Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
December 31, 2005

A Happy New Year

Thanks for passing by. Thank you for all the good comments and lively discussions that make MoA a satisfying endeavor.

Please keep coming and posting. Next year Billmon will be back with us, I will be less depressed and we will all have lots of scandals and outrages but also funny and amusing stuff to talk about.

Light some fireworks or clap your hands and scare away the old ghosts and greet the new ones.

Happy New Year to you wherever you are.

Uncle $cam asks you to nominate a Comment of the Year 2005. A good reason to take a walk through the archives (monthly links are on the left side of the main page) and to reread some threads.

To Uncle $cam this one is a candidate. So your nomination is ... ?

Posted by b on December 31, 2005 at 04:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

December 30, 2005

Leak Leak Investigation

The Cheney administration is giving us the late holiday gift of a leak investigation into the NSA wiretap reporting done by the New York Times and others.

The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the leak of classified information about President Bush's secret domestic spying program, Justice officials said Friday.
This promisses us further delicous public disclosures about this and other NSA projects and their justification.

It will also emphazise the distinction between whistle blowers leaking bad deeds and anonymous sources selling the administration's spin. So yes, bring it on!

Now who did the administration send out to present this good news to the public?

The officials, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe, said the inquiry will focus on disclosures to The New York Times about warrantless surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Now where is the Senator who requests an investigation on these anonymous officials who just leaked the start of the investigation about the NSA spying leak. Oh the irony ...

Just as with the Plame leak Gonzales will have to recuse himself from this case. He took part in the finding that legalized the illegal wiretaps. So now it is again time to name a decent special prosecuter.

Mr. Fitzgerald?

Posted by b on December 30, 2005 at 02:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

OT - 05 - Last

Last news & views call for 2005 ...

Posted by b on December 30, 2005 at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (35)

December 28, 2005

Kurdish Problems

Reading the recent reports by Tom Lasseter of Knight Ridder, there is a growing possibility of a civil war about Kirkuk, a city of 300,000 in northern Iraq and the capital of an oil rich province.

Lasseter talks to Iraqi troops in that area and finds many of them consisting of intact Kurdish Peschmerga units. Units who are willing to take on the Arabs when those do not agree to integrate Kirkuk into a Kurdish statelet - which they may well not do.

There are several long term problems for the Kurds themselves to go into this direction. Though, unfortunately, the do not seem to give them enough thought.

The Kurds in north Iraq are seperated in two groups of tribes. One is today represented by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan lead by Talabani, the other by Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party. These two have had bloody fights over years and only the current need of unity keeps them away from fighting again. As soon as there would be some independent form of Kurdistan, a new inner Kurdish civil war between those groups would start again.

A landlocked Kurdish state of some kind could produce a lot of oil, but how would this oil reach the markets, especially Israel? The neighbors Turkey, Iran and Syria all have Kurdish minorities and have no reason to help a Kurdish state to enrich itself and see that money funneled to their unruly minorities. After grabbing Kirkuk, the Arab rest of Iraq will also not likely support pipelines for then Kurdish oil.

Turkey, through its GAP project, has control over a big chunk of water running down the Tigris through the Kurdish area and then to South Iraq. The rest of the Tigris' water is collected from the mountains in the Kurdish area. Thereby both the Turks and the Kurds are able to control the waterflow into the Baghdad area and into south Iraq. The Arab Iraki of course recognize this as a problem and I wonder how far they may go to keep the river flowing.

Then there is of course the biggest problem. A four million Kurdish state in northern Iraq would entice 15 million Kurds in Turkey to go for their own state too. No way the Turks will allow that to happen. The minority of Turkmen living in and around Kirkuk may conveniently call for "help" and the Turkish Army is resourceful enough to bring northern Iraq under their short term control.

How would the Arabs, not only from Iraqi, react to the rise of a new Osmanic empire?

Is there no good solution?

Posted by b on December 28, 2005 at 02:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

December 27, 2005

Feet of Clay

As I was traveling by train these last days, I had a chance to finish the newest book by Peter Scholl-Latour: "Giant on Clay Feet".

Scholl-Latour is a German author, an Arabist and TV correspondent now 82 years old. He reported on three wars from Vietnam, from Korea, Algeria and countless other conflicts.

His books are bestsellers in Germany. There is some information in English on his previous book, "Superpower in Quicksand". Unfortunately the only one translated to English seems to be "Death in the Rice Fields", an eyewitness account on three wars in Vietnam.

What makes Scholl-Latour's books attractive, is his personal knowledge of actors and places.

Just as one example, he was the only western journalist to accompany Ayatollah Khomeni, who he criticize, to Tehran in 1979. Unsure of his treatment on arrival, Khomeni entrusted Scholl-Latour to carry his handwritten version of the new Iranian constitution.

For his new book he visited the U.S., North Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.

  • In a discussion with Senator McCain they agree on the inability of a superpower to win an asymmetric war.
  • He talks with, often unnamed, officials in Phnom Penh and other places and is concluding that the power is with the military and Kim Jong Il is just a puppet the generals play.
  • In Vietnam he interviews General Giap who calls the war on Iraq "an unjustified war of aggression", denies to directly comment on it, but then recalls the battle of Dien Bien Phu and how a determined people can beat any occupation force.
  • In Iraq he has meetings with al-Hakim and Ayatollah al-Mudarissi, who will be the successor of Sistani.

Some of Scholl-Latour's conclusions:

  • Any attack on North Korea by the U.S., China or South Korea will end in a quagmire. There is no chance to win against a completely indoctrinated people and a military prepared for guerrilla resistance. In the current conflict the generals are determined to hand the U.S. a huge loss of face.
  • The Shia and their leader Sistani have outplayed the U.S. proconsuls by demanding the elections the U.S. propaganda of democracy set out. They may well build an axis from Persia to Lebanon to Bahrain.
  • The U.S. military is a "Thalassocrathic" force. It's carriers are dreadnoughts. There is no way it can every win a fight against a determined asymmetric land force.
  • Unlike in other wars, the  U.S. forces in Iraq are completely insulated from the local population. Though they have a lot of comfort, which does not really help their fighting spirit, the distance from the population and the inability to vent through alcohol, love or other human means leads to dangerous psychic crisis.
  • The "human factor" in the U.S. leadership just isn´t there. Like Russia with Gorbatschow, who lost the Sowjet empire in just a few years, the U.S. is only a few presidential acts away from a loss of its status and role in the world.
  • The U.S. and "the west" has no understanding for the dynamic and power of the social and religious movements in the Middle East. It acts weaken the traditional moderate forces of Islam.

In the eyes of this man, who has seen it all, the prophecy of Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar will again come true. The empire giant of gold and steel has feet made of clay which will break. The giant will fall.

Posted by b on December 27, 2005 at 05:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

December 26, 2005

Snow Job II

If there is an intensive effort at persuasion or deception, one has to check the details.


snow job - detail
by anna missed
paint on wood 38"x38"
uncompressed (130kb)
Full picture, uncompressed (140kb)

Posted by b on December 26, 2005 at 02:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

OT - 05-132

News, views, opinions ...

