response by Anthony Swofford, ex-US marine and author of a 1991 Gulf war memoir, Jarhead.

This makes me think of Andrei Sakharov's 1974 prediction of the internet, and the uses to which it would be put:

"Far in the future, more than 50 years from now, I foresee a universal information system (UIS), which will give everyone access at any given moment to the contents of any book that has ever been published or any magazine or any fact. The UIS will have individual miniature-computer terminals, central control points for the flood of information, and communication channels incorporating thousands of artificial communications from satellites, cables, and laser lines. Even the partial realization of the UIS will profoundly affect every person, his leisure activities, and his intellectual and artistic development. Unlike television... the UIS will give each person maximum freedom of choice and will require individual activity. But the true historic role of the UIS will be to break down the barriers to the exchange of information among countries and people."

Hackworth: "Muzzling Soldiers Is Nothing New"

Via Antiwar.com, here's a relevant column by David Hackworth about the internet and how it's preventing military high ups from muzzling soldiers as well as they have previously:

... after dealing with the fallout [from Vietnam], Washington vowed that never again would the press have so much access and freedom. And from Grenada to Panama to Kuwait to the reporters embedded last year in Iraq, the Pentagon has been into keeping the American people in the dark...

But one thing no one can control is the Net. Today there’s a laptop in almost every bunker, manned by grunts who are a whole lot smarter and faster than their watchdogs. Which means that despite a hogtied press corps, we’re getting the unspun word from Iraq – and the news ain’t good.

The brass are going nuts trying to stop this electronic tsunami of truth that’s washing over the land courtesy of a generation of sharp kids who’ve been armed with computers since age 4. Kids who glory in staying three irrepressible steps ahead of their minders via blogs, dummy ISP addresses and cute tricks like sending e-mails to cutouts for forwarding to guys like me.

So the brass have reverted to the weapon they’ve used to silence warriors since long before Caesar was running Rome: intimidation. The troops are being warned: Shut up; and if you don’t button it, you’ll be drummed out of the service...

“I resent the fascist-style approach that tries to paint any objection of current policy as traitorous,” says Ken Druhut. “I am a proud vet and gratefully enjoy the freedoms that our military has provided. But this Gestapo stuff has to stop.”

Hersh Tells Story On NPR

Fables of the Reconstruction says Seymour Hersh did indeed tell his story about a possible massacre of Iraqis by American soldiers when on NPR's Diane Rehm Show. Hersh was on the show on Friday, October 1, a week before he spoke at Berkeley. The online streaming doesn't seem to be working now, but according to Fables of the Reconstruction, this is what Hersh said beginning at 12:28:

"I got a call [from] a guy in the field, an officer, he's got a ... unit near a village. ... There was a group of Iraqis they'd been very friendly with, guards around a granary, and his men had gotten very friendly with these Iraqis - they were paid a few bucks each to protect the granary.... [A]nother unit came in and began to kill all the guards ... in front of this other unit. And this ... officer tried to stop it, couldn't stop it, tried to complain about it; was told, "No, we've got a great kill, we've killed a lot of insurgents...."

October 12, 2004

Let Me Get Incredibly Pretentious For A Second

In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the Czech author Milan Kundera famously said that "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." Or as George Orwell, patron saint of this website, put it: "He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future." The older I get the more I understand what they meant.

Kundera had firsthand experience with the crude ways communist governments tried to control memory -- airbrushing people out of photographs, the brazen rewriting of historical events, and so on, much like in 1984. However, Americans need to recognize how our own history is continually rewritten by our government and media. While they do it more subtly than in communist Czechoslovakia, it's just as pernicious and often more effective.

History was rewritten to make Americans believe Iraq had banned weapons -- whereas if we'd remembered the past accurately, we would have all known how unlikely it was. And the WMD story is just one small example of the effects distorted memory has had on American politics. Almost everything that "everyone knows" in the US is just as false as what everyone "knew" about Iraq.

The internet is an extraordinarily powerful tool for people struggling against power precisely because it enormously strengthens and amplifies human memory. There wouldn't have been nearly as much worldwide opposition to the invasion of Iraq without the internet helping people remember the real history of U.S.-Iraq relations.

Indeed, I think the huge quantity of lies by the Bush administration is a testament to memory, and something that should make everyone feel optimistic rather than the opposite. In the past it was possible for governments to start wars with just one or two lies. But the internet helped create a collective memory that exposed each Bush lie almost as soon as it was uttered. So they continually had to generate new ones.

I hope the relevance of this to this Hersh story is clear. The internet makes it much easier for people to join together to create shared memory, one that will be available at their fingertips forever. And this memory serves as a weapon against those trying to lie to and rule over us.

All right, then. Now we return to the regularly scheduled jokes.

UPDATE: Here's a nice quote on this subject from a speech welcoming students to the Columbia School of Journalism in 1995:

The creation and preservation of collective memory, whether practiced heroically and clandestinely in Kundera's Czechoslovakia, or openly and freely in New York, is the final object and ultimate significance of your education here.

I would go so far as to interpret "here" to mean not "here at the Columbia School of Journalism" but "here on earth."


Thanks to Atrios, This Modern World, Majority Report on Air America and everyone else for paying attention to this important story. If everyone pulls together it should have some impact, although given Hersh's statement I can't help but be concerned with the effect it might have on the lieutenant who reported it.

If new visitors would like a break from grim news, you might enjoy these humor pieces by my friend Michael Gerber and myself:

New York Times
Village Voice
Village Voice

Uh Oh

Seymour Hersh spoke at Berkeley last Friday, October 8th. He told a story about recently receiving a call from an American lieutenant in Iraq who'd just witnessed other American soldiers killing non-combatant Iraqis.

I typed up what he said from the Real Video file here. The story begins at about 41:45.

UPDATE: I'm told Hersh has said much the same at other events, including this October 1 appearance on the Diane Rehm Show. I haven't listened to it myself, however.

HERSH: I got a call last week from a soldier -- it's different now, a lot of communication, 800 numbers. He's an American officer and he was in a unit halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border. It's a place where we claim we've done great work at cleaning out the insurgency. He was a platoon commander. First lieutenant, ROTC guy.

It was a call about this. He had been bivouacing outside of town with his platoon. It was near, it was an agricultural area, and there was a granary around. And the guys that owned the granary, the Iraqis that owned the granary... It was an area that the insurgency had some control, but it was very quiet, it was not Fallujah. It was a town that was off the mainstream. Not much violence there. And his guys, the guys that owned the granary, had hired, my guess is from his language, I wasn't explicit -- we're talking not more than three dozen, thirty or so guards. Any kind of work people were dying to do. So Iraqis were guarding the granary. His troops were bivouaced, they were stationed there, they got to know everybody...

They were a couple weeks together, they knew each other. So orders came down from the generals in Baghdad, we want to clear the village, like in Samarra. And as he told the story, another platoon from his company came and executed all the guards, as his people were screaming, stop. And he said they just shot them one by one. He went nuts, and his soldiers went nuts. And he's hysterical. He's totally hysterical. And he went to the captain. He was a lieutenant, he went to the company captain. And the company captain said, "No, you don't understand. That's a kill. We got thirty-six insurgents."

You read those stories where the Americans, we take a city, we had a combat, a hundred and fifteen insurgents are killed. You read those stories. It's shades of Vietnam again, folks, body counts...

