Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Dance of Death: Ignorance on the March

Two stories from the Guardian today give blazing illumination to the death-dealing ignorance of that hideous conglomeration of bagmen and fanatics known as the Bush Faction.

First, Bush's hypocritical pandering to religious extremists is killing people in Africa, as the UN's special envoy for AIDS reports:
Bush Accused of AIDs Damage to Africa

Next, Bushist bagmen for Big Oil are cracking down, Joe McCarthy-style, on leading climate change experts:
Republicans accused of witch-hunt against climate change scientists

In Africa, Bush's extremist "base" is throttling condom distribution, thus crippling one of the continent's most effective anti-AIDS programs and condemning thousands of people -- mostly children -- to an early, agonizing death. This in the name of their "Christian" faith.

Of course, as anyone who has ever read the scripture knows, Jesus of Nazareth didn't apply a sexual, racial, political or sexual litmus test before helping the afflicted. Although he might give a gentle admonishment to "go and sin no more" afterwards, his ministrations were offered unconditionally. But then, as Harper's magazine recently pointed out, studies show that the majority of "Christians" in America have no idea what the Bible actually says. And it's an absolute dead certainty that the gibbering poltroon in the White House can be found among this ignorant throng.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the anti-earth faction has a new hero in Texas congressman Joe "Bonehead" Barton. Bonehead is a Big Oil bagman from way back, and as chairman of the House committee on energy and commerce, he's been carrying water for his masters for 11 years. Now he's taken aim at America's leading climate change scientists, demanding that they turn over all their sources of funding, methods and everything they have ever published. Barton will then hold public hearings into the "validity" of their work.

The intention, clearly, is to bully and intimidate -- not just the scientists in question but more importantly all the other scientists out there, particularly young researchers just starting their careers. Bonehead and the Bushists are laying down the word: research this stuff at your peril. Pursue scientific inquiry into the fate of the planet and we will slap you down hard, with the full weight of the federal government.

At the bottom of both these stories lies the little white worm of greed -- the greed for power and money that drives every single policy decision of the Bush Administration, without exception, always. (This is a sweeping statement but time has given it proof.) Bush panders to his extremists -- on AIDS, evolution, stem cells, homosexuality, etc. -- because their fanaticism helps keep his Faction dominant, even as his popularity among the general public is draining away. Bush knows -- as Lenin knew -- that you don't need popular support to seize power and rule a great nation; all you need is a ruthless, fanatic minority of true believers willing to "do whatever it takes" to "get the job done." And so Bush -- a feckless, luxury-wallowing son of privilege -- plays up to the pseudo-Christian extremists in order to provide himself with shock troops for his continuing coup d'etat.

And with the government firmly in their grip, they can then use its powers to enrich themselves still further. That's where pasty-faced bags of wind like Bonehead Barton come in. The Bushists want to deny the reality of global climate change because taking steps to mitigate its effects might cut slightly into the record-breaking profit margins of the energy barons and their elite associates. Nothing must be allowed to challenge their worm's-eye view of the world.

And thus not only scientists but science itself must be discredited. For in order to construct a false reality that maintains the power of unpopular leaders carrying out rapacious, even murderous policies, you must destroy the idea of objective truth, of a measurable, irreducible reality that stands outside the realm of belief and ideology. This destruction of truth and reason is one of the primary objectives of the Bushist Faction (you can see it in the "intelligent design" debate as well) and they are carrying it forward with Bolshevik ruthlessness.

They are deliberately, wilfully cultivating ignorance at almost every turn (except of course in weapons development and oil extraction, where only the most cutting-edge science will do). They are, in a very real sense, the enemies of civilization, of knowledge and enlightenment – a perfect match for the violent obscurantists they have exalted into world-shaking prominence in the highly profitable (for both sides) "war on terror."

But what do they care? Let thousands – millions – sicken and die; let the planet itself fall into decay. The Bushists will just keep feeding those little white worms growing fat in their greed-swollen guts.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Ranch Hands Flatter Crawford Caligula While Real Journalists Die

While the fawning White House press corps chit-chats with Bush about baseball 'n kids at an intimate get-together on his fake ranch, here's what happens to real reporters who are out there reporting real news:

US Sniper Kills Reuters Soundman in Iraq (AFP)

US forces in Baghdad shot dead a Reuters television soundman and wounded a cameraman, Iraqi police said.....

Two Iraqi colleagues who arrived on the scene minutes after the shooting were also briefly detained, then released, Reuters said. They said that Khaled was still alive when they reached him, and that US troops refused to give him water despite the blazing sun. "They (US soldiers) treated us like dogs. They made us, including Khaled who was wounded and asking for water, stay in the sun on the road," Reuters quoted a television crew member Mohammed Idriss as saying….

"Entry and exit wounds could be seen on the face indicating shots from the victim's right. There were several bullet holes in the windscreen and at least four wounds in the chest," Reuters quoted its correspondent as saying. "His US military and Reuters press cards, clipped to his shirt, were caked in blood. In one, there were two bullet holes," it said….

"As Waleed's tearful relatives inspected the body at the scene, a US soldier said: 'Don't bother. It's not worth it'. A few other soldiers joked among themselves just a few meters (feet) from the body", it added.

The Not-So-Lost Cause

Jim Crow is back in the catbird seat:

Justice Deparment Approves Georgia Voter ID Law. (AP)

The problem for which this law was ostensibly designed is, of course, non-existent; i.e., huge numbers of illegal voters showing up at the polls with fake non-photo IDs.

But the problem for which this law was really designed is, of course, all too real: i.e., huge numbers of legal voters of dusky hue showing up at the polls and voting against Republicans.

In the Tank, not the Pool

Bush's Secret Dinner -- With the Press (WP, among many others)

Anyone who is a journalist -- anyone who has ever been a journalist -- anyone who ever reads journalism -- should be ashamed of this. These monstrous suck-ups would brown-nose Hitler himself if they thought it would help them keep their cozy perch in the gilded media cage.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Fire Sermon: A Spark is Lit in the Texas Scrub

Published Friday, Aug. 26, in The Moscow Times

In his inaugural speech last January, President George W. Bush repeatedly invoked images of unbridled, ravaging destruction as the emblem of his crusade for "freedom." Fire was his symbol, his word of power, his incantation of holy war. Mirroring the rhetoric of his fundamentalist enemies, Bush moved the conflict from the political to the spiritual, from the outer world to the inner soul, claiming that he had lit "a fire in the minds of men."

But words are recalcitrant things; they have their own magic, and they will often find their own meanings, outside the intentions of those who use them. Bush has indeed inflamed the minds of men – and women – with his military crusade. But it is not the "untamed fire of freedom" that scorches them: it is the fire of grief and outrage at the lies that have consumed the bodies of their loved ones. This bitter flame burns in the rubble of blasted houses in Iraq and in the quiet, leafy suburbs of America, where the dead are mourned and the mutilated are left as the enduring legacy of Bush's cruel, wilful and unnecessary war.

This "fire in the mind" has now found its own symbol, in the unlikely figure of Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain American soldier. Here again, Bush's war-rousing words have gotten away from him. Sheehan's campaign – which began as a lonely vigil outside Bush's vacation ranch and has now spread across the country – centers on a single, simple request: that Bush explain to her what he means when he describes the war as "a noble cause."

Sheehan is no professional activist, no savvy insider or political junkie. She's an ordinary citizen, whose unadorned speech has none of the sweep and grandeur of Bush's expensively tailored rhetoric. But she has one thing that his professional scripters can never put in the presidential mouth: truth.

They must labor in the service of a lie, but Sheehan has read the Downing Street memos, the Duelfer WMD report, the September 2000 manifesto of a group led by Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld calling for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the top-level revelations by Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, Seymour Hersh and many others. She knows the mountain of freely available, credible evidence that shows unequivocally that Bush and his minions sought this war of aggression from their first day in power; that they openly longed for "a new Pearl Harbor" to use as justification for their plans; that they deliberately manipulated, "stove-piped" and fabricated intelligence to concoct a false case for war; that they used UN diplomacy as a cynical sham to mask their military intentions and then invaded before the weapons inspection process which they themselves had insisted upon was even halfway complete.

Every housewife and truck driver, every Wal-Mart clerk and office worker in America has access to this information, these established facts. The death of her son drove Sheehan to throw off the torpor that has afflicted so many of her compatriots for so many years, and look reality in the face. There she has seen Iraqi civilians and American soldiers being shredded, gutted and burned alive by the fire of Bush's death-dealing lies. As Frank Rich notes, she and other war survivors have watched Bush turn the search for WMD – the ostensible reason for the sacrifice of their children – into a comedy routine, a filmed skit for sycophantic journalists, showing the President of the United States goofily searching under desks and behind curtains, then shrugging with a dullard's grin: "No weapons here!"

Bush's audience – the highly-paid cream of the national media – roared with laughter at the Leader's barbaric wit. Now these same blind guides are struggling to comprehend the fire of dissent that Cindy Sheehan has lit with her vigil in the Crawford scrublands. Many of them have mocked and vilified her, trumpeting the lies that the Bush Machine began pumping out like bilgewater the moment her campaign found resonance with the wider public. Others have dismissed it as a flash in the pan, a copy-filler for the August doldrums, a minor blip soon to be swept away by the president's proven mastery of the national agenda.

