Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Crime and Punishment

US military brass have seized upon what they view as surely the most efficacious way to deal with the reported poor conditions at Walter Reed's outpatient housing:
Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.

Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,” one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
...
The Pentagon also clamped down on media coverage of any and all Defense Department medical facilities, to include suspending planned projects by CNN and the Discovery Channel, saying in an e-mail to spokespeople: “It will be in most cases not appropriate to engage the media while this review takes place,” referring to an investigation of the problems at Walter Reed.
In other words, we'll talk to you when we've meted out sufficient punishment and induced appropriate levels of fear in the ranks of our wounded soldiers. And as always: Support those troops!

When the Dick's away...

Dick Cheney reacts upon learning that the US State Department has
invited both Iran and Syria to join in talks regarding
the security of
Iraq, while he was being accosted by Australians, spreading doubt about
the North Korean nuclear agreement, and being bombed in Afghanistan.
Cheney says he now suspects that Condoleezza Rice was involved
with the recent bombing attempt on his life at Bagram airforce base.
In fact, he says, he's certain of it.

It is interesting that when Dick Cheney is removed from the hoary climes of the Washington's political scene, smatterings of good sense seem to break out. While Cheney was harrumphing around Australia and Asia, Condoleezza Rice and her State Department exercised what appeared to be good sense by inviting Iran and Syria to talks with Iraq and the US regarding Iraq's security situation. Many suspect that this may be simply a ploy entered into with no intent of good intentions, designed to prove, once and for all, that diplomacy won't work. This is the wretched state of mind the Bush administration has induced across the country; that a normally aspirational attempt at rational discourse and diplomacy is now more likely viewed as cynical gamesmanship in pursuit of an already agreed, ignominious agenda. Others have argued that the administration simply had no choice, as Yglesias says,
The administration, in short, may simply be caught up in the incoherence of its own strategy. Rice and other officials have taken to describing American policy in the region as driven by efforts to check Iranian influence. Nevertheless, the war in Iraq remains at the heart of this new US policy every bit as much as it was at the heart of the old. Thus, paradoxically, the administration ends up arguing that the influx of thousands of additional troops to fight on behalf of an Iraqi government - a government dominated by Shia political parties tied to Iran - would somehow help efforts to isolate Iran.
A decent argument, of course, though I remain unsure as to why Yglesias thinks this administration would suddenly be given toward recognizing incoherence in its strategy or, indeed, that such incoherence is even a problem. It's not like that has ever bothered them before.

Which brings us to perhaps the one feature of Rice's move that lends to it some degree of authenticity: Cheney was nowhere around. While Rice was all too willing to cover, i.e. lie, for Cheney on the issue of the 2003 Iranian negotiation offer, once the Dick's away the Rice will play.

We know that both Bolton and Cheney were furious with Rice when, in June of 2006, she offered direct negotiations with Iran regarding the nuclear dispute, despite the preordained doom she attached to the offer by setting preconditions. Well, Notlob got the boot, Cheney was a long way away, and Rice stepped up with the most sensible action toward calming tensions. She is working in direct opposition to the Cheney agenda and I expect she will take a lot of heat from right wing extremists in various chatterbox centers.

Rice is a curious feature of this administration. At once, willing to lie and cover for her dreadful bosses, while exhibiting -- certainly not always, but at times -- a genuine effort to actually do the right thing. It's spotty, I know, but occasionally she can surprise. Such brief flickers of hope must always be tempered by reflection on the previous point that it all could be just sham. We've been down this dirt road before.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Please, let me explain

I would like to be at the ... have been given a chance for us to explain that we have no desire to harm the Iranian people.
-- George Bush,
Feb. 14, 2007
When George Bush notices that he has to explain how he doesn't really want to harm people, it's pretty clear he finally recognizes that the world very much believes he does want to harm people or, at the very least, doesn't give a shit. In the realm of opinion polls, that's called being "in the hole."

Not unprecedented

Word about the Iraqi Oil Law is dashing hither and yon. Pepe Escobar weighs in with his own special brand of opprobrium; always a good read. I was checking over the article by Antonia Juhasz and Raed Jarra, who offer the more detailed look at the law and examine much of what is excluded, which by legal implication means things that are permitted. However, they make a claim in the piece with which I must take issue:
It would be unprecedented for a sovereign country to have, for instance, an executive of ExxonMobil on the board of its key oil-and-gas decision-making body.
No, it is not unprecedented at all. In fact, the precedent is this very Bush administration and specifically Cheney's energy policy board, the so-called Energy Task Force, a policy board that comprised executives from many or most Big Oil corporations, to the exclusion of everyone else. To this day, the proceedings of those policy meetings remain secret at the behest of Dick Cheney. This was not a permanent body (although who knows? these guys may still be meeting secretly for all we know), it nonetheless created the model for Iraq's own Federal Oil and Gas Council, a body that seems designed primarily to look like it will take Iraqi national interests into account when, in fact, it will do no such thing.

Chinese sneeze

As White House and Pentagon agitation continues against Iran and news spreads that the US has been involved in covert funding of Sunni insurgents and terrorist groups, fomenting civil war throughout the Middle East, what happens?
Dow Average Falls 416 Points After China Sell-Off

Stocks plunged in New York today after a sell-off in China rattled markets worldwide and surprisingly weak economic data fanned fears that the economy may be more vulnerable to a downturn than widely thought.

The broadest measure of stock prices, the Standard and Poor’s 500 stock index, lost nearly 3.5 percent of its value today, its biggest drop in three and a half years. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 3.3 percent, or 416.02 points, to 12,216.24.
...
Both indexes later regained some of their value, but their gains for the year had been wiped out by today’s close.
...
“It was sort of one of those days where somebody snaps their fingers, and the market’s hypnotic trance is over,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist of PNC Financial. “We’ve had this, ‘What me worry?’ mentality. And this is a little bit of a wakeup call.”
Meanwhile, the euro continues to post gains against the dollar despite criticism of the European Central Bank for not reigning in euro growth. In fact, have a look at what happened to the dollar today:


I feel confident in saying that the experts who think "widely," will poo-poo any notion that there is some relation between the Chinese market sell off and the unstable geopolitical stage, if they even recognize a possible causal connection or not. In fact, they immediately declaimed that, why, it's all just "another day in the market" and offered myriad reasons for this behaviour. Nothing to see here, folks.

Nonetheless, what should be sparkling clear is that when China twitches, the world shakes.

History lesson

Olbermann rips Rice.



With a PhD in political science, it's hard to believe Condoleezza Rice can be as stupid as she appears. This leaves only one other possibility....

Iran Contra with a twist

[Update below]

Amy Goodman has a fascinating interview with former congressional aide, Trita Parsi, wherein they discuss the 2003 Iranian offer of negotiation delivered by the Swiss ambassador, which the White House not only dismissed then, but now claim that no one knew about it. Within the conversation, though, an interesting and, indeed, hellacious point is concisely made regarding the much-discussed Seymour Hersh article: that the US is covertly funding Sunni militants, possibly the very ones responsible for most of the American deaths in Iraq. And make no mistake, though Hersh's article discusses this covert funding within the context of Lebanon and opposition to Hezbollah, any money handed to militant Sunni groups like al Qaeda will be more than free to dole that money out wherever convenient and/or needed. And that surely means Iraq.
Amy Goodman: Let me follow up on this point, because it is certainly a key one. Seymour Hersh, in The New Yorker magazine, reporting that the Bush administration and Saudi Arabia are pumping money for covert operations in many areas of the Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria and Iran, in an effort to strengthen Saudi-sported Sunni Islam group and weaken Iranian-backed Shias. Some of the covert money has been given to jihadist groups in Lebanon with ties to al-Qaeda. So, supporting the Sunnis over the Shia and working with Saudi Arabia to funnel that money.

