Sunday, December 31, 2006

Clearing Bush

Froomkin delivers a round-up of the year of the burning Bush. I especially like the bit about why Bush might think we are "winning" in Iraq:
One of the more reality-defying aspects of President Bush's position on the war in Iraq is his insistence that we're winning.

That was a central theme at yesterday's press conference. . . .

"Absolutely, we're winning," Bush said. "As a matter of fact, my view is the only way we lose in Iraq is if we leave before the job is done."

With the body counts soaring, the country descending deeper into civil war and the central government consistently unable to assert itself, how can he call this winning?

The answer: It's becoming increasingly clear that Bush sees the war in Iraq in very simple terms. As he himself said, he believes that the only way to lose is to leave. Therefore anything else is winning -- anything else at all.

Even if no progress is being made -- even if things are getting worse, rather than better -- simply staying is winning.

So we're winning.
Great stuff.

Happy New Year!

I thought this pic was pretty cool, from Charles Miller's The Fishbowl

Happy New Year!


At the end of this year, the mainstream media narrative regarding exit polls has been all but sealed: they are not the reliable gauges they once were. In fact, mainstream efforts have centered around discrediting exit polls when their results indicated that something untoward might have taken place in a given election, especially in an election in which the US government and the corporate establishment have vested interests and where the results have been -- or might have been -- less than desirable.

Lately the move has been to keep exit polls results entirely hidden from public scrutiny. We saw this in the recent mid-terms elections. No commercial networks discussed their exit polls on air, or even that they had exit poll data. It turned out the CNN did publish exit poll data on their website, which were slurped up by the Election Defense Alliance. The data, as one might expect, showed significant discrepancies with the votes totals -- some 3 million Democratic votes went missing just as they had in 2004 -- but this was never mentioned. Warren Mitofsky, inventor of the exit poll, explained his rationale for having Mexican television networks keep exit polls a secret: things were "too close to call." Mitofsky, of course, had an interest in protecting the validity of his exit polls while refusing to acknowledge that they might indicate something amiss with certain elections -- at least with elections in the US and Mexico. No one had any trouble citing exit polls in the Ukraine when those polls indicated election fraud. But in North America, exit polls transmogrified into statistical trouble-makers. Americans must be a strange lot, with Republicans especially skittish about telling pollsters what their preferences were. After the 2004 elections, elections that left 3.6 million votes uncounted, any number of ad hoc explanations surfaced about why the exit polls were "wrong." In light of the huge number of uncounted votes -- 240,000 in Ohio alone -- these explanations were shown to be entirely specious, but they were marshalled onto the pages of the mainstream press while the same outlets never bothered to report the number of uncounted votes.

Which is why I found Matt Bai's brief yet entirely mendacious load of bullshit in the pages of The Times Magazine a fitting year-end wrap to the mainstream media's enduring campaign against any discussion of the obvious problems of fraud seen recent elections in the US and Mexico. Bai, long a "liberal" apologist for the corporate establishment, delivers a paean to Warren Mitofsky while he further adopts and reinforces the mainstream electoral narrative we have all grown to loathe:
Of all the political customs that came under scrutiny after the calamitous election night of 2000, perhaps none were as widely discredited as the mystical science of exit polling. Furious Republicans screamed that inaccurate exit polls had dissuaded some Florida conservatives from bothering to vote. Confused Democrats, meanwhile, demanded to know how polls that proclaimed Al Gore to be the winner in that state could have been so disastrously wrong.
In the world of the liberal apologist, exit polling entered the realm of mysticism in 2000. I doubt that Bai is as clueless as this passage would indicate and I suspect he has curled up into a comfortable ball of credulity that would have toadies like Bai believe that "it can't happen here." Bai appears to be unaware of the fact that the media organisation recount of the Florida 2000 ballots -- beginning to show that Gore won the vote -- was suspended as the uncomfortable truth of the vote began to emerge. He also appears to be unaware of the tens of thousands of Democrats illegally purged from Florida voter rolls. I say "appears" because we have to know that Bai simply cannot be this ignorant. If he is, he has no business writing about elections anywhere.

What I am saying? Of course he has business writing about elections, no matter how disastrous they were. It is Bai's job, one among the throngs of mainstream hacks, to impart legitimacy upon our deeply flawed elections. Despite the vast body of evidence, admission of fraud in American elections is tantamount to heresy. It was exit polling that was "misleading" and not the armies of political operatives diligently suppressing voter turnout if not simply throwing votes away.

It is the last paragraph, however, with which I take the greatest issue in this utterly ridiculous, factually challenged article:
The network Televisa, acting on Mitofsky’s advice, refused to project a winner on the night of the election, saying that the race was too close to call. The exit polling, however, predicted that Felipe Calderón had narrowly beaten his opponent, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. And, much to Mitofksy’s relief, that was precisely what had happened.
There is almost nothing in this paragraph that is true. Not only is this not "precisely what had happened," it barely resembles the circumstances of Mexico's election at all.

While Mitofsky may have advised Televisa, Interior Ministry officials approached the television networks and told them to keep exit polls off the air. But the greater sin in this dreadful bit of disinformation is the statement that the exit polls matched the final vote count. This is a stinking, reeking lie. As Reuters reported on July 3, exit polls, at least ones that were not massaged after the fact, showed Obrador with a 2+% lead throughout the day. This was matched by the final tally until about 75% of the votes had been counted, when suddenly the last remaining precincts reported voting ratios of, in some cases, 100 to 1 in favour of Calderón. Video of election workers stuffing ballot boxes sailed across the internet. While Mitofsky himself claimed that his exit poll showed that Calderón would win by a margin of 200,000 votes and that the final margin was 200,000 votes, this appears to be nothing but a post hoc lie. Calderón's initial margin started out at 4.5% and decreased steadily throughout the PREP count until the gap steadied at 400,000+ votes. This would have been the final winning margin had it not been for Obrador and his supporters demanding the IFE release and count some 3 million votes, which the IFE initially claimed were "lost," that the gap narrowed to 250,000+ votes, which narrowed yet again in the post-election partial recount. I take it from this that, had the initial 400,000+ vote margin remained, Mitofsky would have been more than willing to adjust his exit poll data to match that count as well. In secret, post hoc exit poll manipulation, you can do anything damn thing you like. Mitofsky also claimed that that the ballots were "counted" twice. This, too, is simply wrong.*

So what the hell is Mitofsky talking about? Exit polls did not show Calderón in lead, ever, but that wouldn't have been convenient to admit. The PREP count did, but this did not match the exit polls, at least it didn't match the ones that weren't kept secret. But then, when you keep everything secret, you can pretty much say any shit you want about the accuracy of your polls. Before he died, Mitofsky set out to vindicate his methodology despite the fact that it was not the methodology of the exit polls that was the problem. Fixing the facts around a policy of election fraud was the problem and happy idiot Matt Bai spills this drivel across the pages of the New York Times once again. But then, Bai is an apologist for Wal-Mart, so chances are he's not too concerned about the legitimacy of elections in Mexico. Nor, would it appear, does he have much concern about the reality of elections in this country.

* If you want to find out what really happened during the vote counting in the Mexican elections, read What went wrong in Mexico, The Humanist Magazine, Nov-Dec, 2006. (.pdf file)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Who's next?

Saturday saw the deaths of six more US troops and the US military is now two deaths shy of what Tony Snow will no doubt call "just another number," 3000. 80 Iraqis were killed in bombings and attendant mayhem while the media and various officials tell us that the execution of Saddam Hussein has ended a "dark chapter." Indeed, the ending of this dark chapter they speak of has been overlapped and surpassed in darkness by a vastly darker chapter, one we have been watching unfold for years now.

The execution spectacle was, as John McQuaid called it, "tawdry," an orchestrated bagatelle designed to seem more important than it actually was; designed in fact to lend the appearance of "law and order" to a land that is decidedly lacking either. CNN shone the light of media extravaganza on Iraqi Americans in Michigan celebrating in the streets, as though they had just won a super-bowl of some kind, thrilled with the death of Hussein while their homeland continues to rend itself asunder.

