Wednesday, October 31, 2001

The marines on the [warship USS] Peleliu say they are ready for anything.

That means the Peleliu is a stressful place, according to one of the ship's chaplains, Donald Troast, who teaches an anger management course to 17 marines on board.

"We don't judge anger as negative or positive," Troast said. "It's an emotion that we all have. The folks who come to the class realize they are not acting it out as healthily as they could."

::Reuters: Marines Study Poetry as They Prepare for Battle (Thanks Brent)
Yesterday I speculated that Mexican musicians were making a connection between Osama bin Laden and their own revolutionary bandits such as Pancho Villa. Canadian writer James Laxer doesn't mention El corrido de Osama, but comes to a similar conclusion:

It happened in 1916, when Mexican revolutionary leader and bandit Francisco "Pancho" Villa invaded the United States, terrifying Americans who lived along the Rio Grande. During the years of the Villa turmoil, about 400 U.S. civilians were killed and property losses totalled nearly $200-million. In the American mind, Pancho Villa was the Osama bin Laden of his day. For them, he was an evil doer, in the pay of malevolent foreign interests, who had an unfathomable ability to stir up hatred against the United States. The parallels are striking enough to be instructive.

. . . Woodrow Wilson announced that he would send General John J. Pershing and 6,000 men to invade Mexico to get Pancho Villa. Pershing and his men crossed the border and within two weeks they had pushed 500 kilometres into the mountains of Chihuahua. The Pershing expedition featured some of the newest assets in the U.S. arsenal, including trucks, armoured cars, dirigible balloons and airplanes. The U.S. continued to mobilize forces on the border, until it had over 100,000 men engaged in operations to counter Villa. One of those involved was a 30-year-old Lieutenant, named George S. Patton, who would become famous for his brilliant tactics as a general in the Second World War.

For nearly a year, Pershing's forces chased Villa and his small band of men through the deserts and mountains of northern Mexico, enduring both scorching heat and numbing cold. For all their trouble, they caught few glimpses of Villa's men and they never came close to capturing the stealthy bandit. Eventually, the Wilson administration pulled most of its troops out of Mexico to avoid a war in the south just when it was about to enter the war against Germany. This left Villa free to pose as an invincible hero in the struggle against the United States. His popularity soared among the Mexican people, many of whom still revere him today.

::James Laxer, Globe and Mail: 'Reflections of terrorists past' (Thanks Keira)
::James Laxer's Political Economy of Canada Web Site
Three from the Guardian:

::Confusion over war's next phase as ground attack stalls

With the government showing increasing signs of impatience at the failure to make a breakthrough after three weeks of air strikes in which more than 3,000 bombs have been dropped on the country, the sources said there was an "an intelligence vacuum".

Amid a growing realisation that the lightning attack by US airborne troops into Afghanistan captured on grainy video this month was little more than a public relations exercise, there is also increasing concern and frustration in Washington about the way the military campaign is going. "The Americans are very desperate about what to do next," another well-placed defence source told the Guardian.

::Al-Qaida is winning war, allies warned

The eminent military historian Professor Sir Michael Howard launched a scathing attack yesterday on the continued bombardment of Afghanistan, comparing it to "trying to eradicate cancer cells with a blow torch".

It had put the al-Qaida network in a "win-win situation", he told the conference, and could escalate into an ongoing confrontation that would shatter our own multicultural societies.

The longer it went on, he added, the worse the consequences would be.

"Even more disastrous would be its extension... through other rogue states, beginning with Iraq, to eradicate terrorism for good and all," he said. "I can think of no policy more likely, not only to indefinitely prolong the war, but to ensure that we can never win it."

::Bombing casualties cause concern around the world

Many governments who signed up to the United States' war against terrorism prompted by the events of September 11 are now urging caution. Some are still supportive of forthright action, others are calling for restraint while a few are now openly hostile to any continuance of military action.

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

I spent two most groovy years in the northern Mexican city of Hermosillo, la perla del desierto, where the sun always shines and the carne asada represents an apex of carnivorous civilization. I love their music, and simply can't pass this one up:

"The Song of Osama," and other Mexican tunes about the September 11 terrorist attacks have become the hottest new recordings hawked by street sellers in northern Mexico.