Trita Parsi: And basically says that the United States is not trying to resolve the civil war in Iraq. Rather, it's taking sides in the civil war. And ironically, it's taking the same side as al-Qaeda is doing.

Amy Goodman: And the second part of the story, that John Negroponte, Seymour Hersh reports, may well have resigned his post as National Intelligence director, because of his discomfort that the administration's covert actions in the Middle East so closely echoed the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s.

Trita Parsi: I think one thing to keep in mind in all of this is that the United States does have legitimate grievances with the Iranian government and the policies that they have been pursuing. But the problem is that the line that the Bush administration is pursuing is only making matters worse in the region right now. It is further destabilizing the region. It's further making it more difficult to be able to find a solution to Iraq. The only solution that I can see is to actually bring all the parties to the table.
When a guy like Negroponte has problems with White House policy, you've got to know this administration have moved into a realm of disgrace not imagined in past "realist" administrations.

The Bush White House is covertly funding Sunni militants, which is in direct conflict not with only the Shia militia groups associated with the supposedly US-backed Shia government of Maliki, but is also undermining the government itself by fueling the civil war rather than trying to curtail it. Meanwhile, the White House and the Pentagon dump more American troops into the midst of the civil strife they themselves are exacerbating.

That's quite a system. Fund both sides of the civil war in Iraq while simultaneously arguing that the civil war is the reason we need to stay there for a long, long time. It may not be quite Iran-Contra, but it is very close and, in fact, even more ignominious and reprehensible. The first time, there were no US troops caught in the middle during the Iran-Iraq war.

Suddenly, "support the troops" takes on a whole new meaning. Who knew Bush has actually been talking about al Qaeda?


Update: The General has it all mapped out.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Kaching!

The Iraqi cabinet have now approved a draft of the much anticipated Oil Law. It does not appear that the Iraqi parliament will be a great impediment in enacting the law, a vaguely worded document that conveniently metes out responsibility for contract approval to a Federal Oil and Gas Council, which will comprise various Iraqi officals and "executive managers" of "important related petroleum companies." Lots of approving pronouncements are spilling forth from various Iraqi and US officials; the law will be a source of national unity and, in the words of US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, it is "a significant political achievement."

It does appear that some regional control of contract awards will be tolerated but the FOGC will be the final arbiter of any and all contracts. Revenue sharing in the regions will be done on a per capita basis, that is, whatever revenue is left after the oil companies take their expected sizable cut. There is reason to believe that cut will sizable, indeed.

Of particular interest will be just how meddlesome the FOGC proves to be. Both China and Russia have contracts dating from Hussein's regime. Whether those rising competitors for Middle East oil manage to succor favour from the FOGC should prove a test of the efficacy of Bush's "vision." It is far too early to tell just how this will shake out, but things should get very interesting when the contracts start getting doled out.

Meanwhile, we also learn that
few people seem to have noticed is that Gen. David Petraeus’s new “surge” plan is committing U.S. troops, day by day, to a much deeper and longer-term role in policing Iraq than since the earliest days of the U.S. occupation. How long must we stay under the Petraeus plan? Perhaps 10 years.
We are told, of course, that this long and deep role is all about security. In one sense, that is certainly true. After all, the oil companies "need a safe environment to operate."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Oh, what a lovely war

Stories of abused and forgotten vets, this time coming from Iraq, are coming in fast and furiously lately and, though we knew vets were having domestic difficulties upon returning from a hellish war zone, many are finding that they don't even have a domestic life left. Jobless and usually suffering some level of PTSD, hundreds of vets are now homeless, with more -- many more -- expected.
...young warriors just back from the Mideast—estimated around 500 to 1,000—are beginning to struggle with homelessness too. Drinking or using drugs to cope with PTSD, they can lose their job and the support of family and friends, and start a downward spiral to the streets. Their tough military mentality can make them less likely to seek help. Advocates say it can take five to eight years for a veteran to exhaust their financial resources and housing options, so they expect the number to rise exponentially in a few years.
As unpleasant as this reality is, it can certainly be expected that these struggling vets will be joining ranks with the ever-expanding rolls of the poor and "deeply poor." The marvelous Bush economy is now full-throttle, creating a pool of new recruits for the war machine.
The gulf between rich and poor in the United States is yawning wider than ever, and the number of extremely impoverished is at a three-decade high, a report out Saturday found.

Based on the latest available U.S. census data from 2005, the McClatchy Newspapers analysis found that almost 16 million Americans live in "deep or severe poverty" defined as a family of four with two children earning less than 9,903 dollars — one half the federal poverty line figure.
In fact, between 2000 and 2005, the ratio of moderate poverty to deep poverty is falling rapidly, as deep poverty rates grew "56% faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period."

Under Republican rule, the United States now has, in place, a marvelous policy for creating military recruits. I've said it before but after seeing these grim statistics, it needs reiteration: the deprecation of public education, led by the GOP, leads to an ever-increasing number of already marginalized citizens being deprived of a "decent education," which in turn drives those people into dissolution and economic desperation. As good paying jobs evaporate, economic choice becomes stark; join the Wal*mart economy or the military, which, more and more, simply represent two sides of the same coin. Military recruiters target the disenfranchised, those youth who may not be too keen to stock shelves but whose options are limited to just that. As demand for more bodies for more wars increases under this agenda, this demand is neatly met by lowered standards and "moral waivers" designed to capture these wayward souls. Once expended, the military discharges these fodder back into society. They are nearly if not completely spent. With no social net, most of these erstwhile, broken soldiers disappear quietly. A few speak out but, in the main, the corporate media and Congress chooses to ignore them or castigate them as whiners.

And no one is the wiser for what has been done and will continue to be done. It's time to wake up.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Renewed alliance

A stink rose from the inner city streets of London in 2003 when authorities there introduced a surcharge to drive in a limited part of the city. American diplomats, citing diplomatic immunity from what they claimed was a tax, have refused to pay the charge and London currently claims that the US Embassy now owes about $1.95 million in London driving fees. Mayor Ken Livingstone has called the American ambassador, Robert H. Tuttle, a "chiseling little crook."

Recently, London expanded the driving fee zone and it now includes the French Embassy. Despite silence on the part of the French regarding the fee or the American ambassador's position, French diplomats have allied themselves with the United States. Said one French diplomat:
The situation has changed.
Indeed it has. It now affects them.

Florida spit shine

After the first few sentences of the New York Times article regarding the panel review of the disputed Congressional race in Sarasota County, Florida, I knew there was more to the story than the Times was reporting. Much more. Such is the state of our mainstream media today; they simply cannot be trusted to fully report ... anything. Especially when that anything is problems with the electoral system.

You'll recall that some 18,000 votes disappeared in the House election, many of them vanishing from precincts that were expected to favour the Democratic candidate, Christine Jennings. Republican Vern Buchanan was declared the winner by 369 votes.

The hollow review begins:
Florida election officials announced yesterday that an examination of voting software did not find any malfunctions that could have caused up to 18,000 votes to be lost in a disputed Congressional race in Sarasota County, and they suggested that voter confusion over a poor ballot design was mainly to blame.
Further reading imparts no greater understanding of the voting review at all and merely lays down cover fire for the official story.
[The report] said that all eight members of the investigative team, including some experts who have long been skeptical about the paperless machines, agreed that the basic programming “did not cause or contribute to” the loss of votes.
That sounds like a pretty firm statement and conveys certitude that the "basic programming" must surely have been examined for bugs and/or malicious code. The reality, of course, is much different.