Meanwhile, mindless minions here saddle up to and encourage Bush's continued impudence, agitating for dumping more troops into Iraq -- Happy fucking New Year -- against the advice of any and all who have experience in the theatre of war. Pressure on the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs has been such that the military looks now as though it has succumbed to this ill-advised "surge," something that, were a Democrat in the Oval Office, might have led to our very own coup d'etat.

But that won't happen. Elections appear to mean nothing to Bush, but we already knew that. He is determined to embark upon further war as the means to his legacy's end. He is, after all, the man who dispatched Saddam Hussein. Time to find the next Hitler. Oh wait, there he is:

They have a dream

How many times have we seen a phrase like this or words to this effect since Bush came into office?
Database Stirs Privacy Fears
I suspect far too many for freedom-loving Americans to be comfortable with. And far too many for it not to speak of a much larger effort, all of which furthers the integration of an overwrought police state.
The Justice Department is building a massive database that allows state and local police officers around the country to search millions of case files from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies, according to Justice officials.

The system, known as "OneDOJ," already holds approximately 1 million case records and is projected to triple in size over the next three years, Justice officials said. The files include investigative reports, criminal-history information, details of offenses, and the names, addresses and other information of criminal suspects or targets.
Note that this not just limited to convicted criminals but anyone who has been a suspect or target of an investigation (I wonder if Karl Rove wound up in this database).

Ignoring and repealing certain constitutional rights including habeas corpus, the US government has locked up American citizens and denied them due process, is and has been illegally spying on American communications, sweeping up immigrants in SWAT-like raids, sending hundreds of millions of dollars to Halliburton for a network of detention centers, building walls on the borders, expanding FBI DNA databases, while generally, American society is increasingly spied upon by a vast array of surveillance cameras, transactional databases, and computer search records. As this country privatizes the prison system -- incarceration for profit -- the inmate population continues to soar and we now imprison more of our own citizens and have a higher incarceration rate than any other country on earth.

We are told that ordinary citizens don't have to worry, that innocent people have nothing to fear from the police state infrastructure. We are told all of this will make us safer. Consider who is telling you this.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The President and the dead President

It certainly shouldn't come as any surprise that Bush is going to skip the state funeral of Gerald Ford. You knew this was coming after those interviews with Ford came out posthumously, interviews wherein Ford expressed disapproval of Bush's invasion of Iraq and said that he was "dumbfounded" when hearing of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program. Part of this, of course, is simply Bush's frat boy demeanor, pissed that anyone would question or criticise him. But it also evinces Bush's laze and inability to recognise that there are things more important than his vacation plans. I mean, if Bush couldn't get off his Texas cow-pie ass when told that bin Laden was determined to attack the United States, it should be obvious that the state funeral of an old dead president -- a critic at that -- was going to be anything that would distract Bush from his beloved brush.

I wonder if the president sitting at the time of Bush's funeral will return the favour. By then we should well know how that ol' Bush "legacy" turned out. If it is going to be anything like most expect, that future president won't want to be anywhere near that coffin.

Astronomy Top Ten

It's that time of year for all the dreadful reviews of everything from politics to pop culture, as though suffering through the heaps of slop doled out by our media mavens wasn't horrible enough the first time. Of course, there are the requisite "best of" shows to make us all feel as though the year wasn't completely moribund and with this in mind, I'm linking to Phil Plait's list of the Top Ten Astronomy pictures of the year. Having already posted the breathtaking image of Saturn as taken by the Cassini probe (an image too stunning not to make it my desktop), Phil rounds up several more excellent pix, some of remarkable scientific value as well as beauty. Though of limited scientific value, one struck me as particularly cool. Thierry Legault did an amazing job planning a photograph of the transit of the space station and the shuttle across the solar disk this past September.

Zooming in reveals shapes of the shuttle and the ISS in transit across the solar disk:

Check out the top ten at Bad Astronomy, where, in fact, you will see some very good astronomy.

Before his time

Should we laugh? Well, I did...

1996 episode of SNL featuring Dana Carvey as Tom Brokaw, announcing the various ways Gerald Ford could die.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sister soldiers

At first, I was hesitant to print this, though considering the low volume of traffic here (and I do mean low), I suspect it won't matter much anyway. And also, after checking around to see if other such stories had surfaced, I have since come to believe that this is a known phenomenon, though it exists outside any parameters the US military is willing to engage. As prelude, in 2004, The Washington Times reported that female US soldiers were leaving Iraq due to pregnancy. The numbers were unknown because the Pentagon claimed it did not track such statistics. This is a likely mendacious claim: the military knows full well where US troops are and why they are there. The story further points out that during the Gulf War, the USS Acadia had been branded the "Love Boat" after 10% of the female crew had become pregnant during Operation Desert Storm. Pregnancy, however, was only the symptom of what many believed was a much more buried story. Some claimed that organized prostitution rings of female soldiers had sprung up during the first Gulf War. So perhaps what was recently related to me was not that surprising.

It came to my attention through sinuous web that ultimately centered on the US Army's Criminal Investigations Division (CID) that such behaviour is fully developed in Iraq. After almost four years in Iraq, there now exists an "astonishing number" of female soldiers who are prostituting themselves in the Iraq theatre of war. Whether this is organized or not is unknown, at least here. It is not at all surprising that the mainstream media nor the military is not reporting nor has reported such activity. That would probably send the "wrong message" about US troops.

While I found this fascinating -- a testament to the rutting nature of we human beasts more than anything -- I feel fairly certain it is not all that news worthy and perhaps is simply one more indication that we need to get those troops out of Iraq.

Forces of Peace

Initially, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas denied that arms were being transferred to presidential security forces but that transfer has indeed occurred. Egypt, through Israel, has now sent 2000 assault rifles and 2 million rounds of ammunition to Abbas security forces in an effort to bolster Fatah's position in its conflict with Hamas. As this is sure to only escalate hostilities among Palestinian factions, bemusement is the order of the day when looking at the headline that accompanies this story in Ha'aretz:
Fatah arms transfer bolsters forces of peace
This from an IDF official who no doubt would also call Israel's killing of 660 Palestinians this past year -- mostly civilians and children -- a peaceful effort. Despite the fatuous media bromide, what we're seeing is an effort on the part of the western agencies and their proxies to further agitate a potential civil war among the Palestinians, a situation that Israel is probably salivating about. It is always much more efficient when you can get your enemy to kill each other rather than having to do it yourself. It further means that even the weak international remonstration of Israel is also ameliorated; hey, they're shooting each other, it ain't our fault.

Since Israel does not consider Hamas a party to be dealt with -- not entirely without justification -- Abbas has been in the good graces of Ehud Olmert, who recently released $100 million directly to Abbas, mostly designed as an effort to bring Abbas back into the good graces of Palestinian voters; a bribe in other words. All of this is in concert with Abbas recent call for early elections, which Hamas labeled a "coup." After months of brutal punishment of the civilian population for voting the wrong the way, Israel, the EU and the US have re-embraced Abbas as the one who can lead Palestinians to peace with Israel and have exacted any number of harsh measures to ensure that, this time, the Palestinians vote the "right way."

Why don't we just call this what it is: the EU, Israel, the US and other western proxies (Egypt) are funding and arming an insurgency against a democratically elected government and punishing the Palestinian public for their uncomfortable choice. Historically, this is hardly unusual. But it has rarely been done so openly and with the media happily labeling it as something else, something legitimate. And it lends nothing but an air of farce to the policy of spreading "freedom and democracy" to the Middle East.

Indeed, as everyone lauds Gerald Ford in his passing, he was one who cautioned against such a policy; that is might produce results inimical to US interests:
Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people. Whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest. And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security.
Either you support democracies as your policy says you should, no matter how uncomfortable they may be, or stop spouting off about the value of democracy and trying to bring to democracy to places you ought to know will not vote favourably in US interests. And in the Middle East, that is quite a large segment of the region -- most of it, in fact. This sounds extremely cynical -- and it is -- but it has also been the foreign policy of the United States for decades.