Posted by b on December 26, 2005 at 02:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (42)

December 24, 2005

Snow Job


snow job
by anna missed
paint on wood 38"x38"
uncompressed (140kb)

A heartfelt -non snow jobish- "Merry Christmas" to all of you.

Peace!

Posted by b on December 24, 2005 at 10:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Weekend Thread

Oepn thread ...

Posted by b on December 24, 2005 at 02:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (42)

December 22, 2005

DeadISH GWOT

(lifted from a comment)

by Debs is dead

It seems to me that this whole war on terror thing is moving into the endgame. It is OVER. Except of course innocent civilians are still dying. From the viewpoint of using this meme to control populations it is history though.

This is supported by the news that the US has been meeting secretly with what until recently they had been calling "Ba'athist dead enders".

With typical lack of insight into other people, BushCo seems surprised that this agreement to meet didn't lead to the much promised but never witnessed sight of Iraqis throwing flowers at US soldiers or even a quiet thank-you for releasing 24 senior Ba'athists imprisoned for nearly three years without an iota of evidence of wong-doing. No instead the ingrates wanted to complain about former US friends the United Iraqi Alliance, who are also good friends of Iran.

The Sunnis joined in complaint with secular parties, in particular oldest former US friend, Ayad Allawi, one time Iraqi Prime Minister, and seemed to expect that just because they allowed the election to be carried out unimpeded by the resistance, that the election should be fair and not like this:

"In Baghdad in particular, parties accused the police of supporting the main Shia list, the United Iraqi Alliance, the largest component in the present government. When preliminary results for Baghdad gave the Shia list - a coalition of several religious parties - 58% of the vote, the opposition claimed this proved their suspicions were justified. Nationally, the Shia list is likely to retain most of the 140 seats it has in the current parliament."
...
"The row is embarrassing US officials. They were clearly disappointed at Mr Allawi's poor result. Now the bitterness over fraud allegations is poisoning the atmosphere for the "broad-based government of national unity" which Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador, said on Tuesday he hoped to see. But they do not want an election rerun since this would ruin the image of a clean new democracy in Iraq they have been anxious to cultivate."

These simple-minded crims who have taken over US institutions are way way out of their depth in dealing with civilisations whose history goes back thousands of years not a mere 230 odd.

It's getting so complicated to spin alla this stuff that a hard working defense secretary doesn't know whether he's Arthur or Martha, who is still an enemy and who is a friend or even whose alive and whose dead.  To wit:

"Donald Rumsfeld told journalists en route to Pakistan that Bin Laden could be hiding somewhere on the Afghan-Pakistan border."
...

"I have trouble believing he is able to operate sufficiently to be in a position of major command over a worldwide al-Qaeda operation, but I could be wrong"

this little conundrum will continue to be a thorn in Rummy and co's side. No one appears prepared to follow the administration lead and just not talk about Bin Laden.

They want to know if he's dead which should be a good thing except it makes arguing continuing the GWOT problematic.

Or they want to know why he hasn't been killed or captured yet which is a definiate 'blackeye' but does permit continued handouts to Halliburton, Bechtel and all the other mates.

Hence Rummy being forced to have two bob each way the other day.

OBL isn't dead he's on vacation but Al Quaeda is dead...ish. DeadISH that's the word Rummy has been looking for! We should be able to use it everywhere. "The Iraqi insurgency is deadish so we have prevailed but we need to keep spending money. Someone get on the phone to Websters and make sure that deadish is listed online by C.O.B. What about that Brit faggot at Lincoln? Christian Bailey? About time he earned some of the millions we diverted from Fema to him. Tell him I want deadish in the Oxford Dictionary immediately".

Hmm I wonder if something smelly may in fact be deadish in the water.   

Posted by b on December 22, 2005 at 11:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

A Bit Too Rummy

When the new conservative German minister of defense, Jung, made is first visit to the U.S. last week, expectations were high.

Germany has some 2,400 soldiers in Afghanistan. That number had been announced to rise to 3,000 and to probably increase further.

Turns out Rumsfeld was a bit too rummy to achieve that. According to a press leak (in German), his first question to Jung was not if, but when Germany would lift its defense spending to 2% of GDP. That would be some 87% above today's level and would have zero political support.

When Jung mentioned the general German position on torture, Rumsfeld lectured him about his domestic U.S. law interpretation on that issue.

All in all - it did not go as smooth as expected and despite some friendly press-talk after that meeting, Jung seems to be pissed.

Today, on visit in Kabul, he announced the German troops numbers in Afghanistan to remain steady and to move most of those troops out of Kabul and into the peaceful and scenic northern region around Kunduz.

The U.S. strategy to sneak its troops out of Afghanistan and to leave the problem with NATO is now endangered.

Maybe the the poodle will pick up the mess and handle it as successful as the opium eradication program.

Posted by b on December 22, 2005 at 01:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Justitia Awakens

One government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the administration complained bitterly that the FISA process demanded too much: to name a target and give a reason to spy on it.
link

That is the state of the union:

The executive is on to grab more power to control the peasants. In New York, the police mixes agent provocateurs into political rallies. Simple book orders are suspicious. A Catholic worker group is spied on as the fifth column of a long dead enemy. No bounds are accepted. There is no need for reason.

The legislative is either up to do the business of the highest bidder or in constant S&M session not willing or able to reign in the administration. Elections are unreliable. The people and their representative are manipulated through fake terror.

All hope now rests on the third branch, the judiciary. And there we find some encouraging motions.

Though the real Fitzmas may only come next year, with Abramoff willing to spilling his guts, hopes are up for a long holiday season.

But the judges, not the prosecutors are decisive and some are upset enough to take a real stand.

Judge John Jones clobbered the creationists over their unintelligent designed fairy tales.

The rubber stamp FISA court is in uproar about being bypassed by the government. One judge resigned in protest. The others are preparing a revolt and demand in depth briefings.

One judge, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also said members could suggest disbanding the court in light of the president's suggestion that he has the power to bypass the court.

I´d love to see the editorials when that happens.

The same very conservative federal appeals court that allowed the administration to keep Jose Padilla as an "enemy combatant", is now seriously pissed off. The court first took its stand in favor of the administration and expected the case to be revisioned by the Supreme Court. But then the administration tried to chickened out and asked to declare Padilla a simple criminal. Say judge Luttig (pdf):

[W]e would regard the intentional mooting by the government of a case of this import out of concern for Supreme Court consideration not as legitimate justification but as admission of attempted avoidance of review. The government cannot be seen as conducting litigation with the enormous implications of this litigation [...] in such a way as to select by which forum as between the Supreme Court of the United States and an inferior appellate court it wishes to be bound.

Take that Darth Vader.

When the administration "complains bitterly" about a need to justify their actions in front of a court, all judges will listen up. Their mere existence is questioned. Independent of their political position, they will slash back at this in outrage.

Finally the administration may have created an enemy it can not frame as a terrorist threat.

But without that scam, there is little left for them to swagger about.