Ed Felton, Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs at Princeton University and listed as a "principal investigator" on the vote machine study team, says that he was not, in fact, part of the team at all. Jennings' lawsuit seeking an investigation, sought access to the voting machines and their code. This was denied in court with a circular order apparently implying that evidence of machine malfunction would be needed in order to investigate machine malfunction. In other words, if Jennings could not provide evidence that the machines behaved badly, even though they clearly did, an investigation seeking evidence of malfunction would not be authorized. That's a win-win for voting machine companies.

Felton further indicates that, once Jennings lawsuit was denied, the friendlies at the Florida Department of State (DOS) commissioned a study by outside experts. Felton says this study was likely going to be completely inadequate and he refused to participate:
I discussed with representatives of DOS the possibility of participating, but eventually it became clear that the study they wanted to commission was far from the complete, independent study I had initially thought they wanted.
Felton describes the fact that this "study" wasn't going to be much of a study at all, certainly not of the machines in question:
The biggest limitation on the study is that DOS is withholding information and resources needed for a complete study. Most notably, they are not providing access to voting machines. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that if you want to understand the behavior of voting machines, it helps to have a voting machine to examine. DOS could have provided or facilitated access to a machine, but it apparently chose not to do so.
Despite the New York Times wash,
the DOS study did find many instances of [exploitable buffer overflow bugs]. Misplaced trust in the election definition file can be found throughout the iVotronic software. We found a number of buffer overruns of this type. The software also contains array out-of-bounds errors, integer overflow vulnerabilities, and other security holes.
Felton simplifies this conclusion finding:
sloppy software + removable storage = virus vulnerability. We saw the same thing with the Diebold touchscreen voting system.
Furthermore,
Another example of poor security is in the passwords that protect crucial operations such as configuring the voting machine and modifying its software. There are separate passwords for different operations, but the system has a single backdoor that allows all of the passwords to be bypassed by an adversary who can learn or guess a one-byte secret, which is easily guessed since there are only 256 possibilities.
Felton further judges the study's conclusion that it was all voters' fault is not founded well:
The study claims to have ruled out reliability problems as a cause of the undervotes, but their evidence on this point is weak, and I think the jury is still out on whether voting machine malfunctions could be a significant cause of the undervotes.
In Felton's opinion, the undervotes in Sarasota indicate flaky behaviour rather than malicious code,
I agree with the study team that the undervotes were almost certainly not caused by a security attack. The reason is simple: only a brainless attacker would cause undervotes. An attack that switched votes from one candidate to another would be more effective and much harder to detect.
This displays a rationality that fails to take into account the fact that election officials will not only try to cover the tracks of voting machine malware, but have been doing so for sometime. But the New York Times, once again, varnishes the facts regarding the dreadful state of voting technology by hiding the larger story and delivers unto readers an incomplete picture about an obviously incomplete study.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lost

This was our vision for the built environment as, indeed, it had been for sometime. From the the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and Fair in Chicago:



After over one hundred years, this is what corporate America has rendered unto us as their preferred built environment, one we are told to embrace. Smiley says it all:



All those wars. For this. Oh, well, enjoy.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Real ID

Yikes. I hadn't seen this before. As the effective date for the Real ID Act approaches, it behooves us all to be aware of the menace that this insidious law represents.





[thanks to Smoke Rings and Coffee Stains]

More and less

It is surely telling of some deep, deep pathology that when two of the very few remaining allies in the War on Terror™ are doing two different things, they are both portrayed by Dick Cheney in the exactly the same way: vital allies boasting huge successes. Cheney already believes that things are going swell in Iraq, so the announced withdrawal of British forces from Basra strikes him as a glowing review of the situation:
Well, I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well.
Yes, it is perfectly fine for British forces to leave because things are grand, at least in Basra. But America will never retreat:
I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat.
Needless to say, I'm baffled.

And today, with Cheney conveniently gadflying about Asia and Australia while the Libby trial is in the midst of jury deliberations, the vice president also praised John Howard's government for not withdrawing their 1450 troops. Seemingly aware that the majority of Australians want Howard to pull the troops and with Howard facing electoral pressure this year to do so, Cheney said that "the whole world" appreciates the efforts in the fight against terrorism. Which is about as bland and meaningless a statement as one could possibly make; the equivalent of lauding police efforts in arresting criminals.

In sum, we now have two equal and opposite actions, withdrawal and continued occupation, both of which are to be praised and indicate that there are enormous successes. Shitting and getting off the pot will have exactly the same outcome to Dick Cheney.

Deal or No deal

Iran's defiance of the UN deadline for halting uranium enrichment is surely great news for the White House. From this perspective, I have to wonder why the Iranians continue to push that glowing red button. Perhaps it is because many Iranians already expect a US attack whether they halt enrichment or not. It could also be pure, driven, prideful nationalism, which most Americans ought to be able to understand. Probably, it is both. It's a nuclear "fuck you, I won't do what you tell me." I mean, imagine our reaction to the UN, for crissakes, telling us what to do. Nervy. Reams of verbiage demanding assassination of UN officials would spill forth.

Despite the fact that the Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees signatory nations the right to develop civilian nuclear technology, I really wish the Iranians would back down. Because I am awfully curious as to what the White House would then conjure up to justify the planned attack. Their entire yet paltry "argument" that Tehran was supplying the insurgency -- quickly recast as supplying sectarian militias because the White House sure looked dumb for suggesting that the Shiite government of Iran would send weapons to the Sunni insurgency -- was getting hammered by the military itself. Or at least General Pace was hammering it. For all intents and purposes, Pace was a one-man White House wrecking crew. So much so, that it appears that that "hot" issue has been allowed to slide. Again.

The nuclear issue took a back seat lately to the campaign of specious evidence of Tehran's "material support" for sectarian violence. Once the White House backed off the "highest levels of the Iranian governement" and moved to the "Quds forces," you pretty much knew the propaganda effort was in retreat. Fortunately for the White House, after Pace's pounding, this UN deadline has now been flouted and the nuclear issue will once again force itself or, rather, be forced front and center. In fact, I think an Iranian back-down would be a politically deft move on the part of Tehran. Iranians probably wouldn't see it that way, but it would certainly cause a huge scramble in the White House, something that I would certainly enjoy: shit! what the hell do we now to cover up bombing those fuckers? I doubt the freedom and democracy thing is going to fly. Of course, they knew it wouldn't fly the first time.

Like I said, even a back-down on the nuclear issue is no guarantee that the forces of Cheney won't strike. Deadeye Dick and the rest have had Iran in their sights for years and with 140,000 troops right next door, and a neighbouring country in a frothy civil war, for the neocons, it is time to close the deal.

More things in heaven and earth


New Zealand fishermen have caught what is expected to be a world-record-breaking colossal squid.

Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said the squid, weighing an estimaed 450kg (990lb),took two hours to land in Antarctic waters.

One expert said calamari rings made from it would be like tractor tyres.

Colossal squid, which are found deep in Antarctic waters, are thought to be about the same length as giant squid (Architeutis dux) but are much heavier.

The species was first identified in 1925, but very few specimens have been found.

The first specimen recovered intact, a 150kg (330lb) immature female, was caught on the surface in the Ross Sea near the Antarctic coast in April 2004.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Jaws

Editors at Investor's Business Daily entered the fray surrounding John Murtha's proposal that would restrict troop deployment to Iraq to only those troops who have been properly trained and equipped. Despite its true intent, that doesn't seem all that radical a proposal, considering how we're all supposed to be all about "support the troops." Nonetheless, the right wing smear is on and IBD has lumped itself together with the rest of the noise machine by claiming that Murtha's proposal would, and I'm not making this up,
snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Anyone taking investment advice from these people might want to look around for a second opinion.