The real problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Bush gained office has been the near unilateral backing Israel has received from the US at the expense of Palestinian interests. The Palestinians, sensing this biased re-alignment, decided that they had to take care of themselves and that Hamas was the party that would do that. The decision about whether Hamas was capable of that or not should have been left to the Palestinians themselves without the economic sanctions, assassinations, kidnappings, invasion and arms dealing that we have seen since Hamas was elected. I suspect that Hamas' intransigence on its Israel position would have been enough to indicate that an Hamas government was going nowhere. We should have had the patience to simply let them play out their time while the population grew disenchanted with a lack of progress, rather than stomping all over the Palestinians, which now I fear has only hardened them further.

It took the American public six years of disastrous Bush policy before an electoral repudiation came to pass. Democracy takes awhile and that is something that the Bush administration has never understood nor cares to understand. We can seen this playing out in Iran right now, with an election that indicated the Iranian people are fed up with Amedinijad's hard-line position. But Bush and his neo-con hit men are unwilling to wait for the democratic pendulum to swing back to the middle in Iran They have long believed that democracy should produce instantly gratifying results. It is the belief of people who have no understanding of the very institution they claim they are promoting.

Consider the dreadful result of a Bush presidency; that alone should dispel anyone of the notion that democracy always yields the best result. But, in time, it can be corrected.

[hat tip to Kel for the arms deal story.]

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Piece plan

There probably isn't a better a demonstration of just how disingenuous the Israeli government is as regards the "road map" to peace and any larger effort to resolved the Israeli-Palestinian problem than the recent announcement that Israeli officials have just approved new settlements in the West Bank. Quite apart from the violations of UN resolutions that this move represents is the fact that such activity breeches the 2003 US-backed "road map," which Israel agreed to then. In true up-is-down fashion, Israelis have said that the approval to build new settlements in the West Bank does not breech the agreement not to build new settlements in the West Bank. When you can wrap yourself in that kind of logic, all problems necessarily become everyone else's fault: no matter what we do, we are not breaking any promises we may or may not have made.

Even for the Israelis, this move is aberrantly bizarre. After weeks of preaching peace with the Palestinians if only President Mahmoud Abbas would get control of the unruly Hamas government, which included the release of some $100 million in tax funds to the Palestinian Authority -- money that rightfully belongs to the Palestinian Authority anyway -- now Israel defiantly turns and boldly asserts a long-maligned "authority" to approve new West Bank settlements. This is surely a move that will only convince the Palestinians of Israel's true intentions -- as though they don't know already -- and gives bald-faced lie to the fallacious notion that Israel has only ever wanted peace and nothing more. Anti-Israeli criticism and sentiment will surely result from this, which will then be used by the Israelis to further demonstrate the intransigence of the Palestinians. It has been the common refrain for decades.

A Policy of Narcissism

"It's nice to see a president showing leadership and courage...."
-- Bill Kristol, December 24, 2006
That's right. Bill Kristol thinks George Bush is "showing leadership" by ignoring everyone except those who have already been utterly, remorselessly wrong about everything regarding the illegal invasion of Iraq. This statement came during a discussion about what now appears to be the impending troop surge that Bush will order in defiance of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, most military analysts and the American public. Kristol and the rest of his neo-con cohorts are now convinced -- or want to be convinced -- that a troop surge is the sure fire ticket to victory in Iraq. This past summer's Baghdad troop surge resulted increased violence and mayhem, but that was just because the surge wasn't big and bold enough. Surely, this time the insurgency and the murderous militias will get the message.

To Kristol and his ilk, Bush is showing leadership by continuing to tow the neo-con line with his continued UN assault on Iran as well as his recent deployment of more warships in the Persian Gulf. These recent moves come as a direct repudiation of the ISG recommendations that the White House talk to Tehran and Damascus. While Bush heard a lot of criticism of his policies in the Middle East and promised to "listen" to everyone, it is now more clear than ever that, for Bush, reason and diplomacy are mere rhetorical window dressing, designed to shroud the fact that war and aggression are the only tools he considers to be at his disposal. This is pursuant to the fact that he really only listens to one line, the one that tells him he can still win and save what he believes will be his historic legacy. Bush's legacy is first and foremost. His narcissism now so consumes him, that he has little regard for the real world. As a neo-con narcissist himself, Kristol can't help but admire this quality in Bush: defy sense and reason! conquer the world in pursuit of the great legacy of a leader who will not be understood until history has had a chance to reconcile the bad with some future good that no one can see but Bush and the rest of his neo-con visionaries.

In more normative times, these people would be wrapped in straight jackets and left to drool in the corners of padded rooms. Now? Why, they wax staidly on Fox News, telling everyone in opposition how blind and short sighted they are. Under the cover of media discussions, which have centered only around how long and how big the surge should now be, and in defiance of the electoral will of this country, more troops are about to sent into the boiling cauldron of Baghdad. No cost is too high, no carnage too gross to save Bush and his legacy. It is the policy madness.

Bum rapping

hotpotatomash has put together a little mashup, which is an amusing year end wrap up of the Bush presidency. Not that Bush's reign of terror is amusing, but this mashup cuts the chaff out of the blabbering and hits the salient points.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Angels in America

81% of Americans believe in angels, with 97% of evangelical Christians thinking these are real creatures. That's so sweet.
An overwhelming majority, almost regardless of backgrounds and religious convictions, think angels are real, according to an AP-AOL News poll exploring attitudes about Santa Claus, angels and more.

Belief in angels, however people define them, is highest — almost universal — among white evangelical Christians, 97 percent of whom trust in their existence, the poll indicates. But even among people with no religious affiliation, well more than half said angels are for real.

Protestants, women, Southerners, Midwesterners and Republicans were the most likely to believe in angels, although strong majorities in other groups also shared that faith. Belief in angels declined slightly with advanced education, from 87 percent of those with high school education or less to 73 percent of those with college degrees. Overall, 81 percent believed in angels.
We're doomed.

Wardrobe insecurity

The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester, has declared that Muslim women should not be allowed to wear a veil in public, citing the UK's "unprecedented security situation." This from a man who wears shit like this in public:

If this isn't a "security situation," what is?

That giant sucking sound...

Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India's part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true.

As the seas continue to swell, they will swallow whole island nations, from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.

Eight years ago, as exclusively reported in The Independent on Sunday, the first uninhabited islands - in the Pacific atoll nation of Kiribati - vanished beneath the waves. The people of low-lying islands in Vanuatu, also in the Pacific, have been evacuated as a precaution, but the land still juts above the sea. The disappearance of Lohachara, once home to 10,000 people, is unprecedented.


Gazprom night

Under Russian accusations of environmental violations,
Shell sold control of the Sakhalin energy project, above, to a government monopoly.

When the Yukos Oil Company and its chief, Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, came under attack by the Russian government of Putin, it was widely believed that Putin was silencing a critic and potential political foe. Khodorkovsky tried to fight off the appropriation of Yukos, then one of the world's largest non-state owned oil companies, and found himself arrested and sentenced to nine years in prison. Trumped-up charges of tax evasion on Yukos profits was the line the Prosecutor General followed and despite Yukos filing for bankruptcy protection, the state forced the sale of Yukos holdings. These were bought up by the Baikal Finance Group, a previously unknown company thought to comprise Russia's state-owned oil company, Gazprom, as well as the Russian central bank. The larger message resounded throughout the oil industry.

Which is why the latest acquisition by Gazprom is, to say the least, interesting. Royal Dutch Shell recently "sold" controlling interest in its largest oil and gas facility to the Russian-owned Gazprom after Putin's government claimed that Shell was violating "environmental regulations." Given the bleak environmental history of the former Soviet Union, many were surprised to learn that Russia actually had environmental regulations. But apparently they do and they are used as a cudgel when Putin wants something. The Sakhalin energy project is described as "the world’s largest combined oil and natural gas development" and critics have called the move the "first effective nationalization of a large foreign oil or gas project in Russia." As with Yukos, analysts say that Gazprom paid "below market rate" for the asset. Last year, Russia became the world's largest oil producer after effectively surpassing Saudi Arabia in output.

Undoubtedly, Shell was violating environmental law at some level. What big oil company operating in remote corners of the world doesn't? The United States has plenty of experience with Big Oil's behaviour in the wilderness, so such charges are entirely believable. Of course, we don't nationalize those companies, preferring to hand out a wrist-slap and a few more tax incentives instead. But the sheen that Shell's CEO, Jeroen van der Veer, rubbed onto the deal was particularly amusing. After months of hostile pressure, including threats of a shut down of operations, van der Veer said the sale was "great news."
I think the great news is that now there is stability so we can all work together, all the shareholders, to get the project up and running as soon as possible.
In other words, whew, I didn't wind up in some god forsaken gulag like Khodorkovsky, because when I say "stability," I really mean bending to Putin's will.

