Friday, May 28, 2004

The President Denied

Tex told me Kerry should have spoken like Al Gore - this appraisal from a libertarian was noteworthy enough to get me to read a whole transscript.

Back in the nineties I always liked Gore more than Clinton, even while I was dismayed at him too getting under the almost total influence of DNC and for choosing Demoblican Joe Lieberman as running mate. So I was positively surprised when he broke with the DNC crowd by endorsing Dean (whom I considered the real compromise candidate, given his views on the size of the military or death penalty or budget disclipine or guns or his lack of action on renewable energies in Vermont; rather than the far-left candidate DNC/DLC helped GOP and corporate media to paint him).

Now this speech was impressive, even with the usual quibbles I had, I recommend everyone read it in full. Here just some memorable quotes:

The long successful strategy of containment was abandoned in favor of the new strategy of "preemption." And what they meant by preemption was not the inherent right of any nation to act preemptively against an imminent threat to its national security, but rather an exotic new approach that asserted a unique and unilateral U.S. right to ignore international law wherever it wished to do so and take military action against any nation, even in circumstances where there was no imminent threat. All that is required, in the view of Bush's team is the mere assertion of a possible, future threat and the assertion need be made by only one person, the President.

Dominance is not really a strategic policy or political philosophy at all. It is a seductive illusion that tempts the powerful to satiate their hunger for more power still by striking a Faustian bargain. And as always happens sooner or later to those who shake hands with the devil, they find out too late that what they have given up in the bargain is their soul.

Our founders understood full well that a system of checks and balances is needed in our constitution because every human being lives with an internal system of checks and balances that cannot be relied upon to produce virtue if they are allowed to attain an unhealthy degree of power over their fellow citizens.

Listen then to the balance of internal impulses described by specialist Charles Graner when confronted by one of his colleagues, Specialist Joseph M. Darby, who later became a courageous whistleblower. When Darby asked him to explain his actions documented in the photos, Graner replied: "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the Corrections Officer says, 'I love to make a groan man piss on himself."

He has exposed Americans abroad and Americans in every U.S. town and city to a greater danger of attack by terrorists because of his arrogance, willfulness, and bungling at stirring up hornet's nests that pose no threat whatsoever to us. And by then insulting the religion and culture and tradition of people in other countries. And by pursuing policies that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children, all of it done in our name. [How refreshing after so many other prominent US war opponents only complaining about own troop deaths]

The war plan was incompetent in its rejection of the advice from military professionals and the analysis of the intelligence was incompetent in its conclusion that our soldiers would be welcomed with garlands of flowers and cheering crowds. Thus we would not need to respect the so-called [hehe...] Powell doctrine of overwhelming force.

There was also in Rumsfeld's planning a failure to provide security for nuclear materials, and to prevent widespread lawlessness and looting.

Private Lynndie England did not make the decision that the United States would not observe the Geneva Convention. Specialist Charles Graner was not the one who approved a policy of establishing an American Gulag of dark rooms with naked prisoners to be "stressed" and even we must use the word tortured to force them to say things that legal procedures might not induce them to say.

President Bush set the tone for our attitude for suspects [the important distinction igored by so many!] in his State of the Union address. He noted that more than 3,000 "suspected terrorists" had been arrested in many countries and then he added, "and many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: they are no longer a problem to the United States and our allies."

George Bush promised to change the tone in Washington. And indeed he did. As many as 37 prisoners may have been murdered while in captivity, though the numbers are difficult to rely upon because in many cases involving violent death, there were no autopsies.

Kerry should not tie his own hands by offering overly specific, detailed proposals concerning a situation that is rapidly changing and unfortunately, rapidly deteriorating, but should rather preserve his, and our country's, options, to retrieve our national honor as soon as this long national nightmare is over. [Interesting advice. Now Gore makes it appear Kerry already follows it, but this might be implicite criticism.]

We all know these things, and we need not reassure ourselves and should not congratulate ourselves that our society is less cruel than some others, although it is worth noting that there are many that are less cruel than ours. And this searing revelation at Abu Ghraib should lead us to examine more thoroughly the routine horrors in our domestic prison system.

...It is important to note that just as the abuses of the prisoners flowed directly from the policies of the Bush White House, those policies flowed not only from the instincts of the president and his advisors, but found support in shifting attitudes on the part of some in our country in response to the outrage and fear generated by the attack of September 11th.