You know what I told him? I said, fella, I said: you've complained to the captain. He knows you think they committed murder. Your troops know their fellow soldiers committed murder. Shut up. Just shut up. Get through your tour and just shut up. You're going to get a bullet in the back. You don't need that. And that's where we are with this war.

October 11, 2004

Thank God Our Leaders Are Completely Different From Osama Bin Laden

Okay, our leaders may be a little like Saddam Hussein. But at least they're completely different from a madman like Osama bin Laden.

HAMID MIR: In your statement of Oct 7, you expressed satisfaction over the Sept 11 attacks, although a large number of innocent people perished in them, hundreds among them were Muslims. Can you justify the killing of innocent men in the light of Islamic teachings?
OBL: This is a major point in jurisprudence... The American people should remember that they pay taxes to their government, they elect their president, their government manufactures arms and gives them to Israel and Israel uses them to massacre Palestinians. The American Congress endorses all government measures and this proves that the entire America is responsible for the atrocities perpetrated against Muslims. The entire America, because they elect the Congress.

-- Osama bin Laden, November 7, 2001

Among the justifications offered now, particularly by the Air Force in recent briefings, is that Iraqi civilians were not blameless for Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. "The definition of innocents gets to be a little bit unclear,” said a senior Air Force officer, noting that many Iraqis supported the invasion of Kuwait. “They do live there, and ultimately the people have some control over what goes on in their country.”

-- Washington Post, June 23, 1991

OBL: ... if an enemy occupies a Muslim territory and uses common people as human shield, then it is permitted to attack that enemy. For instance, if bandits barge into a home and hold a child hostage, then the child's father can attack the bandits and in that attack even the child may get hurt.

-- Osama bin Laden, November 7, 2001

American and coalition forces have begun a concerted campaign against the regime of Saddam Hussein... In this conflict, American and coalition forces face enemies who have no regard for the conventions of war or rules of morality. Iraqi officials have placed troops and equipment in civilian areas, attempting to use innocent men, women and children as shields for the dictator's army. I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm.

-- George Bush, March 23, 2003

Tony Blair And The Case Of The Magic Anthrax

There were many funny things about the lies in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. But the funniest was the claim by Tony Blair that Iraq had produced not just regular anthrax... but MAGIC anthrax.

You see, when Saddam's son-in-law Hussein Kamel defected in 1995, he told UNSCOM that Iraq had produced large quantities of anthrax before the Gulf War in 1991. This anthrax was never found. Kamel told UNSCOM it had been secretly destroyed in 1991 after the war. (Of course, the US and UK covered up the fact Kamel had said this, but as we now know, he was telling the truth.)

The Kamel/anthrax situation presented a challenge for Tony Blair.

On the one hand, he wanted to say Saddam was still hiding this anthrax somewhere.

BUT... on the other hand, he wanted to claim that after Kamel defected, Kamel directed inspectors to where the anthrax was hidden. This never happened, of course (since Iraq had in fact destroyed it in four years earlier 1991). But claiming it HAD would make it seem Iraq could still be hiding weapons in 2003. After all, if they'd successfully hid them from inspections before, it was reasonable to think they could so again. This would also mean inspections weren't effective without high-level defectors.

Unfortunately, these two claims are irreconcilable. This anthrax couldn't both (1) have been found after Kamel's defection and (2) still be hidden somewhere in 2003.

Unless... unless it was MAGIC ANTHRAX.

Which apparently it was.

Tony Blair, February 25, 2003:

"Is it not reasonable that [Saddam] provides evidence that he has destroyed 8,500 litres of anthrax that he admitted possessing?"

Tony Blair, March 2, 2003:

"As I have said, the UN inspectors found no trace at all of Saddam's offensive biological weapons programme -- which, of course, he claimed didn't exist - until his lies were revealed by his own son-in-law. Only then did the inspectors find over 8,000 litres of concentrated anthrax..."

Thank god we invaded, so we could get to the bottom of Tony Blair and the Case of the Magic Anthrax.

P.S. Blair was also lying when he claimed "UN inspectors found no trace at all of Saddam's offensive biological weapons programme...until his lies were revealed by his own son-in-law." This was particularly brazen on his part, since it was directly contradicted by UNSCOM's own online chronology:

1 Jul 1995 As a result of UNSCOM's investigations and in the light of irrefutable evidence, Iraq admits for the first time the existence of an offensive biological weapons programme...

8 Aug 1995 General Hussein Kamel...leaves Iraq for Jordan.

Humanity Stunned As Bush Accidentally Tells Truth

Like Tony Blair before him, George Bush has accidentally told the truth about the invasion of Iraq. It happened during the second presidential debate:

"Sanctions were not working. The United Nations was not effective at removing Saddam Hussein."

Now, officially -- that is, according to the relevant UN resolutions -- the purpose of the sanctions was to give Iraq an incentive to disarm. Once that happened, the sanctions would be lifted.

But since 1991 the US has been committed to regime change in Iraq. And the sanctions were seen as a useful tool in this effort -- the hope was that the economic devastation of Iraq would encourage a coup. As an Air Force planner said right after the Gulf War:

We wanted to let people know, "Get rid of this guy and we’ll be more than happy to assist in rebuilding. We’re not going to tolerate Saddam Hussein or his regime. Fix that, and we’ll fix your electricity.”

So as James Baker put it way back in May, 1991, America was "not interested in seeing a relaxation of sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power." Later Madeleine Albright would explain, "We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted."

But this led to difficulties for the US. We had to pretend we actually cared about Iraqi WMD, so we could justify the maintenance of sanctions. As Seth Ackerman puts it in this excellent article, "the Clinton administration engaged in a pattern of stretching and distorting weapons data to bolster their claim that Saddam Hussein was still hiding an illicit arsenal."

So, credit to George Bush where credit is due. He told the truth. From the US perspective, even though Iraq had disarmed, sanctions weren't working. The UN had failed because the sanctions didn't remove Saddam.

ADDENDUM: Note again that the Air Force guy quoted above told Iraqis that with Saddam gone, "we’ll fix your electricity." Turned out we were kidding about that. Pretty funny!

Yet Another Story About Male Senators And Lesbianism

Atrios writes here about Tom Coburn, the Republican senatorial candidate in Oklahoma. Coburn recently said this:

"You know, Josh Burkeen is our rep down here in the southeast area. He lives in Colgate and travels out of Atoka. He was telling me lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they only let one girl go to the bathroom. Now think about it. Think about that issue. How is it that that's happened to us? How it is that our leaders—[tape ends]"

This reminds me of my own encounter involving the US Senate, bathrooms, and the dangers of lesbianism.

I grew up outside Washington, D.C., and went to junior high school with the son of a male senator—a senator who was one of the leading forces in efforts to keep gays and lesbians out of the military.

One day someone brought a copy of Hustler into school, and between classes we went into a bathroom and gathered around to give it the close examination it deserved. As we flipped through it, the senator's son remarked: "Wow, lesbians really turn me on."

I remember thinking two things:

1. I hear you, my brother.

2. Uh...is this why your family is so concerned about gays and lesbians in the military? Are you worried America's lesbians will all join the army and there won't be any left to appear in Hustler? Is that what this odd fixation of your father's is about—the threat of a Lesbian Shortage?

Likewise, in public Tom Coburn will talk trash about lesbianism. But I suspect his real concern is the Oklahoma girls are doing it in bathrooms, where he can't see.

