Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Remember that raid at Karbala back in January that US military officials said had been orchestrated by Iran because it went off so smoothly? This was the one in which one US soldier had been killed and four kidnapped, later found dead. As a further refresher, this attack came just days after US forces stormed a consulate in Irbil and arrested five Iranians, said to have been spies or agents of the Iranian Quds Force.

Well, an internal Army investigation has somewhat revised this hasty claim. Things may be far more complicated than first stated.
An internal Army investigation into the attack reviewed by TIME, in addition to interviews with U.S. and Iraqi witnesses, suggest that the abduction and murders were carried out with the knowledge and complicity of Iraqi Shi'ite police who only hours earlier had been working alongside U.S. soldiers--and may have involved local officials loyal to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

[via Iraqslogger]

Union busting in Iraq

More and more, Maliki's pals look like Saddam Hussein. Another report on the oil story from Ben Lando at UPI, who has been on top of the situation:
Oil Ministry Bans Cooperation With Unions

Iraq's Oil Ministry has directed all its agencies and departments not to deal with the country's oil unions.

The unions and Iraq's government, especially the prime minister and oil minister, have been at odds for months now over working conditions and the draft oil law.

The unions went on strike in early June and are threatening to stop production and exports again if demands are not met. The unions claim the oil law, if approved by Parliament, will give foreign oil companies too much access to the oil. The unions enjoy enormous support, especially in the south of Iraq.

"The Minister has directed the prohibition of cooperation with any member of any union in any of the committees organized under the name of the Union as these unions do not enjoy any legal status to work inside the government sector," Laith Abd Al Hussein AL Shahir, [wrote] the ministry's general director.

You broke it, you bought it

Just one more way to guarantee a broken military. Whoever would sign up for this shit?
Servicemen and women who made huge sacrifices fighting in the war and now paying yet another price, even after coming home.

One soldier in particular is currently battling against a new "debt of service."

Brian Rodriguez is a fighter, an honorably discharged soldier who'd been deployed in Iraq.

"I was a combat engineer," Rodriguez said. "We deal with land mines, explosives."

He fought for his nation, only to return to his homeland and wage a fresh battle.

Former Army Specialist Rodriguez started getting bills for $700 for lost or damaged government property this summer. Although he was discharged some four years ago, bills recently arrived demanding payment, but giving no details on what or why -- nor do they offer a way to dispute the charges.

"For doing my job you're going to bill me?" Rodriguez said.

And he's not alone. A 2006 government report found more than 1,000 soldiers being billed a total of $1.5 million. And while fighting overseas put their lives on the line, this battle on paper could cost them their future by ruining their credit. Rodriguez will be reported to credit agencies next month.

"It makes a terrible point about the nature of military service today," citizen soldier Tod Ensign said.

Ensign is a veteran's advocate. He says this is all part of the military’s push to be run more like a business.

"They'll just pound him and call him, call his employers, and make his life as miserable as they can until he pays up," Ensign said.

Testimony before Congress detailed in a report found that "although unit commanders and finance offices are authorized to write off debts for lost and damaged equipment ... they have not always done so."

"It happens too often and it's just disgraceful," Sen. Charles Schumer said. "Here are people who are risking their lives for us and they come home and they're being treated as if they're criminals instead of heroes."

Because it's been four years since he left the Middle East, Rodriguez's battalion was dissolved and his commanders are long gone. And despite repeated requests, the Army never could tell us what piece of equipment Rodriguez was billed for, nor would they get rid of the debt.

"I did my time, I served my country and this is the thanks I get," Rodriguez said.

Their suggestion? Call your Congressman. Schumer said he'll reach out to the Army to intervene on Brian's behalf.
The US government has laid out $610 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and continues to dump $12 billion a month into these debacles. And while the Pentagon looses 190,000 weapons, or rather, "cannot fully account" for them, the DoD is chiseling soldiers for 700 bucks.

"War is a soulless void"

Chris Hedges:
The Death Mask of War

White House spokesmen, Dorian Grey

Tony Snow hasn't been at his White House job for very long but it sure seems to be taking its toll. Here is a picture from his first day on the job in 2006:

Now, have a look at him in this video of the presser today, regarding the White House letter that came out, defending Gonzales. Granted, he has been through some cancer treatment, but, yikes! Being a buffer against all the evils within the White House is surely having its effects.

Ted's tomb raiders

By now, you've all heard or seen something about the joyous news that FBI and IRS agents raided the home of corrupt idiot Alaska Senator Ted "Tubes" Stevens.
Agents from the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service raided the Alaska home of Sen. Ted Stevens (R) yesterday as part of a broad federal investigation of political corruption in the state that has also swept up his son and one of his closest financial backers, officials said.

Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, is under scrutiny from the Justice Department for his ties to an Alaska energy services company, Veco, whose chief executive pleaded guilty in early May to a bribery scheme involving state lawmakers.

Contractors have told a federal grand jury that in 2000, Veco executives oversaw a lavish remodeling of Stevens's house in Girdwood, an exclusive ski resort area 40 miles from Anchorage, according to statements by the contractors.
Now, buried within this report is a rather odd detail, which Eric Muller at Is That Legal picked up on:
Stevens said in a statement that his attorneys were advised of the impending search yesterday morning.
As Muller says,
I spent nearly 9 years as a federal prosecutor. I'm not aware of a single instance when any prosecutor or agent told anyone outside the Justice Department that a search warrant was going to be executed later in the day. Telling outsiders -- especially lawyers for the person whose property will be searched -- defeats one of the principal purposes of a search warrant: SURPRISE to ensure the integrity of the evidence field.
Nonetheless, news of the raid of the Alaskan mafioso don is excellent. Ted Steven's, though, urged Alaskans
not to form conclusions based upon incomplete and sometimes incorrect reports in the media.
Because, he added further, the media "is not a dump truck. It's a series of tubes."

For background on some of the other shady dealings of the Alaskan Cosa Nostra, see Alaska Abridged.

Starr power

This is only weird on the surface.
Lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis, the law firm that's home to Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr and Bush administration official Jay Lefkowitz, have given more to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign than to all of the top Republican candidates combined.
When the time is right, expect "anonymous sources" to ignite controversy when donations to Clinton are alleged to be part of a money laundering campaign for a Medellin drug cartel. Or something....

Monday, July 30, 2007

Into the liberal breach

[Update, Update II, Update III below]

Textbook examples of government propaganda have recently appeared in what many would normally consider mainstream or, even more effectively, "liberal" media outlets. There are many examples of this everyday, of course, but the two under discussion here will serve as illustration of just how the White House coerces public opinion through the pages of our corporate media. Manufacturing consent has never gone out of style, indeed, it is the modus operandi of the media, even as it has been described for decades.

First up is a rather blatant example, offered in the op-ed pages of the New York Times today. In A War We Just Might Win, Brookings Institute collegues Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollock offer readers a brief glimpse of their eight day tear through Iraq, meeting with "American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel," to bring back a portrait of the country that is meant to deliver a message of hope that General Petreaus' "surge" strategy is actually working albeit on a small, local scale.
Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms.
Readers are to be convinced of the veracity of this report because, despite their being handled by the US military the entire time, O'Hanlon and Pollock have "harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq." Which is not to say they haven't been humping for the war since day one and have repeatedly and incorrectly offered up cheery assessments of the counterinsurgency for years, just as has Gen. Petreaus. Notably, O'Hanlon and Pollock appear not to have been offered a visit to the Interior Ministry, described as a "federation of oligarchs," wherein, right now, the seventh floor of the building is the scene of a "struggle for control" between "the Badr Organization and armed Kurdish groups." But in O'Hanlon-land, things are looking up!