The president exploited and fanned those fears, but some otherwise sensible and levelheaded Americans fed them as well. [Ha!] I remember reading genteel-sounding essays asking publicly whether or not the prohibitions against torture were any longer relevant or desirable...

On the Iraqi Governing Council's choice for PM

Brahimi "respects" choice:

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi "respects" the choice of Iyad Allawi, a Shi'ite Muslim, as Iraq's prime minister in the interim government that takes office on June 30, U.N. officials said on Friday.

But the officials hinted that Allawi's selection by the Iraqi Governing Council had come as a surprise to Brahimi, although they said Allawi was "high on his list" of choices. They said Brahimi had been present at the meeting at which the decision was made.

"Mr. Brahimi respects the decision and is prepared to work with this person on the selection of the other posts in this interim government," U.N. chief spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

The word "respects" had been "a carefully chosen word," Eckhard said, declining to say whether Brahimi "endorsed" Allwai or had helped choose him.

"The Iraqis named this person today, and Mr. Brahimi respects that decision and will work with that person to now name the other members of an Iraqi government," Eckhard told reporters, adding that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also respected the choice of Allawi.

"I assume this choice will hold, but the process isn't over yet," he added.

Eckhard acknowledged the process was not unrolling as the United Nations had envisioned but said such decisions were ultimately up to the Iraqi people and the U.S.-led Iraqi administration, the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Brahimi would now sit down with Allawi and discuss the other names that had emerged from his consultations with various Iraqis and the CPA, with an eye to choosing candidates for president, vice president and a Cabinet.

"But in the end, it is the CPA and the Governing Council that will make this decision," he said.

Looks like Brahimi was set up again and surrendered again. However I admit it would have been a bit difficult diplomatically to ignore a decision the Puppets at last do unanimously.

Meanwhile, I found this earlier denouncement of Allawi:

U.S. Iraq Appointee a Fraud and a Danger
Al Arab, Commentary,
Dr. Haifa Al-Azawi, Feb 12, 2004

When I returned to the United States after a visit to Baghdad, I read an article from the Associated Press titled “Exile Works to Win Influence in DC,” by Ken Guggenheim. It described how Iyad Allawi, now a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi governing Council, was emerging as a prominent leader.

Guggenheim reported Allawi has paid prominent Washington lobbyists and New York publicists more than $300,000 to help him make contacts with policy makers in Washington.

Any physician who graduated from Baghdad Medical School between the years l962 and l970 will remember this big, husky man. The Baath party union leader, who carried a gun on his belt and frequently brandished it terrorizing the medical students, was a poor student and chose to spend his time standing in the school courtyard or chasing female students to their homes.

When I entered medical school, Iyad Allawi was a student there and when I graduated he was still a student there. He tried to form a political party and, according to some friends of his, he faked names to make the party seem larger than it really was. His medical degree is bogus and was conferred upon him by the Baath party, soon after a WHO (World Health Organization) grant was orchestrated for him to go to England and study public health accompanied by his Christian wife, whom he dumped later to marry a Muslim woman.

In England he was a poor student, visiting the Iraqi embassy at the end of each month to collect his salary as the Baath party representative. According to his first wife and her family members, he spent his time dealing with assassins doing the dirty work for the Iraqi government, until his time was up and he became their target.

He went into hiding and came back as a double agent for the British and the CIA. Now, analysts have suggested that Allawi’s campaign might have been encouraged to counterbalance the influence of the much better known opposition figure Ahmed Chalabi. By the way, they are cousins.

These kinds of people can put our U.S. government and our troops in bad positions and in danger. Laura Myroie, author of "Bush vs. the Beltway," and critical of the CIA handling of Iraq, blamed Allawi for what she said was faulty intelligence that endangered the U.S. troops at the end of the Gulf War. The United States plans to turn over power to Iraqis by July 1. We are all hoping to see reasonable, honest people in power; we do not want to see another potential Saddam.

I admit, a reference to Laurie Mylroie doesn't raise the author's credibility.

Kerry the Democratic imperialist

Kerry delivered a foreign policy speech, outlining the same Democratic imperialist ideas we knew from Clinton, only more directly:

Mr. Kerry said that in leading the United States into war without the widespread backing of other nations, the Bush administration violated Theodore Roosevelt's advice to leaders that they "walk softly and carry a big stick."

I told Kerry doesn't know history, here is proof. He should have seen that quote in its historical context: in the wake of the Spanish-American war started by his murdered predecessor, Teddy Roosevelt presided over the slaughtering of hundreds of thousands of Filippinos in the crushing of their rebellion, and of Central Americans in numerous countries, with the recently established Marines. Not exactly the positive role model in the current situation in Iraq.