Thus, I have come up with this slogan for Coburn and his senatorial ilk: "We hate the sinner, but LOVE the sin."

October 10, 2004

A View From Belgium

Since I asked last week, I've gotten email from quite a few people from outside the US. However, there are some new countries that have shown up in the site statistics that I'm particularly curious about -- Qatar, Venezuela, and Israel. If you're from there and have a second, please write me at tinyrevolution [at] yahoo [dot] com. I'd love to hear your take on the war in Iraq, the world generally, and if you remember, how you came across this site. And of course I'd be delighted to hear from people elsewhere too. (Let me know if I can post what you write here.)

Below is the perspective of FDK from Brussels. I found it very compelling.


Iraq seen from Belgium (and I guess it’s the same all over Europe) is very simple: this is a dirty war, completely useless and with no solution at all in the short term, on the contrary. The reaction of President Bush on this issue reinforces the European prejudice of the naive and rather dumb American who thinks that a war follows a Hollywood script: the good and the bad fight a terrible fight and the good guy wins. Everybody here is very aware that this scheme is utter nonsense. Why ?

Let’s start with a touch of “couleur locale”: a few weeks ago, on September 4th the end of WWII was commemorated in the very small and calm town where I was born. That day in ’44 German soldiers tried to flee to Germany through smaller country roads. It was Sunday and a family stood on the front door to see the Germans passing by. Those scary Germans gunned the whole family down and drove further. Two hours later a huge British tank appeared in the street of my parents and everybody was urged to stay inside. The next column of Germans was attacked by the British flame-thrower and all their ammunition exploded. After a few moment my father couldn’t hold it, opened the door and saw the British soldiers standing there while Germans were rolling over the street completely in flames, crying and dying; about ten houses were burning down. Our house was the last untouched. That was a very small event in this war. You have to multiply this ‘small’ event by a million as you talk about the deaths and destroyed buildings of the whole war, and then you know what WWII means in Europe. Here soldiers are not heroes; soldiers are killers; war is not a solution, war is complete destruction with only losers; the cause of a war is always stupid because it needs generations to come again to normal. That’s the opinion of the overwhelming majority in Belgium and I am sure in whole Europe.

Madeleine Albright repeats here on TV, where she is interviewed about her new book, that Europeans don’t understand what 9/11 changed in the psyche of the Americans. I think she is right, and in fact we don’t even try to decipher this subtleties. We really understand the horror of men and women, jumping down from the WTC, believe me. But while commemorating, 50 years after, the killing of millions of people and the devastation of thousandths of cities, small towns or neighborhoods, we do not understand that a normal homo sapiens starts a war machine of 60 to 100 billion dollars for two buildings and less than 3000 victims – certainly when we know that more people were killed in the US during the same year by guns and cars. This Iraq war is in our psyche a case of pure overacting. And every picture of American soldiers in front of burning buildings with dead corpses on the ground and crying people all around, every report on the non-existing of WMD, every killed American soldier, every car bombing, every killing of people who want to make their living as policeman or a truck driver, every kidnapping only for the money (the 2 Italian Simona’s, the French journalists and the poor Nepalese workers) enhances our perplexity in front of what we consider as an abysm of stupidity. And on top frolics an US president, pretending on every TV screen that we live in a safer world. We stay speechless. But on the question who was right and who was wrong: Blix or Cheney, there is no doubt about the answer here: Blix was right Cheney was wrong.

But there is a another “but” --

We have no answer to the real war against small groups all over the planet, with mafia methods and a political agenda - which by the way is a “war” without “major military operations”. The US stays the only partner able to attack this problem politically and technically as well. Here in Belgium the only politically acceptable military actions are humanitarian ones - planes dropping food over the desert. Remember that the Belgian army was “brought to justice” by the widows of the soldiers killed in the Belgian intervention during the genocide in Rwanda. The military budget is decreasing every year. It represents at the moment less than 2,5 billion euro a year, what’s equal to the US army budget for one and a half day. Our public opinion doesn’t want to see the problem and speaking about guns is very immoral while gay marriage isn't. But in the mean time we are not working on what is what’s really needed: an intelligent military intervention force without a regular army.

Brussels, Belgium

October 09, 2004

The (Evasion Of) Peace Process

What I dig about the far right in most countries is that they're honest. Horrifically honest.

Here's Dov Weinglass, Ariel Sharon's senior advisor, in a very important interview with Ha'aretz:

... this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress... there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.

I also appreciate that Weinglass explains Sharon's strategy is in response to various threats. Not threats from Palestinians, of course, but threats from Israelis who'd like peace:

Time was not on our side... Domestically... the Geneva Initiative had gained broad support. And then we were hit with the letters of officers and letters of pilots and letters of commandos [refusing to serve in the territories].

The supposed "peace process" has always been about evading peace. But it's progress to have it out in the open. Just like it's progress to have it out in the open that our only agenda with Iraq since 1991 has been ousting Saddam, rather than all the bullshit about WMD, human rights, etc.

David Kay Accidentally Explains War

Here's something David Kay just said about the new WMD report:

"Look, Saddam was delusional. He had a lot of intent. He wanted to be Saladin the Great, of the Middle East yet again. He wanted to put Iraq in a preeminent position to remove the US from the region."

As I pointed out recently, this perspective actually is gravely undermined by the new report itself. But that aside, this statement is quite revealing. Kay has expressed perfectly the worldview of the US foreign policy elite.

That view is this: we're going to run the middle east. Period. That's what drives US policy in the region -- not WMD, not human rights abuses, not Islamic fundamentalism, not even Israel.

As the Project for a New American Century famously put it:

The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Of course it transcends the issue of Saddam Hussein, just like it transcended the issue of Mosaddeq, Nasser, or Khomeini. Even with them gone, there are 250 million mideasterners who might like some say in their lives. And that must be stopped at all costs.

The funny thing is Kay is surely oblivious to the appalling arrogance of his statement. Maybe he'd understand better if Iraq had just invaded the US and he heard a powerful Iraqi say they had to do it because an American "wanted to remove Iraq from North America." Even if the American were a tyrant, that statement might rub Kay the wrong way. Kay might even think: uh, dude, Iraq isn't in North America. It's, like, 6000 miles away.

President's Brain Still Not Functioning Smoothly

Ha ha ha.

The truth of the matter is if you listen carefully Saddam would still be in power if he [John Kerry] were the president of the United States. And the world would be a lot better off.

October 08, 2004

Stand Back From Monitor And Wear Something Waterproof

A few months ago I noted the fiftieth anniversary of the CIA overthrow of the government of Guatemala. 200,000 Guatemalans were later murdered by the right wing regime we installed.

One of the architects of the coup was E. Howard Hunt, subsequently to become famous for his prominent role in Watergate. Recently Anne Louise Bardach interviewed Hunt for Slate. Here's a delightful snippet:

SLATE: Some 200,000 civilians were killed in the civil war following the coup, which lasted for the next 40 years. Were all those deaths unforeseen?

HUNT: Deaths? What deaths?







That sound you just heard was my head exploding.

Ah, it was nice having a head. We had some good times together. But frankly, my head had been under a lot of pressure lately, and this doesn't come as a surprise. It may end up being better for both of us it blew up. My head will no longer have to suffer the pain of thinking about things, and I won't have to carry it around on my neck anymore.