Posted by b on December 22, 2005 at 07:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

December 21, 2005

Open Thread

Sorry, busy today ... not really, but kind of

YOUR news and views ...

Posted by b on December 21, 2005 at 05:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (47)

No Lessons Learned

"Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the 1970s, served, I think, to erode the authority I think the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area," Cheney told reporters traveling with him on Air Force Two. "Especially in the day and age we live in … the president of the United States needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy."
Cheney Defends Domestic Spying

Posted by b on December 21, 2005 at 05:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

December 20, 2005

WB: The Vegan Threat

Billmon:

They hate us because of our freedom -- our meat-eating, fur-wearing freedom.

The Vegan Threat

Posted by b on December 20, 2005 at 11:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Amnesia


Amnesia
by anna missed
paint on wood 28"x37"
2004-5 (formerly ghost rodeo)
big (140kb)

---

"For Americans to promote the canard that democracy fosters peace must be the most extreme case of amnesia on record."

Link

Posted by b on December 20, 2005 at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

Echelon And FISA

Thesis: The U.S. administration is using an automated communication surveillance system to monitor communications between the domestic U.S. and foreign countries. The system is a enhanced version of the Echolon system developed by the National Security Agency during the cold war to spy on foreign communication.

The use of such a system in communication involving the domestic U.S. is against the Fourth Amendment and could not possibly be legal even through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

To be able to use the technology, the administration decided to break the law.

Noah Shachtman of Defense Tech asked if there are technical reasons that led the  administration to ignore the FISA procedures while wiretapping. I am now convinced that this is indeed the case.

Some hints come through the comments to his piece and there is additional information in today's Lichtblau/Sanger New York Times piece:

Administration officials, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the information, suggested that the speed with which the operation identified "hot numbers" - the telephone numbers of suspects - and then hooked into their conversations lay behind the need to operate outside the old law.

Described is an automated (i.e. speed) system that does not only wiretap calls from/to "hot numbers", it identifies new "hot numbers" on the fly.

The wiretapping process itself generates the criteria for further wiretapping.

This is an inherent feature of an evolved Echelon system that, I suspect, is now applied to the domestic United States.

ECHELON is a term associated with a global network of computers that automatically search through millions of intercepted messages for pre-programmed keywords or fax, telex and e-mail addresses.

For decades Echelon has been used by the NSA to spy on foreign telecommunications. Echelon has been investigated by the European Parliament because it has been and may  still be used for spying in commercial interests.

How does this work?

The system taps into general communication lines like international telecommunication satellite links and analyzes all traffic going through such lines.

The system listens to and processes communication in realtime. It is preconfigured with specific phone numbers, email addresses and/or keywords. An evolved Echelon may include speaker recognition.   

If a specific communication matches one of the preconfigured criteria, i.e. includes a specific number, keyword or voice, it is recorded in a large storage facility.

Database mining technologies and automated statistic methods are used to find patterns within and between the recorded communications. The discovery of such patterns may lead to further investigation or may modify the system's sensitivities.

The system may monitor a link to Pakistan and be triggered by all calls through that link originating from a mosque in Detroit. Those calls get recorded and the NSA's computer banks use speech recognition and automated translation to further analyze them. The process may also use speaker recognition via voice patterns to distinguish persons involved in the calls.

The wiretapping and statistical analyze of calls from the line of the mosque in Detroit may have found three calls that included the keyword "plane" and also involved the specific voice pattern of an unknown person A.

That specific voice pattern would then become a criteria for listening into other calls. If person A in his next call uses a cell phone to call uncle Muhammad in Karachi, the general surveillance of such calls to Pakistan would recognize his voice pattern and trigger its recording.

The process can catch a specific persons calls, even if that person uses multiple phones and connections. The wiretapping of the mosque's line generates new "hot numbers" for further wiretapping.

A similar process used on keywords starting with a preconfigured list could generate additional keywords. These would be added to the "trigger list" for further surveillance. A starting keyword may be "plane". A statistical relevant number of calls would be found to include the word "plane" and the word "plastic". This could lead to the word "plastic" being added to the keyword list.

The system also allows for statistical dissection of patterns and, more important, to find deviation from such pattern. While the use of the phrase "Merry Christmas" at the end of December is not suspect, its use in various calls in July and August would be quite suspicious and could trigger further investigation.

In general such a system will always generate a lot of false positives. Cases were people may get investigated, thrown into jails, "renditioned" and tortured because of some statistical anomaly.

FISA demands a "probable cause" to allow a wiretap. But with the application of an Echelon like system, the probable cause is generated by the wiretap. Indeed in their piece last Friday Rinsen/Lichtblau report:

A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, helped spur the [temporary] suspension, officials said. The judge questioned whether information obtained under the N.S.A. program was being improperly used as the basis for F.I.S.A. wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department, according to senior government officials.

The administration could not apply for FISA wiretaps because the system now used to wiretap is inherently incompatible to FISA. The administration could have gone to Congress to ask for a modification of the law, but it did not. Instead it broke the law.

Why did they do this?

In an interview a former NSA architect of Echelon II, Bruce McIndoe, explains:

"No system of such enormous magnitude would only be used for a single purpose. They use it for everything they can, if they feel it's necessary. Whenever they need to exploit its potential, they do it."

John Bolton may be able to tell more about such exploits.

Posted by b on December 20, 2005 at 05:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (23)

December 19, 2005

Weak Defense +

Billmon:

The Federales

---

Adding another thought.
Bush's argument: We  have to destroy the constitution in order to save it.
---

Bush's defense for breaking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) law does not make much sense.
He and his people come up with two arguments:

1. The FISA process is too slow.

2. The president has the constitutional power to do so bacause:

2a. - he is commander in chief and the nation is at war and
2b. - congress gave him the authority to use military force after 9/11.

No. 1 is bs, because FISA allows for immediate wiretapping and gives 72 hours to get the judge's consent. During the years the judge denied surveillance only in one of thousand cases.

For no. 2 someone with real legal knowledge will have to deconstruct that defense in detail. But I doubt that lawyers and courts will agree that the CiC's power, even if it could possibly include legal power for renditions outside the U.S., would be applicable to a pure domestic law and process.

To blame congress for giving him such power is a much too wide read of that resolution and I doubt that even his own party folks will follow him there.

The whole story stinks just because of 1. There is no reason to circumvent the FISA process unless someone plans to do and does something that is obviously illegal under FISA and would never get a judges consence.

Circumventing FISA does indeed harm any further legal processing of anybody caught in the process. There is some other reason behind this. Spying on the press (the NYT phoning their Baghdad bureau?) or spying on diplomats (Powell talking to someone in Europe?) are possibilities.

Posted by b on December 19, 2005 at 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

December 18, 2005

OT - 05-129

Bush is supposed to have a major TV-speech tonight. The first since 2003. What will/does he say and why?

News & views ...

Posted by b on December 18, 2005 at 04:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (52)

What You Read ...

NEW BEDFORD (RBN) - A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of George Orwell's tome on totalitarianism called "1984." Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further. "I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."