The tunes are played in the style of "corridos" - folk songs popular in northern Mexico that focus largely on current events, and on the lives of the rich, the powerful and the infamous.

One of them is "El corrido de Osama" (The song of Osama):

Across the skies, the seas and the land they are looking for you.
Bin Laden, the terrorist whom the CIA trained.
This was the biggest mistake of the American government.

If I read this correctly, the song seems to fit into the Mexican folk genre of rebel balladry. Osama is placed in the role traditionally occupied by heroes of the revolution such as Pancho Villa, and more recently by bold and valiant drug runners.

People in rural areas of Mexico have learnt more about current events from corridos than from the news, said Jose Luis Cardenas, an anchor at Radio Mexicana de Nuevo Laredo.

"In news broadcasts, the information is given once or twice; with corridos, people buy the disc or the cassette and one does not forget what happened," he said.

AFP: 'Song of Osama' big hit in Mexico
The true significance of rebel warlord Abdul Haq's death is difficult to discern from the media reports. Some sources in the New York Times post-mortem suggest he was all show...

The C.I.A., which poured billions of dollars of weapons into the battle against the Soviets in the 1980's, sometimes scoffed at Mr. Haq. He was known then as the commander of the Afghan rebels' Kabul district. But many at the agency saw him as an armchair general, especially after his foot was blown off. One former senior American intelligence official referred to him yesterday as Hollywood Haq. When not in battle in Afghanistan, he was in constant contact with American officials and foreign journalists from his base in Peshawar.

...while in an odd twist Robert McFarlane has suddenly materialized from the past as a key player and Haq advocate:

"It is certainly a tragic loss," Mr. McFarlane said. "But I do not fault the United States military on this. The United States military tried to be helpful by showing up and asking for the normal information they needed to run an effective operation," Mr. McFarlane said.

He was less charitable, however, to the American intelligence establishment.

"They spend $30 billion and do not have anybody out there who speaks Dari or who understands who these players are," Mr. McFarlane said. "Everybody is bad-mouthing Abdul Haq as if they have never read a history of the Soviet war."

The Times of India presents the myriad shifting accounts of Haq's doomed excursion, and elaborates on McFarlane's role:

Haq's 19-member lightly armed expedition was reportedly financed by wealthy American brothers James and Joe Ritchie, both based in Pakistan and having US intelligence connections.

But the CIA and other western agencies apparently declined to provide Haq with the arms and air support he asked for his mission. They offered him satellite telephones, which he already had. He turned down the offer suspecting they wanted to tap into his conversations.

. . . One version has it that the Taliban spy network knew his every movement from the time he left Peshawar. The other has it that he was exposed by Afghan villagers who ratted to the Taliban.

In any case, he desperately rang his nephew in Peshawar for help. The nephew called the Ritchies, who are originally businessmen from Illinois with long time Afghan and Pakistan connections. The Ritchies, in turn, contacted their friend Robert McFarlane, a former National Security Advisor in the Reagan administration, a cold warrior and a long time Pakistan supporter.

McFarlane tapped into his contacts at the CIA. (Another version has it that the Ritchies contacted the Pakistanis, who contacted McFarlane, who rang the CIA). The CIA quickly alerted the US CentCom, which is conducting the operations in Afghanistan, with the coordinates Haq had dictated over the satellite phone. Bombings were ordered using unmanned Predator drones to disperse the Taliban and try and secure a safe passage for Haq.

Pakistan Link offers background on the Ritchie brothers' support of Haq, and additional perspective on why the rebel leader did not endear himself to American planners:

Abdul Haq was also known for his candor, sometimes to the point of rudeness. He told a reporter in 1988 that the United States "is like a dinosaur. It's a huge animal with a little brain that steps on everybody indiscriminately."