I'm truly coming to believe Saddam Hussein could easily fit into the American political system. Don't believe me? Well, Saddam is actually BETTER than Howard Hunt. It's true that when Saddam was asked about the gassing of Hallabja, he pretended he wasn't responsible -- but at least he didn't pretend it never happened.

I Am In Geosynchronous Orbit Above You

I'm going to be on Mark Thompson's show "Make It Plain" on XM satellite radio today at 5:15 pm EST for half an hour or so. It's channel 169, The Power. I'll be talking about the Duelfer report.

You need to subscribe to XM and have an XM radio to listen. If you don't subscribe already, I recommend you travel back in time about a week and order it so the radio will get to you by today. I really don't think that's too much to ask, after all the sacrifices I've made for you.

P.S. For those who didn't spend their childhoods obsessively reading Arthur C. Clarke books, geosynchronous refers to satellites that stay in orbit over the same spot on earth. I believe XM radio uses such a satellite.

Personally, I just enjoy the sound of it. Geosynchronous. Mmmmmm.

Hooray For US Foreign Policy. Hip. Hip. Hooray.

I remember speaking to people before the invasion of Iraq who were very exercised about Saddam Hussein being our "sworn enemy." I told them Saddam would probably do most anything to return to the status he had during the eighties as our henchman. And that if he managed it, he'd probably wet his pants with relief.

However, even though I thought that, I still am genuinely shocked by the quotes below from the Iraq Survey Group report. I don't think we'll be hearing much on the news about this.

Throughout the 1990s [Saddam Hussein] tested Washington's willingness to open a dialogue. On multiple occasions very senior Iraq's close to the President made proposals through intermediaries (the author among others) for dialogue with Washington. Baghdad offered flexibility on many issues, including offers to assist in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Moreover, in informal discussions, senior officials allowed that, if Iraq had a security relationship with the United States, it might be inclined to dispense with WMD programs and/or ambitions.
-- page 4 of the "Transmittal Message" section of Volume I of the final Iraq Survey Group Report

In a custodial debriefing, Saddam said he wanted to develop better relations with the US over the latter part of the 1990s. He said, however, that he was not given a chance because the US refused to listen to anything Iraq had to say.
-- page 31 of the "Regime Strategic Intent" section of Volume I of the final Iraq Survey Group Report

"The case of Saddam Hussein, a sworn enemy of our country, requires a candid appraisal of the facts."
-- Dick Cheney, August 26, 2002

"Saddam Hussein was a threat... He was a threat because he was a sworn enemy to the United States of America."
-- George Bush, June 17, 2004

"Military action is the very last resort for us."
-- George Bush, October 23, 2003

October 07, 2004

Duelfer In The Sky With Diamonds

The new report on Iraq's missing WMD is an impressive piece of work. I'm surprised by the honesty of some sections.

But parts of it are incredibly peculiar. By this I don't mean they're false, or even that I disagree with the general ideas being expressed. They're just -- uh, how shall I put this? Let's just say: they break new stylistic ground in federal government documents.

For instance, from the introduction in Volume I:

This report will also attempt to broaden understanding by recalibrating the perspective of the reader. The Regime was run by Saddam and the calculations he made concerning WMD were based on his view of relevant related factors not ours. Optimally, we would remove the reader temporarily from his reality and time. We would collect the flow of images, sounds, feelings, and events that passed into Saddam's mind and project them as with a Zeiss Planetarium projection instrument. The reader would see the Universe from Saddam's point in space. Events would flow by the reader as they flowed by Saddam.

I... see.

Picture yourself in a boat on the Tigris
With trees used as gallows and mustard gas skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
Uday with kaleidoscope eyes

Then there's this:

Ideally, the reader would see what Saddam saw. Such a transmutation is impossible. However, this report will provide the reader a handrail to grasp in the form of a time line that will also serve as a constant reminder of contemporaneous events that filled the field of Saddam's view.

Yes. When you open the doors of perception, you will see that handrails and time lines and reminders are not separate objects. All is one within the Zeiss Planetarium projection instrument.

And finally:

Complicating understanding and analysis of the former Regime's WMD is the tendency to bring our own assumptions and logic to the examination of the evidence... When considering the very different system that existed under the government of Saddam Hussein, there is a risk of not seeing the meaning and not seeing the implications of the evidence.

Analysts were asked to look for something they may not expect or be able to see. A challenge like that faced by scientists engaged in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Therefore, before we begin this journey together, please buckle yourself securely into the ride, and lick the small, crudely-drawn picture of Daffy Duck on page 62.

Okay, I made that last sentence up. But here's the amazing thing: I did not make up the sentence before.

God bless the person who wrote all this. God bless them, and let's hope their next assignment is rewriting our nation's dishwater-dull tax forms.

Difficult To Know Who To Root For

This story is about a British man who was telling people he wanted to kill and eat pedophiles. (It turns out he did murder and consume a British woman.)

I must admit, it's hard to decide where my sympathies lie here. I can't really endorse cannibalism. But if I don't, Andrew Sullivan will say I'm part of a decadent coastal elite that's mounting a fifth column in support of pedophilia, and Christopher Hitchens will tell everyone I'm objectively pro-pedophile.

W.W. IV: The West Vs. Islamo-Fascism; W.W. V: Weisberg Vs. Morgan-Mar?

Lately this website has developed an unhealthy focus on non-amusing reality. So let's escape from that for a moment and fantasize about fantasy worlds.

My friend Rob Weisberg is alarmingly funny, and one of his specialties is jokes about Star Wars. Generally he likes to reimagine certain scenes, like this:

1. Actual scene from The Empire Strikes Back

VADER: If you only knew the power of the dark side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.

LUKE: He told me enough! He told me you killed him.

VADER: No. I am your father.

Now, the same scene as reimagined by Rob:

VADER: If you only knew the power of the dark side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.

LUKE: He told me enough! He told me you killed him.

Long pause.

VADER: Oh... he did tell you.

Pause. The panel on Vader's chest beeps and starts emitting a sheet of paper.

VADER: Hold on, I'm getting a fax.

2. Actual scene from Return of the Jedi

LUKE: Search your feelings, father. You can't do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.

VADER: It is too late for me, son. The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your master now.

As reimagined by Rob:

LUKE: Search your feelings, father. You can't do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.

VADER: It is too late for me, son. I'm fully vested in the Empire's pension plan. If I were to leave now, it would be a financial catastrophe.

So for a long time I believed Rob was the unquestioned king of this genre of humor. However, my sister has notified Rob has a challenger, named David Morgan-Mar. I still believe Rob will remain on top, but this is undeniably funny.

Humanity Stunned As Blair Accidentally Tells Truth

Shockingly enough, Tony Blair may have told the truth yesterday:

Just as I have had to accept that the evidence now is there were no stockpiles of actual weapons ready to be deployed, I hope others have the honesty to accept that the [Iraq Survey Group] report also shows that sanctions weren't working.

Now, of course I'm not saying Blair told the truth on purpose. As far as I know, that hasn't happened since 1958. However, he did tell the truth by accident. Here's how:

Blair said the sanctions "weren't working." Now, given the official justifications for sanctions, that's obviously untrue. The sanctions were first imposed in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Officially speaking, they were retained after the Gulf War as part of UN Security Council Resolution 687 to give Iraq an incentive to comply with its disarmament obligations, or failing that to prevent Iraq from rearming itself.

From both perspectives, they were a complete success. Iraq did comply -- we now know they haven't had WMD since 1991 -- and was prevented from rearming. (In retrospect it's incredible the sanctions held up as long and as well as they did, given that they should have been lifted years ago.)