Perhaps they're right. Perhaps this too shall pass, just as every other scandal and tourbillion that has momentarily shaken the Bush Regime – from Enron to Abu Ghraib and beyond – has fallen by the wayside. It's true that the polls show that Bush is now deeply unpopular, mistrusted by more than half the electorate who say, as Sheehan says, that he misled the nation into a pointless war. But by hook and crook, with fear and lies, he and his faction have gathered all the reins of power into their hands. With a complaisant media, a feckless opposition, unprecedented control over the nation's electoral machinery – and the full backing of the corporate oligarchy they have enriched beyond all measuring – the Bush elitists are not much concerned with the "consent of the governed" anymore. They will wade on through the swamp of blood they have created, generating more terrorism, sacrificing more sons and daughters, engendering more hatred, anguish and death.

But what if the form that Sheehan has somehow given to the nation's growing sense of betrayal does not simply fade at summer's end? What if that spark takes hold in the Texas scrub and sets off "an untamed fire of freedom" from the murderous lies that have led America into crime and disgrace? We might yet see Bush undone by his own incantation – and truth become the new word of power.

Chris Floyd

The Commander Grovels

From Juan Cole:
The New York Times says that President Bush called Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shiite leader. But the call seems to have been to no avail if the Shiites did not come to Barzani's home for negotiations. The Americans are annoyed that the Shiites recently came up with this demand for a southern confederation and are urging them to compromise with the Sunni Arabs, fearful that any other course will prolong and exacerbate the guerrilla war. Poor Bush, who once ordered mighty armies into war and tampered with the US Constitution through his Draconian "PATRIOT" act, now is reduced to pleading with a pro-Iranian cleric to please make nice with the ex-Baathists. And he isn't even succeeding in the plea!

(Apologies for lack of link; Blogger seems to be playing up at the moment.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Inside Information

Jonathan Scharwz tells "A Funny Little Story About the Media" -- and reveals a mountain of truth about the way the American Establishment really operates in this remarkable post on his excellent blog. (And for laughs -- albeit the bitter laugh of painful truth -- check out this earlier posting: We Must Protect Our Precious Creek-Based Fluids. The title alone is worth the price of admission.) We won't excerpt the media story here; you should read the whole thing.

As I said earlier, every peek behind the scenes at the American power structure is a Gore Vidal novel made flesh. So as soon as you're done reading Jonathan's insights, hie thee hence to library, bookstore or Amazon.com and avail yourself of Vidal's "Narratives of a Golden Age" (Burr, Lincoln, 1876, Empire, Hollywood, Washington D.C. and The Golden Age), for a comprehensive education in political reality. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but Vidal's fictions are truer than the "truth" presented to us by the governing class and its media sycophants.

No Direction Home: The Debate on Withdrawal From Iraq

There's a very interesting debate going on right now at Informed Comment, where Juan Cole – one of the most important and indeed informed voices throughout the entire Iraqi debacle – has laid out his strong case against an immediate end to the U.S. occupation. Cole made many good points, well worth serious consideration. He has now gallantly posted a respectful but powerful rebuttal to his case, from Gilbert Achcar. The whole exchange is a good example of the kind of debate that should be taking place throughout the American power structure – not just in the blogosphere.

For what it's worth, my take on the withdrawal question is below. It's a column I wrote around Easter 2004, and I've seen nothing to make me change my stance since then.

No Direction Home: The Red Wheel of War Crime Keeps Rolling
As the red wheel of Operation Iraqi FUBAR continues to roll, spewing hundreds of corpses in its wake, it becomes clearer by the hour that there is only one way for America to end this stomach-churning nightmare it has created: get out.

That's it. The occupying armies – including Bush's 20,000 corporate mercenaries – should leave now. They should never have been sent in the first place on this ghoul's errand: a war of aggression, a mission of murder and plunder – the perversion of every enlightened value of the civilization that the Coalition's "Christian leaders" purport to defend….

Their chest-beating pronouncements about "staying the course" and "seeing it through" are just so much rag-chewing nonsense. The way to rectify a crime is not to keep doing it – or in John Kerry's ludicrous formulations, to keep doing it in some different, "better" way – but simply to stop doing it. The illegal invasion was a crime, the occupation is a crime, and if you would not be a criminal, you must stop committing crimes

…The departing Americans should...give the $18 billion slush fund now earmarked for Bush's "reconstruction" bagmen to the Iraqi people, as reparations for the Coalition's war crime....The United States and Britain should also be prepared to take in the vast horde of refugees who will flee the hardline Islamic regime that will doubtless be created in the ruins Bush has made of the once-secular state.

As for the "leaders" who committed this crime, there is only one thing left for them to do now, only one way for them to serve the people they have betrayed so vilely and stupidly. All of them – Bush, Blair, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, Geoff Hoon, Jack Straw, Richard Perle, the whole sick crew – should pick up a rifle and go to the front lines in Fallujah and Baghdad. Let them take the places of the young men and young women who signed up as soldiers to defend their country or make a better life for themselves – not to become pawns and killers for the Hitlerite ambitions of the bloodsoaked fools who threw them into this quagmire.

Yes, Hitlerite ambitions: dreams of global dominance, fetishes of militarism, fantasies of superiority, and the willingness to impose your self-serving vision of "universal truth" – in this case, the rapacious crony capitalism that Bush has officially named "the single sustainable model of national success" – at the barrel of a gun. That's what lies behind this madness.

As we've noted so often here before – and will ring the bell one more time – the conquest of Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism or liberation or WMD or national security or Arab democracy or Bush family revenge. It's been planned for years by Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and other Bush retainers, planned openly, and for one reason only: to give the United States direct military control of the Middle East in order to dominate global economic and political life for "the New American Century." This need was so great, said the group – openly, in September 2000 – that it "transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." It wouldn't have mattered if Saddam had found Jesus, or freed his people, or set himself on fire in Madison Square Garden: the Bushists were always going to invade and occupy Iraq – always, no matter what.

So they'll never embrace any sensible solution for getting out. The red wheel will just keep rolling on, spewing thousands more unnecessary deaths – until those rabid Easter Bunnies, Bush and Blair, finally FUBAR themselves into the inevitable, ignominious retreat.

The whole column can be found here.

Ten Years of Terror -- Deliberately Ignored

If you're white, you're all right. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was....

Terror From the Right
Southern Poverty Law Center (via Buzzflash)

Ten years after the Oklahoma City bombing left 168 people dead, the guardians of American national security seem to have decided that the domestic radical right does not pose a substantial threat to U.S. citizens.

A draft internal document from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that was obtained this spring by The Congressional Quarterly lists the only serious domestic terrorist threats as radical animal rights and environmental groups like the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. But for all the property damage they have wreaked, eco-radicals have killed no one — something that most definitely cannot be said of the white supremacists and others who people the American radical right.

In the 10 years since the April 19, 1995, bombing in Oklahoma City, in fact, the radical right has produced some 60 terrorist plots. These have included plans to bomb or burn government buildings, banks, refineries, utilities, clinics, synagogues, mosques, memorials and bridges; to assassinate police officers, judges, politicians, civil rights figures and others; to rob banks, armored cars and other criminals; and to amass illegal machine guns, missiles, explosives, and biological and chemical weapons. (A list of the worst plots then follows.)

Gored by Their Own Oxen

Every time something like this surfaces -- a glimpse behind the curtain at the true world of politics, the pettiness, the vanity, the cynical sham -- it's like one of Gore Vidal's novels come to life.

Shocking Peek Behind the Scenes (NY Post, via Buzzflash)

As We Were Saying...

No Proof Found of Iran Arms Program (WP)

Well, so what? Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction either. As we have seen, absence of evidence means only one thing to the Bush Regime: "It's clobberin' time."

Quote of the Day

From the ever-emininently quotable James Wolcott, flaying the sorry hide of Michael Leeden:

"The fact is that Ledeen and his neocons got the war they wanted, it was waged according to their blueprints, and it's their fuck-up, their moral responsibility, their historical bloodstain, their arrogant, ignorant, blundering, inexcusable mess."

Extremist Mullah Calls for Assassination of American Leader

That's Pat Robertson, of course, calling on his good Christian friend, George W. Bush, to murder Hugo Chavez, elected leader of the South American nation of Venezuela. (via Media Matters).

In his frothing rant, Pat manages to accuse of Chavez of being an agent of both "communist infiltration and Muslim extremism" -- a pretty neat trick. If I may be forgiven a personal note, it reminds me of the very first piece of hate mail I received as a young college columnist after publishing some criticism of Ronald Reagan (who had not yet ascended to bipartisan sainthood in those days). A furious Reaganite wrote in to accuse me of being -- I kid you not -- a "Hindu Marxist Nazi." The young cretin was, in his ignorance, simply spewing out any word that he could think of which would denote a feared and despised "Other" in his mind.