::Michael R. Gordon and Tim Weiner: 'Call for U.S. Help Is Too Late for Taliban Foe' Iran Contra: White House Email
::Chidanand Rajghatta, Times of India: 'The Botched Mission of Hollywood Haq'
::Pakistan Link: 'Abdul Haq's backers mourn a 'Great Man', Chicago brothers helped his Afghan mission'

Monday, October 29, 2001

Some multimedia selections:

The University of Washington presents a concise and effective overview of propaganda. A notable section is its video gallery featuring classic examples of the form from across the past century. Includes clips from Triumph of the Will, Walt Disney and Warner Brothers shorts, and my personal favorite 'He Must be a Communist'.


A couple snazzy videos from the Guerrilla News Network, for those of us who enjoy conspiracy news laid over beats:

The Most Dangerous Game traces the history of top-secret CIA mind control operation MK-ULTRA: from the covert importation of NAZI scientists at the end of WWII, to the illegal brainwashing experiments conducted on the patients of world famous psychiatric researcher, Dr. Ewen Cameron - cut to the pulsing hypnotica of Mitchell Akiyama.


The War Conspiracy was more than an intellectual treatise on the virtues of disarmament. It was a riveting investigation of the CIA, the oil companies and their manipulation of U.S. foreign policy in order to escalate the Vietnam War. In his review of the book, Noam Chomsky remarked on [Peter Dale] Scott's "meticulous and fascinating analysis of intelligence conspiracies and the links between the 'intelligence community' and corporate power."

Author Peter Dale Scott is maintaining an intriguing page, 'On war, terrorism, Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, drugs, oil, and Osama bin Laden'.

::University of Washington, School of Communications:Propaganda via World New York.

::Guerrilla News Network:The Most Dangerous Game
::Parascope: MKULTRA -- CIA Mind Control
::Project Paperclip: The Original Project Paperclip'
::Steven Hale: Project Paperclip

::Guerrilla News Network: 'The War Conspiracy'
::Peter Dale Scott: Al-Queda
Seymour Hersh's recent articles on the CIA and the Saudi royal family have garnered plenty of attention, and his latest piece seems destined to stir up some controversy as well:

. . . in recent weeks an élite Pentagon undercover unit—trained to slip into foreign countries and find suspected nuclear weapons, and disarm them if necessary—has explored plans for an operation inside Pakistan. In 1998, Pakistan successfully tested a nuclear device, heralded as the Islamic world's first atomic bomb. According to United States government estimates, Pakistan now has at least twenty-four warheads, which can be delivered by intermediate-range missiles and a fleet of F-16 aircraft.

::Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker: 'Watching the Warheads'

Sunday, October 28, 2001

Today's New York Times piece arguing that the 'US Appears to be Losing Public Relations War' makes some valid points, though I have my quibbles. First, that headline -- if you 'appear' to be losing a public relations war, doesn't that mean by definition that you are indeed losing it? Or is there some deeper hidden reality to PR that the Times knows about, but doesn't deem fit to print?

The article furnishes a quote which beautifully encapsulates the exceptionalism, insularity and racism of American establishment thinking:

Thousands of words from American officials, it appears, have proved no match for the last week's news, which produced a barrage of pictures of wounded Afghan children and of Israeli tanks rolling into Palestinian villages.

"Talking heads just can't compete with powerful images," a Western diplomat here said. "The images touch emotions, and people in this part of the world react according to their emotions."

Oh really, so it's only people in that 'part of the world' who react emotionally to images of people being violently killed? This contrasts, presumably, to the measured and cool-headed response to September 11th and the anthrax scares that we've been seeing in the States lately...


Some interesting commentary pieces from the past day or so...

John Nichol, a former RAF pilot shot down during the Gulf War, writes in The Guardian on the myth of precision bombing.

There's a monumental difference between deliberately targeting and accidentally hitting a building that was never intended as your target. The reality of bombing missions is that there is a long chain of events, with many agencies, systems and operators, involved in getting the missiles to their targets. If just one part of that chain is flawed the results can be catastrophic.


Nick Cohen on the continued bombing, the stubborn resistance of the Taliban and the deepening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

Sensible people who once regarded George W. Bush as a dolt and his administration as a mediocre collection of oil executives and political has-beens, are spooning praise on Washington for 'not lashing out'. But if they reflected that no power, not even America, can launch an air war just like that, they would realise that 'lashing out' is exactly what Bush did the minute his aircraft carriers and submarines were in position.