Agents' visit chills UMass Dartmouth senior

Posted by b on December 18, 2005 at 07:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (32)

WB: It's a Free Country

Billmon:

It's a Free Country

Posted by b on December 18, 2005 at 03:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

December 17, 2005

Lots of Questions

Bush acknowledges to have authorized the NSA spying within the United States on U.S. citizens.

Bush said the program was narrowly designed and used "consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution."

This is about as "consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution" as torture is.

Like that issue and the "enemy combatant", this on will come down to a constitutional conflict about the Yoo Doctrine.

Does the president have the right to break laws and/or order laws to be broken? Under what circumstances might he have those? In a case of war, might it be declared on drugs, poverty of terror, can he just overrule Congress and the courts?

Who did the NSA listen too? Is there a connection with the NSA intercepts Bolton received? The old Newsweek story about Bolton talks about 10,000 names and intercepts - not just a small band of would-be terrorists.

To fill the plate even more, we should not forget the scandalous NYT that did hold back the information until it was sure to come out in a book anyhow. Could you have published something before the 2004 election Mr. Sulzer?

---
Related links:
The original NYT story:
Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts
Additional information from the Post:
On Hill, Anger and Calls for Hearings Greet News of Stateside Surveillance (confusing)
A bit on the legal conflict:
Behind Power, One Principle as Bush Pushes Prerogatives

Posted by b on December 17, 2005 at 01:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

December 16, 2005

Tsunami On Its Way

by Monolycus

On 20th April, 2005 Senate bill 256 (sponsored by Senator Charles Grassley [R-IA]) became Public Law 109-8.  This law is better known by its more Orwellian title of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005.

Far from protecting consumers as its name implies, the purpose of the bill, according to most non-partisan consumer advocacy groups appears to be  "...padding the pockets of the wealth-heavy credit industry"

Of course, it comes as no surprise then to discover that bankruptcy legislation has been fueled in the first place by soft money from these same industries.

This is not an unusual development; certain Political Action Committees (PACs) have always promoted their interests by courting (and bribing) lawmakers.  Nothing untoward should be interpreted by the fact that this has worked out so very well for the top donor of the Republican Party's 2000 election campaign.

The problem is, the credit industry did more to get this law passed than to simply buy it outright.  They also internally produced the data used to cite the pressing need for consumer bankruptcy reform.  Neither the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI) nor the US Department of Justice (who actually administer the courts) maintain any aggregate or dollar-per-year statistics for personal bankruptcy filings.  The U.S. government's position on the issue is that:

A lack of data hinders any attempt to analyze the effect of bankruptcy law on borrowers and lenders. The official statistics collected by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts are insufficient to determine how well the bankruptcy system is working. For example, such basic information as the total amount of debt discharged in personal bankruptcy is lacking, and the data on personal bankruptcy filings have several problems that limit their usefulness.
A 2000 Review from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)

In a commendable display of "can-do" (or "screw you") spirit, the credit industry hasn't let a lack of unbiased data hold them down.  They simply used the data given to them by the neutral-sounding, Washington-based National Bankruptcy Review Commission (NBRC).

Unfortunately, we discover that the credit industry is more than represented on the NBRC, and their figures have been criticised by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, the Congressional Budget Office and the US General Accounting Office.    There has also been an independent study from Harvard and the University of Nevada which suggests that the

...recently passed Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 may have been based on misleading information regarding small businesses.

Essentially, by failing to analyse the decisions of entrepeneur's to file for personal (rather than business) bankruptcy, the NBRC may have skewed the data as much as 15.4% in favor of their case. By using their own internally-generated (and non-verifiable) statistics, the NBRC have categorically claimed that the yearly cost of Chapter 7 bankruptcies is $44 billion and that 10-20% of filers are deliberately abusing the system for personal gain.

Others, not associated with the credit industry, have placed the rate of fraud closer to 3%... but since nobody has made public their magical means of identifying intent, the actual figure will have to remain something of a mystery.

What is clear in either case, though, is that the individuals who pursue bankruptcy with intent to defraud are a minority of filers.  Even the (probably) inflated figures from the credit industry demonstrate that most people who are filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy (they do not address the issue of Chapter 13, or partial repayment) do so from a genuine need.

Okay, so what?  The credit industry pushed a law through that harms the consumer.  Nothing new there, right?  Apart from how badly this hurts the consumer, there actually is something new about this.

Any business that holds unsecured debt (and that is the basis of credit), factors in what is known as their "risk premium".  This is, essentially, both a reward and an insurance policy that creditors give themselves to make up for the fact that they will, in all probability, lose some fraction of their investments.

Ever wonder why the interest rates on credit cards don't qualify as usurous?  There's your answer; they are spreading out their risk premium over all the debtholders to insure that they continue to make a profit.

The passage of Public Law 109-8 has in many ways secured what was previously unsecured debt, but do not hold your breath waiting for this to be reflected by the risk premium you are being charged by your local bank or credit card company.

The funny thing about this is that by calculating and applying their risk premium, the harm caused by an individual declaring bankruptcy (fraudulently or otherwise) does not touch the credit agency; it has always been absorbed by the consumers who do not default on their unsecured loans. In other words, unless something catastrophic were to take place in which an overwhelming majority defaulted on their debts suddenly, the creditors have statistically guaranteed that they will continue to make a profit and remain in business.

This begs the question then; is the credit industry simply being more avaricious than ever, or do they have reason to suspect that an economic tsunami is on its way?

Posted by b on December 16, 2005 at 07:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Open Thread

We are baaaaaccckkk.

Hope you have missed MoA!

What happened? 

The typepad folks somehow screwed up their scheduled maintenance.

Shit happens ... I once kicked half a million users offline by accident and it took 2/3 of a day to get them back online. They were not amused ... Anyhow:

News & Views ...

Posted by b on December 16, 2005 at 06:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (43)

December 15, 2005

Voting in Iraq

Still in search of holiday presents? How about Baghdad Burning - Riverbend's girl blog from Iraq now available as a book (Amazon, Barnes&Nobel).

Today Riverbend posted some observations on the campaigns and election. The Iran supported Shia list is likely to win. For Iraqi women this a huge step backwards:

The last press conference I watched of Hakim was a few days ago. [...] The women were sitting on one side of the audience and the men were sitting on the other side, the sexes separated by a narrow aisle. The women all wore black abbayas and headscarves. It could have been a scene out of Teheran.

Imad has a picture of what he says is the official ballot.

Just like Afghanistan, Iraq is now a failed state. There is no central power in control. Iraq will either break up fast with a minor civil war, or it will smolder until something bigger, like an attack on Iran, triggers a chain of general wars throughout the Middle East.

Ask yourself: What list would you choose?

And buy Riverbend`s book. It may be her ticket out of the mess.

Posted by b on December 15, 2005 at 09:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

December 14, 2005

$300 Million Propaganda

A $300 million Pentagon psychological warfare operation includes plans for placing pro-American messages in foreign media outlets without disclosing the U.S. government as the source, one of the military officials in charge of the program says.