Articles of Impeachment

At least a few in the media have finally realized that enough is enough and that a feckless Congress is not going to do what needs to be done. Wyl Hilton has drawn up Articles of Impeachment for taking out diabolical Dick:
Resolved, that Richard B. Cheney, vice president of the United States, should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors and that these articles of impeachment be submitted to the American people.
A brief summary of the six charges are followed up by clear and concise statements of evidence, which are well worth reading.

Richard B. Cheney has
I) deliberately obstructed the nation’s intelligence-gathering capacity ...

II) personally deceived the American people ...

III) deliberately embraced and sheltered a known criminal ...

IV) maintained an improper and unethical relationship with his former employers at Halliburton and has promoted its agenda and interests over those of the American people ...

V) granted improper and unlawful influence over national policy to an anonymous cabal of corporate lobbyists ...

VI) prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice ...
Sounds about right. And just look at the guy. Tell me that is not a scowl of evil.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Oil Law Redux

hotpotatomash has forwarded the leaked Iraq Oil Law. Raed Jarrar of Raed in the Middle got a leaked copy of the new law. Democracy Now has a transcript of Antonia Juhasz and Raed discussing the law. I've read much of the document that Raed has translated and the wording is, as one might expect, rather vague, no doubt intentionally so. The law keeps in place the controversial Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs), which appear now to be called Exploration and Production contracts and are expected to lead to bountiful profit margins for Big Oil, which will hold seats on the envisioned Federal Oil and Gas Council (FOGC). 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." In other words, the "executive managers of from [sic] important related petroleum companies" will have direct input on the types of contracts awarded to those same "important related petroleum companies."

Furthermore,
the law certainly opens the door to US oil companies and the Bush administration winning a very large piece of their objective of going to war in Iraq, at least winning it on paper. The law does almost word for word what was laid out in the Baker-Hamilton recommendation, which I discussed previously on your show, which is, at the very basic level, to turn Iraq's nationalized oil system, the model that 90% of the world’s oil is governed by, take its nationalized oil system and turn it into a commercial system fully open to foreign corporate investment on terms as of yet to be decided. So it leaves vague this very important question of what type of contracts will the Iraqi government use. But what it leaves clear is that basically every level of the oil industry will be open to private foreign companies.
The type and form of the "model" contract is specifically left to a later date to be "appended to this law" after approval by the FOGC.

In all, nothing much has changed from the original draft oil law that was first produced by Bearing Point Inc. and distributed to oil companies and the IMF while, to this day, most Iraqi parliamentarians have yet to see the legislation. And the preamble in the new national Oil Law notes,
WHEREAS, Iraq Produciton capacity during the last decades has been low and at great diparity with its exceptionally rich Oil and Gas resources.
I'll refer again to the cover story in The Humanist magazine this month: The Long Game.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Veteran Affairs to remember

Americablog gets a lot of traffic and a recommendation from me isn't going to generate much of a spike, but if you haven't been over there in the couple of days, take a trip. They are doing a bang-up job on the brewing scandal now swirling out of Veteran Affairs and what is increasingly looking like outright abusive behaviour of wounded vets at Walter Reed. The Walter Reed story that came out in The Washington Post started the horrendous ball rolling and has now become a veritable horror show of abuse, neglect, purposeful under funding, complete with a Pentagon cover-up of casualty numbers.

I doubt that there could be a more efficient way to infuriate American citizens, who, after being told ad nauseum by this gross and vile administration to "support the troops," are now learning that the administration has routinely proposed budget cuts to the VA and is doing so again, suppresses the real number of casualties, and abuses the wounded who have fought their dirty war. Back when the disgraceful mob of GOP hacks were running the House, they saw it wise to remove the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Chris Smith, because he was too pro-veteran, which apparently was cutting into their pork budgets:
the House Republican leadership had removed Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey as chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. The extraordinary purge buttressed the growing impression of arrogance as Republicans enter their second decade of power in the House.

The party's House leaders purportedly removed Smith, a tireless promoter of spending for veterans, to save money. But two days earlier, the same leaders pulled every string during a closed-door caucus to defeat reforms against pork barrel spending.
The pièce de résistance (and I mean that literally) of this disgraceful litany, of course, comes to us directly from the "Commander in chief" and his handlers when they uninvited an amputee from an official ceremony because the press would be there taking pictures.

Where did the pathetic meme come from that Republicans know how to handle national security? That they support the troops when most of them skipped out on service? Has it arisen from the fact they just like to spend more money on bombs and missiles than anyone else on earth? That's not "national security." That's a bunch of pissants too afraid to go to war themselves but who must vicariously thrill themselves with big things that blow shit up. It's clear that it is not the troops they support. It's their chums in the defense industry, slurping up hundreds of billions of dollars in tax payer money, while the GOP tosses the wounded onto the street.

How much longer is this country going to keep buying the standard bullshit that Republicans are all about "national security" or care about the troops? It is a ridiculous sham and it needs to stop. With a few exceptions, they're a bunch of toddlers, grabbing for the next lollipop.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Voto por Voto

I just received some other news, though the subject is not so timely these days. In the breakneck world of the 24 hour news cycle, the Mexico presidential election seems like an establishment fraud from long, long ago. Nonetheless, I got word that the article, What Went Wrong in Mexico, from the November/December issue of The Humanist has been translated and republished in Voces del Periodista (page 10-11), the journal for the Club de Periodistas de Mexico.

If there are any Spanish-speaking folks who can read it and let me know how well the translation came out, I'd be curious to hear about it. Frankly, some of the cartoons that accompany the article seem odd, especially the one with the caveman holding a Voto por Voto sign. I'm not sure what that is supposed actually mean to Mexicans, but it doesn't seem terribly flattering to all those millions who protested the outcome of the election.

Senate punks voters

Still flush with a feel-good aura from the November elections and continuing to ignore the evidence that there were still serious problems with the vote count, the Senate recently approved the White House nomination of Caroline Hunter to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). Hunter is described as a "partisan operative with no experience in election administration." The Senate did this without public hearings or even a recorded roll call vote and followed the GOP lead by doing so under the cover of darkness.

Mark Crispin Miller delivers an excellent summation of this behaviour and its larger implications.
The Senate unanimously punks out

If the Senate Democrats weren't suffering from a severe collective case of battered spouse syndrome, they would be all fired up about the sorry state of our election system, and doing everything they could to make it better. By "better," I mean, basically, "more honest," which, in this case, could work only to the Democrats' advantage. After all, the party's top dogs tend to care far more about (a) their own careers and (b) the party's welfare than they do about the state of the Republic.

Such short-sightedness is all too human, and so there's little point in our decrying it. In any case, such self-interest would at least help save us from the looming fascist order--if (again) the Democrats would only act out of self-interest, rather than continuing to acquiesce so masochistically in BushCo's grand subversion of American democracy, or what's now left of it. They cannot, will not, face the truth about the nature of BushCo's regime. Thus they keep rubber-stamping Bush's steps toward absolute control of the election system, as they just did last night, approving the appointment of an outright Bushevik to Bush's EAC.

This cave-in--and the current rush to pass Rush Holt's bill’ which will finally do more harm than good--make clear that the Democrats feel much assured by their big "victory" in November. They tell themselves that they gave Bush the "thumpin'" that he so quaintly mentioned in his first press conference after E-Day. They tell themselves that their big win of 29 House seats was a sort of proof that things can't really be so bad, or they would not have been permitted to perform so well.