Gary Younge charts a course for the anti-war movement, stressing the need to build a broad-based coalition.

To rally the faithful is one thing; to win over the waverers quite another. It is a task that will demand attributes that sadly do not come naturally to many on the left: persuasiveness, pluralism, flexibility and sensitivity. The campaign has to start from where people are, rather than where anti-war activists would like them to be.


Alexander Cockburn on the contortions of the left in response to the Just War.

I suspect some are intimidated by laptop bombardiers and kindred bullyboys handing out white feathers and snarling about "collaborators" and being "soft on fascism." A recent issue of The Nation carried earnest efforts by Richard Falk and an editorial writer to mark out "the relevant frameworks of moral, legal and religious restraint" to be applied to the lethal business of attacking Afghans. I felt sorry for Falk as he clambered through his moral obstacle course. This business of trying to define a just war against Afghanistan is what C. Wright Mills used to call crackpot realism.

Saturday, October 27, 2001

The Taliban have retreated into the cities for collateral protection (did this really take the war planners by surprise?), and the bombers have gone in after them. What's the word on the street in Kabul?

"From thousands and thousands of miles away, another superpower is dropping bombs on our heads."

Before the September 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent US-led bombing campaign, Mr Saleem said he had hoped for outside help in mediating a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Alliance.

Today, he has no hope. "During the civil war we were expecting Islamic countries and the UN would make peace, but now who will be mediator? There is no one. Everyone is against us," he said. "We are the unluckiest people in the world."

The rationale behind the intensified bombing remains elusive. 'I cannot say who has the strategic initiative in this conflict,' said François Heisbourg, chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. 'This is learning the hard way. It is starting to look as if they are bombing and bombing and bombing just because it is what they know how to do.'

There's the embarrassment of bombing the same relief agency warehouse twice, the absurd redundancy amplified by the Independent headline: 'Kabul Red Cross is bombed again by American jets again'. And the loss of a key southern Afghan rebel commander also looks like a tactical black eye, though whether this is because of ineffective air cover or simple neglect remains up for debate.

The tactical malaise seems to be spreading from Allied military command into political quarters.

Not long ago, a Pentagon spokesman talked about having "eviscerated" the Taliban's capacity to resist. Now General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks only of events proceeding according to plan.

. . . The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is also about to complicate matters. If, as seems likely, no decisive breakthrough comes before Ramadan begins in mid-November, Washington has left no doubt that it will continue the bombing – at the risk of alienating the moderate Arab and Islamic world, and placing extra strain on leaders there who are uneasily lined up in the US-led coalition.

At home too, the longer the bombing goes on without achieving dramatic visible results, the greater will be the difficulty of holding public opinion, as the inevitable instances of "collateral damage" to innocent civilians multiply.

This week, Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that the US risked being perceived as a "hi-tech bully" if it did not shift the emphasis of the campaign from the air to operations on the ground. The use of "submunitions" – in other words the infamous cluster bombs which pose a particular risk to civilians and children – will only reinforce this feeling.

Lately the news is reading like Vietnam 1965-68, with three years compressed into three weeks. Already the more contentious voices within the American establishment are worried about losing the war, with the administration receiving heavy criticism for its inept handling of the anthrax scare.

While it's tempting for critics of a military solution to take a grim sort of comfort in evidence of its futility, the volatile state of the American psyche may be ripe for a reactionary eruption if things keep going wrong. Doug Ireland, in a broad and deeply pessimistic survey of the crisis, forecasts the political fallout:

The likelihood of Bush being granted sweeping powers will measurably increase when Republicans almost certainly retake both houses of Congress next year during a deepening war with more U.S. casualties. Meanwhile, the rush to shred our civil liberties is unimpeded. The House rejected the compromise anti-terrorism bill that Rep. John Conyers and others managed to engineer in the Judiciary Committee, and substituted for it the much more draconian Senate version, which Tom Daschle helped whip through the Senate with only one dissenting vote—Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. (In the House, only 75 Democrats stood up to oppose the unadulterated Ashcroft package.)