However, unofficially the US and UK never would have allowed the sanctions to be lifted as long as Saddam remained in power, whether or not he disarmed. (Actually, it wasn't even that unofficial -- both the Bush I and Clinton administrations said it straight out many times.) The hope was the sanctions would lead to Saddam's overthrow, or short of that, would demonstrate you couldn't defy the US and get away with it.

So from Blair's perspective, the sanctions "weren't working" because they hadn't led to Saddam's overthrow. Hence he told the truth without meaning to.

Scott Ritter: So Right It Verges On Being Rude

I'm just beginning to read the full report of the Iraq Survey Group. And I'm startled to see it states Iraqi nuclear scientist Mahdi Obeidi did hide the centrifuge components and documents on his own -- ie, without regime approval.

The former head of Iraq's pre-1991 centrifuge program [Obeidi] also retained prohibited documents and components in apparent violation of the Regime's directives.
-- Nuclear section of Volume II of the ISG report, page 73 (warning: gigantic pdf file)

As I said here, when Scott Ritter made this claim after Obeidi turned himself in, I didn't believe it. However, I then learned Imad Khadduri concurred with Ritter. Still, I probably wouldn't have bet money on it. (While I did bet someone $1000 that no banned weapons would be found in Iraq, I judged that to be a sure thing.)

I am genuinely surprised by this. I'm also surprised the ISG was honest enough to include it.

If we were a better country, Ritter would be head of the CIA. From the standpoint of justice, it's a tragedy America is so flawed that will never happen. But more than that, from the standpoint of our own safety, it's extremely dangerous that someone with the analytical skills of Ritter has no official influence. It leads to things like 3,000 of my neighbors being crushed and cremated in one morning.

(NOTE: When I say Ritter should be head of the CIA, I'm disregarding the unpleasant claims made about him before the start of the war. I have no idea where the truth lies in that matter. And in any case, while the claims would be relevant to whether he should be appointed to high political office, they have no bearing on his proven analytical ability.)

October 06, 2004

More Funny Than Sad? Or... More Sad Than Funny?

I just taped an interview with SBS Radio in Australia about the final Iraq Survey Group report. I think it was this program, but I'm not sure. Plus I have no idea when it will be broadcast and don't know if you can listen online. Thus, mentioning it serves no purpose except my own vanity.

I don't see that as a problem, however. To my mind, one of the world's bigger problems is not ENOUGH things occur that serve my vanity.

Bob Harris once defined human beings as "tiny pieces of protoplasm attached to gigantic egos."

The Truth Behind The Compulsive Joke-Making

I rarely link to the [REDACTED] of my friend and frequent writing partner Mike Gerber, because I figure most people here probably go there too. But if you haven't already, you really should be sure to read this.

Thank God Our Leaders Are Completely Different From Saddam Hussein, Part CLXIII

Back in the 1980s, in a relaxed meeting with a group of visiting journalists from the Gulf States, Saddam related an illuminating anecdote. "When I was a child, a man walked through my village without carrying a weapon. An old man came up to him and said, 'Why are you asking for trouble?' He said, 'What do you mean?' The old man replied, 'By walking without a weapon you are asking for people to attack you. Carry a weapon so that no blood with be spilled!'"
-- Out of the Ashes by Andrew and Patrick Cockburn, p. 104

"Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength. They are invited by the perception of weakness."

-- Dick Cheney, July 16, 2004

October 05, 2004

Those Who Do Not Learn From... Wait, I Never Learned The End Of That Aphorism

Alexis Smolensk of Business Edge in Canada is a sometimes visitor here. He recently sent me an email about Sulla and Marius, two Consuls who happily encouraged the Roman Republic's decay into the Roman Empire.

Alexis believes America could learn something from this period of Roman history. Fortunately we know that's not true, because Americans are totally different from all humans who've lived before or elsewhere. I'm not sure why this is, but it's one thing we know absolutely for sure.

Nevertheless, this gives Americans an interesting window into the crazy things they're thinking about us in other countries, assuming other countries actually do exist, which has not yet been conclusively proven.

* * *

by Alexis Smolensk

Both Sulla and Marius should be looked at very closely by anyone living in America at the moment. Both of them were quality generals; Sulla was a pupil of Marius.

Let me apologize if any of this repeats things you already know, but I just want to make sure the background is there.

The Roman Republic was established in 509 BC after the rule of kings was overthrown by one Brutus, great great ancestor of the Brutus who later does the deed with Caesar. The Roman state was based upon a rather unequal arrangement of voting by wealth (after all, this was 25 centuries ago, so any kind of vote was forward thinking). The state was overseen by two consuls, who were elected yearly. In fact the American system of President/Vice-President was based upon this idea--that if one were killed the other could carry on.

In war, the two Consuls divided up the business; one stayed at home, the other led the army out. Sometimes the army leader would fail and the they'd switch roles. Sometimes the threat was so great that both consuls would lead an army. And sometimes the consuls just weren't up to the task.

In which event, Rome would elect a dictator: a single individual who would have total power of life and death over every individual. He would have the power to raise an army of any size, seize any property to feed and supply it, and lead it out to fight the enemy. When the danger was gone, the dictator voluntarily stepped down and the consul system was resumed.

For 4 centuries, this worked very well. Rome rose from a small town on the Tiber to the dominant power in the west. But...things were getting more complicated, and the system was breaking down in all sorts of little ways. Such as the distribution of wealth, the lack of willing volunteers to act as soldiers, the number of enemies Rome had, the need to have many outposts on frontiers, etc.

Basically, for most of Rome's history, soldiers were farmers who picked up their weapons in the fall and put them down again when winter came. Almost all wars were fought in a three month period between August and November.

But by the 2nd century BC this wasn't adequate. The law stated that a soldier had to be someone who owned land, and the lands were being grouped together under rich senators who themselves did not fight (they were usually quite aged). Thus the organization of the army was becoming a disaster.

In 107 a happy fellow named Marius was elected consul for the first time. He went to war in north africa against Jugurtha, who was threatening the big senatorial estates in Africa--some sources will say later that the entire province ultimately came under the control of six senators. In any case, Jugurtha was a threat primarily because of the defense of those lands, though the war against Jugurtha was not exactly 'defensive.'

He was elected dictator to deal with the situation in Africa.
In order to have a large enough army, Marius PAID his troops. He ignored the laws saying a soldier needed to have a certain level of wealth, and simply gathered an army out of the impoverished mob.

He won the war handily in North Africa, and then used his position as triumphant general to have himself re-elected to seven consulships in a row. While he was a fairly decent leader, he was the first Roman to be elected to so many consecutive consulships (two was rare).

Marius stepped down around 100 BC (he was aging and not well) and Rome struggled for some years under the old system as it continued to degrade. Socially, the struggle erupting involved the difference between "Romans" and "Italians," the latter being people who dwelt within Italy but were not citizens of the Republic. Marius continued to take part in Roman affairs.

Marius' second-in-command in Africa was Sulla, who was known to be ruthless and a brilliant general. Sulla, more than Marius, was personally responsible for the destruction of Jugurtha's Army.

Through the 90s, Sulla and Marius fell out, and the center of power began to swing between them. As Marius continued to age, Sulla's power grew. When the opportunity came, Sulla seized power with the help of six legions in his own pay (thus the problem with soldiers being paid--their loyalty remains to the paycheque, not the state). Marius fled Rome and Sulla established himself as consul along with Lucius Cornelius Cinna.