The old cretin Pat Robertson is doing the same thing -- but not out of ignorance. Robertson is as wily and wordly as they come, a well-educated son of wealth and privilege who has been in top reaches of the national elite his entire life. (His father was a U.S. Senator.) He knows full well the violent enmity between militantly secular communism and Islamic extremism. But he wants to associate any critic or opponent of the American Empire with whatever might call up the image of the feared and despised Other in the minds of his viewers -- most of whom, it must be said, are far more ignorant than Pat Robertson. (Which is why he has played them for suckers all the way to the bank for lo these many years.)

A powerful "Christian" leader with a national following calls for outright murder...Will we see denunciations of this "radical cleric" in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times? Will Tony Blair now refuse to allow this peddler of violent hate speech into the United Kingdom, as he has banned Muslim preachers of poison? Will we see earnest disquisitions from mainstream pundits demanding that the "Christian community" public disassociate itself from this dangerous crank and his murderous theology?


Monday, August 22, 2005

Serious Business

Below is an excerpt from the newly revised Empire Burlesque, the book-length collection of columns and new material that comprises an alternative history of history of Bush Regime. The e-book version is being updated right now (the current edition ends in June 2004), and should be available shortly.

The piece deals with a point that I think is very important to remember, although it doesn't seem to get much attention in the dissident media -- the fact that whatever happens in Iraq, Bush and his faction have already won. In a very real sense, it's been a win-win situation for them all along -- and that's probably one big reason why they've been so slapdash with the occupation: deep down, they don't give a damn how the country is sorted out -- because they've already accomplished their main objective. But more on this below.

From Chapter Seven: Serious Business (January-August 2005)

....By summer's end -- with grieving mother Cindy Sheehan standing vigil outside his ranch -- Bush seemed thrown back on the defensive, stumbling, trying to find a new line of patter, a new propaganda ploy to regain the initiative. But it was obvious that the war was lost. The only "successful" outcome possible was the installation of an unstable, violence-ridden Islamic state. There was no way that Bush and his supporters could pretend that this was their goal when they sent the troops in. Yet even this Pyhrric victory seemed increasingly unlikely as Iraq slid inexorably toward a multi-sided civil war.

In the midst of this great darkness, some dissidents spied a ray of hope. Surely, they thought, the magnitude of the American defeat in this pointless, illegal war -- a defeat compounded at every turn by the reckless incompetence of Bush and his colonial viceroys -- would at last rouse the American people to reject the Regime and restore some measure of sanity to the Republic.

But these good souls had made a fundamental mistake in their analysis -- as had most war critics throughout the ordeal. The United States may have lost the war -- but Bush had not. The invasion and occupation of Iraq was a resounding victory for the Bush Faction in the only area that really matters to them: enriching themselves and their cronies in the war-related industries. Even if the conquest were to blow up in the worst possible way, with full-scale civil war spilling over into neighboring countries, setting the whole region -- and perhaps the world -- in flames, the resulting chaos and global instability would mean even more money for the war profiteers. After all, the greater the insecurity, the bigger the budgets for "military servicing" and "security" firms.

Whatever the outcome, the war has already poured billions of public dollars into the coffers of Bush-connected corporations: a tsunami of graft that will alter the political landscape for years to come, ensuring unlimited funds for every radical rightwing candidate and program under the sun. The gigantic conservative infrastructure -- built so laboriously over the past 30 years, initiating generations of rabid cadres, many of them reared from birth to eschew reality for blind zeal -- will not simply wither away if Bush falters in the polls or Iraq goes down in flames. Glutted with the new infusion of blood money from the war -- and the domestic loot outlined earlier -- the mighty engines of militarism, repression, corruption and authoritarian rule will roll on, pressing toward the mark, the sacred goal that drives all of their endeavors:

The bottom line.

Blood of Victory

Meanwhile, the "victory" in Afghanistan just keeps on giving. From the NYT's remarkable Carlotta Gall (a former colleague of mine at The Moscow Times):

GI Death Toll in Afghanistan Worst Since 2001

"This year is already the deadliest for American soldiers in Afghanistan since the war of 2001, and the violence is likely to intensify before the nation's legislative elections on Sept. 18. Four soldiers were killed Sunday, meaning that 13 have been killed in August alone. Sixty-five Americans have been killed this year...

"While some fighters want to disrupt the elections, one Afghan general said others are coming in to help the ousted Taliban or Al Qaeda with the long-term aim of dislodging American troops from Afghanistan....A senior security official said Al Qaeda was paying renewed attention to the country this year. More money is coming in, probably from Arab countries, and a unit of Qaeda fighters has returned to the region from Iraq to teach local fighters an unspecified "new tactic they learned in Iraq," one security official said...."

-- Well, at least Bush's war in Iraq has been productive for someone. The criminal incompetence of the Bush gang simply defies belief, outstrips all comprehension. It's hard to see how much more help Bush can give to Osama at this point, short of just handing him a few nuclear weapons.

Life in These United States

The War on the Poor was won long ago; now the War on the Middle Class is reaching a crescendo. Evidently the corporatic Right won't be satisfied until we're all peons in penury.

The Safety Net She Believed In Was Pulled Away When She Fell. (LA Times)

What Fresh Hell is This?

These are the hells that Bush has created with his "liberation" of Iraq:

Under US noses, brutal insurgents rule Sunni citadel. (Guardian) Excerpts:

Under US noses, brutal insurgents rule Sunni citadel

The executions are carried out at dawn on Haqlania bridge, the entrance to Haditha. A small crowd usually turns up to watch even though the killings are filmed and made available on DVD in the market the same afternoon. One of last week's victims was a young man in a black tracksuit. Like the others he was left on his belly by the blue iron railings at the bridge's southern end. His severed head rested on his back, facing Baghdad. Children cheered when they heard that the next day's spectacle would be a double bill: two decapitations. A man named Watban and his brother had been found guilty of spying...

...Alcohol and music deemed unIslamic were banned, women were told to wear headscarves and relations between the sexes were closely monitored....The court caters solely for divorces and marriages. Alleged criminals are punished in the market. The Guardian witnessed a headmaster accused of adultery whipped 190 times with cables. Children laughed as he sobbed and his robe turned crimson...Two men who robbed a foreign exchange shop were splayed on the ground. Masked men stood on their hands while others broke their arms with rocks...DVDs of beheadings on the bridge are distributed free in the souk. Children prefer them to cartoons...

From the Washington Post:
Militias on the Rise Across Iraq
Excerpts: Shiite and Kurdish militias, often operating as part of Iraqi government security forces, have carried out a wave of abductions, assassinations and other acts of intimidation, consolidating their control over territory across northern and southern Iraq and deepening the country's divide along ethnic and sectarian lines, according to political leaders, families of the victims, human rights activists and Iraqi officials....

...In Basra in the south, dominated by the Shiites, and Mosul in the north, ruled by the Kurds, as well as cities and villages around them, many residents have said they are powerless before the growing sway of the militias, which instill a climate of fear that many see as redolent of the era of former president Saddam Hussein...

...Across northern Iraq, Kurdish parties have employed a previously undisclosed network of at least five detention facilities to incarcerate hundreds of Sunni Arabs, Turkmens and other minorities abducted and secretly transferred from Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and from territories stretching to the Iranian border, according to political leaders and detainees' families...."I don't see any difference between Saddam and the way the Kurds are running things here," said Nahrain Toma, who heads a human rights organization, Bethnahrain, which has offices in northern Iraq and has faced several death threats....

From Azzaman (Iraqi, secular, anti-Saddam paper):
U.S. troops bomb Tel Affar despite parliament speaker's warning
Excerpts: U.S. troops have been bombing the city of Tel Affar in the past four days despite warnings from parliamentary speaker Hajim al-Hassani. For months, the troops have been striving to control the city and the adjacent region close to the Syrian border but to no avail. Fierce fighting is reported between U.S. troops and the insurgents who have turned the northern city west of Mosul into a major stronghold...

Thousands of families are reported to have fled the city. In interviews with Azzaman's correspondent in Tel Affar, the residents described the U.S. shelling of their city "as fires of hell" ... The shelling has so far killed several people and wounded many others. Those staying behind suffer from lack of water, food and health services.

Hassani, the speaker, had warned last month that the use of military force to solve the crisis in Tel Affar would further destabilize rather than pacify an already restive region. Azzaman's correspondent, whose identity we withhold for security reasons, reported residents as saying that life has come to a standstill in the city. And those who opted to flee are in even worse condition, he added. "The people are too scared to go out and recover corpses of dead relatives or tend the wounded. U.S. troops have ringed the city and now prevent people from either leaving or entering the city," he said.

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Crime Without Punishment

Alain Gresh lays out "the most glaring scandal of them all" regarding the UN "oil-for-food" program in Iraq. Some excerpts, from The Guardian:

But no committee of inquiry has been set up to investigate the most glaring scandal of all: the imposition of sanctions on Iraq in August 1990 and above all their maintenance after the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. These have had devastating consequences on the country and will be a burden on it for a very long time to come. While the media frequently drew attention to Iraq's difficulties in obtaining food and medical supplies - even after the start of the oil-for-food programme in 1996 - they neglected the effect sanctions had on Iraqi society.