Everyone is atwitter over this report of meager yet definitive signs of success. Naturally, the discussion is bifurcated without intersection, as lefties point out exactly the fact that the authors have been engaged in pro-war, pro-success nonsense for years. In his verbose and often painfully overbearing fashion, Glenn Greenwald offers up the most comphrensive assemblage of O'Hanlon and Pollock's cheerleading -- a staggering litany of incorrectness -- which continues to grow with each new update. On the right, the usual suspects are strutting and clucking about what a great thing it is that the treasonous rag has finally allowed the Truth to be exposed on its very own pages.

Yes, this is a victorious day for the truth-seekers at Powerline and Captain's Quarters. Michele Malkin is moist. For not only has the truth about Iraq won out, it has done so by the fey hand of "liberals," from the "liberal" Brookings Institute, and been doled out on the pages of the "liberal" New York Times, sure to be sopped up with gusto by those northeast, latte-slurping liberals. This is good, you see, because liberals run everything, which is why the US is fighting two failing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, agitating and arming for a third with Iran, sending missile defenses to Europe to piss off the Russians in the hopes of ramping up a new cold war, sending arms to Saudi Arabia, backing the brutal actions of Ethiopian government troops in Ethiopia and Somolia, and arming rebels in Darfur. If liberals weren't in charge, why, imagine the bliss. But I digress.

The larger issue at hand, and which almost everyone seems to be either avoiding or failing to recognize, is the purpose of the Brookings agitprop, which is only one of a steady stream of articles and opinion pieces that have been flushed through the media channels -- sure to continue -- all in an effort to loosen up that puckered American sphincter, so reticent as it is now at the thought of staying in Iraq for a very long time.

As has been pointed out earlier, the propaganda agitating, rationalizing and justifying the continued presence of US troops in Iraq, has come directly from the White House and the Pentagon, of course. But it is also moving into articles that a reader might nominally consider separated from those sources. I don't consider a trip, and the tale of it, conducted under the auspices of the US military, as is O'Hanlon's and Pollock's gumdrop, to be such a story. But it will be treated as such by other outlets and I expect we can all count on seeing more of these self-professed "critics" making the talking head rounds very soon, getting the word out. A word that, frankly, the American public would probably like to hear.

But a far more subtle case of American media pushing the White House agenda was to be found in the pages of the Time magazine last week with Michael Duffy's How to Leave Iraq, which is not so much about leaving as it is about staying.
What's needed is not the sloganeering of certain politicians but a clear-eyed, multifaceted policy. That would involve making plain to the Iraqi government our intention to pull back, followed by an orderly withdrawal of about half the 160,000 troops currently in Iraq by the middle of 2008. A force of 50,000 to 100,000 troops would dig in for a longer stay to protect America's most vital interests
This is exactly what the White House, the Pentagon and every supporter of Iraq misadventure now tells us is the only way forward. If one doesn't agree with this strategy, one cannot possibly be clear-eyed.

Unlike the New York Times, which is always being ravaged by morons for being oh, so liberal, Time magazine has the cred as one of the nation's preeminent serious news journals. It is no such thing, of course and, like most US corporate media, this is a generally specious attribution, one that has been scrupulously manufactured by the media engine itself. Which is why "catapulting the propaganda" onto the pages of a magazine like Time is crucial when so much of the country is dead set against clearly stated White House plans. While not many in the country read Time magazine anymore, it is only one of many outlets that are now being used to prepare Americans for the new reality: the long term occupation of Iraq.

There are certain keywords or concepts that, when they appear in an article with an attributed "clear-eyed" vision of the way things are, surely give away the not-so-impartial nature of said article and, indeed, of the venue itself. Duffey's piece offers up the goods with one small hint that either Duffey is a fool or he is as much a part of the agenda as any in the White House.
Washington would have more leverage with Iran, which has continued its march toward nuclear weapons while the U.S. has been bogged down in Iraq.
For readers of Time magazine, such an unequivocal yet notably understated "fact," seeps into the skull like hemlock into the ear. Such flatly stated claims, while wholly without merit, act subtly upon those who don't happen to keep up with the debate and the actual fact that no one knows this to be the case. But for the readers of Time and other of its sisterhood, it has seeded the uninformed skull with all that is necessary to believe what the White House wants believed.

The spectrum of American media outlets is now rife with White House propaganda. It is a slow, simmering program designed to gently persuade a resistant public that long term occupation of Iraq is a necessity, for both us and the Iraqis. The real goals of this long term engagement are never stated in gracious Washington company and they never will be, just as the reasons for the invasion were never and likely never will be publicly acknowledged or stated either. But the agenda must still be served, however unpleasant the reality of it execution appears.

If the Iraq war has shown Americans anything about themselves, it is that we don't mind doing dreadful, horrific, murderous things, as long as we can be made to believe that the reason we're doing them is good or necessary. This has been the necessary feature of the myth of America. Fear plays its vital role here, of course. It is also what propaganda is for.

I expect we can all count on seeing more of these self-professed "critics" making the talking head rounds very soon...
Oh my, well that didn't take very long at all. For there was a dutiful Duffy on Hardball with Chris Mathews: Maybe We Shouldn’t Leave Iraq

Update II:

I expect we can all count on seeing more of these self-professed "critics" making the talking head rounds very soon...

Don't say I didn't warn ya. O'Hanlon and Pollock are making the rounds.

via Think Progress:

Pollack and O’Hanlon have lept into the open arms of the mainstream media and have been given a forum to present their views largely without opposition. Together, they appeared on at least nine major mainstream media outlets in the past 24 hours.

A list of media appearances:

Network Program

Pollack CBS Evening News
CNN Newsroom
CNN Situation Room
MSNBC Tucker
NPR Talk of the Nation

O'Hanlon CBS Early Show
CBS Evening News
Fox News Special Report
MSNBC Hardball
Update III: Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns and Money utterly destroys O'Hanlon and Pollock. Destroys them. I doubt he'll be on Talk of the Nation.

The United States v. George Bush et al.

Last fall, former federal prosecutor, Elizabeth de la Vega published the United States v. George Bush et al. She gathered information from public sources -- congressional testimony, White House press release and public statements, news and journal articles, verbal statements by White House officials, and decided that indictments for fraud and criminal conspiracy could be sought in a Grand Jury setting. The book is a fictional account of how that Grand Jury scenario would play out.

Well, now there's going to be a movie. Should be interesting.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Deadly Poet's Society

Bored with their lot in life and with the 3rd annual "Printer's Ball" in town, Chicago Police, in full SWAT regalia, stormed the event's final evening, a party of music, poetry and art, for violations of licensing requirements. That's right, licensing and permit violations led a 30-man SWAT team to storm the premises.
Nobody turned into a pumpkin at Chicago's third annual "Printer's Ball," culminating a monthlong festival celebrating the printed word.

They didn't get a chance. The party Friday night ended up being shut down by the police long before midnight in a dispute over whether the Bridgeport gallery hosting it had been inspected, had the proper city licenses and could safely accommodate a large gathering.

Oskar Friedl, director of the Zhou B Art Center, 1029 W. 35th St., said "at least 30" police officers came to his gallery "in full-fledged combat gear" shortly after 10:30 p.m. and made more than 1,000 people leave.

"It felt like the Gestapo," Friedl said. "I'm not even blaming the city for what they're doing, but the way they did it was very upsetting.
Oddly enough, this police state action, resoundingly admonished by the director of the art center, was seemingly praised by Anne Halsey, spokeswoman for the Poetry Foundation, the organizer of the Printer's Ball, who said the police were "extremely pleasant and courteous."

Really, Anne? Because certain attendees don't seem to have quite the same appreciation for the actions of Chicago's SWAT team in busting up a respected literary event:
I wish I had my camera so that I could show you just how knuckle-headed these armed thugs looked barking threats at the peaceful publishers of Chicago literature.