Now that the issue of majority stakes in the oil facility have been secured by Russia's own oil company, Putin said that the environment issues will mostly likely be resolved. No doubt. In fact, I would say the sale guaranteed that the environmental concerns of operations at the site have suddenly, miraculously gone away.

While Bush is busy stirring up the shit in the Middle East and threatening more of it, Putin has been conscientiously moving Russia into a position as world oil leader. And while Russia only strengthens ties with Iran and Venezuela, don't look for our relationship with the Kremlin to continue with the somewhat benign indifference that Russo-American relations have experienced these last few years. What we are seeing here is a direct result of the Bush administration's foreign "policy," which has done nothing but strengthen the position of Iran, China and Russia on the world stage. While the United States remains bogged down in Iraq, squandering hundreds of billions of dollars on death and mayhem, those countries have been doing deals, firming ties and consolidating resource assets even as Bush further threatens more war. As with everything else coming out of the White House, this is yet another very distressing result of the neocon agenda. Could these people have been any more wrong?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Profit War on Drugs

We've known this for years, but a government study has confirmed that Big Pharma spends most of its "research" money on modifying profitable drugs that already exist. The net result: fewer useful new drugs and more versions of Prozac.
Although drug makers typically justify the high cost of medicines by citing research expenses, a new government report says their research investments are mostly funding highly profitable modifications of existing drug designs, not new treatments.

Spending on research and development has increased over the past ten years, but a combination of factors has led the pharmaceutical industry to submit fewer drugs to the FDA for review, according to an investigation by the Government Accountability Office, which handles such inquiries for Congress.

The report blames the slowdown on a shortage of research scientists, the slow adaptation of expensive new technologies, and an industry-wide focus on profit. Out of the "new" medicines that companies have submitted for review, 68 percent are so-called "me-too drugs" – modified versions of existing drugs, which generate generous profits while carrying little risk of rejection.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Dennis the agitprop menace

Dennis Prager created a bit a stir recently when he said that if Keith Ellison, the newly elected Muslim congressman, took his oath to the Constitution on the Koran, well, that would the same as swearing an oath of office on a copy of Mein Kampf and that such an action would "undermine American civilisation." Histrionic? sure. Hyperbolic? of course. He's a right wing nutjob. It's what they do.

Having had my own exchange with Dennis Prager once, one that demonstrated his amazing ability to skirt issues with personal outrage, non sequitur and pissy sarcasm, it was with a special kind of glee that I read that the Executive Committee of the Holocaust Memorial Council adopted a resolution condemning Prager's recently expressed view about Mr. Ellison. Prager is on the board of directors for the committee, having been appointed by Bush. The committee's resolution said that Prager's views were in "direct opposition" to those of the Council, which apparently doesn't like the presence of reactionary, jingoistic Islamophobes on its board and have asked that he offer his resignation.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Winds of Continuous War

It is with some bemusement that I see a gaggle of the usual suspects have started a petition calling for an "immediate withdrawal" of US forces from Iraq. Not that this isn't a fine and noble effort. It is. Consider that the Bush administration have fairly well ignored the results of the election -- widely perceived as a repudiation of his failed Iraq war -- and Bush will, in all likelihood, "surge" already battered soldiers into Baghdad in one last effort to halt the violence. A petition is just one more thing for Bush to ignore. This is terribly cynical, of course. It is a cynicism borne of six years of watching this country buried by relentless, blinding stupidity in pursuit of a dreadful and destructive agenda, both foreign and domestic, supplemented by piles of deceit and untrammeled by any utterance of truth. But it always serves to keep the pressure on, no matter whether Bush is aware of it or not. And rest assured, he is not. We know that he is plenty unaware of a lot of things, Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy's boisterous criticisms notwithstanding.

Bush, however, is determined to see this war to a conclusion only he and a few nattering acolytes have an ability to see. He possesses a singular capacity to ignore even the most recent of his own miserable histories. US forces already have surged once this past summer. It was a similar effort to the one being described now, one that was supposed to quell the escalating violence in Baghdad. The summer troop surge had just the opposite effect. But to those who have Bush's ear, this was not a sign of wrongheaded thinking but that the tactic simply needed to "go big" or bigger as the case may be. If something fails, this merely indicates that more of it needs to be done; failure is solely the result of an inadequate supply of the whatever it was that led to failure in the first place. In the minds of the Pentagon, the White House and its various, ridiculous supporters, it is the magnitude of their failed policy vector that has been incorrect; it hasn't been big enough. But the direction of that vector is never questioned. This kind of thinking dominates Washington.

Which is probably why the senior commander of the Middle East, General Abizaid, is on the way out. He delivered to the deaf ears of George Bush a prescription that defies the limited neural network of this president's meager mind; the idea is simply too big, too much to grasp and, importantly, doesn't require more guns.
You have to internationalize the problem. You have to attack it diplomatically, geo-strategically. You just can’t apply a microscope on a particular problem in downtown Baghdad and a particular problem in downtown Kabul and say that somehow or another, if you throw enough military forces at it, that you are going to solve the broader issues in the region of extremism.
This is a prescription that will not be filled. The White House, aided and abetted once again by simpering Democrats, will do just as they are planning to do: throw more guns at the problem. Despite the fact that this has not worked in Iraq, it is all they know.

Thus, we have George Bush today acknowledging that his misery-soaked, militaristic policies in Afghanistan and Iraq have strained, if not broken, the US armed forces. But his recipe is not a call to reduce our calamitous military misadventures, but to "increase the size of the Armed Forces" because "this ideological war we’re in is going to last for a while." This is, foremost, a self-fulfilling prophesy and it has become the theme of Bush's reign of terror. In furtherance of the relentless militaristic posture of this administration, US embassies around the world have been and continue to be populated by Pentagon personnel, who conduct their own intelligence operations and "self-assigned missions." While this is causing friction with the diplomatic corps of the State Department, something a Congressional Republican report has now cited, this is exactly the tack the White House and the Pentagon insist upon.
As the Pentagon takes on new roles collecting intelligence, initiating information operations and conducting other “self-assigned missions,” the report found that some embassies have effectively become command posts, with military personnel in those countries all but supplanting the role of ambassadors in conducting American foreign policy.

The report, completed by the Republican staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, concluded that Pentagon “enthusiasm” has blurred chains of command and has the potential to backfire by weakening American relationships abroad and setting back American counterterrorism efforts.
There is almost nothing this administration has done that has not increased the threat of terrorism, so this revelation is of a piece with every other foreign policy prescription that has charged out of the White House. Naturally, the world has the erstwhile Sectretary of Defense -- the best one ever -- Donald Rumsfeld to thank for the introduction of US troops into embassies througout Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

As this country slides further and further into irrremediable debt, one cannot help but wonder how much longer the rest of the world will continue to fund a US war machine that insists its presence where none is wanted. We know we cannot fund it and haven't for sometime. Our strident posture, disconnected from any ability to pay for it, is surely doomed. Later than sooner, perhaps, but it is doomed nonetheless. It is curious then that, as he has led the way toward the government's diminished fiscal capacity, Bush sees ramping up for more military spending as the only solution to troubled times ahead, times that his agenda is either exacerbating or creating anew. Bush, however, pays no mind to such petty concerns as national debt (unless it happens to be money for Medicaid or Pell grants). He never has. With Bush as commandant, his adminstration are the world's police, stomping about the globe with the heavy boot of militarism, bringing freedom and democracy to all. Who, now, will not be happy to pay for that?

Teed off

Rollins lays it out.