Thereafter followed the social war, as the non-citizens rose against the citizens. In a very famous quote from Appian (The Civil War I, c.60):

In this way the episodes of civil strife escalated from rivalry and contentiousness to murder, and from murder to full-scale war; and this was the first army composed of Roman citizens to attack their own country as thought it were a hostile power. From this point onwards their conflicts continued to be settled by military means and there were frequent attacks on Rome…because nothing remained, neither law, nor political institutions, nor patriotism, that could induce any sense of shame in the men of violence.

Sulla put down the rebellion and headed east to fight Mithradates in Asia Minor, to defend the republic's frontiers. While he was gone, in 87 Marius had returned to Rome, had Cinna killed, and had himself re-elected consul. Sulla abandoned the east and returned to Rome. By 82 Marius had been destroyed. In 81 Sulla named himself "dictator for life."

What happens next is that the Roman state is reworked by Sulla to reduce the potential for any other individual to rise in the same manner. Laws are passed to present political infighting, the check the political power of politicians, to prevent repeated consulships. In effect it was all reactionary legislation. Because he "brought peace" to Rome, his position was not threatened and Sulla died quietly in 78 BC, having 'ruled' for only three years.

The names of Sulla's lieutenants are better known than Sulla: Pompey and Crassus. The aforementioned Cinna's daughter would become Julius Caesar's wife. The connections with the events that destroyed the Republic and created the Empire are multiple.

It would be very easy to say, well, that was Rome, has nothing to do with us. But. When I hear about questioning whether the elections should be held over in case of a terrorist attack, I wonder. It would be very easy for the partisanship of America at present to break down into factionism. In fact, it happened very quickly in Rome. Between 130 BC (when the major political leader Gracchus was assassinated) and 78 BC is only 42 years. All of the events I've described above took place in a republic. None of the wars were fought on the Italian peninsula (there were laws about that sort of thing that were not broken until Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army). So to the people of Rome, it was undesirable, but increasingly acceptable.

In fact I believe the parallels exist now that are comparable with when Marius first rose to power. The machine is present. The factions are present. Any small thing could set the road to dictatorship in motion. And the American voice is making it clear that such action would be just as acceptable today as it was once. The rhetoric going around condemning "persons not like ourselves" proves it.

Ain't history fun?

To My Knowledge, I Am Not Wearing Underwear

Many people have noted what Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday about Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda: "To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two."

I'm not so interested in the arguments about Saddam and Al Qaeda. But I'm very interested in making jokes about politicians. So... why exactly is it that Rumsfeld prefaced his statement with "to my knowledge"? Isn't he the foremost authority on what he perceives with his senses?

It's much like him stating, "To my knowledge, I like hamburgers." Or: "To my knowledge, I am not wearing underwear."

Now, I do have a theory about why he said this. A favorite technique of lying politicians is to preface their lies by saying "To my knowledge..." That way if they're caught, they can claim they didn't know what they were saying was false.

But chronic liars like Rumsfeld have told so many lies and needed to invoke the "To my knowledge" prefix so often that they can't break the habit. Thus they use it even when (1) they're not lying and (2) it makes no sense.

October 04, 2004

Total Information Awareness


About 500 people visit this site each day now. Ideally I'd be able to implant a chip underneath everyone's skin so I could track you via GPS at every second of your lives. Unfortunately, my efforts in this area are currently hampered by the "U.S. Constitution" and "International Law." In the meantime, I do occasionally look at the site's traffic statistics, and was hoping I could hear directly from people visiting from the rarer locations.

So, if you have a moment and are from one of the following places, I encourage you to write me at tinyrevolution [at] yahoo [dot] com and say hello:

1. Saudi Arabia
2. Peru
3. Singapore
4. Denmark (speaking of which, I lived in Denmark for several months when I was five -- write and I'll send you a picture of me at Legoland)
5. Japan
6. Belgium
7. Switzerland
8. Brazil
9. Any branch of the US military, including the Air National Guard
10. The Federal Aviation Administration

Of course, I'd be happy to hear from anyone else too. EXCEPT FOR YOU BASTARDS IN BRITISH GUYANA.

October 03, 2004

Condoleezza Rice: The Hardest Working Woman In Show Business

Some people are able to take the weekend off from their jobs. Sadly, when you're Condoleezza Rice and your job is to lie about everything, you often have to work on Sundays. But Rice doesn't use that as an excuse to slack off and not lie as much as she does on a weekday. Indeed, on weekends she usually lies twice as hard.

Such was the case today:

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said [today] it is still unclear whether Iraq attempted to procure tens of thousands of aluminum tubes for a nuclear weapons program or a conventional rocket program, despite conclusions by the Senate intelligence committee and U.N. investigators that the tubes could not be used in any nuclear program.

"As I understand it, people are still debating this," Rice said on ABC's "This Week" program. "And I'm sure they will continue to debate it."

Uh huh. Yes, there's still debate about this, in the same sense there's still debate about whether George Bush is a giant space lizard in disguise. But... the great preponderance of evidence points in one direction. And generally speaking, someone who doesn't feel comfortable coming down firmly on the "George Bush: Not Giant Space Lizard" side of the issue shouldn't be National Security Advisor.

Then there's this:

In 2002, Rice had said that the tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," adding that "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

But, as reported by The Washington Post more than a year ago, the internal debate among intelligence analysts was intense, with the experts at the Department of Energy who specialize in uranium enrichment adamant that the tubes were not suitable for a nuclear program. They argued that the tubes were intended for Iraqi rockets.

Administration officials at the time did not acknowledge that debate, though Rice acknowledged yesterday she was aware of it. "I knew that there was a dispute," she said. "I actually didn't really know the nature of the dispute."

What could the dispute possibly be about EXCEPT whether or not the tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs"? Did Rice think the disagreement was about whether the tubes were part of the giant space lizard's George Bush disguise?

As I've said before, we may not be able to get a government that tells the truth, but at least we should elect people who put more effort into their lies.

What Are Our Imperial Lackeys For, If Not To Slap?

Glen Rangwala passes along an enjoyable BBC story about Hamid Karzai and his security detail:

Just about everyone in Kabul knows when Hamid Karzai is on the move... a convoy of Humvees - the armoured jeeps mainly used by the American military - sweeps past. They are packed with Western security contractors brandishing machine guns.

...last Sunday the president did make it to the north-west to open a road construction project...

In no time at all, the speeches were over and the road diggers moved into place.

As the dignitaries went to watch, the whole ceremony descended into farce.

Security men pushed and shoved anyone who tried to get close. A cameraman was punched by a bodyguard when he dared film the proceedings.

But perhaps most damagingly an American security contractor slapped an Afghan.

Only later did it emerge that he had hit the Transport Minister.

Why Does Thomas Jefferson Keep Copying Me?

One thing that makes me mad is to think of something and then find out someone else has ripped me off by thinking of it before me. This happens constantly, like with my concept of "Boring until EXTREMELY INTERESTING." Ditto with this idea I had for a device that would allow you to speak with someone far away. I was very excited about what I'd dubbed the "Small Electronic Talk/Listen Module" (SETLM) until I found out about this jerk Alexander Graham Bell.

Anyway, I often speak to friends about how being alive is difficult enough without all the idiot leaders who afflict us with war. It's not like normal life is so boring and devoid of sorrow that we need them to liven things up for us.