Chicago's finest, what the hell is your problem?
Conflicting reports, to say the least. But then one would expect some mitigation of the storm trooper tactics by the Chicago Sun-Times, a Hollinger outlet that shares common interest in the ongoing project of the police state.
Sure, they stormed in wearing full battle gear. Storming a poet party can get a bit hairy, we all agree on that. But guns weren't ablazin'! How can anyone complain? This was obviously the right thing to do.

[h/t Mentarch at APOV and the excellent Larisa Alexandrovna @ at-Largely]

Victory for Iraq

I doubt this is what Bush has in mind when he talks about victory in Iraq, but a small, happy moment for Iraqis, nonetheless and, oddly enough, coming at the expense of Saudi Arabia. Nice work, lads.
Iraq crowned Asian Cup kings

A 71st-minute header from Younes Mahmoud earned Iraq an historic 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia and their first-ever AFC Asian Cup title.

The 24-year-old striker converted Hawar Mulla Mohammed's corner to give the war-torn nation the trophy and end Saudi Arabia's hopes of a record-breaking fourth continental title.

The win is the pinnacle of a fairytale run to the title by the Iraqis, who were forced to prepare for the tournament outside their homeland as a result of the continuing security situation.
I'm sure there is a "How Soccer Explains the World" metaphor in this somewhere, though we might not realize it for many years.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Tales from the rift

[Update below]

With its appearance in the notorious Torygraph, the tale of the rift between Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki and General Petraeus carries the heavy suspicion of propaganda. After reading it, though, I can't quite see that angle to it. It certainly doesn't help Bush, who supports both men, despite Maliki calling for Petreaus to be replaced.
Relations between the top United States general in Iraq and Nouri al-Maliki, the country's prime minister, are so bad that the Iraqi leader made a direct appeal for his removal to President George W Bush.

Although the call was rejected, aides to both men admit that Mr Maliki and Gen David Petraeus engage in frequent stand-up shouting matches, differing particularly over the US general's moves to arm Sunni tribesmen to fight al-Qa'eda.

One Iraqi source said Mr Maliki used a video conference with Mr Bush to call for the general's signature strategy to be scrapped. "He told Bush that if Petraeus continues, he would arm Shia militias," said the official. "Bush told Maliki to calm down."
President Bush's support for Mr Maliki is deeply controversial within the US government because of the Iraqi's ties to Shia militias responsible for some of the worst sectarian violence.
I'm still amazed at the harping about Iranian influence in the Iraqi government. The Bush administration hand-picked Allawi and Maliki, knowing full well their long established ties to Tehran. How dare those Iranian-friendly politicians get all friendly with the Iranians!

The White House watched as the Maliki government, with the help of the Pentagon, trained death squads to function within Iraq security forces that were meant to target the Sunni insurgency. And now, after sectarian violence escalated, the Bush administration is beside itself that the death squads they trained are doing exactly what they were trained to do. Bush blames "Shia militias," when the entire Iraq security force is a Shia militia or at least comprises several of them. And Maliki threatens to "arm Shia militias," several of which are already well-armed thanks to the generous support of the Pentagon, in retaliation for the funding and arming of Sunni militias that the Pentagon has now thought to be its last best option.

On top of all the funding and counter-funding of insurgents and counter-insurgents, the Bush administration is pledging to ship Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States $20 billion in arms to counteract growing Iranian influence in the region, influence that is a direct result of US intervention in Iraq, both in removing the counter-balance that Hussein enforced against the Iranian mullahs and in picking and installing Iraqi exiles with close ties to Tehran.

All of this may look like the White House has no idea what it is doing. But one should always be circumspect when a group of what might normally be considered "smart people," continuously do the obviously wrong thing. Actually, I suspect the White House know exactly what they have been doing and will continue to do, which is the reason why the US will insist on remaining in Iraq for a long time, just as we have been promised.

Update: via Newshoggers and Small Wars Journal comes news that, as I pondered above, this suspected Telegraph story may be utter fiction. Of course, this claim comes from MNF-Iraq Public Affairs Office, which has also been a reliable source of fiction for sometime.

By the way, check out the handy dandy "Freedom Facts" box on the MNF-Iraq site.

The world we're in

President Bush yesterday reiterated his threat to veto Senate legislation that would substantially increase funds for children's health insurance.


The Bush administration will ask Congress next week to approve an arms-sale package to Saudi Arabia and five other Persian Gulf countries that may total more than $20 billion...

Included in the package are advanced satellite-guided bombs, fighter-aircraft upgrades and new naval vessels. The administration also plans to announce a new 10-year military aid package to Israel and Egypt.
The military assistance agreements would provide $30 billion in new U.S. aid to Israel and $13 billion to Egypt over a decade.

The Dems blew it. They should have formed a front company and told Bush that the S-CHIP was new spy chip technology.

Calling all bloggers

Both the Pentagon and the White House have been busy with blogs lately. Bush-friendly blogs, that is. Others might call them "tools of the trade."

Ken Silverstein wrote about recent Pentagon efforts to "bypass the traditional media and work directly with talk radio and bloggers" under the rubric "Surrogates Operation." Obviously, no one, not even independent-minded right wing bloggers, like to be called surrogates, so the Pentagon happied-up the label as "Communications Outreach.” Amazing what a rearrangement of consonants and vowels will do.

Now, we are learning that the Pentagon, in a report published over a year ago, is trying to co-opt the internets to their favour by studying "how the U.S. armed forces and intelligence agencies might influence opinion overseas through foreign bloggers" (all of this via Swedish Meatballs Confidential). This is a fine strategy, really, and the only option left in a world that utterly distrusts anything that comes out of stultifying confines of Washington DC: let's get foreigners to tell our lies for us! Brilliant. I'm surprised it has taken this long.

Actually, it hasn't. The Pentagon has been doing this for a long time. It is only the newly-minted tool of the web -- blogs in particular -- that the Pentagon is figuring out how to turn into a disinformation superhighway. But how do you flush faithful Pentagon disinformation into the shit stream that is the world wide web and expect anyone to believe -- or even notice -- all this wonderful propaganda being sluiced down the tubes and, hopefully, right into peoples' homes. Finding answers to such vexing questions is just one of the many reasons the Pentagon has a $600 billion budget.

The latest effort, this one out of the White House, truly is my favourite because it is operated so openly, and with such willing participants, that is funny. In a sad, sad way. For behold the sight of "Captain Ed" (yes, he does call himself this), of Captain's Quarters, cheerily announcing his White House assignment to gather all like-minded bloggers in order to mainline the White House legal argument supporting Bush's claims of executive privilege over every and anything. I can't quite bring myself to link directly to this White House cheerleading -- fear of being considered a back-door agent is too severe -- so I'll let Cernig send you that way if you want to drill down to the propaganda effort being formulated by independent-minded (isn't that what they always like to believe of themselves) conservatives and the White House.

I'm not quite sure how one reconciles indenpedent-mindedness with being a shill for arguments in support of White House extra-legal activities, but I'm sure they've got that one worked out, too. Amusingly, Cap'n Ed's bio informs his fans that, while actively working as a stooge for the Bush administration, his blog
has led the effort to bring accountability to mainstream media sources.
It is from this position that irony thickens noticeably upon further examination.
When Ed Morrissey first launched the conservative political blog "Captain's Quarters" in October 2003, he could hardly have predicted the impact that his venture would have on the media and political debate.
And that,
Edward has helped to create a model for success and expansion of the influence of the blogosphere into other communication channels.
Really, who knew the White House would be calling on him to organize a government propaganda campaign?! But did you also know that
Ed Morrissey also writes extensively on First Amendment issues for the blogosphere.
Yes, how does that go again? Something like,
Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of White House speech, or of the White House press release.
The ultimate problem these people face, however, is a big one. No one who might be swayed by rational argument pays attention to them, so wrong, craven and stupid have they been over the years. And those who are already in the camp don't need to be convinced of it anyway. But this is a dwindling number of people in the country and many of those likely don't have a clue what the hell a "blog" even is. Even Republicans, who often bear the brunt of cruel keyboard attacks when they don't tow the hardcore xenophobic line, don't care to know what these White House imps have to say, because they already know the standard positions. The White House, too, is apparently willing to overlook the "savaging" Bush took on his immigration position by all the usual suspects, the same ones now being enjoined to help push the message of unfettered executive privilege. And they will push it exactly nowhere.