[hat tip hotpotatomash]

Stranger than fiction

In the previous post, I brought up the subject of the Indo-American nuclear agreement, one that would allow unfettered development of nuclear weapons by India. And that discussion brought me to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and their report on the state of U.S nuclear forces, 2006. Reading this document is truly a through the looking glass experience. Firstly, a discussion on the composition of the US arsenal is presented, followed by a section on "new war plans."
New war plans. The Defense Department is upgrading its nuclear strike plans to reflect new presidential guidance and a transition in war planning from the top-heavy Single Integrated Operational Plan of the Cold War to a family of smaller and more flexible strike plans designed to defeat today's adversaries. The new central strategic war plan is known as OPLAN (Operations Plan) 8044. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Meyers described some of the planning changes in April 2005 Senate testimony: "[U.S. Strategic Command] has revised our strategic deterrence and response plan that became effective in the fall of 2004. This revised, detailed plan provides more flexible options to assure allies, and dissuade, deter, and if necessary, defeat adversaries in a wider range of contingencies."

One member of the new family is CONPLAN 8022, a concept plan for the quick use of nuclear, conventional, or information warfare capabilities to destroy--preemptively, if necessary--"time-urgent targets" anywhere in the world. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued an Alert Order in early 2004 that directed the military to put CONPLAN 8022 into effect. As a result, the Bush administration's preemption policy is now operational on long-range bombers, strategic submarines on deterrent patrol, and presumably intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
The entire document describes a world that is as surreal as it is Strangelovian. But now onto a the ICBMs:
ICBMs. In 2005, the Pentagon completed the retirement of the MX Peacekeeper ICBM, after almost 20 years of service. The missile's long and controversial history stretches back to the 1970s, when officials proposed many elaborate basing schemes to try and prevent a supposed "window of vulnerability" from increasing numbers of accurate Soviet ICBMs. By 1979 the program called for the deployment of 200 missiles, hidden among 4,600 shelters (one missile in each cluster of 23 shelters), in a kind of mobile shell-game spread over approximately 40,000 square miles of Utah and Nevada. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan canceled that basing scheme and cut the number of missiles to 100, to be placed in Minuteman missile silos, tacitly conceding that the vulnerability problem could not be solved or never existed in the first place. Two years later, Congress limited deployment to 50 missiles. The first 10 missiles, located at Warren Air Force Base (AFB), Wyoming, were declared operational on December 22, 1986, with the full force of 50 on alert two years later. The Pentagon phased out the MX over a three-year period beginning in October 2002; it deactivated the last missile on September 19, 2005. In the end, billions of dollars were expended to rectify an imaginary strategic vulnerability.
Who is not reminded of George C. Scott's crazed rant about "mine shaft gaps"?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More is less

While attentions have been focused on the various, bleak avenues for Iraq, George Bush quietly asserted his unitary executive authority once again by signing the Indo-American nuclear agreement, attaching -- as he has done so many times before -- a signing statement to the so-called Hyde Act. The bill contained some provisos including suggestions for oversight of India's nuclear arsenal and furthermore called for "restriction of reprocessing and enrichment equipment and technologies." India viewed such measures as "intrusive" and Bush obligingly offered up his signing statement to assuage India's concerns about these meddling congressional measures.
President Bush indicated that inasmuch as Congress had written several policy prescriptions in the bill, including suggesting oversight on India's nuclear arsenal and its outlook on Iran, his approval of the Hyde Act ''does not constitute my adoption of the statements of policy as U.S foreign policy.''

"Given the Constitution's commitment to the presidency of the authority to conduct the nation's foreign affairs, the executive branch shall construe such policy statements as advisory."
And we all know how well Bush takes advice from Congress.

As his rhetoric often will when Bush speaks, he painted a rosy picture that, through the miracle of the Hyde Act and his executive authority, the proliferation of India's nuclear arsenal will actually help stop nuclear proliferation:
The bill will help keep America safe by paving the way for India to join the global effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice informed the world that the deal would certainly allow India to develop as many nuclear weapons as it liked.
US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice made it clear that the deal would not restrict India's strategic programme while it would, in fact, enhance capacity to build weapons. "India has, by most estimates, 50,000 tons of uranium in its reserves," she said.... we do not believe that the constraint on India's nuclear programme is availability or absence of nuclear material."
The notion that a country developing an unlimited number of nuclear weapons will somehow halt nuclear proliferation is truly an odd one. Because that has not happened. Ever. Consider the Cold War. Nuclear proliferation skyrocketed. Today, the United States now harbours an arsenal of some 10,000 nuclear weapons and we have seen nuclear proliferation do nothing but expand since the collapse of the Soviet regime. In fact, I would say that the existence of only one "world superpower" has done more to proliferate nuclear weapons than anything seen previously.


This is a quick heads-up to a site that recently appeared on my radar. I recommend an occasional look-see at what's going in Iraq with Iraqslogger, with a vouch for a post about the newly released Pentagon report on Iraq, which unsurprisingly, dramatically under reports the violence in that war zone even as it still admits that violence in Iraq is at an all time high.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dollars to doughnuts

Cernig started up a discussion about Iran's move to the Euro and whether it will have an impact on the valuation of the US dollar. As a matter of supply and demand of US dollars on international money markets, the short answer is that it must. But Iran alone will not cause a large devaluation, but Iran is not pursuing its divestiture of US dollar assets by itself. Foreign Policy's top ten stories point out, at number 8, Russia and OPEC have already begun dumping dollars:
The latest Bank for International Settlements quarterly report, which tracks the investment trends of oil-producing countries, indicates that Russia and OPEC countries are moving their holdings out of dollars and into euros and yen. OPEC cut its holdings in the dollar by more than $5 billion during the first and second quarter of 2006. And Russia now keeps most of its new deposits in euros instead of dollars.China's willingness to support the currency has had a wide-ranging effect on U.S. assets, and a liquidation if its dollar holdings in favor of other denominations would undermine stocks, U.S. Treasuries and corporate bonds, as well as the U.S. currency itself.

That decrease is swift and significant—and helps to explain why the dollar recently fell to a 20-month low against the euro and a 14-year low against the British pound. Holding dollars while other currencies gain strength means less profit for oil producers. But if they rapidly divest themselves of dollars, it may weaken the currency and push up inflation in the United States.
Of course, this places the largest US dollar asset holders, China and Japan, in a very serious situation. They are caught between holding huge sums of dollars -- hundreds of billions -- watching that value drop on world markets but know that if they start to divest, they would loose billions more as the glut of dollars would sink the value of the US dollar even further. Which might make one think that China and Japan would try to prop up the dollar but ... China has already announced that they would "diversify" their holdings away from US dollars.
China's latest comments suggesting that it will diversify its $1 trillion in currency reserves has unsettled Wall Street at a time when confidence is running high....

Still, China's willingness to support the currency has had a wide-ranging effect on U.S. assets, and a liquidation if its dollar holdings in favor of other denominations would undermine stocks, U.S. Treasuries and corporate bonds, as well as the U.S. currency itself.

The concerns over dollar assets mounted this week after Zhou Xiaochuan, the Chinese central bank governor, said that China planned to diversify its assets across different currencies and investment instruments, including emerging markets. The dollar, which analysts reckon make up around 70 percent of China's reserves, fell to 2-1/2 month lows against the euro as his comment hit trading.
USD/Euro v. time

This announcement by Chinese came just prior to the 20 month low mention above. Though the dollar has recovered a smidge in recent days, the trend is unmistakable. And the Iranian announcement will not help this picture at all. I am considerably less than swayed by arguments that the dollar is not in trouble, as Fester seems to be. There are many forces now acting to push the dollar down and this is a growing and worrisome trend.

Euro v US

I just got this tip from Cernig.
Iran to replace dollar with euro in foreign deals

Islamic republic’s move is to limit problems of executive organs in commercial transactions.

TEHRAN - Iran announced Monday it has ordered the central bank to use euros for foreign transactions and transform the state's dollar-denominated assets held abroad into the single European currency.

"The government has ordered the central bank to replace the dollar with the euro to limit the problems of the executive organs in commercial transactions," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.

"We will also employ this change for Iranian assets (in dollars) held abroad."

Elham implied that the move would apply to oil revenues from the world's number four crude producer, although it remains to be seen how this would be received by the market.

"Foreign income sources and oil revenues will be calculated in euros and we will receive them in euros in order to put an end to our dependence on the dollar," Elham said.

The move comes amid mounting pressure from the United States for the UN Security Council to agree sanctions against Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.