What they cannot, will not, face is the unpleasant truth about that last election: that there was vast election fraud from coast to coast again; that the volume of complaints from the grass roots (remember them?) was evidently greater than it was two years before; that the Dems arguably won not a mere 29 states but at least 50 (and probably did better in the Senate than they think). In short, they will not, cannot, face the fact that Bush did not just get a "thumpin'," but was routed--and that it was not Rahm Emanuel/Chuck Schumer who deserve our praises for the (actual) devastation of the Bush Republicans, but the people, who turned out in record numbers, and with a new doggedness, to vote against the Bush regime and all its works. The Democratic party will not give them any credit for that action, or help those who were disenfranchised once again.

There are currently four Democrats, all of them in Florida, challenging the outcome of the 2006 election, and collecting evidence of election fraud in every case; and they're doing it with no help from the party, which also pressed a number of other "losing" Democratic candidates to do the "gracious" thing and shut their mouths--as if it were "ungracious" to assert, and to defend, the right to vote.

Before Election Day, Republicans refused to talk about election fraud because it would hurt their interests, they having lately "won." Now it's the Democrats who play the issue down, or keep ignoring it, for the very same reason. Thus both parties seem inclined to sell the voters out.

This is not about affixing printers to the DRE machines, or any other trivial (and useless) technical adjustment. It's about confronting those who can't and won't confront the enemies of what was once was the world's most promising democracy. We must confront them now, and force them to confront and overwhelm those enemies, or we can kiss the Constitution, and the Planet Earth, goodbye.

How the West Bank was won

Condoleezza Rice and Ehud Olmert laugh and grin as they speak of punishing Palestinian citizens for their unpalatable choice in the parliamentary elections. For a more in-depth diatribe about this "agreement," I recommend Kel's take on it over at The Osterley Times.

But there was one comment made by Olmert that I found remarkable, revealing in a way I doubt Olmert intended. Olmert was referencing the stance on the Palestinian unity government, which really represents their larger position on the conflict:
I spoke about this on Friday with the president of the United States, and I can tell you the Israeli and US positions are completely identical.
Finally, the curtain of pretense is drawn back, by Olmert himself no less, only to reveal what has long been known if not acknowledged:

The US and Israel in full embrace, dancing on the destitute and withering carcass of the Palestinian people, singing the refrain of oppressors everywhere that fighting against an occupation and a multi-billion dollar military machine indicts the Palestinians as lowly and criminal terrorists worthy only of sanction, with Israel forever the victim of Palestinian popguns while it runs roughshod over a contested land and works openly to starve a people into submission.

At least, that's kind of what I see.


(Still awaiting news of small pox infected blankets making their way into Gaza.)

"First days" over

The security plan has been a dazzling success during its first days.
-- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki,
Friday, Feb. 16, 2007
_______________________________
At least 60 people have been killed and 131 injured in two car bombs in a Shia district of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, police sources have said.

The blasts ripped through a market in the city's New Baghdad area. Two people died in another blast in Sadr City.

The attacks are the deadliest since a joint US-Iraqi security offensive was launched on Wednesday.

Maybe he only meant the first four days.

A Constitution devoutly to be wished

It's been awhile since I've noted anything Michelle Malkin has to say, for obvious reasons. But a recent statement made on Fox News (where else?) as she hosted The O'Reilly Factor is of interest and brings with it a clearer understanding of why Malkin doesn't have a problem with locking up people she doesn't like, which, frankly, is probably a lot of people. Regarding the issue surrounding a proposed airline passenger bill of rights, Malkin offered up this nugget of right wing wisdom:
I have to tell you. In general, I’m skeptical of anything that has "Bill of Rights"—tacked on to it.
Ahh, the joys of our pundit class.


[via Crooks&Liars]

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Attack facts

George Monbiot created quite a stir a couple of weeks back with his put-down of the 9/11 conspiracy video, Loose Change. Having watched the film myself, I knew it had some loony notions about that fateful day. But not everything in it was off base. Nonetheless, Monbiot, not usually given to bouts of credulity when it comes to government hacks, appears to base his argument upon the logical fallacy that because the Bush administration has been demonstrably incompetent, they couldn't possibly have carried off the attacks of 9/11 or, in the least event, covered their tracks in allowing the hijackers to carry out the devilish plan. The truth will out! Monbiot, unfortunately, fails to address many of the basic questions that have never been answered by officialdom, regardless of the accuracy of Loose Change. In fact, Loose Change has nothing whatever to do with many people's continuing consternation regarding the official tale of days and months leading up to 9/11 and the outright weird behaviour of officials after the event.

There are two problems with Monbiot's argument, which has become standard amongst everyone who would deny the likelihood that the Bush administration could have pulled off such a caper. First is the conviction that the Bush administration is incompetent and the second is that Monbiot is simply employing the logical fallacy, argument from personal conviction. This fallacy is the refuge of those who have no explanation for particular events and refuse to form conclusions from a vast body of evidence that suggests something other than the acceptable storyline. C'mon George, you're better than that!

It is almost accepted fact that the Bush administration is incompetent. This is another leap of credulity that refuses to recognize the simple facts we see daily. Quite simply, the Bush administration has done everything they have wanted to do. The band of neocons in the White House, after gunning for Iraq for years, have illegally invaded and stationed 140,000 US troops in the most crucial geopolitical stage on the planet. We hear frequently that this was a "mistake." Of course, the litany of other crimes that have been supported to some degree or another by Congress and an ever-shrinking segment of the country is almost too large to detail. Though we do know of illegal warrantless wiretapping, secret prisons around the world, illegal programs of kidnapping, indefinite detention of hundreds of prisoners without trial -- with Congressional blessing -- torture -- with Congressional blessing -- diktats of mail surveillance, broad swath electronic telephone surveillance, this remains only the stuff we do know about. And when it comes to government perfidy, I tend to apply the cockroach rule: if you see one, there are a hundred somewhere you don't see.

That the Bush administration has done all this -- oftentimes with enthusiastic support (gitmo t-shirt anyone?) -- without the slightest recrimination hardly strikes me as an administration that doesn't know what it's doing. They deliberately pursued these markers, for whatever nefarious purpose, exacted the programs and have paid no price at all. Now, one may argue in the larger sense that of course particular administration officials are ultimately incompetent because they suffer under a delusional and criminal ideology, one that is consequently doomed. But that's not what they think. They've gotten every criminal thing they've wanted without fine or forfeit. Whatever you might call the Bush administration, incompetent is not a term that strikes me as apropos. But I digress.

Back to the subject of 9/11. Those particular events -- not 9/11 itself -- but events leading up that day and of days subsequent to 9/11 have been catalogued by John Doraemi of Crimes of the State in direct response to Monbiot's benighted argument. It is quite a catalogue. Everyone should read and be familiar with this stuff. There are many things in this list that I didn't know; 70 bullet points of information generally unknown or suppressed. It only made me shake my head more than I have already about the Bush administration. But more so at how so much information about 9/11 has been buried, not only by the White House, not only by the mainstream media but now, even by people like George Monbiot.

The Long Game

I invite everyone to have a look at my latest bellyaching about US imperial designs in this month's cover story of The Humanist.

Of sweetheart deals and the "surge": Do details revealed in a draft oil law explain the need for more troops in Iraq?

The Long Game

(.pdf file)

Also, a great article on the ongoing Republican war on science by Al Huebner,

The Continued Concern of Scientists

I will also highly recommend subscribing to The Humanist, which turns out some very thoughtful articles on a wide range of topics. They're a great bunch of folks concerned with the human condition.