"They looked to force before exhausting diplomacy," he said. "They bullied when they should have persuaded."

There was nothing to persuase about. Kerry doesn't say what the USA should do if it fails to persuase others. He neatly leaves out the possibility that it could be the USA that needs to be persuased to abadon a policy.

In short, he said, "they have undermined the legacy of generations of American leadership. And that is what we must restore."

"There is still a powerful yearning around the world for an America that listens and leads again," he said. "An America that is respected, and not just feared."

No Mr. Kerry, there may be a powerful yearning for a cooperative and progressive America (I for one yearn for it), but not for one that leads again. We had enough of empires, thankyouverymuch.

Mr. Kerry said that "the day is late and the situation in Iraq is grim," because Mr. Bush has insisted his policy is to "stay the course."

That would be a powerful indictment had Kerry advanced anything on Iraq Bush didn't at some time.

He said he would institute a new national security policy that would be governed by four principles.

He said the United States has to launch new alliances with other nations, modernize and strengthen the military, end the country's dependence on Mideast oil within 10 years, and make better use of intelligence information and diplomatic and economic power to advance American ideas and values.

New alliances? I wonder, why does he not propose to reinvigorate old ones?

Modernize and strenghten the military? Isn't that the PNAC program? Methinks revising priorities, training methods, and stopping outsourcing would be important, not pouring more money into questionable to outright evil programs.

End the dependence on Middle East oil? Why not oil in general? Has no adviser told him that the Middle East already holds 60% of remaining oil reserves, and non-Middle-East countries are depleting their reserves much faster - which means, if he just abadons purchasing in the Middle East, soon the USA would be scrambling to maintain supplies even if it buys all oil on sale outside the region?

Using diplomatic and economic power? This is code words for more of the blackmailing politics more or less preferred abroad by all US admins since Roosevelt. The advancement of 'American ideas and values' (I'm assuming he means freedom, democracy and free-market capitalism; not police brutality, death penalty, reckless consumtion by the suburban middle class, creationism and such - all of these are American ideas/values and also all of these are not just American ideas/values) is by living them and speaking out for them, not by pressurizing for their adoption with missionary zeal - that will backfire. (But if an US admin would follow my advice, I personally would hope they fail to convince the rest of the World about their version of free-market capitalism. But that's me.)

"America must always be the world's paramount military power,"

Here is Kerry the imperialist, black on white. Someone should tell him that all empires collapse, sooner or later.

"As commander-in-chief, I will bring the full force of our nation's power to bear on finding and crushing your networks," he said, addressing the terrorists who may plan to destroy American targets. "We will use every available resource to destroy you."

Yawn. It dawned even on Rumsfeld that if your operations create more terrorists than they kill, you fail. And Kerry's every available resource pretty much promises more of it. Someone should tell him that to dismantle a major terrorist organisation one needs to stop the flood of recruits, which means addressing the ailings the terrorists use as excuse for their acts (and as recruiting tool).


I stand by my prediction. Unless in the following months he fires a few advisers and does a radical redirection of his policies, President Kerry will continue the failure in Iraq, and, in the eyes of many voters with short memory, he will 'own' the failure even (or especially?) if he pulls out a few years from now, and the Republican (Far-)Right will return with a landslide.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The failure of media

What is wrong with the media today?

Of course, there are several problems at the same time. Some I don't want to detail here:

Many people noted the media relies too heavily on government sources that use them. (It is mentioned less often that this is kind of a 'blowback' for Watergate: Woodward and Bernstein heavily relied on "Deep Throat" and other leakers, but politicians quickly discovered the power of leaks, and later the power stemming from holding a journalist 'addicted' to leaks.)

Also many people note that most of the 'free press' where it exists is now in the hands of large media conglomerates, which, even if their leaders don't have a political agenda, on one hand fear for their other business interests that the powerful could hurt if there is negative reporting, on the other hand abuse the media to produce PR for these other business interests.

A further aspect of corporate ownership of media frequently mentioned is the introducion of corporate culture and thinking into journalism. That is, doing 'market research', writing 'what the readers like to read about' (what the reader wants to read rather than the truth), ascribing the success of another media outlet to a 'trend' and for that reason copying it, all the Infotainment BS etc.

Now, the failure I want to write about runs deeper, wider and hits the Blogosphere too.