::Robert Fisk, The Independent: 'The Taliban are not worried about being bombed'
::Kathy Gannon, The Guardian: 'Kabul awakes to the aftermath of another night's heavy bombing'
::Michael R. Gordon, New York Times: 'Allies Preparing for Long Fight as Taliban Dig In'
::James Palmer, The Independent: 'Kabul Red Cross is bombed again by American jets again'
::Rory Carroll and James Meek, The Guardian: 'Death of key anti-Taliban leader deals US bodyblow'
::Raymond Whitaker, The Independent: 'Executed rebel's plea for help ignored by allies'
::Rupert Cornwell, The Independent: 'The bombing continues, but the loss of momentum is worrying America'
::Frank Rich, NY Times via Common Dreams: How to Lose a War
::Doug Ireland, In These Times, 'The Road Ahead: It's only going to get worse.'
One of my daily reads is Cursor, a site out of Minnesota which filters stories covering a wide range of pertinent issues. They have just launched a typically excellent digest on the 'CNN of the Arab world', Al-Jazeera. The network has played a central and controversial role in the conflict, as the only media outlet regularly reporting and transmitting footage from inside Afghanistan, often scooping the western media.

Friday, October 26, 2001

There were reports last week of a triumphant round of special forces attacks within Afghanistan. Since then, the allies' tone has been strikingly less assured. The Telegraph reports that the forces got a rougher ride than initially was claimed:

The "cosmetic" raids were designed to provide a show of something happening on the ground, both for the psychological impact on the Taliban and to appease a US public increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of the war.

Targets were selected because they were thought to be poorly defended and could be easily filmed to demonstrate that ground troops could go where they wanted.

But the soldiers from Delta Force, the US equivalent of the SAS, and the US Rangers were stunned by the resistance they met and had to get out sooner than expected, Pentagon sources said.

"The raid was a success from the intelligence point of view," one said. "We got lots of intelligence. But our men were surprised by the amount of resistance they ran into.

"The speed with which the Taliban launched a counter-attack came as a bit of a shock. They fought like maniacs, we didn't expect that. Intelligence got it wrong."

The Independent reports that the near-disaster has already had an effect on American war planning:

The Pentagon presented the operation as a complete success and evidence that Operation Enduring Freedom was going according to plan. There was blanket and mainly adulatory media coverage on both sides of the Atlantic with the prognosis that the ground war had begun.

But, instead, what happened last weekend made US and British planners at central command in Tampa, Florida, reappraise the military campaign, and continue with air strikes rather than carry out any more missions on the ground.

If this story has been reported by the mainstream American media, I'm unaware of it.

::Paul Harris and Jason Burke, The Observer, October 21:'Elite US Rangers storm mullah's mountain fort'
::Richard Norton-Taylor and Julian Borger, The Guardian:'Britain to send in forces as allies admit problems'
::Michael Smith, The Telegraph: 'US special forces beat retreat as enemy 'fought back like maniacs' '
::Kim Sengupta, The Independent: 'First US ground attack 'could have ended in disaster' '
With the world reeling and liberals cowering, multinational corporations have demonstrated their essentially amoral character, shamelessly promoting what is advantageous, quietly fighting what is not -- the public good be damned. William Greider wonders how long democratic states can allow this state of affairs to continue:

A recent New York Times headline asked an insinuating question: "After the Attacks, Which Side Is the Left On?" The Times should find the nerve to put the same question to the major players of business and finance. Which side is Citigroup on? Or General Electric and Boeing? Where does loyalty reside for those American corporations that have rebranded themselves as "global firms"? Our resurgence of deeply felt patriotism, with official assurances that Americans are all-in-this-together, raises the same question. At a deeper level, the patriotic sense of unity collides with familiar assumptions advanced by the architects and cheerleaders of corporate globalization. The nation-state has been eclipsed, they explain, and no longer has the power to determine its own destiny. The national interest, they assert, now lies in making the world safe for globalizing commerce and capital.