Real Estate of Denial

At a little soirée, an ATS reader and good friend of mine asked if I had seen much lately about the national housing situation. He happens to be in the real estate business and certainly has a vested interest in the topic. Of all the recent grim news, though, I had to confess that I hadn't seen much within the last few days. And then today rolled around.
Housing starts plunge, near a 10-year low

U.S. home builders started the fewest homes in nearly a decade last month, as housing starts plunged 14.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.408 million, the Commerce Department reported Friday. January's rate was the lowest for housing starts since August 1997. Starts were down 37.8% compared with January 2006, the largest year-over-year decline since early 1991. Also, building permits dropped 2.8% to 1.568 million in January, 28.6% below the same month a year ago.
Ouch. Grim news, indeed.

Naturally enough, Wall Street wonks had to stand forth and declare that, surely, this was the end of the rout:
We think a 1.4 million-unit level for starts should prove to be close to the cycle trough, being a level at which significant progress should be able to be made in getting inventories of unsold homes under control over the first half of the year.
The certitude of such statements is amusing considering how long the industry has been denying that things could get worse, only to watch ... things get worse. Tony Crescenzi, a "chief bond market strategist," claimed that it was the weather. Considering that even warm regions like the South saw record drops in housing starts, this appears to be more an effort in denial than anything. Which is part of their job, really. Though they'll never admit it, Wall Street "gurus" always attempt to smear bad news and bleak outlooks with some smarmy financial-ese like "cycle trough" to make it look like they know what they're talking about. But the fact is that such strategists have been constantly pronouncing the housing bubble deflation nearly over, bottoming out, or "close to the cycle trough." They have been continuously wrong.

But Wall Streetian prognosticators are going to have to somehow assuage concerns over other grim real estate market news:
The nationwide slump in housing deepened in the final three months of last year with sales falling in 40 states and median-home prices declining in nearly half of the metropolitan areas surveyed.

The biggest declines were in former boom areas. In Nevada, sales were down 36.1 percent in the final three months of 2006, compared with the same period in 2005. In Florida, sales dropped by 30.8 percent. Sales were down 26.9 percent in Arizona.
Denying the obvious can indeed be a full time job.

We've been seeing record levels of mortgage default, which has led naturally enough to a glut of both used and new houses on the market, something mentioned here in January. But back in December, CNNMoney tried to brighten dispirited housing market souls with an upbeat assessment, one that has proved to be entirely transitory:
Homebuilding, one of the most battered sectors of the U.S. economy in recent months, showed surprising strength in November.
This despite that fact that "The supply of completed new homes available for sale continued to creep up, setting yet another record at 169,000. "

The only certainty I can see in the deflationary housing market right is that as long as it continues, Wall Street and the NAR will be at the fore, downplaying it and telling all that, this time, the market has hit rock bottom.

Correcting confusion

After receiving a comment in the previous post about vulture funds and specifically those run by Debt Advisory International, I felt it prudent and necessary to clarify the potential confusion introduced by Greg Palast's BBC story when it abbreviated that company's name as DAI. CEO of Development Alternatives Inc., Tony Barclay, pointed out that his company is known as DAI and should not be confused with the third world debt swillers at Debt Advisory International.

Indeed, the real DAI looks to be a fine organisation, working on HIV/AIDS mitigation, local agricultural projects throughout the world and of certain note, Palestine development projects. In fact, the real DAI looks to be diametrically opposite in mission to that of the Debt Advisory International, a band of villains that should be stricken from the earth.

Friday, February 16, 2007

How does White House spell relief?

V-U-L-T-U-R-E

Greg Palast's latest broadside about the scam of "vulture funds" that pray on the carrion of third world debt relief is as disapointing as it unsurprising. Naturally, the White House is up to their very smelly armpits in it, with George Bush leading the way for campaign donors to reap usury-level profits from what can no longer be called debt relief at all.
Vulture funds - as defined by the International Monetary Fund and Gordon Brown amongst others - are companies which buy up the debt of poor nations cheaply when it is about to be written off and then sue for the full value of the debt plus interest - which might be ten times what they paid for it.
...

Debt Advisory International (DAI) manages a number of vulture funds which buy up the debts of highly indebted poor countries cheaply and then sue for the original value of the debt plus interest. Zambia - where the average wage is just over a dollar a day - is one of the highly indebted poor countries which the world's governments agreed needed debt relief.

In 1979 the Romanian government lent Zambia money to buy Romanian tractors. Zambia was unable to keep up the payments and in 1999 Romania and Zambia negotiated to liquidate the debt for $3m.

Before the deal could be finalised one of DAI's vulture funds stepped in and bought the debt from Romania for less than $4m. They are now suing the Zambian government for the original debt plus interest which they calculate at over $40m and they expect to win.
Caroline Pierce of the Jubilee Debt campaign embraces her idealism tightly:
Profiteering doesn't get any more cynical than this. Zambia has been planning to spend the money released from debt cancellation on much-needed nurses, teachers and infrastructure: this is what debt cancellation is intended for not to line the pockets of businessmen based in rich countries.
And how do Republicans and namely George Bush figure in all this dreadful business? It starts with a man named Paul Singer, who "virtually invented vulture funds." Singer has been George Bush's biggest campaign donor in New York City, giving $1.7 million to Bush for his campaigns. Bush could end this heartless charade but he hasn't and no one expects him to as long as the generous donations to the RNC keep coming in.
George Bush can put an end to it all with a stroke of a pen. Under the US Constitution, the President has the power to stop the vultures from collecting a penny in a US courtroom, but he hasn't done it, even though just last month George Bush publicly committed his government to debt relief.
This story is getting some play -- as well it should. I see the indefatigable Cernig is on and I was alerted to it by email from a good friend of mine, Nils. One might expect it to be completely ignore by the US corporate media; it just doesn't fit into the narrative that US foreign policy is about delivering freedom and democracy and goodness to the world. These days, I don't quite know how anyone can believe that, but many still seem to and the role that the corporate media have assumed is to make sure as many people as possible are not disabused of that notion.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

US falling off Broadband wagon

In 2001, the US ranked fourth in the world for broadband adoption rates. Today, the US ranks 12th in the world according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, while The International Telecommunications Union ranks the US 21st in national broadband penetration. This grim trend is only likely to get worse as governments in highly competitive countries like India and China have long term policies designed to promote broadband internet access and view internet infrastructure as critical to future development and competitiveness.

The US, especially under the Bush administration, continues to place faith in the ability of the "free market" to deliver adequate service, something that it clearly is not doing relative to countries that lead the field of broadband delivery. Richard Hoffman at InformationWeek has an excellent article detailing the failings of American telecommunications companies and federal policy in this regard. Though he seems a somewhat inclined to equivocate on the subject of the free market policy that is leaving US internet infrastructure scattershot, the article is nonetheless packed with some alarming revelations about the comparisons between US broadband access and that in leading countries such as Japan, Korea and Norway. He further debunks the many rationalizations that the FCC and US telecom companies trot out in defense of their focus on the return on investment paradigm.

Typically, the FCC fudges the numbers by defining 200kbps as "broadband," a rate that would be laughed at in Japan and Korea, where the fastest growing broadband services deliver in excess of 100Mbps. And the cost? Hardly competitive compared to the much faster services elsewhere:
Japan's fastest-growing broadband service offers speeds in excess of 100 Mbps, and Korea offers 100 Mbps uploads and downloads. Most current U.S. customers are lucky to get one-tenth or even one one-hundredth of that speed, particularly for uploads -- and they pay more for the lower speed.