Bush's stated claim will stand, or not, and it will be up to Congress to either deal with it or not. As much as I would like them to deal with it, and as weary and dumbfounded as some on the Judiciary committee look, I don't see this going anywhere. Bush will stand firm and the Dems will back away. This is not defeatist but, rather, simply based on the brief history of Bush administration time. And none of it will be dependent on what is written by Cap'n Ed on his blog.

I can't help but think this comes with a price, if not in direct payment to these ridiculous whores (and how dumb do you have to be to do this kind of crap for free?) then certainly in the cost of White House staff, time and expense, which will, once again, by covered by the American taxpayer and the Chinese National Bank. Then again, since the entire operation of the White House is run as a monstrous, vainglorious enterprise of the Republican Party, and paid for by taxpayer dollars, fretting about the time spent by White House staff coordinating a bunch of blog tools seems like pointless nitpicking.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Iraq Oil Law: In Pursuit of Happiness

But the oil of the Iraqi people belongs to the Iraqi people; it is their wealth, it will be used for their benefit. So we did not do it for oil.
--Colin Powell,
10 July 2003

As follow-on to the previous post, I thought it would be useful to summarize the current state of things surrounding the disposition of the Iraq Oil Law and, not entirely obliquely, the privatization efforts that have been required of Iraq. This was prompted, as stated earlier, by a comment from Mentarch in which he asks,
But how could this even remotely be profitable, when any employees ("foreigners") sent over there gets a target painted on their back the moment they land in Iraq?
The extant chaos and violence that rocks the country is indeed an impediment to extracting Iraqi oil wealth. The petroleum infrastructure in Iraq has suffered almost daily sabotage and attacks while fuel smuggling functions as a profitable business for militants, criminal gangs and insurgents. The keystone of Iraq's oil industry is Basra, the terminus of petroleum export activity for the country and whence British officials have said they would withdraw, a promise that is looking less and less likely as violence there has escalated, with British forces coming under regular attack lately. Basra, of course, has long been under de facto control by various militant factions, which have routinely attacked British forces there, despite the rosy gloss British authorities have tried to rub on the situation. The situation has deteriorated to the point that Prime Minister al-Maliki has just declared a month-long state of emergency in Basra, dashing hopes of any near term British withdrawal.


Despite the worsening situation both in the oil hub of Basra and almost everywhere else, the White House-inspired Oil Law is still being pushed by the Bush administration and US Congress. Passage of the law remains the number one benchmark set by the Democratic Congress, which was also a strongly encouraged requirement of the Iraq Study Group, while CENTCOM commander William Fallon said that,
the Iraqi government should aim to complete a law on the division of oil proceeds by next month.
After initial fire storm was created with news that the Oil Law would contain explicit mention of PSAs, something that no neighbouring OPEC nation allows, and that enormous profits of up to 75% could be awarded through these vehicles to participating oil companies, since The Long Game appeared, the Oil Law was leaked and offered a glimpse into just how the potential application of the much-reviled production sharing agreements (PSAs) will be accomplished. Of note is that explicit mention of PSAs disappeared, judiciously buried under the various legal structures contained therein.

The law, as currently written and approved by the Iraqi cabinet, calls for the formation of a Federal Oil and Gas Council (FOGC) on which will sit, among Iraqi officials, a selection of "executive managers of important related petroleum companies." This council will be the final arbiter of the shape and form of all oil contracts:
The FOGC "approves all types of exploration and production contracts and chooses the appropriate contract type for the field nature or exploration area or based on offers."
Initially, it was hard not to imagine just who would comprise this coterie of "executive managers" that would be advising the Iraqi government on how to write up oil contracts. However, and with irony ever present in much of what the Bush administration does, recent courting of the Iraqi government by officials from Russia, China and India indicate that those parties see an opening in Iraq while western oil interests dither about participation "until the violence in Iraq abates." Given what we see happening in Iraq and with the state of emergency declared in Basra, this qualification is leaving the door wide open for non-aligned interests like Russia and China to move in and perhaps acquire some chairs on the FOGC.

With western interests unwilling to commit operations to the violent climate in Iraq and with Russia and China hovering over Baghdad, the Bush administration finds itself in a desperate bid to both quell the violence to an observable degree, making it somewhat palatable for western interests, while also permitting conditions that will justify continued occupation of the country. On this front we have seen Bush's "surge," which really has done nothing to quell violence, spring forth and his administration ramping up the rhetoric about long term occupation, albeit at "reduced levels." None of this is organic, of course, as the many permanent bases on which construction began shortly after the invasion will attest.

I doubt that quelling violence in much of Iraq is of great concern to the White House. Surely they want Baghdad brought under some control, given that that is their base of operations. But with the FOBs already operating as garrisons, which will ultimately be their final form, all that needs to happen is for Baghdad to calm somewhat and then redeploy troops to the FOBs, withdraw the rest and, hopefully, let the oil companies in under US military armed guard.

I know it seems hard to imagine that the US military would be used in so blatant a way, but I'll simply recall General Butler's words. Using the American military to bolster American business interests is hardly anything new.
I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
And really, look at what other executive agencies we've seen this White House turn into political arms of their special interests. I suspect that the White House is more than tolerant of ongoing but reduced mayhem in Baghdad since complete calm there -- or anywhere really -- would not serve them well. Because it would then be the case that the locals could actually pay attention to what was going under the auspices of their so-called government. And we certainly can't have any of that.

Interestingly, Bush's initial "surge" plan, or rather the neocon American Enterprise Institute's surge plan, called for the deployment of 5,000 troops to al Anbar province, where the IHS recently announced that the potential of 100+ billion barrels of oil may exist and which effectively doubles Iraq's oil reserves. This is also the region wherein the Pentagon is employing most effectively the tactic of funding local Sunni militias to counter the dominance of al Qaeda in the region. Blowback is sure to be the ultimate result of this but, for now, al Qaeda does seem to be somewhat compromised there.

Key in understanding the import of Iraqi oil is the fact that, unlike other alternative oil sources currently online, such as Alberta tar sands and Venezuela heavy crude, Iraq's light sweet crude can be extracted for as a little as $1/bbl, which, at current and likely never-retreating market prices, ensures that profits will be huge. At just $50/bbl. and 3 million bbls/day (an oft-stated goal), this cheap oil is capable of producing $147 million per day in profit. Further key in this equation, of course, is that western interests and agents thereof are the ones installed on the FOGC and not competitors from Gazprom and the Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC). But again, with conditions grim, the calculus of Iraqi oil is seeing some furious and ongoing consideration from all sides.

But the Oil Law has yet to pass. Western media outlets talk about this "problem" as the result of disagreement between factions within the government over whether the "control" of the oil should fall under the auspices of regional or federal governments. At some level this is true, but there is enormous resistance to this law amongst the general population, who rightly view the law as opening the gates of foreign control over the country's major resource and source of revenue. It was only a few weeks ago that the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) -- held in high esteem by Iraqis in general -- threatened strike action against the Oil Law, with the president of the union, Hassan Jum’a Awwad, saying in an open letter to the US Congress,
Everyone knows that the oil law does not serve the Iraqi people, and that it serves Bush, his supporters and the foreign companies at the expense of the Iraqi people who have been wronged and deprived of their right to their oil despite enduring all difficulties.

We ask our friends not to link withdrawal with the oil law, especially since the USA claimed that it came to Iraq as a liberator and not in order to control Iraq’s resources.