Bankers in Iran have complained in recent weeks that it was becoming increasingly difficult to receive Iranian-held money denominated in dollars from European bank accounts.

They said that this was because of US pressure on European banking giants not to allow dollar-denominated funds to be sent into, or out of, the Islamic republic.

Elham added that Iran's budget would in future be calculated in euros.

"Until now the budget has been calculated according to revenues in dollars, but this calculation will now change," he said.
More on this later....

Skill free

Last week saw the confirmation of suspicions about Cheney's post-election visit to Saudi Arabia: he was summoned and "read the riot act."
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has warned Vice President Dick Cheney that Saudi Arabia would back the Sunnis if the United States pulls out of Iraq....
The Saudis are naturally concerned that if civil war expands beyond its present state, their Sunni brethren could be decimated in an escalation of hostilities with an Iranian-backed Shia. Nothing surprising about this, really, other than the overt instruction we were given on just who is in charge. But a statement by former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Richard Murphy, struck me as particularly disheartening:
[Iraq is in] everybody's backyard -- Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran. And they all have interests, they're all watching each other very closely lest one get an undue advantage over the other. And it's going to take an extraordinarily skillful, wide-ranging regional diplomacy on America's part to cope with that.
If future American interests in the region are now dependent upon this administration's application of "extraordinarily skillful diplomacy" to the problem of Iraq, we can pretty much kiss things good-bye and start working on that oil-free, sustainable society we need to develop anyway.

Buggy whip boy

After Time Magazine named consumers of online sites like YouTube, MySpace and blogs in general as their "Person of the Year," George Will went on television, wearing a fucking bow tie, and proclaimed that such endevours were necessarily the product of an unhealthy trend in self-absorption, as though this hasn't been a feature of the infotainment media industry for decades.
It’s about narcissism, which is why a mirror is absolutely perfect. So much of what is done on the web is people getting on there and writing their diaries as though everyone ought to care about everyone’s inner turmoils. I mean it’s extraordinary.
It must be difficult to measure the level of cognitive dissonance one needs to possess before it allows one to hump themselves and their vacuous opinions on national television -- in a statement-making bow tie -- and complain about everyone else's "narcissism." The bow tie alone delivers a testimony about Will that would probably be lost on him. But like everything else going on with those internets, he just doesn't have a clue that he is an anachronism; a dying leaf withering on the branch of the old-media tree. And like all anachronisms, they usually have no idea that their time is up.

The Old American Century: Twenty Years of Realist Foreign Policy

[This article first appeared at OpEd News]

With the release of the Iraq Study Group report, which has almost everyone expressing various degrees of chagrin, the "realists" have moved back onto the stage of American foreign policy. But who are these people and why are they called realists? What is so real about what they advocate, both for the current debacle in Iraq and the larger venture of American-led globalism? Perhaps the most glaring omission in the current discussions surrounding the ISG, portrayed as it is as a gathering of foreign policy sages from a halcyon era, is any mention of the atrocities and wars that these so-called realists have fomented around the globe and in particular the Middle East.


In the context of US foreign policy, the term "realist" has come to describe a prominent group of policy wonks comprising the likes of Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, James Baker and Jeane Kirkpatrick. The theoretical underpinnings of this loosely affiliated group, all of whom have held high seat in American government, stemmed from the likes of George Kennan and Nicholas Spykman, respectively the "father" and "godfather" of containment. Pragmatically, the realists stuck to this script by supporting brutal albeit palatable, i.e. right wing, dictators, conducting covert operations and illegal arms dealing, and fueling wars, insurgencies and counterinsurgencies, all while keeping US forces out of harm's way. For decades, the Middle East has seen these tools employed in any number of arenas, though the focus has been primarily on Iraq and Iran, two countries the United States government wanted to regain some control over after having lost their gendarmerie when the Shah was deposed and Tehran fell to the Islamic Revolution.

Vietnam was a turning point in US foreign policy. After that imperialist disaster, it was recognized that the American people would have a reduced tolerance for protracted war in far away places when there was little evidentiary need for it. This was recognised as especially true when whatever evidence that might have been presented later proved to be wilfully manufactured. (The blame-Americans-first crowd howled -- still do -- that Vietnam was winnable and all we would have had to do was go in, full-force. It would become a theme among the right wing that, had it not been for a weak-kneed American public, we would have won Vietnam! Whoever "we" were, it apparently did not include the traitors who were the citizens of the country. Little America had let down the big America by being sickened and outraged by that war-by-lie.) No, there would be no more protracted guerrilla wars in which US troops would be dying and the media were there to pass along that gruesome information. If war was deemed necessary, it would need to be either short, sharp and swift or silent; US troop casualties would need to be kept to a minimum. The Weinberger Doctrine , and the subsequent Powell Doctrine of Overwhelming Force, were direct outgrowths of the "lessons learned" from Vietnam. These doctrines, the products of two members of the "realist" camp, would disavow the use of US troops for nation building and peacekeeping missions and this philosophy was clearly on display in the first Gulf War. However, as with the prescription for overwhelming force, the moratorium on nation building would also be repudiated -- at the behest of his neoconservative advisers -- by George W. Bush, as his administration embarked upon the illegal invasion of Iraq.

Neither peacekeeping nor nation building were goals of the realists. Despite Reagan's initial statement that US policy in Lebanon would not change, any such mission became entirely proscribed after the 1983 barracks bombing in Lebanon. In an act of realist restraint, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger would abort plans for a revenge attack on Iranian postiions at Baalbek. Nonetheless, for 20 years prior to the current Bush presidency, realist foreign policy in the Middle East was directed toward the ruin of regionally strong nations, vis-à-vis Iraq and Iran. After several decades of US and British dominance over Iranian and Iraqi oil supplies, both countries had nationalized their petroleum industries, Iraq in 1972 and Iran once again after the ouster of Pahlavi. The Iranian mullahs even had the temerity to reduce oil production according to a then new oil conservation policy. While Hussein was an autocrat, he was a secular one. Though Hussein was bent on continuing and expanding upon Gamal Nasser's pan-Arab Nationalism, dealing with the despot would be seen by the realists as the decidedly better option, considering the animosity the newly-minted Islamic Republic of Iran had toward American interests. Fortunately for the Reagan administration, Hussein became president of Iraq mere months before the Shah would meet his ignominious end and the Ayatollah Khomeini, someone with whom Hussein shared a bitter enmity, assumed leadership of Iran. With the mutual antipathy of the two leaders setting the stage -- Hussein wanting to establish Iraq as the regional Arab power and Khomeini seeking to export an Islamic revolution throughout the Middle East -- the realists pounced upon the opportunity to reduce both regimes and their respective societies to rubble. Almost immediately after Khomeini came to power, Iraq began agitating for war with Iran and doing so with the encouragement of the White House.

After initial Iraqi success in the Iran-Iraq war, Iran began a push-back and, in 1982, was meeting with some success itself. The realists in the Reagan administration viewed this development dimly. In fact, Reagan was so adamant that Iraq not loose the war, he decided that the United States "would do whatever was necessary and legal to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran" and Reagan himself issued a National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) that was designed to aid Iraq by covertly supplying Baghdad with illegal arms via the CIA. Then CIA director William Casey and former Iraq Study Group member and current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, "authorized, approved and assisted" the delivery of cluster bombs to Iraq.
CIA Director Casey personally spearheaded the effort to ensure that Iraq had sufficient military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to avoid losing the Iran-Iraq war.
While the Reagan administration certainly went to some considerable lengths to do "whatever was necessary," the subsequent Iran-Contra scandal would demonstrate that legality was not an overriding concern for the foreign policy realists. Not unlike the current administration, legality was viewed as merely an impediment to getting things done, something that required the use of "other means."

The Iran-Contra scandal laid out the kind of covert machinations that the realists had decided would be the best way to conduct US foreign policy. With the United States actively supplying Iraq with economic aid, arms and intelligence -- including satellite imagery of Iranian ground forces -- during the Iran-Iraq war, Reagan administration officials simultaneously conducted the entirely illegal covert sale of arms to Tehran and funnelled that money into Central American death squads. The realists involved in this extra-legal gambit included George H.W. Bush, Robert Gates, Caspar Weinberger and the much-laureled man of our current day, Colin Powell, who personally ordered the delivery of 4000 TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran. But to what end did such seeming cross-purposes serve? Why channel weapons to both sides of the war when there exists an ostensibly clear favourite? As indicated earlier, neither Hussein nor Khomeini were seen by the White House as being entirely friendly toward US interests; Khomeini being decidedly less so. In the long term, both regimes would need to be dispatched, or as Henry Kissinger would succinctly elucidate during the Iran-Contra hearings, "We wanted them to kill each other."