By OECD estimates, the U.S. price-per-megabit of connection speed is more than 10 times as high in the U.S. as in Japan. And for sheer speed, overseas offerings blow the U.S. away.
Of course, we have heard all the tales of major telecom companies thwarting efforts by local governments to offer high speed internet access to small towns and rural areas the telecoms have refused to service.
But even where local and regional governments have attempted to take matters into their own hands, success hasn't been guaranteed. SB740, introduced in the West Virginia Senate in 2005, was intended to increase broadband availability in the state by allowing local government bodies to act as Internet service providers in those communities where service wasn't already available. After intense lobbying by major telecommunications firms, the bill was weakened, and eventually dropped. This matches a pattern seen repeatedly across the country -- where a number of local municipalities and groups across the U.S. have created local broadband access opportunities where none previously existed, powerful lobbying efforts by telecommunications firms have smothered many of these initiatives.
Hoffman then delivers the argument against the telecoms and the free market approach regarding this new and increasingly crucial infrastructure, but still couches more than he should, failing to draw the obvious conclusion that ultimately, the free market looses:
In the absence of widespread government initiatives and incentives to roll out broadband services in rural areas, telecom providers have made the decision to maximize profits by rolling out service in those areas that have the highest population density and lowest cost of build-out per customer. The free market wins in the short term, quarterly profits are maximized, but the customers in less-profitable geographic areas lose, and the nation as a whole loses out over the long term, falling behind other nations with more farsighted policies.
It is indeed ironic that the country that invented the internet is now failing to deliver modern access to it. The federal government clearly needs to step in with a project akin to the Rural Electrification Act if things are to improve. Which means, of course, this country is not going to see anything like this while Bush in the White House.

If the US continues to lag global competitors, she surely will suffer in the long term and we obviously cannot depend on modern telecom companies, beholden as they are to a Wall Street that constantly penalizes long term investment, to deliver this now critical technology. The delivery of broadband service can no longer be viewed in the same vein as selling slurpees.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Trading places

The trade deficit in 2006 hit another record by reaching $764 billion. Certainly the higher cost of imported oil has led to much of this although WaPo "staff writers" also say that the deficit is also the result of "American consumers' rising appetite for foreign-made goods." Uh, news flash: this has been happening since the seventies.

Of course, what is not mentioned is just what those "foreign-made goods" actually are. Much of them are indeed made by foreign-owned companies but they are also goods that used to be made in the United States but whose manufacture has been shipped out to countries like China by American companies. American-based manufacture has been suffering tremendous loss, with jobs disappearing at an alarming rate -- the US has lost 3 million manufacturing jobs between January 2001 and January 2006 . No matter for the companies who ship those jobs overseas to exploit cheap labour markets. As Chomsky has pointed out, trade deficits are of no concern to multinational corporations, who happily move operations to wherever the bottom line can be dropped even further. This typically short-sighted behaviour will result in loss of market in the US, where the continuing loss of good-paying jobs ultimately means that US consumers have less to spend on those foreign-made goods. Or perhaps the multinationals think that US consumers will continue to embrace deficit spending in order to keep buying all the crap they buy.

Naturally, US politicians seek a scapegoat other than themselves and US corporations. China fits the bill nicely. But China finally responded to the usual bluster:
China asserts that it has been made a scapegoat for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs. Many of China's exports are produced in factories owned by U.S. firms for shipment to American stores, said Zhang Erzhen, a trade expert at Nanjing University.
The one thing a shaky US economy cannot afford right now is to cause friction with China, which continues to sop up huge amounts of American debt in order to keep their already-owned dollar denominated assets -- $1 trillion, including $350 billion in US T-bills -- from plunging in value and to fuel the buying engine of the American marketplace. But China is not the problem. In fact, as far as US companies are concerned, China is the solution. Just ask Wal*mart.

But just to give you an idea of how dim those in the Bush administration are when is comes to discussing the issue of trade, here's our own U.S. Trade Representative, Susan C. Schwab, who dredged up what appears to be some simpleton guck from the bowels of the Heritage Foundation and pointed out that US exports increased by 12.7% last year, which did almost nothing to counter the 10.5% increase in imports.
Trade agreements mean more exports. More exports mean better jobs.
No, they don't. Not when you're exporting tube socks. And that is exactly what has been happening. Former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, Paul Craig Roberts, points to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for a dose of reality about all those "better" jobs George Bush and his White House keep yammering about:
Over the past five years the US economy experienced a net job loss in goods producing activities. The entire job growth was in service-providing activities--primarily credit intermediation, health care and social assistance, waiters, waitresses and bartenders, and state and local government.
Grim reality, indeed. But wait, there's more:
US manufacturing lost 2.9 million jobs, almost 17% of the manufacturing work force. The wipeout is across the board. Not a single manufacturing payroll classification created a single new job.

The declines in some manufacturing sectors have more in common with a country undergoing saturation bombing during war than with a super-economy that is “the envy of the world.” Communications equipment lost 43% of its workforce. Semiconductors and electronic components lost 37% of its workforce. The workforce in computers and electronic products declined 30%. Electrical equipment and appliances lost 25% of its employees. The workforce in motor vehicles and parts declined 12%. Furniture and related products lost 17% of its jobs. Apparel manufacturers lost almost half of the work force. Employment in textile mills declined 43%. Paper and paper products lost one-fifth of its jobs. The work force in plastics and rubber products declined by 15%. Even manufacturers of beverages and tobacco products experienced a 7% shrinkage in jobs.
But the pièce de résistance of cognitive dissonance, once again, was registered by the White House and spokesman Tony Fratto elucidated the issue that, sure, there is some pain with the loss of the manufacturing base of the country, but in the end, it's all for the good:
Trade is good for America. There are dislocations for people when you trade. A factory closes, those are real people. But the benefits that accrue to all Americans are clear.
He said this the same day that 13,000 folks were laid off at Chrysler and further declined to tell anyone what, exactly, those "benefits" actually are.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for the open marketplace and trading goods. Humans have engaged this activity since they walked the earth. It's what we do. But the way modern multinational corporations and those countries that attract them conduct trade is ultimately unhealthy for not only the business of trade but for humanity generally. Despite the Bush administration's best efforts, Americans may never suffer under the yoke of exploitive business practices as they once did -- there are strong reasons for that -- others very much do. And when countries like China announce that they, too, have recognised the need for stronger labour laws, the reaction of the American business community, Wall Street and the White House is beyond shameful.
US-based corporations are fighting a proposed Chinese law that seeks to protect workers’ rights. The law is “setting off a battle with American and other foreign corporations that have lobbied against it by hinting that they may build fewer factories here.”

US-based global corporations like Wal-Mart, Google, UPS, Microsoft, Nike, AT&T, and Intel, acting through US business organizations like the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai and the US-China Business Council, are actively lobbying against the new labor legislation. They are also threatening that foreign corporations will withdraw from China if it is passed.

China’s Draft Labor Contract Law would provide minimal standards that are commonplace in many other countries, such as enforceable labor contracts, severance pay regulations, and negotiations over workplace policies and procedures. The Chinese government is supporting these reforms in part as a response to rising labor discontent.
At the same time US politicians complain about cheap labour markets in Asia and demand that countries like China engage better labour and environmental laws -- which they should -- American corporations actively warn China not to do anything like that.

The American business community offers the most concise statement on this position. The US Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong claims that one of its "universal principles" is that
American business plays an important role as a catalyst for positive social change by promoting human welfare and guaranteeing to uphold the dignity of the worker and set positive examples for their remuneration, treatment, health and safety.
They will do this by blocking legislation designed to improve the remuneration, treatment, health and safety, and other standards of Chinese workers.