So now it turns out Thomas Jefferson said almost the same thing in 1802:

"The evils which of necessity encompass the life of man are sufficiently numerous. Why should we add to them by voluntarily distressing and destroying one another?"

But there's one thing Jefferson doesn't mention. I believe our cretinous presidents, prime ministers, priests and mullahs like war precisely because it helps them personally evade confronting "the evils which of necessity encompass the life of man." That is, in order to distract themselves from the inevitable difficulty and pain of their own lives, they add enormously to the difficulty and pain of ours.

I know many other people have said this before, but please don't tell me about it.

October 02, 2004

New York Times Slips; Commits Actual Journalism

Holy crap! The New York Times has published an outstanding story on the Bush administration's pre-war claims about Iraq's purported nuclear program. I feel like I've fallen into a bizarre alternate universe where the media actually reports on things.

Yes, the story is 10,000 words long and published on a Saturday, so no one will read it. (CORRECTION: The story was posted on the New York Times website on Saturday, October 2, but appears in the next day's Sunday print edition.) And yes, almost everything in it has been previously covered, mostly by the Washington Post. But the reporters and editors involved still deserve a great deal of credit for putting it all together in one place and adding new information.

If for some reason you have better things to do on a Saturday than examine this story in minute detail, let me summarize four of the lies it picks up on. I'm particularly pleased because I've been yammering since before the war about the first two lies (by Cheney and Rice).

1. Dick Cheney, August 26, 2002, Veterans of Foreign Wars 103rd Convention:

... we now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we've gotten this from the firsthand testimony of defectors -- including Saddam's own son-in-law, who was subsequently murdered at Saddam's direction.

This Cheney speech was the kickoff for the Bush administration case for war. And this was probably the most egregious, cut and dried lie they told during the entire push for war. As the Times story points out:

In his Nashville speech, Mr. Cheney had not mentioned the aluminum tubes or any other fresh intelligence when he said, "We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons." The one specific source he did cite was Hussein Kamel al-Majid, a son-in-law of Mr. Hussein's who defected in 1994 after running Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. But Mr. Majid told American intelligence officials in 1995 that Iraq's nuclear program had been dismantled. What's more, Mr. Majid could not have had any insight into Mr. Hussein's current nuclear activities: he was assassinated in 1996 on his return to Iraq.

This New York Times account in completely right, except for one small weird error -- Kamel defected in 1995, not 1994. So: Cheney was lying.

2. Condoleezza Rice, September 7, 2002, Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer (via Nexis):

We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance -- into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to -- high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs.

New York Times:

Before Ms. Rice made those remarks, though, she was aware that the government's foremost nuclear experts had concluded that the tubes were most likely not for nuclear weapons at all, an examination by The New York Times has found. Months before, her staff had been told that these experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were probably intended for small artillery rockets.

But Ms. Rice, and other senior administration officials, embraced a disputed theory about the tubes first championed in April 2001 by a new analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. Senior scientists considered the theory implausible, yet in the months after 9/11, as an administration built a case for confronting Iraq, the theory gained currency as it rose to the top of the government.

"She was aware of the differences of opinion," the senior administration official said of Ms. Rice in an interview authorized by the White House. "She was also aware that at the highest level of the intelligence community, there was great confidence that these tubes were for centrifuges."

Ms. Rice's alarming description on CNN was in keeping with the administration's overall treatment of the tubes. Senior administration officials repeatedly failed to fully disclose the contrary views of America's leading nuclear scientists, The Times found. They sometimes overstated even the most dire intelligence assessments of the tubes, yet minimized or rejected the strong doubts of their own experts. They worried privately that the nuclear case was weak, but expressed sober certitude in public...

American nuclear and intelligence experts argued bitterly over the tubes... the opinions of the nuclear experts were seemingly disregarded at every turn...

But if the tubes were not for a centrifuge, what were they for?

Within weeks, the Energy Department experts had an answer.

It turned out, they reported, that Iraq had for years used high-strength aluminum tubes to make combustion chambers for slim rockets fired from launcher pods...

The tubes now sought by Iraq had precisely the same dimensions - a perfect match.

This finding was published May 9, 2001, in the Daily Intelligence Highlight, a secret Energy Department newsletter published on Intelink, a Web site for the intelligence community and the White House.

So: Rice was lying.

3. "An administration official," New York Times, September 13, 2002, "White House Lists Iraq Steps to Build Banned Weapons" by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon

An administration official called discussions about the aluminum tubes and Iraq's intentions "a normal part of the intelligence process."...

"There are tubes and then there are tubes," the administration official said. He added that the best technical experts and nuclear scientists at laboratories like Oak Ridge supported the C.I.A. assessment [that the tubes were meant for a nuclear program].

That was the New York Times then. This is New York Times today:

At the Energy Department, those examining the tubes included scientists who had spent decades designing and working on centrifuges, and intelligence officers steeped in the tricky business of tracking the nuclear ambitions of America's enemies... On questions about nuclear centrifuges, this was unambiguously the A-Team of the intelligence community, many experts say...

They concluded that using the tubes in centrifuges "is credible but unlikely, and a rocket production is the much more likely end use for these tubes."

So: whoever this administration official was, he was lying.

4. Colin Powell, February 5, 2003, Remarks to the United Nations Security Council

...it strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets. Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don't think so.

New York Times:

... in a memo written two days earlier, Mr. Powell's intelligence experts had specifically cautioned him about those very same words. "In fact," they explained, "the most comparable U.S. system is a tactical rocket - the U.S. Mark 66 air-launched 70-millimeter rocket - that uses the same, high-grade (7075-T6) aluminum, and that has specifications with similar tolerances."

So: Colin Powell was lying.

Now, I realize none of this makes any difference. Bush supporters will never accept any amount of evidence that the Bush administration lies. And other sectors of American power may accept it, but don't care.

Still, I'm going to write to the public editor of the New York Times for the first time in my life, complimenting the paper for this story and asking him to forward it to the reporters and editors who worked on. If you feel like doing the same, the address is public@nytimes.com

October 01, 2004

Thank God Our Leaders Are Completely Different From Saddam Hussein

Why did Saddam Hussein have to invade Iran? According to a recent story in the New Yorker, in 1983 he visited Kirkuk and told residents that "Iraq was at war with Iran to protect the purity of Iraqi women from Ayatollah Khomeini’s rampaging troops."

More recently, during his trial, Saddam has explained why he had to invade Kuwait. It was because Kuwait "said it will reduce Iraqi women to 10-dinar prostitutes."

It seems beyond belief that any leader would make such transparent claims to justify attacking other countries. I mean, obviously both invasions were all about oil and Saddam's own power. Yet the Iraqi state newspapers carried Saddam's preposterous justifications without a snicker! And what's worse, many Iraqis probably believe them to this day.

Thank god we live in a country that's completely different. In the sense that we're alarmingly similar.

For instance, here's George H.W. Bush explaining on the morning of December 20, 1989 why America had just invaded Panama:

Last Friday, Noriega declared his military dictatorship to be in a state of war with the United States and publicly threatened the lives of Americans in Panama. The very next day, forces under his command... brutally beat a third American serviceman; and then brutally interrogated his wife, threatening her with sexual abuse. That was enough.