Despite the inventiveness of Iraqi engineers, the state's infrastructure crumbled. Basic services, ministries, power stations and drinking water all became precarious. Corruption spread throughout society. Crime exploded. The inhabitants of Baghdad, who had never bothered to lock their doors, now barricaded their homes. When the US invaded, Iraq needed only a little push for the worm-eaten state to collapse.

Sanctions also affected the structure of the population. Middle-class emigration, which had begun before 1991 as people fled the dictatorship, accelerated. Iraq was emptied of its managers and administrators. The education system, which had catered for all the country's young, was abandoned. Children left school to work and help their families, resulting in a generation of quasi-illiterates. Academic links with other countries were severed. Iraq fell 15 years behind and is not about to catch up.
And for what? Everyone realises sanctions did not penalise the regime's leaders. Nor did they weaken its grip on the population: the introduction of rationing enabled the Ba'ath party to keep tabs on everybody, and the regime could have survived for years. But sanctions do explain the problems now encountered in rebuilding the country. Those problems are due not only to a rise in armed resistance, but also to the dilapidated state of infrastructure.

Another factor, which should not be underestimated, is the determination of the US to monopolise reconstruction contracts. Getting the electricity supply working again would have meant involving Siemens and ABB, the German and Swedish firms that built Iraq's modern electricity grid. In the case of the telephone system, help was needed from Alcatel (France), which had installed the network and knew the terrain. But Washington was out to punish Old Europe - and secure juicy contracts for a number of companies that fund the Republican party.

Sanctions caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. What is more, they destabilised one of the key states in the region. Who will be tried for these crimes? What committee will report on these errors? And who will guarantee that the US and the UN will not again choose to impose sanctions on a country and punish all of its people for the crimes of its leaders?

Duck Soup: From Quagmire to Nightmare

Originally published in the Aug. 19 edition of The Moscow Times.

Now is the summer of discontent for President George W. Bush, a man beset on every side -- by a failing war and falling popularity, by scandal, suspicion and rising hostility, even in the red-state heartlands. With each passing day of his long vacation in the Texas wastes, his presidency is shrinking palpably before our eyes, his wildly inflated public image shrivelling like a punctured balloon.

The fountainhead of his trouble, of course, is the murderous quagmire he has created in Iraq. Some say he has no exit strategy, no way to escape the corrosive effects of this gargantuan disaster, which is draining his support and destroying the aura of the all-conquering "war leader" that he has used to impose his radical right-wing agenda on the country. The tide has turned against him at last, some say; he's a lame duck crashing to the ground.

But those writing Bush's political obituary have "misunderestimated" him once again. For it's becoming increasingly clear that Bush does have an exit strategy from Iraq -- and it runs through Iran.

For months, the Bush Faction has been conducting a low-key PR campaign to put Iran in the crosshairs for a military strike. Last week, Bush himself upped the wattage with a public declaration that "all options are on the table" for slapping down Tehran, Agence France Presse reports. He even alluded to the invasion of Iraq as an example of the kind of action he has in mind. Bush scarcely bothered to hide his disdain for peaceful solutions to the row with Iran. After mouthing the usual pious lies about "working feverishly on the diplomatic route," he immediately dismissed such efforts with a sneer: "As you know, I'm skeptical."

The chief angle of Bush's warmongering campaign has been Iran's nuclear energy program. Although Iran is allowed by international treaty to develop nuclear energy resources and has been proceeding under international supervision, there are concerns that Tehran might follow the example of U.S. allies such as Israel, India and Pakistan and use the technology to develop a secret nuclear weapons program. This has been the cue for a reprise of those "smoking gun/mushroom cloud" tropes that the Bushists used to such great fear-rousing effect in fomenting their aggression against Iraq.

But the latest investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency found that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapons program, The Independent reports. And Bush's own intelligence services say that even if Iran did start a weapons program, it would take at least 10 years to produce a bomb -- plenty of time for "feverish diplomacy" to work, you would think. So while "Iranian Nuke Threat" is still a good scare phrase for a cable news crawl, it might not be enough to sway an increasingly war-weary public to leap into another military adventure.

That's why the Bushists are throwing new tropes into the mix. In his chest-thumping bluster last week, Bush said pointedly that he would be willing to use military force to "provide the opportunity for people to live in free societies." That's a blank check for hitting Iran (and many other countries) any time he feels like it.

But such noble gasbaggery might still prove too vague to close the deal. So now they've waving the bloody shirt: "Iran is killing American soldiers in Iraq." That's the charge currently percolating through the corporate media -- NBC, Time magazine, etc. -- from the usual anonymous "senior officials" and the never-anonymous but always mendacious Pentagon warlord Don Rumsfeld. "It's true that weapons clearly, unambiguously, from Iran have been found in Iraq," he announced last week, with same clinched-sphincter certainty he once displayed in declaring that he knew where Iraq's WMD were hidden: "They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad, and east, west, south and north somewhat."

Left unexplained is why Shiite Iran would want to help Sunni insurgents overthrow a Shiite-dominated Iraqi government led by Tehran proteges (and employees) who are busy aligning the country with, er, Tehran. That's the kind of self-defeating stupidity one might expect from the Bush poltroons, who have spent $300 billion and almost 1,900 American lives to establish an unstable, terrorist-ridden, fundamentalist Islamic state in the center of the Middle East. But it's unlikely that the subtle Persians, with 3,000 years of statecraft behind them, would be foolish enough to kill the golden goose that Bush has handed them by destroying Saddam and installing their allies in power.

Still, a lack of sense and credibility in a casus belli has never hindered the Bush Faction before. And it won't now. The plain fact is that Bush doesn't want "diplomacy to work" against Iran. He wants the situation to reach a crisis point that will "justify" military action. It's the only form of politics he knows: You foment (or invent) a crisis, then use deceit, fear and brute force to impose your radical agenda. And the takedown of Iran is a long-held ambition of the corporate militarists behind the Bush Faction's relentless quest for "full spectrum dominance" over world affairs.

The "high" Bush got from his Iraq assault is now wearing off, politically and personally. He needs another hit of blood and destruction. And don't think he's worried about the prospect of a much wider conflagration arising from a bombing strike against Iran. After all, chaos and instability only mean more money for his war-profiteering family and cronies -- and greater authority for "war leaders" seeking to "secure the Homeland."

More war is the only way for the Bush Faction to maintain its power and keep advancing its rapacious agenda. So there will be more war.

Chris Floyd

Guns, Goons and The Madness of War

Wise man Doug Ireland tells us "How the NRA Snuck a Major Victory Past the Media -- and the Voters."

Former Reagan official turned fierce truth-teller Paul Craig Roberts relates disturbing news about "Courthouse Jackboots and Corrupted Justice."

The Vermont Guardian passes on the unsurprising news that "Psychological Trauma is Widespread in Iraq."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Broken Heartland: Lamentations for the Dead

I've written tens of thousands of words against the Iraq War, but never come close to the clean, plain, devastating eloquence of this piece by Missy Comley Beattie, the aunt of a soldier killed in Bush's war, writing in the Lexington Herald-Leader. This is the genuine voice of the "Heartland."

Iraq War: Tragedy of Errors

Young John Roberts: The Saga Continues. Chapter Two: Girl Trouble!

Time now for another glorious chapter from the glorious career of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, during his glory days as a young apparatchik in the glorious court of King Ronald the Addlepated. Today we learn what the "moderate" nominee thinks of the idea that a woman should be paid the same as a man for doing the same kind of work.

It's a "pernicious" theory, Roberts wrote in the one of the thousands of little memo droppings left behind from his royal service. It's a "radical redistributive concept," a downright Communistic pinko commie Marxist communism-type thing: "Their slogan may as well be 'From each according to his ability, to each according to her gender.'"

And who were these pernicious feminazi radical pinko-type Red Communist Bolshevik commies young John Roberts was fuming about so furiously? They were, er, three female Republican members of Congress. Goldang them uppity little womenfolk, trying to impose their communisticated perniciousness on God's natural order! You just wait until I get to the Supreme Court. Just let 'em try get some of that com-symp "equality" garbage past me then! Hoo-hah! It'll be pigtails in the inkwell all around!

The Secret Sharers: A Bargain With Evil

What would you call people who paid sadistic torturers for the information they had gleaned from macabre medical experiments on their helpless captives – and then used these evil findings to make biological weapons?

Why, you'd call them members of "the greatest generation," of course!

As we learn from ABC News (Australia) this week, the American victors in World War II "gave money and other benefits to former members of a Japanese germ warfare unit two years after the end of World War II to obtain data on human experiments the unit conducted in China."

U.S. military intelligence showered millions of dollars on these Mengeles – along with "food, gifts, entertainment and other kinds of rewards" (emphasis added). One shudders to think what this unnamed largesse entailed – "comfort women," perhaps? It seems nothing was too good for these "top-flight pathologists" who murdered more than 3,000 Chinese, Russians and others in their torture chambers.

Their patron was Brigadier General Charles Willoughby, head of the G2 intelligence unit of the US occupation forces in Japan. In his reports to his superiors, Willoughby waxed lyrical on the cost-efficient benefits of his war-criminal wooing. The killers' "data on human experiments may prove invaluable," and was "only obtainable through the skilful, psychological approach" to the torturers – i.e., buying them off.