The general public in Iraq is totally convinced that Bush wants to rush the promulgation of the oil law so as to be leaving Iraq with a victory of sorts, because his project is failing every day and the occupation is collapsing in all parts of Iraq.
The Iraqis are not fooled by lofty rhetoric about bringing a viable revenue sharing plan to the country and they know exactly what the Oil Law really represents.

As one might expect from an agent of the Bush administration, Maliki responded promptly to this strike and, on its third day, ordered Iraqi troops, who surely have better things to do, to surround and arrest union trouble makers. Maliki is now acting towards unions much as Saddam Hussein did during that despot's bleak reign. White House generated irony strikes again.

Debt and Privitization

While resistance to the Oil Law remains strong and even more recently the oil unions have further threatened to "mutiny" if the law is passed as is, efforts in the privatization of Iraq's public assets and infrastructure have proceeded with all abandon. After the efforts of L. Paul Bremer and his enormous sell-off of Iraq's public assets, just recently, Iraq's oil refineries were privatized.

Indeed, what has occurred to Iraq's public holdings under the Bush administration putsch follows the decidedly grim and sour prescriptions of "structural adjustments" so oft insisted upon by the likes of the IMF and World Bank. In fact, a mere six months after moving to the World Bank, Wolfowitz's new employer doled out the first World Bank loan to Iraq since 1973, some $500 million, festooned with requirements for reconstruction of infrastructure, infrastructure that is now being sold off at bargain basement prices while Iraq is saddled with heaping mounds of World Bank debt. More loans followed, one for $124 million for a power plant, one among many that will also likely wind up on the auction block and put there by World Bank and IMF strictures. This is the classic scam described in great detail by John Perkins in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.

This one, though, extends the bounds of what had previously been achieved. The Iraq situation is truly an economic hit an order of magnitude greater than anything attempted previously. Not only is the attendant destruction in Iraq is now funneling World Bank loans into Baghdad, much of which comes from the taxpayers of the US, Britain and other western nations, the same interests now responsible for World Bank loans were the same ones that saddled American taxpayers with the enormous debt of paying for the war, which has fueled the tremendous profits of the defense industry, profits -- it cannot be said enough -- made during the program of lethal destruction, which has now led to US taxpayer money and World Bank loans paying for the reconstruction of that which was destroyed. This destruction/construction tag team has been highly profitable on both ends.

In Iraq, the loans and the associated debt are used as leverage to force sale of some or most of the very things the loans were used to build. Iraq is then burdened with debt, beholden to western interests because of it, and private interests walk off with ownership of Iraq's assets, having acquired them for nickels on the dollar in forced sales required by financial strictures imposed by their creditor, the World Bank. And all of it is skimmed from taxpayers. And a lot of them are Americans.


All this movement by the oil oligarchy is predicated on a failing assumption and that is that Iraq will actually exist and will be stable enough for the mulitnationals to operate in the region. Today, that assumption is looking wobbly, at best. How the oil companies plan to operate in this theatre of war is a guess best left to them and their agents in the White House. Given this government's previous record on predicting the future in Iraq, it would appear that their best guesses will be fairly well off the mark.

My suspicion is that, despite plans for long term occupation, they don't know how to operate in such conditions, if they can at all. It seems obvious that the insurgency will continue to harass any remaining US troops, knowing full well exactly why those troops are there. Most of Iraq already knows why the US invaded in the first place. Regardless of the beliefs of the much of the American public, it is plain that the Iraqis are under no delusions as to why US forces are and will likely remain in Iraq.

So don't expect attacks on the oil infrastructure to abate either. If anything, they will likely intensify. This probably wasn't a scenario imagined by Cheney's Energy Task Force, which was then imagining rose pedal showers while they drilled into the easy money oil fields of western Iraq. I would also dispute any notion that the oil company cartel is anywhere near close to cashing in. Actually, they're not even close. But that has nothing to do with the PSAs and the phony Iraq Constitution. It has everything to do with the reality on the ground. No one knows, at this point, whether there will be any place left that will continue to be called Iraq.

Chris Floyd posed an excellent argument awhile back that the entire PNAC neocon philosophy was nothing but an idealogical window dressing for more of the same rapacious economic brinkmanship that American corporations, aided and abetted as always by their government toadies, have been practicing for decades. Too many people, Floyd claimed, were blaming the neocons for what was essentially age-old economic imperialism, with US military backing provided by the Bush administration's oily whores. Admittedly, the Iraq adventure is an order of magnitude more grandiose than anything that has been attempted to date, but the basic mechanisms and familiar justifications were all there. Given what we are now seeing transpire, vis a vis the multinational oil companies and the succulent new oil wealth, oh, so tantalizingly close, it is hard to argue against Floyd's view.

Nonetheless, the harsh and volatile reality in Iraq is likely to damp the wet dreams of the oil executives, at least those unwilling to engage their efforts in a country that will not likely view their presence happily. Despite the White House's firm belief that they create their own reality, the oil companies are a little more pragmatic when it comes to actual reality. And they must know at this point that their dreams and plans for Iraq's untapped oil riches may remain just that for a very long time.

Unless, of course, the Russians and the Chinese, two nations whose oil interests are perhaps weighted a little more heavily against the lives of their workers, move in first. Americans dying for Chinese oil profits. White House irony, strike three.

The Iraq Oil Law: The Long Game

This is a somewhat shorter variation of an article published in the March/April edition of The Humanist magazine. I serve it up here as both background and prelude to a follow-on article (the idea prompt by a previous comment by Mentarch regarding Iraq oil refinery privatization) about recent developments surrounding the Iraq Oil Law and other privatization plans of Iraqi infrastructure now underway.

The Long Game

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.
-- Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler,
War is a Racket

If it has not already done so [Ed. to date, it has not], the Iraqi parliament is expected to pass a new National Oil Law. This is probably not something many Americans have heard much about and generally most US media outlets have portrayed the law as a good and necessary thing. The law appears designed to reinvigorate the dilapidated oil industry in a country with vast oil wealth but which has been punished by wars and sanctions for decades. I say "appears" because, while the law is designed to spur Iraq's oil production, there are also other purposes for which it is designed: enrich western oil companies to new and lofty heights and, more importantly, to secure Middle Eastern oil deposits for American interests and against those of competing world powers. Twenty years of "realist" foreign policy, which has overseen the deaths of millions, along with the current mayhem, has finally culminated in Western interests citing those very policies as the rationale for taking control of Iraqi oil fields for the first time since 1972. This is what is known as "the long game."

Encouraged by both the White House and the Baker Commission report, the National Oil Law was originally drawn up by the White House and its surrogates. One of those surrogates was US consultant firm, Bearing Point Inc., which was contracted by the Bush administration over a year ago to aid the Iraq Oil Ministry -- the one ministry that US forces did guard during the looting that ensued after the fall of Baghdad -- in drafting the new oil law. This law is widely seen as highly unusual in the Middle East, where they are often constitutionally prohibited, and will grant major western oil companies so called Production Sharing Agreements (PSA) for up to 30 years and, in at least the first few years, permit them up to 75% of the profits from both developed and undeveloped oil fields. Key to thesePSAs is that they are "locked in," regardless of the government in power.

To understand the magnitude of potential profits, it is important to know that only 17 of 80 potential oil fields in Iraq have ever been touched and it is estimated that pumping light sweet crude out of Iraq's oil fields could cost as little as one dollar per barrel. Up to 3 million barrels per day are the expected output and, at $50/bbl, this amounts to a profit potential of $100 million per day for participating oil companies. There will be plenty of interested oil companies. None of this can be realized, of course, with the current state of violence in Iraq. It is from this perspective that we can understand why there are no plans, nor have there ever been, for a withdrawal of US troops any time soon.