The phrase "free trade" is a smoke screen for what it really is, something completely orthogonal to what the words actually mean. If we called free trade, as the phrase is currently employed, by what it really is, I doubt many Americans would be all that thrilled with it. But then, that's just the point.

Surprise!

Once in a rare while, a headline will pop up that gives me hope for the US media. Not much, but a little. And so it was with the headline from the Palm Beach Post regarding the story about the US military admitting that the helicopter in Iraq most recently recently shot down had, in fact, been shot down.
Army: Helicopters shot down by 'thinking enemy'
The precision of the headline is conveyed by the quotes: Yes, the Army has determined that the people fighting them can think. Apparently, Pentagon officials were told early on, probably by Douglas Feith, that they would be encountering a zombie army. Intelligence from the Office of Special Plans had confirmed it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chinese laundry

Via spiiderweb, Focus Information Agency delivers this blurb:
Italian authorities yesterday announced they had interrupted an international arms trafficking deal that was to have operated between China, Malta, Italy and Libya, and which planned to supply hundreds of thousands of weapons to Iraqi insurgents, international media reported yesterday. The operation was to have seen an unnamed Maltese company acting as a middleman between Chinese weapons producers and Libyan buyers, who would, in turn, move the weapons on to Iraqi insurgents, according to coded emails recovered by Italian agents.
Sweet! Now we can attack China!

Blast from the idiot past

I've been pounding away on a lengthy article, distracting myself from the daily trivialities that US media coverage provides their readers/viewers. A brief break from the clueless press bumpkins, indulging as they are the latest White House evidentiary fantasies in the preparation of America for the next attack, had me bump into our old friend Paul Wolfowitz. Remember those halcyon days of neoconservative certitude? Well, those haven't really gone away; they're still full of it; certitude, that is. It's just that now, many more people are highly suspicious of them.

And rightly so. Iraq is a cauldron and Bush is arguing for -- indeed sending --a few more troops there in one final push to presumably bring things under control. No one thinks this will work, either because a military solution does not exist or because 20,000 troops aren't enough to change anything on the ground. The only ones who want to "give it a chance" are neocon clowns like Fred Kagan and Bill Kristol who have revised their troop surge number so many times, it seems any number would satisfy them so long as it carried the "more is better" seal of approval. First it was 50,000, 35,000, then 30,00 and then, when it was clear that the military would barely be able to muster 20,000 troops, well, that was fine, too.

Given the arguments in either direction, this now infamous Wolfowitz quote popped out at me. Ahhh, those pre-invasion days of glory, destiny and inconceivability:
There has been a good deal of comment - some of it quite outlandish - about what our postwar requirements might be in Iraq. Some of the higher end predictions we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark. It is hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army - hard to imagine.
Hard to conceive, indeed, when you have no fucking clue what you're talking about.

This response was in reference to General Shinseki's earlier "outlandish comments." Now, I'm not completely sure of this, but I feel confident in saying that US Army Chief of Staff is not a position one assumes by being "outlandish." It is part of normative military understanding that an occupying force must necessarily be far larger than an invasion force. Unless, of course, one is expecting rose petal parades, in which case, one ought to be able to waltz in wearing a tutu.

Given the other wild imaginings the neocons had, I wonder if Wolfowitz ever considered doing that?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Slouching toward D-day

This editorial by Pablo Escobar is highly recommended. Reading this will do many things, not the least of which is that, if you only get your news from the US media, you will suddenly be aware that you have no idea what is really going on in the Middle East.
...the mood in Tehran is increasingly grim. Mohsen Rezai, a former head of the Revolutionary Guards, positively scared state-TV viewers - a rarity in media-controlled Iran - when he said the US will try to strike Iran and he's willing to "become a martyr". It's as if Tehran has finally drawn the implications of a two-pronged hardcore militarization of the eastern Mediterranean region. On the one hand there is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization allied with Israel against Syria, on the other the Persian Gulf, where the US is lining up against Iran.
...

Since 2004, inspectors from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been able to "go anywhere and see anything" in Iran - according to the agency's own assessment. This includes the latest visit this past Saturday to the uranium-conversion plant in Isfahan. Visitors this time included members of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77 developing nations, the Arab League and, for the first time, journalists. In sum, that was a real sample of what otherwise passes for the "international community". The visitors were in synch: an attack on Iranian nuclear installations would be catastrophic.

But even coyotes in the Mojave Desert now know that Admiral William J Fallon, the new head of CentCom, a specialist in planning air/sea warfare, may be itching to set fire to the Strait of Hormuz. They also know that US President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney hold constitutional power to order a preemptive nuclear strike against Iran.
...

Every major player also knows that the chain of pretexts is already established: the shaky Maliki government fails to meet the United States' security "benchmarks" (as it certainly will); Iran is set up for the fall; Washington engineers a provocation in the Persian Gulf; the path is cleared for a Congress-approved "defensive" US strike. Democrats in Congress are doing little to prevent the escalation, when they could at least organize themselves to torpedo the "use of force" authorization for Iraq and pass a law preventing the Bush administration from attacking Iran. Russia, China and the European (dis)Union also remain paralyzed.
He is certainly correct about this. While Russia and China have both expressed the strongest positions against military strikes on Iran, with Russia even shipping 4,000 TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles to Tehran, none of this is will do much good if the White House is as intent on attack as everyone believes they are. The latest nonsense about Iranian government-supplied munitions is just the most recent smoke the White House is fanning to justify a strike (how many more times are we going to see "the military" present "evidence" of Iranian government involvement only to watch the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Pace, come out the next day and say that this is not evidence of that at all?) It doesn't much matter whether such evidence is necessary or sufficient to justify an attack like the one being planned. But no one seems to know how to curtail the maniacal march of the Bush administration toward "benevolent global hegemony." Actually, I think there is one mechanism and that is for Congress -- every one of those useless turds -- to deny any legality to Bush for such a strike and pass a law to that end. The hope for this, however, is slim, with Congress still grappling over the equally useless non-binding resolution.

Bind Bush now!

The surge is on

This may not be quite the surge Bush was talking about, but it certainly is the one most everyone else expected.
Thunderous car bombs shattered a crowded marketplace in the heart of Baghdad on Monday, triggering secondary explosions, engulfing an eight-story building in flames and killing at least 78 people in the latest in a series of similar attacks aimed at the country's Shiite majority.

The blasts in three parked cars obliterated shops and stalls and left bodies scattered among mannequins and other debris in pools of blood. Dense smoke blackened the area and rose hundreds of feet from the market district on the east bank of the Tigris River. Small fires, fueled by clothing and other goods, burned for hours in the rubble-strewn street as firefighters battled blazes in two buildings.

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Nice

The Dixie Chicks just won the Grammy for Song of the Year with "Not Ready to Make Nice." I wonder what Rush Limbaugh sees when he watches them. It must be very strange.



Indeed, it is. In the comments at Youtube, I found what I would consider to be Rush's sentiment exactly, although vastly more lucid.
Best Song /Best Album - voted for Chix for the same reason they voted for Michael Moore's "Film"... Fashionable to be anti-Bush and this is another way to express that. Fine. However, with Muslim fundamentalists fighting over 14 battles around the world, Iraq being only one of them, what is the alternative? Appeasement? Succumb to Islamic fundamentalist oppression? No freedom of speech in US? Try living under Islam as a woman. Regardless of Bush the global threat is real. Ask Van Gogh.
Don't you see what the Grammy really represents? The terrorist-lovers are rewarding other terrorist-lovers for their terrorist loving. And note that the benchmark for freedom of speech in the US is "Islamic fundamentalist oppression." You see, the terrorists have won.

Oh, and fuck Clear Channel.