"All of these actions did not amount to more than 200,000 yen, netting the [United States] the fruit of 20 years' laboratory tests and research," Willoughby wrote. The cost of obtaining the data, said the general, was "a mere pittance."

The "cost" of this information, of course, was not the money, booze and broads that Willoughby laid on for these wretched preservers of medicine and science; the cost was 3,000 human beings subjected to unimaginable anguish and vicious destruction. But then, human life is always considered "a mere pittance" to those caught up in the great engines of power, in the vast inhuman structures – military, political, economic – that grind through individual lives like combine harvesters winnowing chaff. Even the agents of these structures – the high and mighty drivers of the engines – are reduced to desiccated husks, their own humanity hollowed out and drained away to grease the gears of the Machine.

And why did Willoughby and his agents so assiduously pursue the evil fruits of the torturers' work? In order to inflict unimaginable anguish and vicious destruction on other victims, on a mass scale, in some future conflict. The "information procured will have the greatest value in future development of the US BW (bacteriological warfare) program," Willoughby enthused to the brass.

This was part of a larger operation that saw the United States incorporate the fruits of Nazi medical experiments, Nazi methodology – even Nazi agents – into its biological and "psychological" warfare programs and its intelligence apparatus. One particularly illuminating – and chilling – example of this process can be found in the piece below. (Apologies for an earlier link to the wrong story; the link is now correct.)

The Secret Sharers:
The CIA, the Bush Gang and the Killing of Frank Olson
(August 28, 2002)

There is a thread running through modern American history, a thin red cord that weaves in and out of the shifting facades of reason and respectability that mask the brutal machinery of power. At certain rare moments the thread flashes into sight, emerging from the chaotic jumble of unbearable truth and life-giving illusion that makes up human reality. It appears, bears witness, then vanishes again, forgotten behind the next facade.

It's a thread that runs from horrified young intelligence operatives stumbling into the death camps of Nazi Germany to hardened agents running assassination programs in the jungles of Vietnam to august men of state building a shadow government with secret decrees authorizing tyranny, murder, torture and deceit. It's a thread of moral corruption, corruption by an idea, a temptation, a perversion of reason, the whisper of evil that says: "The end justifies the means."

That thread fetched up briefly again earlier this month, then was buried, literally, in a Maryland grave. The family of Frank Olson laid his exhumed remains to rest, closing the book on their half-century of struggle to find out why he died so violently at the hands of the government he had served – and whose deepest secrets he had guarded.

Frank's son, Eric, believes he knows the answer now: his father was murdered to keep the thread from sight, to "protect" the American people from the knowledge that their own government had taken up and extended Nazi experiments on mind control, psychological torture and chemical warfare – and that it was conducting these experiments as the Nazis did, on unwilling subjects, on captives and "expendables," even to the point of "termination."

Story continued here.

Friday, August 12, 2005

A New Empire on the Horizon

Just a note to let you know that a new Empire Burlesque is on its way, with a whole new look and a slew of new features, including 24-hour breaking news, music, podcasting and all mod cons, as the Brits say. It's being designed by open-source wizard (and boatman extraordinaire) Richard Kastelein. We hope to go live with it very soon -- although some of the new features (such as that new-fangled podcasting thingy) might take a bit longer to come on-line. We'll be maintaining this site as well for the foreseeable future, with dual postings and cross-linking between the two Empires. More details on all of this soon, but keep watching the horizon for a cloud of gaudy carnival dust as the new Burlesque rolls into town.

Grease Monkeys: The Speaker, The Spigot and the Slitherer-in-Chief

This is a slightly expanded version of the column published Aug. 12 in The Moscow Times.

One of the grubby little secrets of the Great Potomac Grease Pit – otherwise known as the government of the United States – is that the massive amount of bribes given and taken there often has little effect on the final outcome of policy decisions and legislation.

Cynics – and you know you who are – tend to believe that Washington is overrun with sleazy bagmen prowling the halls of Congress and slithering down White House corridors, proffering baubles, trinkets, sweetmeats and other enticements to plucky public servants, drawing them away from the straight and narrow to do the bidding of rapacious elites. But like so many of the hateful canards issuing from the foul stithy of the liberal imagination these days, this fantasy contains scarcely a shred of truth.

The plain fact is, most politicians take bribes to push policies they already support. With very few exceptions, you are just not going to achieve a place of prominence in national politics unless you are already the kind of person happy to do the bidding of rapacious elites, whatever the cut of your rhetorical jib ("progressive," "moderate," "conservative," etc.). Like Macbeth's spectral dagger, bribery merely marshall'st the politician in the way he was going.

So why all the baubles and trinkets? Why the armies of sleazemongering lobbyists that indeed infest every nook and cranny of the capital? Two reasons. First of all, a little sweetener never goes amiss to put some spine into your bought-and-paid-for pol. They do sometimes get delusions of democracy and may be tempted to bend to the popular will if the suckers out there get riled up about something. This is especially tricky when you're trying to cram yet another wad of corporate welfare – or a war of conquest for crony enrichment – down the public throat. A nice packet of "bundled" campaign donations or a barrel of "soft money" – or perhaps more direct, more discreet emollients – helps your pet politician maintain the courage of his corporate convictions and face down the pesky ballot-fodder when they get out of line.

Second, you never know when some rival sleazemonger might outbid you for your politician's services. Lord knows the little darlings are only human: wave enough long green in their faces and they might leap from your pirate ship into the lap of the buccaneer next door. But that's a big step, always fraught with danger, and most pols won't take it unless they have to. They'd rather have a steady, moderate level of "gifts" to keep voting toward their natural inclinations instead of a big, risky payoff for a public changing of spots.

Talk of bribery in high places leads us, of course, to Representative Dennis Hastert of Illinois: Speaker of the House, third in line to the presidency, chief toter of legislative water for George W. Bush. Last week, Hastert was accused of taking bribes from Turkish agents in exchange for inside information and legislative favors – such as steering Congress away from legislation condemning Turkey's mass slaughter of Armenians in the early 20th century, Vanity Fair reports.

The accusations were made by Turkish agents overheard on wiretaps, part of a long-running spy probe. The Hastert revelations are actually a sideshow to an even more sinister story: the Bush Administration's firing and muzzling of a courageous whistleblower, FBI translator Sibel Edmonds, who uncovered evidence of corruption, incompetence and possible espionage in the center of the 9/11 investigation.

Naturally, waterboy Hastert denied the bribery accusations that emerged from the Edmonds affair -- although his campaign records do show an inordinate number of neatly bundled small gifts in line with the regular payment scheme detailed by the Turkish agents in their private conversations. One Turkish official claimed on tape that Hastert wanted $50,000 for his most audacious – and risky – public spot-changing: quashing a resolution officially condemning the Armenian slaughter as genocide. After championing the bill for months, Hastert withdrew it just minutes before the House vote on the measure. He later claimed this sudden about-face was a favor to then-President Bill Clinton: the man Hastert and his cohorts had just spent months – and millions of public dollars – trying to impeach.

Hastert is innocent until proven guilty, of course. And in today's one-party Washington, the chances that these charges of corruption and foreign hire in the highest reaches of the Republican-controlled Congress will ever be pursued by federal prosecutors or the, er, Republican-controlled Congress, are, as they say, slim and none. So we'll never know just why Hastert's long-evident inclination to support Turkey – which may or may not have been gently urged along by steady remuneration – suddenly gave way to a spasm of public spot-changing to the Armenian cause and then back again. There may be any number of reasons: personal, political, pecuniary. But "honoring a request from Bill Clinton" is probably the least credible of them all.

Ah, but how quaint to talk of "bribes" when oceans of legalized thievery are gushing from the Grease Pit. Just this week, the Slitherer-in-Chief signed the ballyhooed "Energy Bill" that Hastert marshalled through Congress for him: a gazillion-dollar boondoggle that even Bush cheerfully admits will do nothing to ease the nation's energy crisis and its fatal dependence on foreign oil. (Fatal for other people, that is – like, say, 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians.) No, the bill will just make Bush's energy baron cronies a lot richer – and even more untouchable by local governments who might seek to put the teeniest crimp in the barons' earth-raping depredations.

So let's give Hastert the benefit of the doubt. Who needs back-door pork when you can wallow so openly in the sty like this?

Chris Floyd

Exit Strategy

From the Financial Times: "Saddam Could Be Tried and Executed Over Minor Case."

I must admit that I didn't see this one coming, but it could be a masterstroke. Like a lot of people, I've long wondered how the Bush Faction would prevent Saddam from spilling a whole pot of red-hot beans about his long and profitable relationship with the U.S. government -- one that goes back to the late 1960s, when the CIA assisted his particular Baathist clique to seize power (having already assisted the Baathist's original coup in 1963) and of course continued on through the Reagan embrace, the Rumsfeld handshake, the U.S. military assistance in gassing Iranians and George H.W. Bush's orgiastic outpouring of money, materiel and technology for weapons of mass destruction for Saddam, right up to the very day before the invasion of Iraq. (You could even throw the post-Gulf War business deals between Saddam and Dick Cheney's Halliburton into the mix.)