The Bush administration offered myriad reasons for attacking Iraq before for the invasion. All have proved illusory. These pre-invasion justifications had one thing in common, however: they all encouraged immediate military action. Weapons of mass destruction, ties to 9/11, ties to al Qaeda, yellow cake. Oh, the terrible yellow cake! Mushroom clouds loomed on our horizon. Compared to these, a program of "spreading democracy" would hardly have seemed imperative. But when all of the "reasons" for invasion proved fallacious, White House rhetoric veered onto the ex post facto yet primrose path of freedom and democracy. If the shifting sands of justification demonstrated one thing it was that none of the reasons proffered bore any resemblance to the actual reasons for the invasion of Iraq. While many people raised the issue of oil both before and after the invasion, administration officials insisted and continue to insist that the industrialized world's most important resource was of no interest to this White House, a White House piled high with former oil industry executives. Though Colin Powell explicitly said that, "we did not do it for oil," the new Oil Law casts a very long, very dark shadow across those words.

Despite the common refrain that errors in "intelligence" resulted in the invasion of Iraq, the invasion was not a mistake. Mistake implies some level of accident or inadvertence, something that might have been avoided if only other things were known. But it obvious now that the invasion of Iraq was an orchestrated, deliberate action and merely the last of many policy prescriptions that have been exacted upon that country for the last twenty five years. Since the fall of the Shah in the Iranian revolution, United States foreign policy has remained absolutely consistentvis-à-vis Iraq and Iran. From agitating for and illegally supplying arms to both sides during the Iran-Iraq war, to the destruction of military and civilian infrastructure and the criminal rout of the Iraqi army in the first Gulf War, to the draconian, deadly sanctions levied on Iraq through the nineties, these policies have had one clear purpose: reassert control of Middle East oil supplies. And it is not by accident that, having taken out Saddam Hussein, the Iranian regime is next in the cross-hairs.

As mentioned earlier, it is the extant violence in Iraq that is the real impediment to immediate action in the oil fields. Hence, the desperation on the part of the White House to try anything they can to calm the situation and make it comfortable for western oil interests, which have stated that they are unlikely to invest "until the violence in Iraq abates." Whether troop escalation will deliver this need remains to be seen but what is clear is that withdrawal is not and never has been an option, for that would leave oil and strategic interests high and dry. The mid-term elections suggested that the highly ridiculed "stay the course" policy was finally meeting wide disapproval. The so-called "surge" was really the only option George Bush had that would make it look like he was changing policy when, in effect, he is not changing policy at all. And Bush has stated quite clearly that troops will not be withdrawn while he is in office. This is perhaps the most believable statement he has ever made.

What is likely to be the eventual role for US troops is to garrison existing and future oil infrastructure, much as they served the Oil Ministry during the looting of Baghdad. This also explains the presence of fourteen permanent US military bases -- some close to oil fields -- scattered throughout Iraq, their construction occurring almost immediately after the post-invasion dust had settled. Garrison outposts guarding valuable assets in a hostile foreign land. Now what does that sound like?

The history of civilization is practically equivalent to the history of empires, which itself is a vast chronicle of crimes against humanity. Until recently, empires were very honest about their imperial designs. Since America became the world's preeminent military and economic power, however, honesty about the imperial prerogative has been subjugated by the rhetoric of humanitarianism. Yes, Americans have strong ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights and much of the American public believes this country should be the beacon of these values, here and everywhere. Sadly, this has not been the case and furthermore, far too many Americans remain blithely unaware of just what has been exacted in our name. Despite lofty talk of freedom and democracy, the true nature of the Iraq war has finally been revealed by the Iraqi oil law, written by us for us, with little regard for the needs of Iraq and her people. US foreign policy has exacted a tremendous human toll around the world. Most certainly this is true in Iraq. Perhaps this is the single biggest reason why we must now be told that this is a dangerous world.

It is time for a serious reevaluation of the way we comport ourselves on this small globe, which grows smaller each day. Just as it has been for empires of the past, our government's reckless behavior, beholden as it is to power and profit, is a doomed paradigm. We must engage people in the world in a truly humanitarian way, withequinamity and honesty. I think we would discover then just how many of those "enemies" might disappear. So long has our brutal and careless hegemony been dominant, however, my only fear is that any behavioral change might be entirely too late.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Five state strategery

[Update below]

While not exactly news, more damning emails confirming GOP and White House election rigging plans for voter suppression in Ohio and elsewhere in 2004:
Previously undisclosed documents detail how Republican operatives, with the knowledge of several White House officials, engaged in an illegal, racially-motivated effort to suppress tens of thousands of votes during the 2004 presidential campaign in a state where George W. Bush was trailing his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry.

The documents also contain details describing how Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign officials, and at least one individual who worked for White House political adviser Karl Rove, planned to stop minorities residing in Cuyahoga County from voting on election day.

Another set of documents, 43 pages of emails, ... contains blueprints for a massive effort undertaken by RNC operatives in 2004, to challenge the eligibility of voters expected to support Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in states such as Nevada, New Mexico, Florida and Pennsylvania.

One email, dated September 30, 2004, and sent to a dozen or so staffers on the Bush-Cheney campaign and the RNC, under the subject line "voter fraud strategy conference call," describes how campaign staffers planned to challenge the veracity of votes in a handful of battleground states in the event of a Democratic victory.
I'm sure Alberto Gonzales, who once said that caging is "a reprehensible voter suppression tactic, and it may also violate federal law," will be shocked, shocked! to learn that his GOP brethren have been engaged in racist and illegal voter suppression.

Update: Check out Hotpotatomash for a detailed and much more complete round-up on this subject and the various scuzzballs cited in these emails.

Armageddon ready

Speaking of farces, this comes via the inimitable Sadly,No! Max Blumenthal's latest muckraking dig into the unseemly world of the Christian right and the scary fuckers in the US government who fully engage this nonsense. Appearances by Tim DeLay and Joe Lieberman bookend the End Times fest.

Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour

Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour from huffpost and Vimeo.

Tour de farce

Celebration or arrest?
In the Tour these days, it is sometimes hard to tell.

Ignominy is the order of the day at the Tour after both Vinokourov and Tour leader Rasmussen were yanked from the race; Vinokourov for a failed dope test and Rasmussen, after the discovery that Rasmussen had been in Italy when he had informed the UCI that he was in Mexico with his wife. Rasmussen missed to two dope tests over the course of two years but insisted that he had been staying in Mexico. UCI officials had been unable to locate him.

This is beyond grim for the Grand Boucle. AFP notes that the European press have written of the Tour as a farce and that "the Tour is dead." Histrionic, perhaps, but not far off. Year after year of doping scandals, the first major bust in 1998 with the Festina affair, has ultimately cast the Tour as a drug-addled joke. Of course, the Tour was drug-addled before this long string of bad publicity. But it was not generally viewed as a joke. It wasn't until bad press led to some diligence in dope testing that problems -- major levels of doping -- were being publicly exposed. How else to view the recent admission by Bjarne Riis that, in 1996, he was jacked-up to the gills winning the Tour and passed every single drug test administered?

This may kill the Tour, if not technically, at least spiritually. I just don't see how major sponsors, who used to crawl over one another to sponsor the Tour, will continue to back this, unless they have the "there's no such thing as bad publicity" mentality. And I'm not even sure the fans really wanted to know. I know I couldn't have cared less. Doped or not doped? Who cares? Ride, bitches! They and I just enjoy watching a good race, however that comes about. Unfortunately, rather than a test of pure athletic ability, tactical and strategic planning and a tuned training program, the race, indeed, the sport itself, is also a battle of drug regimens and clever doctors.