Which they did, in great numbers. With the aid of US weapons, including sales of various biological and chemical agents, an estimated 1 million casualties resulted during what has been described as the longest war of the 20th century. The war, as was surreptitiously intended by the Reagan administration realists, destroyed large portions of both the Iranian and Iraqi civilian infrastructure, which stalled economic development and placed those countries in significant debt. It would be this debt that would lead Hussein to invade yet another country, Kuwait, after provocations by that petroleum regime. After the Iran-Iraq war, Hussein was $75 billion in arrears, $14 billion of it owed to Kuwait.

The Crimes of the Gulf War

[The following discussion is based upon charges, evidence and transcripts of testimony presented to the Commission of Inquiry for the International War Crimes Tribunal regarding United States War Crimes against Iraq, the report of which is available from Maisonneuve Press, P.O. Box 2980, Washington, D.C. 20013, and The Commission of Inquiry for the International War Crimes Tribunal, 36 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10003. Members of the G.H.W. Bush administration, including but not limited to, George Bush, James Baker, Richard Cheney, William Webster, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Colin Powell, were charged with 19 counts of Crimes Against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity in violation of the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions and the Constitution of the United States. They were found guilty in absentia on all counts.]

Shortly after George H. W. Bush moved into the Oval Office -- his dour band of realists in tow -- the CIA directed Kuwait to begin over producing oil, violating OPEC production agreements, in order to keep the price of oil artificially low. A memorandum documenting conversations between then CIA director William Webster and Kuwait's chief of security was presented at an Arab summit in August of 1990.
We agreed with the American side that it was important to take advantage of the deteriorating economic situation in Iraq in order to put pressure on that country's government to delineate our common border. The Central Intelligence Agency gave us its view of appropriate means of pressure, saying that broad cooperation should be initiated between us on condition that such activities be coordinated at a high level.
Kuwait's foreign minister reportedly fainted at the sight of this document.

Kuwait's intentional over production infuriated Hussein, who was desperate for higher oil prices after the war. Iraq was losing some $6-7 billion a year in revenue due to the glut of oil on the market. Furthermore, Kuwait moved oil rigs near the Iraq border and began slant drilling into Iraqi oil fields. Once this program of agitation began, the Pentagon, under the direction of General Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf, conducted a series of computerized war games specifically targeting Iraqi armoured divisions while the White House displayed no interest in the increasingly hostile dispute between Iraq and Kuwait, something that was sure to boil over. In the last meeting between then US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, and Saddam Hussein, Glaspie indicated that Washington's position in the dispute was entirely neutral. But deliveries of food to war torn Iraq were inexplicably cut-off in spring of 1990, causing shortages that now seem entirely designed to provoke an hostile reaction. Naturally enough and still being hoodwinked, Hussein launched his invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, which was widely denounced by both the UN Security Council and the Arab League. Economic sanctions against Iraq were quickly enacted and many of these resolutions were garnered by the Bush administration through various incentives such as arms, debt forgiveness ($7 billion for Egypt) or threats of economic retaliation. Yemen, which opposed the US, lost millions in foreign aid.

The Bush administration claimed that the biggest concern at the time was an Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia, for which there was little evidence despite Pentagon claims that Iraqi forces were massing on the Saudi border. Soviet and commercial satellite imagery showed no Iraqi forces on the Saudi border and while the Pentagon persisted in its claim, it refused to release any countervailing satellite imagery of its own. For five months, more than 500,000 US troops moved into Saudi territory. All of this was planned well in advance of Iraq's invasion, and General Schwarzkopf would later refer to "eighteen months of planning" in anticipation of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. In an effort to assuage concerns about a war that appeared inevitable -- which it was for the White House -- a disinformation campaign was launched designed to portray Iraqi forces as beyond barbaric. Bush would repeatedly cite known false reports that premature babies were being torn out of incubators in Kuwaiti hospitals. But it was only after this propaganda percolated through the public sphere for sometime, that the conditions would be deemed ripe for attack. And it was then that the massacre would begin.

Bombardment of Iraq began on January 16, 1991, timed for the evening news broadcasts at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The continuous air assault -- over 100,000 sorties comprising 88,000 tons of bombs -- lasted for forty-two days and during that time, a vast array of civilian infrastructure was targeted and destroyed, including water treatment and sewage systems, water supplies, power generation, telephone and radio networks, food processing plants, irrigation, railroads, bridges. This was not by accident and carried with it the specific intent of destroying modern civilian life in Iraq. After the war, UNICEF reported that Iraq was in "near apocalyptic condition." It is estimated that 125,000 civilians were killed during this realist campaign, run by the book according to the Powell Doctrine. But this was only the prelude to the assault that began once Iraqi forces had been cut-off from supplies of food and water. Despite Hussein agreeing to a Soviet-backed cease-fire proposal and Hussein's orders for Iraqi troops to withdraw from Kuwait, US forces would decimate the retreating -- fleeing -- army, which at that point was a hapless band of haggard and hungry men trying to get out of the way of the advancing American army. They did not get out of the way. But this was not how the retreat was portrayed by George Bush or the media, which echoed Bush's declaration that the Iraqi was not retreating -- such a claim was a "cruel hoax" -- but was fighting and being repelled by US forces. In fact, while in full retreat, Iraqi soldiers would be mowed down during what was called a "turkey shoot." Justifying this atrocity and often promulgated were the oil field fires, which the Bush administration claimed Iraqi forces had set as they retreated from Kuwait. Images of the fires, and repeated statements that Iraqi forces had been responsible flooded news reports. But it is now believed that US aircraft, using various incendiary explosives, including napalm and FAE (fuel air explosive) bombs, were actually responsible for most the oil well fires -- traces of napalm were found at various drill sites. Some of the fires resulted from US forces actually using these illegal weapons on Iraqi forces but more generally, most of the fires appeared to be the result of a PR campaign designed to further indict Iraqi forces as despicable maniacs. But this media meme had been established to enable and warrant the wholesale slaughter of Iraq's retreating army.

Highways of Death

In compliance with UN Resolution 660, Iraqi forces began their withdrawal from Kuwait on February 26, 1991. Saddam Hussein announced this on Baghdad radio the same day and eye witnesses in Kuwait confirmed that Iraqi forces were leaving that afternoon. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that US forces would not attack Iraqi forces in retreat. However, it was the position of the White House that Iraqi forces were not retreating and George Bush insisted that "there was no evidence to suggest the Iraqi army is withdrawing. In fact, Iraqi units are continuing to fight." He further promised to continue prosecuting the war. But what ensued could not, by any stretch, be considered "war."

On two stretches of road leading out of Kuwait, large convoys comprising some 2000 vehicles were attacked by US aircraft, which initially destroyed vehicles at the front and rear of the columns. Once the traffic jam was created, US airplanes bombed and strafed every vehicle with impunity. One pilot would describe it as "shooting fish in a barrel."
There for 60 miles every vehicle was strafed or bombed, every windshield is shattered, every tank is burned, every truck is riddled with shell fragments. No survivors are known or likely. The cabs of trucks were bombed so much that they were pushed into the ground, and it's impossible to see if they contain drivers or not. Windshields were melted away, and huge tanks were reduced to shrapnel.
While there were some survivors, General Schwarzkopf estimated that 100,000 Iraqi soldiers had been eliminated. Schwarzkopf later wondered, "How long the world would stand by and watch the United States pound the living hell out of Iraq...." Long enough for yet another episode of merciless extermination to unfold.