Isaac Asimow, one of my favourite science fiction authors, wrote in the fourties the Foundation series. In one book, a character thinks about a scientist in an about-to-collapse Galactic Empire, and foresees the collapse from the fact that scientists no more look for discoveries 'out there', but look instead in old books. (Ironically, Asimow committed the same fault, for the Foundation series is largely based on Gibson's Fall of the Roman Empire, and so do I - but at least he preemted postmodern literature.)

What I noticed is that 99% - yes, 99%, and maybe more - of the content of news reports is copied out of other news reports. The media today functions as a hyperactive meme-reproducing machine.

So obviously one problem I see with this is that newspapers and TV today are reluctant to go for a story, or if they do, to do it thoroughly. This problem is only amplified by the Blogosphere. But more important is the problem of not doing what could stop this frantic reproduction: to check the facts and use reason. (This the Blogosphere, or at least sub-networks of it, could improve.)

And I don't just mean checking some new info that is copied. I mean checking the whole stuff, the 'background' stuff, the presumptions underlying the interpretation of new infos.

For example, if newspaper editors (not just Americans) would have just checked out their own paper's reporting in 1998 and early 1999, they wouldn't have repeated a million times the lie dropped by the Bush spin machine, that "Saddam threw out the inspectors in 1998" (or worse, claiming Clinton bombed Iraq for this fictious event). Instead, they would have countered the slander of the Bush admin against the UN inspectors('s effectivity) by pointing out only a failed US regime change attempt (and being used for it) ended their successful work, not a Saddam who backtracked from every bold vow and withdrew behind every supposed red line.

Or more recently, had they asked some (real, not AEI) Iraq expert or read up in some book, or just re-read newspaper reports from the area from April 2003, the now solid myth of Fallujah as the city especially loyal to Saddam wouldn't be there. (Instead, the token reminder at the end of articles would include references on one hand to Fallujah the filthy city, the city of hundred minarets and base of Salafism persecuted by Saddam; on the other hand to the 1991 US bomb on the marketplace and its 150 casualties, still sympathy for the US upon its arrival in 2003, the harrassments in April, the two protests shot up and followed up by changing lies, the many civilian casualties in the following anti-insurgency operations, the officially indiscriminate killing in 'Operation Iron Hammer', the ceasement of activity upon the 82nd Airborne's withdrawal from Fallujah in February and the disastrous Marine demonstration of force before the mercenary slayings.)

These examples are from Iraq, because now Iraq is on my mind. But I was angered by a lot of these mindless repeats of assumed evident truths, in fields ranging from space exploration through economics to pre-election candidate characterisations. Yes, this is not at all restricted to the American media, in fact I see it in European media considered quality and rather progressive - including The Guardian, Der Spiegel, or (OK not that progressive) the BBC. It is as if even respected journals forgot to use their documentation centers (Der Spiegel is famous for its own), and its journalists forgot that the common people's disdain for nitpicking and precision should be absent from a serious journalist.

I think a journalist, above all, should be conscious of the fact that small errors can grow into big mistakes in course of reproduction. This is a very much Darwinist process, not on genes but memes - but you can stop it, use your brain.

For now, I prefer blogs.

Day of False Reckonings

Ah, New York Times finally felt like apologising. Without naming, hell not naming firing Judith Miller. Without a word about the sins of omission, for example a little historical backup about the end of the 1998 inspections. Oh, and the best irony was highlighted by the Editor&Publisher:

One of the false Miller and Gordon stories (touting the now-famous "aluminum tubes")did contain a few qualifiers, but they were "buried deep." When the pair followed up five days later they did report some misgivings by others, but these too "appeared deep in the article." When the Times finally gave "full voice" to skeptics the challenge was reported on Page A 10, but "it might well have belonged on Page A 1."

Of course, the same could be said of their note today, which also falls on Page A 10.

Meanwhile, Richard Perle recasts himself as an Occupation sceptic:

Richard Perle, until recently a powerful adviser to U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, described U.S. policy in post-war Iraq as a failure.

"I would be the first to acknowledge we allowed the liberation (of Iraq) to subside into an occupation. And I think that was a grave error, and in some ways a continuing error," said Perle, former chair of the influential Defence Policy Board, which advises the Pentagon.

With violent resistance to the U.S.-led occupation showing no signs of ending, Perle said the biggest mistake in post-war policy "was the failure to turn Iraq back to the Iraqis more or less immediately.