Run by psychological warfare experts at the U.S. Special Operations Command, the media campaign is being designed to counter terrorist ideology and sway foreign audiences to support American policies.

The program will operate throughout the world, including in allied nations and in countries where the United States is not involved in armed conflict.
Pentagon rolls out stealth PR

The $300 million will be spend over five years. Three companies the Lincoln Group, SACI and SYColeman did get the contracts.

This is not a new scheme. Influence campaigns are already running, not only in the Middle East, but also in Europe

New is the dimension. $300 million is not easy to hide from scrutiny. Maybe that is the reason for the preemptive announcement. But then, this could also be one huge job advertisement.

"How much may do you pay?", a Reuters or AP reporter may be tempted to ask. How much would you spend for an editorial in Le Monde, The London Times or Frankfurter Allgemeine?

The Pentagon is not allowed to spend money on propaganda in the U.S., but the results of this campaign will of course resound in the U.S. media.

Next year the NYT may headline: "Iran Said to Have Tested Nukes"  and report: - As German media reported, ... or:  - First reported by a British broadcaster, ... or more simple:  - According to an AFP report, ....

Thinking about it. Is the Pentagon really interested to move foreign opinion in its favor? It usually does not behave that way.

Could therefore domestic influence be the real priority for this spending binge?

Posted by b on December 14, 2005 at 02:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (37)

December 13, 2005

"How to Defeat Hamas, Froomkin, More"



Screenshot from www.washingtonpost.com, Oct 19, 2005

Back in October I sent the above screenshot to Dan Froomkin and asked "Who is More?". Dan wrote back: "I consider myself warned! Thanks for the heads up!".

This Sunday the Washington Post newspaper ombudswoman, Deborah Howell, wrote:

Political reporters at The Post don't like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing," which is highly opinionated and liberal. They're afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter.

WPNI is the company that runs the www.washingtonpost.com. Froomkin's daily column is funny and filled with interesting links and background information. Naturally, a column that has taken up the task to depict White House spin, can hardly give the impression to be Bush-friendly.

Howell continues:

John Harris, national political editor at the print Post, said, "The title invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset -- our credibility" as objective news reporters. Froomkin writes the kind of column "that we would never allow a White House reporter to write."

I wonder what Karl told Harris in that recent phone call. It is all about access, that is the only asset Harris believes in - and in the great works of the "official court stenographer of the Bush administration", Bob Woodward.

Froomkin responds in a blog entry, as does Harris. If you look through the comments to their posts, that attack was not the way to defeat Froomkin. Hundreds of comments and 99.99% are positive for Froomkin.

But then, I still do not know who this More is.

Posted by b on December 13, 2005 at 01:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

Insincerity

An officer handed Nahvi's mother, Nancy, a form asking if she wanted her 24-year-old son's body parts returned if they were recovered. President Bush sent his parents a three-paragraph condolence letter. It contained a typo: "God less you."
A Unit's Fitful Year at War, WaPo, Dec 13, 2005

---

Words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.
Politics and the English Language, George Orwell, 1946

Posted by b on December 13, 2005 at 02:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

December 12, 2005

News & Views ...

Open Thread ...

Posted by b on December 12, 2005 at 03:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (93)

Scandals

The Washington Post has this nice graphic about the flow of money in the Abramoff scandal. Over $5.3 million has flown from casino rich tribes through Abramoff's lobbying shop to committee heads in Congress. Most of the money did go to Republicans, but a hefty share also went to Democrats.

Money from special economic interests flowing to politicians to achieve influence is about normal. As long as U.S. companies have a free speech right, i.e. can give to political parties, this will not change. Once in a while people get too greedy and start breaking the laws and every ten years or so a scandal like the above blows up.

But the moral dimension changes when the special economic interests are to loot the tax payers. In his pieces (1,2) about the Lincoln Group Billmon suspected a flow of money from U.S. government financed contracts through companies working in Iraq to the GOP.

Though that scandal still waits to blow up, other are getting public and they may be connected.

Defense contracts for several hundred millions and secret CIA contracts, pushed by ex-congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham and others in their committees, went to individuals and companies who had given him bribes. But it was not only these bribes. A lot of the money made from these contracts went through a bunch of on-paper companies and from there as donations to political coffers.

There is much dteail to this and while I try to get a grip on it, there are pieces from The Left Coaster, Cannonfire (with an update) and Laura Rozen in the Prospect and her blog. This scandal is also connected to the Abramoff case.

A perfect money cycle of financing politicians, receiving government contacts through their influence and looting the money made from those contacts for the next round of the profit spiral.

It looks even possible that one these fake companies did get the contract to analyze the Iraqi aluminum tubes. After only a day they came back calling them unsuitable for rockets, i.e. likely to be used for uranium centrifuges.

Tax payer money spend to convince the tax payer of a need for war.

A few people profit from this, either in money or in political power, or even both. A lot of people lose their limbs or lives - democracy?

Posted by b on December 12, 2005 at 12:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

December 11, 2005

Calendar Problems

Viveka Novak, a journalist for Time who last week testified in the Plamegate case, spills her beans about the questions Fitzgerald put to her.

Turns out she had a calender problem similar to Judy Miller's.

Luskin, Rove's attorney, is a longtime source and friend of V. Novak. They came together for some wine several times a year.

Rove in his first testimonies did not disclose that he had mentioned Valerie Plame to Time reporter Cooper Miller. He later changed that testimony. That could be the base of a perjury charge.

Luskin says this change came because he, Luskin, was tipped off by V. Novak that Rove might have talked to Cooper Miller and only after this tip off a Rove email was found by Luskin that reflected the phone call between Rove and Miller. That email then, Luskin says, was the base for Rove to change his story.

Fitzgerald of course did want to check Luskin's tell and had a first talk with V. Novak on Nov 10. This was not under oath and Novak did not disclose that talk to Time. Novak does confirm Luskin's story:

Toward the end of one of our meetings, I remember Luskin looking at me and saying something to the effect of "Karl doesn't have a Cooper problem. He was not a source for Matt." I responded instinctively, thinking he was trying to spin me, and said something like, "Are you sure about that? That's not what I hear around TIME." He looked surprised and very serious. "There's nothing in the phone logs," he said.

But she was unsure when that conversation happened.

Fitzgerald wanted to know when this conversation occurred. At that point I had found calendar entries showing that Luskin and I had met in January and in May. Since I couldn't remember exactly how the conversation had developed, I wasn't sure. I guessed it was more likely May.

Fitzgerald must have smelled something fishy here, because he later came back and asked V. Novak to repeat her testimony under oath. Now mysteriously a new date is found in her calender.

Fitzgerald had asked that I check a couple of dates in my calendar for meetings with Luskin. One of them, March 1, 2004, checked out. I hadn't found that one in my first search because I had erroneously entered it as occurring at 5 a.m., not 5 p.m.