I knew they would never allow Saddam to turn the trial into an embarassing history lesson -- but how they would put the kibosh on the truth remained a mystery. Would he have an unfortunate "accident" -- slip on the shower soap, choke on a pretzel? Or maybe a heart attack or sudden stroke? Cancer? After all, he's getting on in years, and any demise due to bad health would be plausible. Or would they simply gag him during the trial -- set it up like one of those handy-dandy, new-style "military tribunals" that Bush has concocted for the captives of his Terror War?

All of these were possible, but they still seemed risky, a bit too obvious. But now it looks like they've finally hit on a winning formula: first put him on a trial for a very circumscribed, local atrocity, one that doesn't involve the Iran-Iraq war (with America's extensive involvement on Saddam's side) or the first Gulf War (with America's extensive involvement in Saddam's military buildup before that conflict) or even the Shiite and Kurdish massacres after the Gulf War (which would highlight Bush Senior's role in assisting Saddam in putting down the uprisings which Bush himself had called for; also, any probe into "gassing his own people" would lead right back to the Reagan-Bush role in providing Saddam with WMD technology – including numerous poisons).

You could then convict him on this narrower charge – and execute him for it! No need to drag out all that unseemly business about Ronald Reagan and the Bushes and what have you. And no need to bump him off beforehand in some cack-handed manner. The secret of America's ungodly machinations with this thug will thus stay safely buried.

"Keep Your Nose Out" of the Boss's Business: Thug Law in Bushistan

There's no such thing as the constitutional republic known as the United States of America anymore. It doesn't exist, it's long gone; you can look all you want, but it's just not there. All we have now is a "Commander-in-Chief state" -- call it Bushistan for lack of a better name -- where there is no law, just the arbitrary will of the military leader and his minions. Check out the latest outrage surrounding the Maher Arar case; read the assertions of the Bushistan apparatchiks, then try to tell yourself the American republic still exists.

"Foreign citizens who change planes at airports in the United States can legally be seized, detained without charges, deprived of access to a lawyer or the courts, and even denied basic necessities like food, lawyers for the government said in Brooklyn federal court yesterday.

"The assertion came in oral arguments over a federal lawsuit by Maher Arar, a naturalized Canadian citizen who charges that United States officials plucked him from Kennedy International Airport when he was on the way home on Sept. 26, 2002, held him in solitary confinement in a Brooklyn detention center and then shipped him to his native Syria to be interrogated under torture because officials suspected that he was a member of Al Qaeda....

"...Dennis Barghaan, who represents former Attorney General John Ashcroft, one of the federal officials being sued for damages in the case, argued that Congress and recent judicial decisions tell federal courts "keep your nose out" of foreign affairs and national security questions, like those in this case."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Text-Heavy: The Modern Misuse of Scripture

Wise woman Karen Armstrong -- one of the best writers on religion today -- delivers some home truths and vital history on the uses and misuses of scripture: a topic more pertinent than ever with fundamentalist frenzy on the rise around the world. Some excerpts:

....Protestant fundamentalists, for example, claim that they read the Bible in the same way as the early Christians, but their belief that it is literally true in every detail is a recent innovation, formulated for the first time in the late 19th century. Before the modern period, Jews, Christians and Muslims all relished highly allegorical interpretations of scripture. The word of God was infinite and could not be tied down to a single interpretation. Preoccupation with literal truth is a product of the scientific revolution, when reason achieved such spectacular results that mythology was no longer regarded as a valid path to knowledge.

We tend now to read our scriptures for accurate information, so that the Bible, for example, becomes a holy encyclopaedia, in which the faithful look up facts about God. Many assume that if the scriptures are not historically and scientifically correct, they cannot be true at all. But this was not how scripture was originally conceived. All the verses of the Qur'an, for example, are called "parables" (ayat); its images of paradise, hell and the last judgment are also ayat, pointers to transcendent realities that we can only glimpse through signs and symbols....

Part of the problem is that we are now reading our scriptures instead of listening to them. When, for example, Christian fundamentalists argue about the Bible, they hurl texts back and forth competitively, citing chapter and verse in a kind of spiritual tennis match. But this detailed familiarity with the Bible was impossible before the modern invention of printing made it feasible for everybody to own a copy and before widespread literacy - an essentially modern phenomenon - enabled them to read it for themselves.

Hitherto the scriptures had always been transmitted orally, in a ritual context that, like a great theatrical production, put them in a special frame of mind. Christians heard extracts of the Bible chanted during the mass; they could not pick and choose their favourite texts. In India, young Hindu men studied the Veda for years with their guru, adopting a self-effacing and non-violent lifestyle that was meant to influence their understanding of the texts. In Judaism, the process of studying Torah and Talmud with a rabbi was itself a transformative experience that was just as important as the content.

The last thing anyone should attempt is to read the Qur'an straight through from cover to cover, because it was designed to be recited aloud. Indeed, the word qur'an means "recitation". Much of the meaning is derived from sound patterns that link one passage with another, so that Muslims who hear extracts chanted aloud thousands of times in the course of a lifetime acquire a tacit understanding that one teaching is always qualified and supplemented by other texts, and cannot be seen in isolation. The words that they hear again and again are not "holy war", but "kindness", "courtesy", "peace", "justice", and "compassion".

Historians have noted that the shift from oral to written scripture often results in strident, misplaced certainty. Reading gives people the impression that they have an immediate grasp of their scripture; they are not compelled by a teacher to appreciate its complexity. Without the aesthetic and ethical disciplines of ritual, they can approach a text in a purely cerebral fashion, missing the emotive and therapeutic aspects of its stories and instructions.

Solitary reading also enables people to read their scriptures too selectively, focusing on isolated texts that they read out of context, and ignoring others that do not chime with their own predilections. Religious militants who read their scriptures in this way often distort the tradition they are trying to defend. Christian fundamentalists concentrate on the aggressive Book of Revelation and pay no attention to the Sermon on the Mount, while Muslim extremists rely on the more belligerent passages of the Qur'an and overlook its oft-repeated instructions to leave vengeance to God and make peace with the enemy.

The Big Heat: Global Warming Hits "Tipping Point"

But all American SUVs have air conditioning! So what's the big deal?

From the Guardian (excerpt):

A vast expanse of western Sibera is undergoing an unprecedented thaw that could dramatically increase the rate of global warming, climate scientists warn today. Researchers who have recently returned from the region found that an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres - the size of France and Germany combined - has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.

The area, which covers the entire sub-Arctic region of western Siberia, is the world's largest frozen peat bog and scientists fear that as it thaws, it will release billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. It is a scenario climate scientists have feared since first identifying "tipping points" - delicate thresholds where a slight rise in the Earth's temperature can cause a dramatic change in the environment that itself triggers a far greater increase in global temperatures. The discovery was made by Sergei Kirpotin at Tomsk State University in western Siberia and Judith Marquand at Oxford University and is reported in New Scientist today.

The researchers found that what was until recently a barren expanse of frozen peat is turning into a broken landscape of mud and lakes, some more than a kilometre across. Dr Kirpotin told the magazine the situation was an "ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming". He added that the thaw had probably begun in the past three or four years.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A Dry Drunk No More!

Via Dependable Renegade, a picture that speaks for itself. (We'll just add that Bush's beefy buddy here, House Porker, er, Speaker Dennis Hastert, is the subject of this week's "Global Eye" column in The Moscow Times, which will be up on this site in a couple of days.)

Bush, Hitchens and Democracy in Iraq

This is the democracy that Bush has bestowed upon Iraq: Armed thugs from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- a fundamentalist group nurtured and suckled in Iran by the Ayatollah Khomeini -- entered the office of Baghdad's mayor, Alaa al-Tamimi, yesterday and summarily removed him, at gunpoint, from his post. Then they replaced them with their own man. Now the Iraqi capital can look forward to the same kind of harsh, fundamentalist rule now gracing the streets of Basra, where death squads and religious enforcers prowl the streets, enforcing Taliban-like repression.

The new "democratic" government has acquiesced in the armed removal of Baghdad's mayor -- and why not? The government is largely controlled by fundamentalists of the same kidney. This is the government that has the full backing of George W. Bush. This is what tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians -- and more than 1,800 American soldiers -- have died for: the installation of Khomeini's disciples as the overlords of Iran.

Of course, the removed mayor was himself installed at the point of gun: appointed by American viceroy Jerry Bremer in the aftermath of the illegal invasion. Thus the SCIRI gunmen were merely emulating the Dear Leader's own unique understanding of the democratic process.

Parenthetically, we note that the fulminating irrelevancy known as Christopher Hitchens was, well, fulminating recently about the lack of "leftist" support for democracy in Iraq. His example was this same unfortunate American-appointed al-Tamimi. Hitchen's main point -- as far as one could be discerned -- was that everyone who opposes the illegal invasion of Iraq is somehow a supporter of "Islamofacism" and is therefore directly responsible for the spread of murderous obscurantism throughout the conquered land.

The truth of course is that before the invasion, the only known Islamic terrorist group active in Iraq was operating in Kurdish-controlled territory -- the al-Zarqawi band. We now know that Bush had several opportunities to strike at the group before the invasion (after all, the US could operate with complete freedom in the Kurdish zone) -- but he chose not to, because it would have hampered his propaganda campaign for the invasion of Iraq. How could he have tied his invasion to the "war on terrorism" if the American people found out that the only terrorist group in Iraq was operating on territory outside Saddam's control?