And that is the shame of it. The amounts of money that some of these riders have spent just to remain competitive is enormous and a serious financial burden on the non-stars. This doping problem also led to a performance gap, as the best paid figures had no concerns about the cost of whatever drug regimen was the order of the day. Not so for the domestiques, who struggled with an enforced "habit" just to remain useful in a given race. Ultimately, the problem with the fact that everyone is doped is that it doesn't change the rankings or results too much from the way things would shake out without the dope. The races would be just as exciting, if perhaps a couple of kph slower. The whole effort is a colossal waste of time and effort when everyone is jacked. Doping, at this point in the sport, does not gain advantage. All it does now is help riders keep up.

Lately, I have found myself less and less inclined to tell people I used to bike race, fearing that what I will hear will be the question that now seems most apropos,
Did you ever take drugs?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Iraqi oil industry privatization underway

Despite threat from Iraq's oil workers unions, it looks like the privatization onslaught on Iraq's oil industry is now underway:
Iraq's Parliament has approved a law privatizing the country's oil-refining sector in order to lure investment and stem a fuel shortage.

The law, approved Tuesday, is a step toward relinquishing government involvement in the refining sector and, when poverty is alleviated, moving Iraqi consumers from state-subsidized to market prices for fuel.
Which always works out well for certain parties. Sounds like a recipe for riots, to me.

Nonetheless, private investment is certainly needed in Iraq although it is entirely unclear just how private interests will be any more successful than the state refineries in light of constant power shortages and sabotage, something that even the US military cannot seem to mitigate. And remember, this isn't necessarily a win for western oil companies. Russia, China and India have been engaging the Iraqi parliament on their home turf for sometime now.

The image of a flyblown carcass in the desert, surrounded by squawking vultures picking at the carrion, jumps immediately to mind. Funny that.

Kabooming economy

More on that economy Bill Kristol thinks is going gangbusters:
A significant increase in electronics job cuts in the United States has raised a warning flag in the seemingly healthy industry, a report said Wednesday.

Companies have announced as many job cuts in the first half of 2007 as in all of 2006, said the report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the global outplacement consultancy based in Chicago.

The pace of job cutting among employers in the electronics industry has more than doubled, the report said. The firms announced 14,318 job cuts from January through June, 105 percent more than the 6,976 announced in the first six months of 2006.

A job-cut surge in the industry -- which provides many of the materials and components for computers, cell phones and other technology products -- could indicate increased weakness in the sector at large, the report said.

The law is a bomb

This is an interesting development, one that will probably move exactly nowhere, just like all the other bills passed by the House and which remain floundering in the Senate. (via DanK is back at dKos). The House just voted 399-24 on HR 2929 against permanent military bases in Iraq:
It is the policy of the United States not to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq and not to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq.
Of course, the meaning of this depends on the meaning of the word "permanent." The bases in South Korea are not now, nor have they ever been, called permanent. And the Bush administration has been careful to use the term "enduring" when describing these bases. This has a much more palliative flavour, almost as though these camps in the Iraqi desert are architectural gems that ought to be preserved for future generations.

Is this bill for show as some sort of conscience alleviation whereby the House will be able to say, see we told them not to do it and they did anyway. Since these bases depend on congressional funding, and we've see just how effective Congress can be in restricting funding for Bush's misadventures, don't be too surprised if this bill winds up meaning absolutely nothing.

The mention of oil resources is key here and indicates that the House is rather aware of what these garrisons would actually be used for once the major withdrawal of US forces does happen and those remaining decamp to the various FOBs. Nonetheless, the contentious Oil Law is more contentious than ever and Iraq's oil workers unions are threatening to "mutiny" over the passage of the law in its current form. Again, this aspect of the bill seems like window dressing, since Congress has already told the Iraqi parliament that the Oil Law is the number one benchmark they need to meet. But as the unions have said,
If the Iraqi Parliament approves this law, we will resort to mutiny. This law is a bomb that may kill everyone. Iraqi oil does not belong to any certain side. It belongs to all future generations.

A brief and shining message

Sometimes, when I see Dennis Kucinich, I wonder how on earth it is that this guy is still in Congress. I thought the system had fairly well worked out how to eliminate such pesky and irksome creatures. Apparently not. Of course, the next buffer against the truths that Kucinich is more than capable of delivering is the media, which, when not ignoring him, occasionally harps on the fact that he is an "unknown." But when he is given a moment to actually say something -- usually something the establishment just doesn't want to hear -- he is very good. I cannot think of another member of Congress, and certainly not any of the presidential candidates, who has ever mentioned the word, "neocon." But Kucinich did.

And so it is with this clip.

Sadly, Kucinich's number probably won't improve much beyond 1%, which is the system keeping him at bay. But he is the best damn person in Congress and certainly the only one who is willing to cast off the shroud of our imperial prerogative. This video should convince anyone of this, despite the efforts of CNN to denigrate his position because he is a 1 percenter. He is as sick of this war and the behaviour of Congress as much as anyone.

Given this, I found the little blurb in the NY Times about who is contributing what to various candidates, "Gifts from the Rich and Famous," somewhat interesting, mostly for who was listed who gave money to Kucinich.

You may despise Hustler magazine, but I've always had a grudging respect for Larry Flynt and his fights against priggish American sanctimony, especially his campaigns against pious Republicans of whom David Vitter, whose proclivities now number five different hookers, is only the latest downed target. Flynt gave money to Kucinich, as did ... Casey Kasem.

[h/t hotpotatomash for the vid]

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sneers of a clown

Who isn't howling with laughter at Alberto Gonzales after his "testimony" on Capitol Hill today, where he openly admitted that there are other, secret spying programs we've never heard about? When asked about the apparent disagreement between Justice and the White House over the legality, or lack of, of the warrantless wiretapping program, Gonzales tells us that that was not the program at issue. It was other secret spying programs:
The disagreement that occurred was about other intelligence activities and the reason for the visit to the hospital was about other intelligence activities. It was not about the terrorist surveillance program that the president announced to the american people.

Then, Gonzales said that he had "misspoke" when he testified in June that he was talking about the NSA wiretapping program, which he then said he "clarified" two days later. Even though he didn't. Someone else did. Perhaps. When asked what that clarification was, whoever the hell made it, Gonzales said he didn't know.

It's all very confusing. But it is a knee-slapper.
Gonzales said that he misspoke when he said at a press conference in June that he and former deputy attorney general James Comey were referring to the same warrantless wiretapping program.

“I clarified my statement two days later with the reporter,” Gonzales told Schumer.

“What did you say to the reporter?” Schumer asked.

“I did not speak directly to the reporter,” replied Gonzales.

“Ok,” Schumer continued, “what did your spokesperson say to the reporter?”

“I don’t know,” Gonzales said.
That didn't help. But the "I don't know" defense is brilliant!

Shumer proceeded to rip him:
In all due respect, you’re just saying, well, it was clarified with the reporter and you don’t even know what he said. You don’t even know what the clarification is. Sir, how you can say that you should stay on as Attorney General when we go through exercises like this where you’re bobbing and weaving and ducking to avoid admitting that you deceived the Committee?
By "rip," of course I mean verbally. Because nothing is still the likely outcome of these "exercises." After all, Gonzales would be in charge of enforcing his own prosecution for lying to Congress.

I wonder how much longer Congress is going to allow itself to be used like this? Gonzales sits in front of these people and lies through his contemptuous smirk, while everyone in the room knows he's doing it. Of course, the White House has pledged Gonzales to take the public albeit rhetorical beatings, to sit there and lie and look like a clown. And Gonzales seems more than willing. Anyone with a shred of self-respect would have long since resigned. But not Alberto, who is now sullying the image of all the honest, hard-working Hispanic immigrants who do all the other shitty but honest jobs in the country. Gonzales has assumed the role of King George's hapless court jester, "bobbing and weaving" before Congress, conjuring all manner of dumb shows and noise.

And who among us cannot help but wonder whether there's a Cayman Island bank account waiting at the end of this long day's journey into night?