When Fitzgerald and I met last Thursday, along with another lawyer from his team, my attorney, a lawyer from Time Inc. and the court reporter, he was more focused. The problem with the new March date was that now I was even more confused--previously I had to try to remember if the key conversation had occurred in January or May, and I thought it was more likely May. But March was close enough to May that I really didn't know. "I don't remember" is an answer that prosecutors are used to hearing, but I was mortified about how little I could recall of what occurred when.

The timing is of course all important. Rove first testified to the Grand Jury in February 2004. So the big question here, if the V.Novak story is believable at all, is whether Luskin did get her tip on Cooper before or after that Rove interview.

Please notice that March is just as close to January as it is to May, Indeed, March 1 is obviously closer to January than to May.

We may never get the answers, but Fitzgerald's step to take a second testimony from her under oath and that curious calender problem open a new set of questions.

Posted by b on December 11, 2005 at 12:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)

That Goddamned Piece of Paper

This from Capital Hill Blue, not always the most believable source, but it fits everything else we know.

Last month, Republican Congressional leaders filed into the Oval Office to meet with President George W. Bush and talk about renewing the controversial USA Patriot Act.
...
GOP leaders told Bush that his hardcore push to renew the more onerous provisions of the act could further alienate conservatives still mad at the President from his botched attempt to nominate White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

“I don’t give a goddamn,” Bush retorted. “I’m the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way.”

“Mr. President,” one aide in the meeting said. “There is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution.”

“Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,” Bush screamed back. “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

I’ve talked to three people present for the meeting that day and they all confirm that the President of the United States called the Constitution “a goddamned piece of paper.”
Bush on the Constitution: 'It's just a goddamned piece of paper'

Posted by b on December 11, 2005 at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

December 10, 2005

Confusing Reports

There is a lot of outrage about something the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is supposed to have said. The UN security council condemns him, the EU is chipping in and several states had harsh talks with their respective ambassador from Iran.

The papers report Ahmadinejad "denied the holocaust" and "called for Israel to be relocated to Europe". But did he really say so and when and to whom?

Ahmadinejad spoke on December 8th. He was in Mecca at an Organization of the Islamic Conference summit which just published a very significant declaration calling for modernization of the Ummah and a jihad on terrorism. (Not that you will read about it elsewhere, the western press hardly mentioned it.)

But other than that, the sources are divide about who Ahmadinejad talked to and what he said. No media source I found seems to have had a reporter in place. Everybody is relying on news agencies reports.

So here are the three major western agencies. Please read their dispatches with a mind to details.

Reuters says:

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday expressed doubt that the Holocaust occurred and suggested Israel be moved to Europe.
...
His comments, reported by Iran's official IRNA news agency from a news conference he gave in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, ...

After an hour of searching and reading, I still fail to find such a report on the IRNA website. Reuters then cites Ahmadinejad:

"Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces and they insist on it to the extent that if anyone proves something contrary to that they condemn that person and throw them in jail," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

"Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question for the Europeans is: is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the reason for their support to the occupiers of Jerusalem?" he said.

"If the Europeans are honest they should give some of their provinces in Europe -- like in Germany, Austria or other countries -- to the Zionists and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe. You offer part of Europe and we will support it."

This could be constructed as a holocaust denial, but a serious call to move Israel to Europe?

The Associated Press report has the details (or translation?) a bit different:

Iran's hard-line president, who once called for Israel to be ``wiped off the map,'' again sparked a barrage of international criticism Thursday, saying the Jewish state should be moved to Europe and questioning whether the Holocaust took place.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad implied that European countries backed the founding of Israel in the Middle East in 1948 out of guilt over the Nazi genocide.

``Some European countries insist on saying that during World War II, Hitler burned millions of Jews and put them in concentration camps,'' Ahmadinejad said. ``Any historian, commentator or scientist who doubts that is taken to prison or gets condemned.''

``Let's assume what the Europeans say is true ... Let's give some land to the Zionists in Europe or in Germany or Austria,'' he said. ``They faced injustice in Europe, so why do the repercussions fall on the Palestinians?''

Is "Let's assume what the Europeans say is true ..." a denial? And what parts of that statement, the "...",  is missing in the report? Where is the "If the Europeans ..." condition from the Reuters dispatch in the AP piece? What is the source?

AFP has a third version:

Ahmadinejad, who in October said arch-enemy Israel must be "wiped off the map", said that if Germany and Austria believed Jews were massacred during World War II, a state of Israel should be established on their soil.

"You believe the Jews were oppressed, why should the Palestinian Muslims have to pay the price?" he asked in an interview with Iranian state television's Arabic-language satellite channel, Al-Alam.

"You oppressed them, so give a part of Europe to the Zionist regime so they can establish any government they want. We would support it," he said, according to a transcript of his original Farsi-language comments given to AFP.

"So, Germany and Austria, come and give one, two or any number of your provinces to the Zionist regime so they can create a country there... and the problem will be solved at its root," he said.

"Why do they insist on imposing themselves on other powers and creating a tumour so there is always tension and conflict?"

While Reuters cites IRNA and a "press conference". The IRNA site does not carry a report that says so. AP does not give any context of where, when and to whom Ahmadinejad spoke. AFP has a translated transcript from a TV interview. Please choose the one you prefer.

But is this an all out holocaust denial? None of the agency reports would deserve that headline. Is this a call to move Israel to Europe? I read a big if there that only intends to challenge European support for Israel. But then, your mileage may vary. I for one would prefer much better reporting on this before anything else.

Like for context: when and to whom spoke Ahmadinejad. Who came up with what question? What was the overall theme?

And could one mention Netanyahu, who last Monday called for a preemptive strike on civilian infrastructure in Iran, followed by the Israeli defense minister Mofaz who speaks with regard to Iran of solutions "other than diplomatic" (BTW: is that a Hitler quote?).

Posted by b on December 10, 2005 at 03:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (94)

Open Weekend Thread

News & views ...

Posted by b on December 10, 2005 at 03:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (72)

December 09, 2005

Emissions Accomplished

International climate talks in Montreal: U.S. Delegation Walks Out. The U.S. and Australia are blocking any Kyoto successor. A decent press roundup with a debug of the Australian spin is in this WaPo World Opinion.

Flying in an ex U.S. president on short notice was a bit of a stunt, but of course it didn´t change anything:

"I think it's crazy for us to play games with our children's future," Mr. Clinton said. "We know what's happening to the climate, we have a highly predictable set of consequences if we continue to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and we know we have an alternative that will lead us to greater prosperity."

But maybe this gave a realistic impression:

The National Environmental Trust distributed custom-printed noise-making rubber whoopee cushions printed with a caricature of President Bush and the words "Emissions Accomplished."

Posted by b on December 9, 2005 at 05:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Lennon

"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. … I don't know what will go first—Rock and Roll or Christianity. We're more popular than Jesus now. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

A decent walk from my place is the Reeperbahn. At the beginning of their career they played for a few month at one of the clubs there. Their old hairdresser still has the autographs hanging in his shop.

I was a bit too young to really get the early records. Later, during some interesting travels with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, I started to understand relativity.

The music was part of my personal revolution. The White Album is one of my treasures. His portrait is one of the most intense photographs I know.