Bush's invasion has set al-Zarqawi and other Islamist terrorists free to roam the entire country; it has supplied them with an ever-increasing pool of recruits, as confirmed by the Pentagon, the UK military, the CIA and British intelligence; and it has given repressive Islamic fundamentalists control over the Iraqi government.

So tell us again, Mr. Hitchens: Who is directly responsible for the spread of murderous obscurantism, harsh repression and "Islamofascism" throughout Iraq? Those who opposed the invasion that unleashed all this hell – or those who championed it?

The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

George Monbiot on "The New Chauvinism."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

FLASH: Saddam's WMD Uncovered! With New Added Update.

OXFORD, England -- It's not often that we get the chance to break historic news on this site, but we are proud to announce that our Dear Leader has been vindicated at last: the source of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction has been revealed! Let's now see all the scoffers and doubters salt the earth with their tears of contrition!

Appropriately enough, the historic news was announced in the world's most historic newspaper: The Times of London. Writing today in those stories pages, reporter Dominic Kennedy that the source of Saddam's deadly anthrax WMD has been traced to....a cow right here in Oxford.

A dead cow in Oxford, to be exact. A cow that died 68 years ago in Oxford, to be even more exact. Yes, the anthrax culture that Saddam used to foment biological weapons came from a British Bessie who died of anthrax in 1937. The deadly spores were isolated by an Oxford professor of bacteriology, and the strain was later used by none other than the sainted Winston Churchill in one of his many dalliances with WMD. In fact, Winnie blasted a Scottish island with so much anthrax during WMD tests in 1942 that the place was uninhabitable for the next 48 years.

The deadly strain was then seized upon by the good old US of A in its vast and varied WMD programs. It was this strain that the Americans eventually shipped to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. Saddam had already been gassing the Iranians -- with the aid of U.S. military intelligence -- and was looking for more potent poisons to brew up in a missile pot. The sainted Ronald Reagan obliged his little buddy, and for three years, the US approved shipments of the deadly Oxford cow poison to Saddam.

The Iraqi WMD program was dismantled after the first Gulf War, of course -- which didn't stop the sainted George W. Bush from invading Iraq 12 years later to, er, dismantle the, er, Iraqi WMD which, er, no longer existed. As U.S intelligence learned back in 1995 -- from none other than the man in charge of the Iraqi WMD program, Saddam's defecting son-in-law, Hussein Kamel. Kamel's wealth of information on the destruction of Iraq's WMD "was so extensive it was almost embarassing," said UN interrogators -- who nonetheless hushed up the revelations. Kamel, who had hoped for Western backing to help him overthrow Saddam, grew disenchanted when he saw his disclosures were being buried, and went back to Iraq -- where Saddam promptly executed him for treason.

So it turns out that a sick cow and Ronald Reagan (the two are, of course, virtually indistinguishable, genetically speaking) were the true sources of the deadliest weapon in Saddam's American-stocked, Republican-approved WMD arsenal: an arsenal which no longer existed -- and was KNOWN not to exist -- when Bush launched his invasion.

My god, these cows have made asses of us all!

UPDATE: As ever, Deep Blade is way ahead of the curve. He had the actual report on the Oxford anthrax up on his site long ago. Go here and take a gander. Meanwhile, another sharp blade, commentator Waldo, reminds us that wise man William Blum also had goods on the vast extent of the Reagan-Bush role in building Saddam's WMD arsenal. No link, but here's some quotes from Blum, who in turn is largely quoting from a 1994 Senate investigation of "Iraqgate." This was one of the many probes into Bush I-era crime that were inexplicably deep-sixed or ignored by Bill Clinton.

"According to a 1994 Senate report, private American suppliers, licensed by the U.S. Department of Commerce, exported a witch's brew of biological and chemical materials to Iraq from 1985 through 1989. Among the biological materials, which often produce slow, agonizing death, were:

* Bacillus Anthracis, cause of anthrax.
* Clostridium Botulinum, a source of botulinum toxin.
* Histoplasma Capsulatam, cause of a disease attacking lungs, brain, spinal cord, and heart.
* Brucella Melitensis, a bacteria that can damage major organs.* Clostridium Perfringens, a highly toxic bacteria causing systemic illness.
* Clostridium tetani, a highly toxigenic substance.Also on the list: Escherichia coli (E. coli), genetic materials, human and bacterial DNA, and dozens of other pathogenic biological agents.

"These biological materials were not attenuated or weakened and were capable of reproduction," the Senate report stated. "It was later learned that these microorganisms exported by the United States were identical to those the United Nations inspectors found and removed from the Iraqi biological warfare program. The report noted further that U.S. exports to Iraq included the precursors to chemical-warfare agents, plans for chemical and biological warfare production facilities, and chemical-warhead filling equipment. From 1985 to 1990, the United States Government approved 771 licenses for the export to Iraq of $1.5 billion worth of biological agents and high-tech equipment with military application. [Only thirty-nine applications were rejected.] The United States spent virtually an entire decade making sure that Saddam Hussein had almost whatever he wanted. . . . The Administration has never acknowledged that it took this course of action, nor has it explained why it did so. In reviewing documents and press accounts, and interviewing knowledgeable sources, it becomes clear that United States export-control policy was directed by U.S. foreign policy as formulated by the State Department, and it was U.S. foreign policy to assist the regime of Saddam Hussein."

Monday, August 08, 2005

School for Scandal: The "Torture Manual" Defense

Wise man William Blum takes on the Bush gang's all-purpose excuse when confronted with charges of torture in the Pentagon Archipelago. From Blum's latest Anti-Empire Report (not yet on line, but check out his website, Killing Hope):

"It is important to note that al Qaeda training manuals emphasize the tactic of making false abuse allegations."

This is now the official and frequent response of White House, Pentagon, and State Department spokespersons when confronted with charges of American "abuse" (read: torture) of prisoners, and is being repeated by many supporters of the war scattered around the Internet.

It can thus be noted that White House, Pentagon, and State Department training manuals emphasize the tactic of saying "It is important to note that al Qaeda training manuals emphasize the tactic of making false abuse allegations," when confronted with charges of American torture of prisoners for which the spokespersons have no other defense.

It is equally important to note that these sundry spokespersons never actually offer a precise quotation from any terrorist training manuals, of al Qaeda or not. The one instance I've been able to find of US government officials referring to a specific terrorist training manual in the context of torture, is a referral to the so-called "Manchester Manual", a manual found on the computer of a suspected terrorist in Manchester, England in 2000. In the references to torture, in the portions of the manual that have been made public, there is certainly no clear, unambiguous directive for making false allegations of abuse, much less an emphasis on such.

The manual, apparently written in the 1980s, says the following about torture: "Each brother who is subjected to interrogation and torture, should state all that he agreed upon with the commander and not deviate from it." ... "Security personnel in our countries arrest brothers and obtain the needed information through interrogation and torture."

In Lesson 18, explicitly cited by the US government officials, we find: "1.At the beginning of the trial, once more the brothers must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them by State Security [investigators] before the judge. 2.Complain [to the court] of mistreatment while in prison. 3. Make arrangements for the brother's defense with the attorney, whether he was retained by the brother's family or court-appointed. 4.The brother has to do his best to know the names of the state security officers, who participated in his torture and mention their names to the judge. [These names may be obtained from brothers who had to deal with those officers in previous cases.]

All words in brackets were bracketed in the original; some may be translator's comments. Inasmuch as only selected portions of the manual have been made public by the Bush and Blair administrations it can not be determined in what way the deleted sections might put the White House/Pentagon/State mantra into question. For example, in lesson 18, part 1, what does "once more" refer to? Some previous relevant passage which is being withheld from the public? And how does "proving that torture was inflicted on them" square with "the tactic of making false abuse allegations"?

...In any event, the question is largely academic. We have the numerous statements of American prison guards, other military personnel, and Pentagon officials, all admitting to dozens of kinds of "abuse" in US prisons in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan; so many ugly stories. We have as well the Abu Ghraib photos. And we have the well-documented phenomenon of CIA "rendition", flying kidnapped individuals to many countries known for their routine use of torture. None of this comes from al Qaeda training manuals.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

What the Men Who Have Been There Say About the Horror They Have Seen and Done

The invaluable Dahr Jamail reports from the Veterans for Peace National Convention in Dallas, where Iraqi vets laid it on the line about the unjust, ungodly war they were dragooned into fighting by the lies of the little gutless bag of wind "clearing brush" on his little faux ranch down the road.

Their eloquent anger and dedication to halting Bush's criminal insanity is reason enough for reading the piece, but there are also telling bits of information as well, such as confirmation of the widespread use of depleted uranium and its devastating effects on the civilian population. An excerpt:

"After discussing how the background radiation in Baghdad is now five times the normal rate -- the equivalent of having three chest x-rays an hour, [Iraqi vet Charlie Anderson] said, 'These are not accidents -- the DU -- it's important for people to understand this -- the use of DU and its effects are by design. These are very carefully engineered and orchestrated incidents.'"