. . . Then there is Citibank, a pioneer in global banking and now part of the mammoth financial conglomerate called Citigroup. John Reed, Citibank's former CEO, used to complain regularly about the stultifying bank regulations imposed by the United States, and he often threatened to relocate Citibank's headquarters to a more banker-friendly nation. "The United States is the wrong country for an international bank to be based," Reed asserted (though the US government more than once bailed out his bank when it was on the brink of failure). Citibank, it happens, is also a notorious channel for wealthy autocrats trying to spirit ill-gotten fortunes (including drug money) out of their home country ($80-100 million for Raul Salinas, the corrupt brother of Mexico's corrupt former president). Citigroup has lobbied to weaken the new regulatory rules required to halt the flows of terrorist money in the global financial system.

. . . Other Americans will be rightly infuriated as they see the urgent need for national unity exploited for private gain. Activists associated with the Seattle movement might devote some energy to educating other citizens who don't yet grasp the contradiction. But this new crisis exposes much more fundamental issues than corporate hypocrisy. It upends the fictitious premises used to sell the supposed inevitability of corporate-led globalization. Nation-states, at least the largest and strongest ones, have not lost any of their powers to tax and regulate capital and commerce, to control international capital flows and other globalizing practices. In the face of market pressures, major nations simply retreated from exerting those powers. The United States, as principal promoter and defender, led the way. Other advanced economies gradually followed, often reluctantly. Poorer nations, of course, did not have much choice but to go along if they wished to attract investment capital from the wealthy economies.

William Greider, Common Dreams: 'It's Time to Ask "Borderless" Corporations: Which Side Are You On?'

Activists who were countering the corporate agenda prior to September 11th needn't trouble themselves over their relevance in the new world disorder. A few other pieces in today's Common Dreams that illustrate the old Marxist canard about capitalists eagerly selling the ropes to hang themselves:

::Mark Wiesbrot, 'Protecting Pharmaceutical Companies from the Threat of Bio-Terrorism'
::Molly Ivins, 'All the News That Turns a Profit'
::Marty Jezer, 'Stealth Legislation'

Thursday, October 25, 2001

"The lesson we're learning," one administration official said today, "is that you can bomb the wrong place in Afghanistan and not take much heat for it. But don't mess up at the post office."

New York Times, Home Front Is Minefield for President

"The unexploded bomblets effectively turn into landmines, ready to detonate on contact, causing death and injury to civilians and ground forces", said Richard Lloyd, the campaign group's director.

"As many are bright yellow and the size of a drinks can, they are particularly attractive to children."

Each yellow plastic container of "humanitarian daily rations" is about the size of a hardcover book.

::The Guardian, 'US cluster bombing provokes anger'
::Global Exchange, 'Agencies question Afghan aid drops'
It's been noted by a number of media critics that the 'experts' we see on TV lately tend to be drawn from the security establishment, and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has long documented the narrow range of perspectives represented by mainstream media in general.

Even taking that into account, it's still something of a shock to learn that CNN has recently been giving airtime to a bioterrorism expert who is a former member of the Aryan Nations. Larry Wayne Harris's biological weapons expertise is of the hands-on variety, he pleaded guilty in 1997 to wire fraud after illegally obtaining three vials of freeze-dried bubonic plague germs through the mail. He was sentenced to probation.

So while Al-Jazeera, the CNN of the Arab world, receives criticism for what U.S. officials say is its biased coverage of terrorism, our own CNN is giving airtime to white supremacists. (Not surprisingly, Harris argues that the recent anthrax attacks are undoubtedly of Arab origin, not the work of American extremists.) Noam Chomsky couldn't get on CNN if he married Britney Spears, yet Harris, Henry Kissinger and Oliver North are presented as seasoned analysts, every insane pronouncement given a reverential hearing.

Democracy Now explores this bizarre state of affairs. Harris himself is interviewed -- like the US government he claims he was stockpiling biological weapons for defensive purposes only. Listen (RealAudio) (Story begins 8 min into the file.)

::Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting: Studies and Reports
::Mary Beth Lane, Columbus Dispatch 'Microbiologist expects situation to worsen'
::Christopher Hitchens, et al, Regarding Henry
::Democracy Now, October 24: Listen (RealAudio) (Story begins 8 min into the file.)