"We didn't have to find ourselves in the role of occupier. We could have made the transition that is going to be made at the end of June more or less immediately," he told BBC radio, referring to the U.S. and British plan to transfer political authority in Iraq to an interim government on June 30.

I decode him for ya': Perle wanted Iraq to be turned over to Chalabi immediately after the outser of Saddam. Furthermore, he never wanted nation building in Iraq (unlike Wolfowitz - even neocons aren't all the same), he would have been fully content with Iraq falling apart into tribal fiefdoms.

Which would have been no match to Israel.

This is not some anti-semitic/anti-Israel/anti-neocon paranoia. This is something he laid out quite clearly himself. In the strategic study he made for then-Premier Benjamin Netanyahu titled Clean Break eight years ago.

Special disclaimer for the benefit of anti-conspiracy-nutter nutters: there is no conspiracy here, Perle's pro-Israeli-far-right views are in the public domain, as are his lunatic proposals, and no I don't believe he represents any larger group of people or indeed anyone but his own lunatic self.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Andy Rooney gets it

Wow! It's as if he read this blog:

Our Darkest Days Are Here

May 23, 2004

(CBS) The following is a weekly 60 Minutes commentary by CBS News Correspondent Andy Rooney.

...The day the world learned that American soldiers had tortured Iraqi prisoners belongs high on the list of worst things that ever happened to our country. It's a black mark that will be in the history books in a hundred languages for as long as there are history books. I hate to think of it...

...I don't want them in prison, anyway. We shouldn't have to feed them. Take away their right to call themselves American - that's what I’d do. You aren't one of us. Get out. We don't want you. Find yourself another country or a desert island somewhere. If the order came from someone higher up, take him with you.

In the history of the world, several great civilizations that seemed immortal have deteriorated and died. I don't want to seem dramatic tonight, but I've lived a long while, and for the first time in my life, I have this faint, faraway fear that it could happen to us here in America as it happened to the Greek and Roman civilizations.

Too many Americans don't understand what we have here, or how to keep it.
I worry for my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren. I want them to have what I've had, and I sense it slipping away.

Have a nice day.

There is hope.

Oh, and the Greece analogy. One of my favourite authors, the late Joseph Heller, wrote an important but much ignored book titled Picture This in 1988. It is a triple juxtaposition of the life and age of Rembrant, and the life and age of Aristotle whom he paints, and the life and age of Heller in which the painting rests in a New York museum. Among others, Heller draws a very strong parallel between the late 20th century USA and the Golden Age of Athens, which wasn't as nice as highschool history teachers would tell you.

Monday, May 24, 2004

First rant

In the world today, a President not elected by his country has the most influence in a world that didn't even had the chance to vote on him. But, should he be defeated at the polls this time (and accept it), will things change for the better? I fear not.

A President Kerry would not have to fear voters from the rest of the World either. He doesn't promise anything concrete on reducing CO2 emissions, instead he makes a few foggy promises while demanding pressure on Saudi Arabia to lower oil prices. He doesn't promise an abadonment of imperialism (Kerry wants international cooperation not as a tool to solve common problems but as a tool to gain support for US policies), instead he holds on to the Clintonite illusion of a benevolent Empire, forgetting Clinton's many fatal blunders and promising new ones. He doesn't promise a solution to the I/P problem, instead exhibits a profound lack of historical knowledge and walks in lockstep with Dubya in supporting whatever the current Israeli government does or claims. He doesn't promise pullout from Iraq, instead clings to the illusion that staying prevents the chaos (rather than increasing it) and that the UN can be pulled into it/can still solve it.

Perhaps worst of all, he promises to become (later in his term) a failure in the eyes of American swing voters, leading to a triumphant return of the Republican fascists. There goes the lesser evil argument.

It is not rational to NOT blame the American voter. Kerry (that he became the Democratic candidate) indicates to me that the problem is not just with the 40% or so that is tone-deaf to facts and a sure Republoscum voter, But with the majority of the rest, too. I'd say while Republican voters are straight out of Orwell's 1984, most Democrats, Independents and non-voters are straight out of Huxley's Brave New World.

People who can't take anything seriously, who act like the girl who can't realise the party is over; and people who confuse "moderate" with "not thinking too hard". And people who massage their consience with a few symbolic acts (or even just words) but then step into their SUV and go back to their comfortable middle-class bubble life. People who like to ask others whether they've 'taken their medication'.

Unless these people wake up some day, we'll observe further parallels of the demise of the Roman Empire in the following decades, and good-bye Western civilisation (Europe in itself can't save it).