And here's what the Washington Times wrote the next day (via Nexis; not online):

More than anything else, it was a rape threat by Pananamian soldiers to a U.S. naval officer's wife that triggered President Bush's decision to oust "Maximum Leader" Manuel Antonio Noriega... She was "sexually harassed" and threatened with rape, the incident that administration officials called the last straw.

Today At A Tiny Revolution, Everything Is Obeidi-licious!

Recently there's been a small upsurge of news about Mahdi Obeidi. Obeidi is a former Iraqi nuclear scientist who headed Iraq's gas centrifuge uranium enrichment process, one of several separate Iraqi programs during the late eighties to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. After the US/UK invasion, Obeidi produced blueprints for and parts of a centrifuge that had been buried in his Baghdad rose garden since 1991. Obeidi has now written a book titled The Bomb in my Garden: The Secrets of Saddam's Nuclear Mastermind, and recently contributed an op-ed to the New York Times.

Is what Obeidi saying today accurate? Hard to gauge. But Imad Khadduri -- an Iraqi nuclear scientist who escaped from Iraq in 1998, and the author of Iraq's Nuclear Mirage: Memoirs and Delusions -- believes it is not on several important points. I sometimes exchange email with Khadduri, and I'm very pleased to present his perspective here (combined with my own, of course). Both in his writing and in my interactions with him Khadduri has struck me as completely forthright and honest.

1. The title of Obeidi's book is wildly hyperbolic. Obeidi did not have a bomb in his garden. Nor was he Saddam's nuclear mastermind. A more truthful title would have been: The 12 Year-Old Things in my Garden that Could Possibly Have Reduced the Time Needed For Iraq to Recreate a Nuclear Program if Against All Odds Sanctions Had Been Dropped, Inspections Ceased, the World Again Supported Iraq's Nuclear Program as it did during the 1980s, and Saddam Remained in Power and Decided to Try Again: The Sort of Secrets of One Among Several Senior Iraqi Nuclear Scientists.

It's probably not fair to blame Obeidi for this; I doubt the publishers would have let him get away with a low key title even if he'd wanted to. And while I have yet to read the book, its contents apparently do not fit with the title and are generally not hyped. According to Kevin Drum, who writes about it here, Obeidi confirms that Iraq's nuclear weapons program was halted in 1991 and never resurrected. And Obeidi elsewhere has said the aluminum tubes so beloved by the Bush administration could not have been used for uranium enrichment.

2. One thing that seems certain about Obeidi's rose garden cache of materials is that it demonstrates Saddam's regime was purposefully concealing WMD material from the world.

But -- is it certain? When Obeidi first came forward, Scott Ritter appeared on CNN, making the claim that Obeidi hid the materials on his own without authorization from the regime (UPDATE: Ritter's argument has been confirmed by the Iraq Survery Group):

RITTER: But what I'm telling you is based upon my investigation, which went on for many months and involved dozens of hours. Obeidi did this on his own. This wasn't something that ...

BLITZER: But Scott, you know the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. You lived there, you talked to these people. Did anything happen like that of a nature like that, Obeidi doing this on his own without getting approval or someone asking him keep this quiet? That was such a brutal regime. The guy wouldn't have had the guts to do that on his own?

RITTER: Actually, again, Wolf, you're wrong. We have several cases of Iraqi scientists who were very proud of the work they did. Remember, Obeidi was competing with Dr. Diah Jaffar Al-Jaffar over, you know, who was going to be the first to enrich uranium. He was proud of this program, and when he was ordered to turn it over, I think he maintained these components and these blueprints of his own volition, in a very similar manner that Iraqi scientists responsible for designing guidance and control equipment did the exact same thing.

When I first heard this I found Ritter's claim implausible, for exactly the reasons Blitzer mentions. However, Khadduri concurs with Ritter.

This is so because after the Gulf War, Hussein Kamel (head of Iraq's WMD programs and Saddam's son-in-law) ordered Iraq's nuclear scientists, on pain of death, to turn over all nuclear documentation and equipment to him. Some of this was secretly destroyed, but some was hidden in hopes of restarting the nuclear program at a later date. (Much if not all of this was later recovered by UNSCOM after Kamel's defection to Jordan in 1995. [CORRECTION: The documents were recovered by UNSCOM and the IAEA in tandem, with the IAEA taking possession of the nuclear program documents.])

Khadduri wrote to me that he sees no reason Kamel would have granted Obeidi an exemption:

... the reason for [Obeidi] hiding the documents in his garden is very suspect... I can only assume that Mahdi did so either (1) to garner favor if ever the program was resurrected or (2) to barter it later for safe conduit to the US. He is well known for his connivance.

3. In Obeidi's New York Times piece, he claims "Iraq's nuclear weapons program was on the threshold of success before the 1991 invasion of Kuwait -- there is no doubt in my mind that we could have produced dozens of nuclear weapons within a few years." By contrast, in Iraq's Nuclear Mirage Khadduri writes that before the Gulf War, Iraqi scientists

had managed to collect, at most, about 5 grams of weapon grade uranium 235... The core of the bomb, along with its casting, would have required 18-20 kilograms. The actual design of the bomb... was still under consideration and by no means frozen on any final design... In total, we were, in my estimate, about 10-20 percent of where we should have been had Iraq had a nuclear weapon.

Khadduri does judge that Iraq might have been able to produce one untested weapon within "several years," but that Obeidi's claim of dozens is "thoroughly unscientific and false."

4. Also in Obeidi's editorial, he states "our nuclear program could have been reinstituted at the snap of Saddam Hussein's fingers." Khadduri responds:

Even if Saddam "snapped his fingers", with the dismal state of economic affairs of the scientists and engineers, the lack of the scientific leadership and management, the embargo on any vital imports for required goods and equipment, etc.. would not guarantee any resurrection of that program under Saddam, as disingeniously claimed by Mahdi.

Khadduri further points out that Americans should long ago have learned to be skeptical of claims made by Iraqis dependent on the US. For instance, before the war an Iraqi scientist named Khidihr Hamza appeared constantly in the US media declaiming on the imminent Iraqi nuclear threat. He wrote a book called Saddam's Bombmaker: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda. And he was constantly cited by people like Dick Cheney and Kenneth Pollack, among others.

However, Hamza was a fraud. He'd played little role in the Iraqi nuclear program, had no knowledge of it at all after 1989, and was so unimportant to Iraq's government they happily left him leave. After Hussein Kamel fled Iraq, Kamel referred to Hamza as "a professional liar" who tried to pass off forged documents about the Iraqi nuclear program. (Perhaps that sounds familiar.)

My favorite thing about Hamza is that he's cited in the famous White House pre-war indictment of Iraq, "Apparatus of Lies." What an apt title.

In any case, Khadduri writes that:

Mahdi is simply paying back the Americans for their refuge. Ditto Hamza, whom I assume is having tea with Mahdi. Both seem to advocate the emptying of Iraq of its nuclear scientists and engineers by raising the scary potential of a rejuvenated program, even at this stage, and advising the US to bring them to the US for a better life.

This strikes me as too harsh about Obeidi, since even if he's lying about some things he'd have a long way to go before reaching the heights achieved by Hamza. But obviously Khadduri knows one million times more about this subject than I do.

5. If you're interested in more of Khadduri's writing -- and I highly recommend it -- you should check out Iraq's Nuclear Mirage. Also interesting are his articles for Yellow Times, one of which can be found here with links to the others.

6. Tomorrow, we go back to the jokes.