Tim Judah, reporting from Khoja Bahoudin in northern Afghanistan, offers an insider's perspective on the Afghan media circus:

One reason why journalists are groping around in the fog of war is that whomever you ask here about what is going on will give you a different reply.

. . . With few reliable sources, no knowledgeable analysts on the ground and poor roads, meaning that it is hard to cover much ground in a day, piecing together an accurate picture of what is happening is incredibly difficult.

Many journalists of course don't have the luxury of the time to even try and find out what is going on. The demands of 24-hour news mean that many television correspondents especially are trapped in an infernal news loop.

Since they have to give constant interviews and live updates they have no time to find out anything for themselves which means that all they do is repeat back on screen what their producers in London or New York or wherever have just read to them from the news agencies.

TV reporters may face more intense time pressures, but there are mitigating comforts...

Two types of reporters cover the story [in Islamabad] -- television and everyone else. Rarely do the twain meet, and when they do, it is on TV's ground, thank you. The ground is the Marriott hotel, the headquarters, for the moment, of the TV folks.

. . . The TV people were more or less locked into the Marriott when their technicians put their $250,000 satellite dishes on the roof, and ran cables down to the production rooms. Lately however the networks are exploring private villas as besides the [$300 per night] room rates, the hotel is charging $500-a night for the space on the roof and the security they provide for it.

Scribblers stay elsewhere. Hotels like the Margala and the Ambassador charge between $25 and $40 a-night.

::Tim Judah, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 'Afghan Media Circus'
::Robert E. Sullivan, The Earth Times, 'Attacks on Afghanistan attract media circus'


The Connection, 'Patriotism and the Press'. 'The goal' says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, 'is to confuse. It is to make more difficult. It is to add cost. It is to frighten.' But is it clear who's the intended target? Listen (RealAudio)


The Media Education Foundation has just launched Beyond the Frame, an extensive collection of original multimedia interviews with Noam Chomsky, Janine Jackson, Henry Giroux, Nawal el Saadawi and others.

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

The gruff but lovable Dalton Camp:

War is an exercise in excess. We emerge from battle choking on the blood of innocents. Self-deception is always helpful to those of delicate sensibility. Hence, we do try to limit collateral damage and imagine ourselves fighting for democracy, justice and - heaven help us - peace. Should one be a refugee, a bombed-out peasant or a child crippled by a mine, a just war is a true oxymoron, at least for those accompanied by a translator.

I have come to be wary of Pentagon briefers. These films of direct hits on arbitrarily defined "objectives" remind one of the underlying irony of this "new war." Bombing has become a kind of elliptical expression of military frustration. When in doubt, bomb. It is to politics what paving used to be to policy.

And the fabulous, most-groovy Naomi Klein, who seems to have had little trouble keeping her message relevant in the post 9/11 environment:

It has become fashionable to wryly observe that the terrorists use the West's technologies as weapons against itself: planes, email, cell phones. But as fears of bioterrorism mount, it could well turn out that their best weapons are the rips and holes in the U.S.'s public infrastructure.

Is this because there was no time to prepare for the attacks? Hardly. The U.S. administration has openly recognized the threat of biological attacks since the Gulf War, and Bill Clinton renewed calls to protect the nation from bioterror after the embassy bombings in 1998. And yet shockingly little has actually been done.

The reason is simple: preparing for biological warfare would have required a cease-fire in America's older, less dramatic war - the one against the public sphere. It didn't happen.

Klein might have a point. Even now, American right-wingers are pushing a ludicrous tax cut and tying up legislation intended to improve airport security and fight money-laundering.

But we're just Canadians, what do we know? Everyone knows that things are, well, different here right? We don't understand the glories of an uninhibited market, though we do mean well. Americans can't benefit from our Great White Northern pinko ways, can they?

Kevin W. Keane, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said tonight that the government had reached an agreement in principle with Bayer to buy the medicine for less than $1 a tablet. The government is amassing a stockpile of Cipro and other drugs that could be used to treat 12 million Americans for anthrax, and Bayer had planned to charge $1.83 a tablet.

. . . Mr. Thompson [US secretary of health and human services] negotiated a reduced price a day after Canada struck a deal with Bayer to buy a million tablets for $1.30 apiece. The Canadian health ministry had overridden Bayer's patent and ordered a generic version of Cipro from a Canadian drug maker.