Chinese biggy bank

Something to note:
Chinese bank now world's biggest

In a fresh sign of China's financial strength, a leap in the shares of Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) on Monday made it the world's biggest bank by market capitalization, overtaking U.S. giant Citigroup.

ICBC's Shanghai-listed A shares surged 2.68 per cent to 5.75 yuan (80 cents Cdn), giving it a market capitalization of $254 billion, according to Reuters calculations. That exceeded the $251 billion capitalization of Citigroup, previously the world's biggest bank, when its shares closed at $50.73 Friday. HSBC Holdings was in third place with $215 billion.

Nursing home

After eight and half years in a Libyan prison for allegedly infecting children with HIV, a charge that appeared preposterous from the start, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were pardoned and freed on Bulgarian soil. This after their death sentences had been commuted by the Libyan Supreme Court. Good news, indeed.

This is especially interesting after reading about how EU officials were "rattling" over wife of the new French president, Cécilia Sarkozy's involvement in the process, claiming that she would cause untold diplomatic damage to the delicate process. Apparently not, as the issue has been resolved in what must be considered lightening swift diplomatic time. Sarkozy accompanied the medical workers on their trip home, which no doubt further bristled EU diplomats.

I'll later get to why all this good will between the EU, the US and Libya is springing up out of the Saharan sand. But let's just note for now the reality that Libya borders the Sudan and also sits on a proven 39 billion barrels of oil, with an expected potential for as much as 100+ billion bbls and much of the country still unexplored. Why, only last fall, US oil companies, including ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron, were flocking to Libya in a mad rush for drilling rights, competing with 44 other petroleum corporations from around the world.

Nonetheless, I'm glad to see the nurses and doctor freed from their dreadful situation.

Babbling Brooks

Reading a David Brooks column is often enough to send steam whistling out of ears. And so it was today with his latest trove of outirght lies and economic misinformation, which the NY Times still sees as "fit to print." I guess Brooks' continued forum represents our liberal media's concern for balance: facts and lies, smarts and idiocy are given equal voice on the valuable op-ed pages.

I was expecting Paul Krugman would issue a take down of the insipid Brooks but I am happy to see that Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has already destroyed Brooks' nonsense with his broadside,
David Brooks Sets Record for Most Economic Errors in An Oped Column!
Check it out.

ATS now 64% good

I must say I am a bit disappointed that these ill-considered maunderings are only ranked "36% evil." I did out-evil APOV, though, so take that, Mentarch!

Monday, July 23, 2007


[Update below]

The march to plenary executive power by this Cheney administration has proceeded apace since 9/11. We have witnessed this, mostly in an ad hoc fashion, as various stories appeared detailing an inexorable assault on conventional rule of law: illegal wars, secret prisons, extraordinary rendition, torture, indefinite detention, warrantless domestic surveillance, summary arrests, politicization of prosecutorial prerogative, crony no-bid contracting, criminally inept crony appointments. Indeed, the list seems nearly inexhaustible. I say "nearly" only in deference our own ignorance about what else this White House and its apparatchiks in the GOP could have been doing these last several years.

A number of recent, extraordinary behaviours exhibited by this extraordinary administration are all describing a convergence of events that are painting a very bleak picture about the future of this country. The current wave of executive assertions began back in May, with the "Homeland Security Presidential Directive," which circuitously described how Bush will
ensure the continuity of Federal Government structures and operations and a single National Continuity Coordinator responsible for coordinating the development and implementation of Federal continuity policies,
which will obviously
enhance the credibility of our national security posture and enable a more rapid and effective response to and recovery from a national emergency.
We're from the government and we here to enhance the credibility of our national security posture for you.

The evil genius of such gobbledygook is that it can be used to justify anything for almost any reason. For example, despite the fact that the directive claims that it will produce a
cooperative effort among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Federal Government, coordinated by the President, as a matter of comity with respect to the legislative and judicial branches and with proper respect for the constitutional separation of powers among the branches,
the Bush administration has already seen fit to deny Peter DeFazio of the House Homeland Security Committee any access to their plan on how to respond to a terrorist attack, because "information related to the continuity of government is highly sensitive." Says DeFazio,
I just can't believe they're going to deny a member of Congress the right of reviewing how they plan to conduct the government of the United States after a significant terrorist attack.
Don't stop believing Peter.

Now the White House has openly admitted that the Justice Department will be ordered not to pursue any contempt of Congress charges that maybe filed against any former or current White House officials.
Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.
Breathtaking, indeed, and entirely conceivable with the trusty pup Gonzales taking the orders. But a mere two days before this ballsy statement, George Bush signed an executive ordering giving broad powers to seize "all property and interests in property" of persons who may have committed or "pose a significant risk of committing" some act that impedes Bush's imperial mission in Iraq. Crucially, this pertains to persons in the United States. There's a lot of legalistic bombast in the EO, but the astoundingly general and vague description of who, exactly, might be subject to such seizures surely indicates that, with 70% of the country opposed to the war in Iraq, almost anyone could be so designated.

Sec. 1, par (a), subpar (i)(A) tells us that Bush's Treasury Department can confiscate property from "persons, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons" and who might be
A) threatening the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq; or

(B) undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people;
This is readable on a variety of levels, many of which would indict the current occupants of the White House. But we know that won't be the focus of this EO. More interestingly, Congress, in threatening to cut off funding for the war, would most certainly fall under this broad description, as would almost anyone protesting the war and calling for its end. Most folks could not imagine that a US government could ever do such things -- which is one of the advantages of keeping the vast majority of the American public incredibly ignorant of the all the despicable horrors that the US government has been capable of doing. But then, this is not your typical American government, one that has never displayed the slightest compunction about airing their dirty laundry and telling everyone that it's April fresh.

These recent executive assertions of unbridled dictatorial power can certainly be viewed in concert with the odious Military Commissions Act, which awarded Bush the power to designate anyone so desired an "unlawful enemy combatant" and hence subject to shipment to Gitmo or some secret prison of his choosing. The vast majority, if they are aware of any of this, scoff, dismissing it with a "it can't happen here" rolling of the eyes. But as former Reaganite, Paul Craig Roberts notes,
Bush has put in place all the necessary measures for dictatorship in the form of "executive orders" that are triggered whenever Bush declares a national emergency,
and that given the grim picture Republicans see for their own political prospects,
The Bush administration desperately needs dramatic events to scare the American people and the Congress back in line with the militarist-police state that Bush and Cheney have fostered.
Hence, we heard Chertoff's gut acting up and the White House-leaked portions of the NIE promising that al Qaeda was stronger than ever, preparing us for the coming storm and promises by raised-from-the-dead Rick Santorum that
between now and November, a lot of things are going to happen.
I'm not entirely sure how much weight one should lend to the statements of the man who found WMD in Iraq, but nonetheless, Republicans in general seem to be placing their faith, hope and lack of charity in what they believe is their only ticket to power: scaring people shitless. The country has grown weary of their yapping, and they know it, which spells only one possible recourse: an actual terrorist attack, not the phony, trumped-up dummy plots we have seen to date.

If something like that does happen, it is going to have the smell of Operation Northwoods and Operation Gladio all over it. Outrageous? Of course. But how could we be surprised that any of these war criminals, whose lies have already led to several thousand American dead and untold numbers of Iraqis, would resist what must surely appear to be their only solution to a failing political climate. US governments have done these things before. It is hardly anything new.

Update: Mentarch stopped by and linked to his excellent post at SuzieQ (and elsewhere) about Bush administration authoritarianism and, more generally, authoritarianism as a psychological symptom of the cult of personality and what that inevitably leads to. Great piece, so check it out.

Beyond the social inertia granted legacy, I still find it amazing that a mean-spirited, spoiled brat, known liar and obvious moron could attain a cult of personality at all. It is truly one of the great media propaganda successes of the modern age. If turning a fatuous, incurious numbskull into the president of the United States can be considered a success, that is.