Annie gives a precious intense view on him in her comment:

---

by annie

i was stringing popcorn unsuccessfully, it was before i knew dayold popcorn strung better. i heard it over the radio.   

when i was ten i thought i might marry him. i belonged to a fan club and got the records before they were available at the record stores. there was a section between the living and dining rooms w/sliding doubledoors, a closet area w/the record player. my only record. i would dance for hours to the same songs.

one of my fondest memories is my father bringing home 2 tickets to the cow palace. by the time we went his leg was in a cast. i left him immediately once they appeared and ran to the stage. i was one of the first and as a result was directly in front of him, a crowd pushing against my back, security guards in front. the dress i had made for the occasion got ripped. they stopped the music and said they wouldn't continue unless we calmed down. i was 11. my first concert.

we spent one christmas in lake tahoe, i got frost bite. the revolver album came out. i understood what he meant in norwegian wood, after close scrutiny.

i met john lennon. really. it was when he and yoko came to the bay area to concieve, something to do w/a healer or acupuncturist in sf. would have been summer 71 possibly 72. about 9 months before sean was born. they rented my friends house. i was the nanny/babysitter. it was a house fashioned out of the wood from an old bridge on lovell avenue in mill valley. i spent days cleaning making it just right. we had to remove all the childrens drawings from the walls. and place a television across from the bed. i placed a ceramic bowl i had made for them and filled it with figs, i assume they took it, it wasn't there when we returned. i also left a detailed map of one of my favorite intimate places to go for a walk where they would not be distirbed. my friend rosa, who owned the house, her 4 children and i were going to mexico while they were there. by then i was not the same 11 year old girl. i had been altered thru teen years of herman hesse, peyote, dylan and his music. and the 60's.

that night listening to the radio, first that he had been shot, then the finality. everything flooded back to me. the figs, if they ever followed the map. feeling so very small and looking in his eyes. this is a very private memory, i don't know why i am telling you now. it's not exactly a secret, but nothing i usually share.

Posted by b on December 9, 2005 at 03:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Torture Works

Qaeda-Iraq Link U.S. Cited Is Tied to Coercion Claim

The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.

The man was renditioned to Egypt, was tortured and testified on Al Qaeda-Iraq links. The professionals did not believe him, but the Cheney administration did use the testimony to justify the Iraq war.

So it did work for them. Too lazy to make up the lies themself I guess.

Posted by b on December 9, 2005 at 03:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

December 08, 2005

"Our Oil Interests"

The U.S. public does not eat all the propaganda crumbs falling off the administration table - like we "promote democracy/piece in the Middle East" or we "free Iraqi people".

But other things like the false "Irak => terrorism" meme seem to stick.

The numbers are quite interesting and I am trying to understand the psychology behind this.

Here are answers to an open question from a current CBS News/New York Times poll (pdf):

53. Why do you think the Bush Administration decided to go to war against Iraq?

Protect our oil interests 17
Protect the U.S. from terrorism 15
Finish what his father started/personal vendetta 13
To get Saddam Hussein 10
Protect the U.S. from WMD's 9
Because of 9/11 8
Protect the country in general 4
Administration officials wanted to go to war 2
Promote democracy/peace in Middle East 2
So American companies can make money 1
Free Iraqi people 1
Other 7
DK/NA 11

Now could someone please explain what "our oil interests" are in this context?

Today oil climbed above $60/barrel again (and will keep rising). Are "our oil interests" and the failure of the Cheney regime to keep the price low the only decisive reason for the general bad poll numbers?

Posted by b on December 8, 2005 at 05:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (53)

December 07, 2005

Pinter: The Dignity of Man

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

Today Harold Pinter received the Nobel Prize in Literature 2005. He did give a conscience-rattling lecture:

Art, Truth & Politics.

Pinter first looks at art and describes how his plays grow:

Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image.
...
It’s a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author’s position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define.

The political play demands something else, objectivity he says, and he dissects post World War II U.S. politics using that tool.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America’s favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as ‘low intensity conflict’.
...
It is estimated that 75,000 people died [in El Salvador]. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.
...
The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good.

That veil is gone. Today, Pinter says, the U.S. does not even care about a cover up. He talks about openly force feed prisoners in Guantanamo and continues with Iraq.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation.
...
Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began.
...
The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark.

But maybe there is some hope:

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government’s actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force – yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

Back to arts:

A writer’s life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don’t have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection – unless you lie – in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.
...
[S]ometimes a writer has to smash the mirror – for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.

If only for this lecture, Pinter deserves the prize.

Posted by b on December 7, 2005 at 03:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (44)

Open Thread 05-125

News & views ...

Posted by b on December 7, 2005 at 02:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (37)

No(n) U.S. Personnel

In reaction to serious international pressure, the U.S. government today seems to paddle back from its torture policy.

Rice Signals Shift in Interrogation Policy

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought Wednesday to clarify U.S. policy on harsh interrogation methods, saying no U.S. personnel may use cruel or degrading practices at home or abroad.
...
"As a matter of U.S. policy," Rice said the United Nations Convention against Torture "extends to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the U.S. or outside the U.S."

The U.N. treaty also prohibits treatment that doesn't meet the legal definition of torture, including many practices that human rights organizations say were used routinely at the U.S. military prison camp at  Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

There are two issues with this. First of course is how much to believe "mushroom cloud" Condi. Call me suspicious on that one.

But more important are the big loopholes within the words "no U.S. personnel may use".

- Does this mean "non U.S. personnel may use"?
- Does Rice include or exclude unofficial U.S. people like CACI contract interrogators?
- What about people renditioned by the U.S. to other countries and foreign torture practitioners?

And please why is there this inconsistency?

Even so, asked if Rice had stated a new U.S. policy for the treatment of detainees abroad, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, "It's existing policy."

I am not convinced.

Posted by b on December 7, 2005 at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Another Speech

In defense of his war policy, President Bush will highlight1 U.S. efforts to help Iraqis overhaul their economy and rebuild their shattered infrastructure _ an endeavor continually undermined by unrelenting violence.

Bush's speech Wednesday, to focus on economic progress in Iraq, will be the second in a series of addresses to answer criticism and questions about U.S. presence in Iraq. The administration has cited increases in Iraq's gross domestic product, work to boost oil production, the creation of new businesses and an explosion of cell phones as evidence of economic progress.
Bush to Focus on Economic Progress in Iraq Dec.7, 2005


1 "The electricity schedule in what appears to be most areas in Baghdad is currently FIVE hours of no electricity for every one hour of electricity."
Riverbend Dec.1, 2005

Posted by b on December 7, 2005 at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 06, 2005

Pentagon Weighs Personnel Cuts To Pay for Weapons

(RBN) - Washington - December 5, 2009

As the Defense Department scrambles to finalize its budget for the coming fiscal year, the Air Force is looking to secure much of its savings by cutting active and reserve forces, instead of slashing weapons purchases.

The Pentagon move to sacrifice manpower in order to protect high-tech weaponry is an about-face from signals in recent months that defense-industry executives and their Pentagon staff were girding for deep weapons-program cuts to offset huge bills from the expanding war on the Middle East.