Friday, August 05, 2005

Blood and Gravy: Dick Cheney at the Jackal's Feast

This is a somewhat expanded version of the column published in the August 5 edition of The Moscow Times.

It's easy to forget sometimes – amidst all the lofty talk of geopolitics, of apocalyptic clashes between good and evil, of terror, liberty, security and God – that the war on Iraq is "largely a matter of loot," as Kasper Gutman so aptly described the Crusades in that seminal treatise on human nature, The Maltese Falcon. And nowhere is this more evident than in the festering, oozing imposthume of corruption centered around the Gutman-like figure of Dick Cheney.

Yes, it's once more into the breach with Halliburton, the gargantuan government contractor that still pays Cheney, its former CEO, enormous annual sums in "deferred compensation" and stock options – even while, as "the most powerful vice president in American history," he presides over a White House war council that has steered more than $10 billion in no-bid Iraqi war contracts back to his corporate paymaster. This is rainmaking of monsoon proportions. Indeed, the company's military servicing wing announced a second-quarter profit spike of 284 percent last week – a feast of blood and gravy that will send Cheney's stock options soaring into the stratosphere.

But although Halliburton has already entered the American lexicon as a by-word for rampant cronyism – the butt of a thousand late-night TV jokes and water-cooler witticisms – the true extent of its dense and deadly web of graft is only now emerging, most recently in a remarkable public hearing that revealed some of the corporation's standard business practices in Iraq: fraud, extortion, brutality, pilferage, theft – even serving rotten food to American soldiers in the battle zone.

By piecing together bits from the fiercely-suppressed and censored reports of a few honest Pentagon auditors and investigators, a joint House-Senate minority committee (the Bushist majority refused to take part) has unearthed at least $1.4 billion in fraudulent overcharges and unsourced billing by Cheney's company in Iraq. Testimony from Pentagon whistleblowers, former Halliburton officials and fellow contractors revealed the grim picture of a rogue operation, power-drunk and arrogant, beyond the reach of law, secure in the protection of its White House sugar daddy.

One tale is particularly instructive: Halliburton's strenuous efforts to prevent a company hired by the Iraqis, Lloyd-Owen International, from delivering gasoline into the conquered land from Kuwait for 18 cents a gallon. Why? Because LOI's cost-efficient operation undercuts Halliburton's highway-robbery price of $1.30 a gallon for the exact same service.

But how is Halliburton able to interfere with the sacred process of free enterprise? Well, it seems that Cheney's firm, a private company, has control over the U.S. military checkpoint on the volatile Iraq-Kuwait border, and also has the authority to grant – or withhold – the Pentagon ID cards that are indispensable for contractors operating in Iraq. (Even contractors who, like LOI, are working for the supposedly sovereign Iraqi government.) Halliburton used these powers to block LOI's access to the military crossing – which provides quick, safe delivery of the fuel – for months. Then the game got rougher.

In June, Cheney's boys blackmailed LOI into delivering some construction materials to a Halliburton project in the friendly confines of Fallujah: no delivery, no "golden ticket" Pentagon card, said Halliburton. They neglected to tell LOI that convoys on the route had been repeatedly hit by insurgents in recent days. And sure enough, LOI's delivery trucks were ripped to shreds just outside a Halliburton-operated military base: three men were killed and seven wounded. But that's not all. An email obtained by investigators revealed that Halliburton brass expressly prohibited company employees from offering any assistance to the shattered convoy.

Halliburton extended this milk of human kindness to its food services as well. The firm had to bring in Turkish and Filipino guest workers to feed American soldiers, because the happily liberated Iraqis couldn't be trusted not to blow up their benefactors. The Cheneymen treated these coolies as befitted their lowly station: they packed them into tents with sand floors and no beds, and literally fed them scraps from the garbage. When the peons complained, Halliburton sacked the subcontractor, who had been buying bargain produce and meat from the locals, and hired an American crony to ship in food all the way from Philadelphia.

U.S. soldiers weren't treated much better. Employees testified that Halliburton brass ordered them to serve spoiled and rotten food to soldiers – day in and day out. Meanwhile, Halliburton brass were reserving choice cuts for the big beer-soaked barbecues they threw for themselves two or three times a week. They also billed the taxpayer for 10,000 "ghost meals" a day at a single base: the food was phantom, but the rake-off was real. Meanwhile, any employee who made noises about exposing the fraud to auditors was threatened with transfer to a red-hot fire zone, like Fallujah or Saddam's hometown, Tikrit.

All of this criminal katzenjammer – and much, much more – was authorized at the highest levels, as top procurement brass and Pentagon officials confirmed. Cheney's office kept tabs on Halliburton's bids while Pentagon warlord Don Rumsfeld "violated federal law," the committee noted, by directly intervening in the procurement process to eliminate all possible rivals and make sure Cheney's employer got the guaranteed-profit gig. Rumsfeld's office also removed oversight procedures for the dirty deals, and has ignored repeated warnings from Pentagon auditors about Halliburton's blatant, persistent, pervasive fraud. Instead, the money keeps rolling in: just last month, Don and Dick ladled another $1.75 billion dollop of pork gravy into Halliburton's bowl.

For this they have made a holocaust in the desert sands, sacrificing tens of thousands of innocent lives: for cheap, greasy graft, for grubby pilfering, for the personal profit of Richard B. Cheney and the whole pack of Bushist jackals gorging themselves on blood money.

Chris Floyd

Won't Get Fooled Again? Sure We Will!

Juan Cole -- yet again -- on a new attempt by the "creative destruction" neo-cons to use the American media as part of a "psy-ops" to foment war fever against one of their long-time targets: Iran. This time, NBC's ever-gullible Jim Miklaszewski stands in for Judy Miller while she is temporarily benched.

Cole's conclusion: "Be afraid when you begin to see US government agencies themselves handing out this highly suspect sort of information to major news networks. It means that the sting on the American people has moved from the smoke-filled back rooms to some higher operational level. Or maybe trial balloons are being floated to see how gullible we are."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

License to Kill

He worships at the altar of a stagnant pool,
And when he sees his reflection, he's fulfilled...
Who'll take away his license to kill?
-- Bob Dylan

Williams Rivers Pitt and E.L. Doctorow speak bitter truth to pitiless power: A Feast of Death.
(via Truthout)

An excerpt:
We are only three days into the month of August, and 22 US soldiers are dead. 54 died in July, 78 died in June, and 80 died in May. The occupation has lasted 868 days. More than two thousand soldiers, almost all of them young American boys and girls, have had the life blasted out of them because they were sent by their commander in chief to find weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. Those soldiers who remain, those soldiers who have been redeployed into the war zone two or three times already, wait with grim resolve to be brought home to their families whole and sane and safe.

Acclaimed novelist E.L. Doctorow has penned some words about George W. Bush and his understanding of death and this war. "This president," wrote Doctorow, "does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the WMDs he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man. He does not mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country."

"But you study him," continued Doctorow, "you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personal responsibility for the thousand dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be. They come to his desk not as youngsters with mothers and fathers or wives and children who will suffer to the end of their days a terribly torn fabric of familial relationships and the inconsolable remembrance of aborted life. They come to his desk as a political liability which is why the press is not permitted to photograph the arrival of their coffins from Iraq. How then can he mourn? To mourn is to express regret and he regrets nothing."

Mob Rule Britannia

Britain, whose international reputation for tolerance is well-deserved in many respects (they tolerate me, for example; millions wouldn't), has actually seen a much greater violent backlash against Muslims (and "Muslim-looking" people) since the 7/7 bombing than we saw in the United States following 9/11. From the Independent:

Britain's Muslim Scapegoats

"Increasing evidence has emerged of a backlash against Muslims and members of ethnic minorities in the wake of the London bombings. Police forces across Britain have recorded a dramatic rise in racist assaults and abuse in the aftermath of the July 7 suicide attacks.

"Four weeks after the explosions in the capital, a survey of forces by The Independent yesterday found a substantial increase in racially motivated crime, particularly in inner cities. Experts said as many as one in six of those abused or attacked were not Muslim but were simply of an Asian appearance...

"The survey of police forces, carried out the day after the Metropolitan Police reported that faith-hate crimes had risen by 600 per cent compared with last year, showed that other large forces, such as West Yorkshire and West Midlands, had seen significant increases in race-hate crime. It also indicated that, far from being centred on London, such incidents have been recorded across Britain....

"Suresh Grover, of The Monitoring Group, said: "We have had calls from South Americans, Eastern Europeans, Hindus and Sikhs. Ten to 15 per cent are people who are a different religion to Muslims. We have one very serious case of a disabled Hindu man who was beaten up by his neighbour and left with severe head injuries while being called al-Qa'ida"...

"...Frail and frightened, Siham Kadoura emerges from her flat just once every few weeks to visit her local mosque. After years of peaceful co-existence with her neighbours, the 67-year-old former headmistress does not even dare venture out to visit her 10 grandchildren. But it is hard to hide from the racists when bricks come through your window and dog faeces are left on your doorstep, which is daubed with a swastika...."

(Edited after some justified criticism for a ham-handed and slapdash original intro.)