In an event that would become known as the "bulldozer assault," two brigades of the US Army 1st Infantry, using combat earth movers, consciously buried alive an unknown number of Iraqi soldiers in the desert sand. The US military claimed that the soldiers were defending the "Saddam Line," really just a trench in the dirt, though this claim, as with all claims about any war emanating from the White House and the Pentagon, is highly questionable. Before getting their story straight, one US commander at the time place the number buried in the thousands while another said the number was only one to two hundred.*

Unguided by any measure of moral rectitude or rule of war, the realist aim in slaughtering retreating Iraqi forces on the highways of death was the complete annihilation of any and all Iraqi military capacity. This is crucial, of course, if one's goal is continued military and economic dominance of the country, a goal few doubted was ultimately at stake and entirely achievable now that the systematic destruction of the military and economic infrastructure of Iraq had taken place. The realists' agenda, however, was not yet complete. Severe economic sanctions described by UN Resolution 661, which had already been coerced by the White House , would impose yet more uncountable deaths in the decade subsequent to the first Gulf War.


At their most ruinous height, the draconian economic sanctions imposed on Iraq would be implicated in the deaths of several hundred thousand children, as well as the sick and elderly, over the several years before the Oil for Food program began in late 1997. Harsh restrictions on medical supplies, food, water treatment chemicals and other necessities would be collaterally imposed under the rubric of "dual use," the American position being that such goods could be weaponized. At its peak, the death rate was estimated to be about 5,000 civilians per month, mostly children, the elderly and infirm, a number that is considerably higher than the even the worst months of carnage seen in Iraq today. This was a "price" then Secretary of State and contemptible realist, Madeline Albright, asserted was "worth it." Just what "it" was remained unstated, though the implication was clear enough: removal of Saddam Hussein through the decimation of civil society in Iraq. It was believed that, despite the immense hardship inflicted on the Iraqi people by the sanctions, it would be this suffering that would lead Iraqis to depose Hussein; a fantasy under the guise of "realist" foreign policy. After having been "bombed back to the stone age," Iraq remained unable to rebuild even its most basic infrastructure, such as water treatment plants. Disease was rampant, and many of the deaths were attributed to cholera and dysentery. In 1998, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Baghdad, Denis Halliday, resigned, saying , "I don't want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide." The death toll of the sanctions, the final program of the realist agenda before George Bush became president and invaded Iraq, is estimated to be 1.5 million people. And all of this devastation was wrought without a single US military casualty. This was the realist path toward domination in the Middle East.


In the decades preceding the current invasion of Iraq, realist foreign policy in the Middle East produced some remarkably horrifying atrocities. The realist part of that, of course, is that much of this was done and kept outside the glare of daily media coverage. Covert operations, UN coercion and bribery, illegal arms dealing, war crimes and "shock and awe" under the cover of darkness, all were conducted as extra-legal enterprises, only to be discovered later. As the wisdom goes, it is easier to get forgiveness than permission. Indeed, the first Gulf War was so swift that almost no one had a chance to witness it before the US military had finished the job. Though the after effects, such as the Highway of Death, remain as testament to some of this policy, attention to much of what has been crafted in the name of US interests has so faded, the established narrative regarding the realists and the neoconservatives actually portrays the likes of James Baker and George H. W. Bush as the wise and kindly men of a bygone and benevolent era. Nothing could be further from the truth. They have agitated for and encouraged war and conducted their own, which along with devastating economic sanctions, have produce millions of dead. The neoconservatives are still well down in the body count. But what the realists never did was mess up the Middle East to the point that Iraqi oil production and distribution was seriously threatened or place Iran in a position of power, which it certainly is now.

Baker and the rest of the realists may have doubted the outcome, but they did not oppose Bush's invasion. Any doubts would have stemmed from Bush's disregard for the Powell doctrine and the obvious need to keep US troops out of an extended, bloody conflict. He did not do that. Moreover, after recurring deployments, stop-loss orders, 25,000 casualties and dismal recruiting levels, as in the aftermath of Vietnam, the US military is now at its lowest level of readiness since that time. Bush has broken the military, just as that earlier insane war did. The realists did not like that.

Bush's invasion also produced something that was entirely expected by the realists, because they had already considered an invasion of Iraq. It was not going to have a beneficial outcome, as George Bush Sr. and Brent Scowcroft would tell us in 1998:
Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream . . . and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. . . . We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect rule Iraq. . . . There was no viable 'exit strategy' we could see. . . . Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different -- and perhaps barren -- outcome.
We are now well beyond a "perhaps barren outcome." There is no foreseeable outcome that not entirely bleak and there is certainly none envisioned by Bush. Perhaps he thinks things will just get better one day and he is willing to wait until that day comes. This is why the realists felt a need to step in. Bush had no intention of altering course, and still doesn't, even as his misadventure in international illegality continues its now out of control eruption. Robert Gates, a member of Baker's ISG panel and now Secretary of Defense, is someone thought to be the signal that Bush was ready to change his tack. As an un-indicted co-conspirator in Iran-Contra, Gates certainly has a realist track record, but it remains to be seen just what kind of effect he will bring to this White House. Given Bush's current state of intransigence, he may have no effect at all.

Some have considered that the Iraq Study Group report is mere political cover for Bush, which may be true to some degree, but this seems to ignore the genuine concern the realists have for the region. And given how Bush has blithely dismissed most or all of the recommendations, whatever political shelter the report may have offered has been likewise dispatched. The true realist concern lies in one seminal fact: the Middle East is where the oil is. But with the violence rampant throughout Iraq, oil is going to be hard to come by when the pumps and the drillers are getting shot and blown up. Along with breaking the military, this also, was a too serious breach of the trust. With the Pentagon now seriously considering troop increases, The Surge, and that Condoleezza Rice has said she does not want to talk with Iran or Syria, it is clear that Bush is not considering the ISG recommendations. While there seems to be enough of a revolt around him, that it seems impossible to believe that Bush can continue to ignore it all, we know that he is perfectly capable of ignoring the advice of anyone presenting perspectives that fail to comport with his particular view of things. At this point, it is not at all clear whether Bush listens to much of anything. Though the Iraqis seem willing to oblige a couple of the ISG recommendations regarding the new oil law, this is scant help to the realist agenda if the oil is made inaccessible by the civil war. And if Iraq becomes a Shi'ite state with close ties to Iran, which is almost what it is right now despite the bloodshed, then the realists will have a very difficult time on their hands, which is probably why the ISG is encouraging talks with Iran and Syria right now, something that also looks like it will be ignored. But who knows, maybe such an outcome would make our government consider the unused avenue of becoming a good, international neighbour rather than a covertly operating, murderous regime. But after decades of always siding with confrontation, aggression and war, such a happy invention will remain just that.

It is indeed a dark, dark place we have entered with the Bush administration that the band of nefarious, mercenary realists are now viewed as the great statesmen of the day. The realists and the history of their brutalizing agenda have been granted a pass on their dreadful legacy. There are two reasons for this. One is that the United States, firmly enthralled by the myth of its own exceptionalism and greatly abetted in this by the vehicle of a compliant media, has long sported an intentional desire to remain ignorant of it own true history. And two, because the current gang of murderous fantasy-landers appear to be so much worse.

* It should be noted that the magnitude of the numbers of casualties, both military and civilian, were highly disputed by US officials, which is often the case when horrifying slaughter has taken place. We need only observe the current administration and Pentagon positions regarding the number of casualties in Iraq today. Independent observers place the Iraqi death toll at least an order of magnitude larger than anything the Pentagon will admit, even as they insist that they "don't do" body counts. Fifteen years after the carnage, there is now de facto acceptance of US military reports regarding the number of Iraqi casualties; relief for the American conscience that the killing was not too horrific -- only tens of thousands and not hundreds of thousands. In fact, a Washington Post story of March 11, 1991, entitled, U.S. Scrambles to Shape View of Highway of Death, should demonstrate sufficiently that there was a concerted effort by the Pentagon and the White House to discredit any reports of US action in the Gulf War that did not comport with the Pentagon's official version of those events. In fact, a Washington Post story of March 11, 1991, entitled, U.S. Scrambles to Shape View of Highway of Death, should demonstrate sufficiently that there was a concerted effort by the Pentagon and the White House to discredit any reports of US action in the Gulf War that did not comport with the Pentagon's official version of those events. Indeed, the new ISG report has cited a concerted effort on the part of this Pentagon to systematically under-report violent episodes in Iraq by an order of magnitude.