The personnel moves may be controversial, but they reflect the military's need to replace aging depot equipment that has been pushed to the limit.

The shift is good news for the nation's major defense contractors, which appear to have dodged major cutbacks in big-ticket weapons purchases. The Air Force often has been on the defensive under Defense Secretary Joe Lieberman. Some of the savings realized through personnel cuts could be used to pay for programs to refill the depots with the most modern technology.

To stay within its expected budget, the Air Force is planning to cut at least 2,000, and perhaps as many as 2,800 of its 4,000 pilots, plus civilians and contractor-support staff through fiscal 2015, military officials said. The exact composition of the cuts isn't known, though their thrust is clear: "This is one way to pay the bills without messing around with the programs for the 1,800 indispensable new planes coming into service during the next years," said one official involved in the Air Force budget.

The Navy previously committed to shrinking its uniformed personnel as planners consider to expand the fleet with more-automated warships.

Manpower reductions affecting either the Air Force's uniformed or civilian acquisition corps are expected to face particular scrutiny, because the service has gone through years of scandal and morale-sapping controversy over allegations that Boeing received preferential treatment on some big-ticket aircraft and munitions programs. As a result, the Air Force's leadership will be hard-pressed to advocate further slimming down of the two positions for contracting and oversight functions.

source

Posted by b on December 6, 2005 at 05:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

December 05, 2005

Fresh Open One

Your news and views ...

Posted by b on December 5, 2005 at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (66)

That Woman?

So Rice is coming to Europe. But instead of answering questions about CIA flights and torture camps, she will tell the European politicians to screw themselves.

Just in time Dana Priest reports that the German Minister of Interior was informed when the U.S. tried to silently free an erroneous renditioned German. He even helped a bit to cover things up.

Rice of course has a point. European governments did know about the CIA flights and the existence of torture camp. Having said nothing so far, the official requests to the U.S. about CIA flights now are hypocritical.

But to publicly pledge allegiance to the Cheney government torture policy, as Rice demands, is not something any European politician can do without a very heavy toll at the ballot box.

In Germany the new Chancellor Merkel and her cabinet will get squeezed over this. Merkel intended to make again friends with the Amerikaner. Now, no matter what she is going to say, her polls will drop with any picture showing Condi and Angie smiling at each other.

Does Rice really believe she is making friends this way? Does she really believe the European governments will follow the legalized torture arguments of the Cheney government? With all European media discussing nothing else?

The picture above is from Tagesschau.de. Tagesschau is the, non-partisan, prime evening TV news in Germany. As a politician, would you like to be associated with the public view of that woman?

I guess U.S.-European relations just dropped another few degrees.

Posted by b on December 5, 2005 at 12:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

December 04, 2005

Growth Through Energy

anna missed points to some angry childish comments on energy consumption, Senator Grassley recently made on NPR:

You know, what--what makes our economy grow is energy. And, and Americans are used to going to the gas tank (sic), and when they put that hose in their, uh, tank, and when I do it, I wanna get gas out of it.  And when I turn the light switch on, I want the lights to go on, and I don't want somebody to tell me I gotta change my way of living to satisfy them. Because this is America, and this is something we've worked our way into, and the American people are entitled to it, and if we're going improve (sic) our standard of living, you have to consume more energy.

When you have worked your way into a mess, you are entitled to it - for now and ever.

That is as stupid as it gets, even worse is his claim of a relation of economic growth, improved standards of living and energy consumption.

That relation is hard to avoid for undeveloped countries. It is unnecessary in a developed country where everybody has food and shelter and can live a life in relative luxury. At a certain development level growth can be accomplished with less energy usage.

At least that is what Germany's big oil, the German mineral oil industry and distributor association says. Their May 2005 study forecasts (pdf in German) the change in energy usage in Germany up to 2020.

According to their calculations total usage of primary energy in Germany during the next fifteen years will sink by 5%. Oil and oil products, which today have an energy market share of 36.5%, will sink to a 34% share. Today's use of 115 million (metric) tons per year (1 metric ton = 7.33 barrels) of oil will be lowered to 101 million tons in 2020.

These decreases are driven by today's energy politics. High gas taxes encourage cars with better mileage. Gasoline consumption will sink by 33% and diesel fuel consumption by 10%.

Tough building standards plus the existing tax credits for house insulation and better heating methods will lead to a 20% decrease in heating oil usage.

Will the Germans of 2020 be poorer than today? Will they be less mobile? 

Of course not -  the study reasonably assumes a real (ex. inflation) GDP increase of 1.5% per year, a 2004-2020 total increase of 32%. The population numbers are about steady, mobility is assumed to increase (more air traffic) as is oil usage for industrial goods.

Grassley links two factors, growth and energy usage, that are only linked if politics do allow the link to continue. A few and relatively unobtrusive measures can decrease energy usage while enabling decent economic growth.

But such measures have to be taken now, or much harsher rules will have to be made later.

Because this is America will not heat a home or fill up a car, neither will war on the Middle East.

Please send Grassley back to the kindergarten. He has much to learn.

Posted by b on December 4, 2005 at 12:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

December 03, 2005

Weekend OT

News & views

Posted by b on December 3, 2005 at 05:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (66)

December 02, 2005

The Secretary of IIA

A Los Angeles Times OpEd today says: "It's propaganda time"

A permanent leadership is needed in the form of a new Cabinet department that can knock together heads to force integrated influence activities — a Ministry of Propaganda, if you will.

If you want a total war, this is certainly one element you need.

Posted by b on December 2, 2005 at 04:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

Victory in Iraq?

Ten Marines on foot patrol were killed and 11 wounded by a roadside bomb near Fallujah, Iraq, in one of the deadliest attack on American troops in recent months, the Marine Corps announced on Friday. A brief statement said the Marines were from Regimental Combat Team 8, of the 2nd Marine Division.
10 Marines Killed in Bombing Near Fallujah, Dec. 2, 2005

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PROGRESS ON THE SECURITY TRACK

  • Our clear, hold, and build strategy is working:
    • Significant progress has been made in wresting territory from enemy control. During much of 2004, major parts of Iraq and important urban centers were no-go areas for Iraqi and Coalition forces. Fallujah, Najaf, and Samara were under enemy control. Today, these cities are under Iraqi government control, and the political process is taking hold.

National Strategy for Victory in Iraq (pdf), Nov. 30, 2005

Posted by b on December 2, 2005 at 12:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (32)

Thou Shall Not Kill

A convicted murderer was put to death Friday in the nation's 1,000th execution since capital punishment resumed in 1977.

Kenneth Lee Boyd, 57, received a lethal injection and was pronounced dead at 2:15 a.m., said state Department of Correction spokeswoman Pam Walker. Boyd was convicted of killing his estranged wife and father-in-law in 1988.

His death came after both Gov. Mike Easley and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene and stop the execution.
U.S. Executes 1,000th Person Since 1977

Posted by b on December 2, 2005 at 04:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

 
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