::Dalton Camp, Toronto Star: 'History confirms war a futile business'
::Naomi Klein, No Logo: 'Battle Boring: Why Real Security Can't Be Cordoned Off'
::Molly Ivins, Common Dreams: 'Wealth Has Never Yet Sacrificed Itself on the Altar of Patriotism'
::Paul Krugman, New York Times: 'Ban the Bonds'
::Joe Conason, New York Observer: 'House Zealots Block Anti-Terror Efforts'
::New York Times: 'U.S. Says Bayer Will Cut Cost of Its Anthrax Drug'

Tuesday, October 23, 2001

It's easy to get lost in the artful complexities of military tactics, and in fact to some observers the chess match is apparently all there is to the Afghan conflict. Critics who focus attention on the human suffering, as Charlotte Raven writes, are often 'dismissed as hopeless naifs who have simply failed to grasp the 'realities' of a situation best described by a diagram covered with arrows.'

On some level this must please American officials charged with managing public opinion -- it keeps the story focused on stuff they are good at, all while the humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan is growing into monstrous proportions. The human toll may yet overwhelm other strategic considerations. It may have done so already.

The United Nations appeared to have lost control of the refugee crisis in Pakistan when thousands more people fled the fighting in southern Afghanistan.

Several were taken to hospital after Pakistani border guards again fired in the air above panicked and angry refugees who were throwing stones over the border crossing at Chaman, between Pakistan and the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that 3500 crossed today in chaotic conditions, the largest wave of people seen so far.

With the refugees apparently fleeing in panic, arriving without food or belongings, international monitors described the situation at the border as chaotic. The influx Friday comes on top of some 10,000 people who arrived in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province alone over the past six days.

"The new arrivals report fleeing heavy bombardments in Kandahar overnight and this morning," Ron Redmond, the U.N. refugee agency's spokesman, said in Geneva.

Besides contributing to suffering on an incomprehensible scale, Robert Fisk notes that a refugee crisis triggered by the bombing is certain to undermine American claims that this isn't a war against civilians.

For as the Afghan refugees turn up in their thousands at the border, it is palpably evident that they are fleeing not the Taliban but our bombs and missiles. The Taliban is not ethnically cleansing its own Pashtun population. The refugees speak vividly of their fear and terror as our bombs fall on their cities. These people are terrified of our "war on terror'', victims as innocent as those who were slaughtered in the World Trade Centre on 11 September. So where do we stop?

It's an important question because, once the winter storms breeze down the mountain gorges of Afghanistan, a tragedy is likely to commence, one which no spin doctor or propaganda expert will be able to divert. We'll say that the thousands about to die or who are dying of starvation and cold are victims of the Taliban's intransigence or the Taliban's support for "terrorism" or the Taliban's propensity to steal humanitarian supplies.

Nick Cohen concludes that the unwillingness or inability of the Allies to seriously address the impending catastrophe imperils their own interests.

The overthrow of the Taliban and capture of bin Laden will be worthless victories if America inspires a new generation of fanatics by allowing itself to be portrayed as complicit in atrocity. Tony Blair and Clare Short recognised the danger and argued fiercely that the choice between bombing and famine was false. I've no doubt they were sincere and am sure they don't want mass starvation. But when Short said 'we are trucking in huge amounts of food' and gracelessly accused relief workers of being 'emotional' she was being idiotic.

American forces argue that the bombing is necessary from a military standpoint, hastening the downfall of the Taliban regime. Sadly for all concerned, in Cohen's words, 'while the bombing may be a sensible military tactic, as a political strategy it stinks.'

::Guardian Audio: ' 'Pitiful sight' at Afghan border' Listen (RealAudio) (2min 54)
::The Guardian: 'US admits raids will open route for rebels'
::Charlotte Raven, The Guardian: 'What's morality got to do with this war? Quite a lot, actually'
::Richard Lloyd Parry, The Independent: 'Confusion on frontier as thousands remain stranded in no man's land'
::United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 'Influx of Afghan refugees reaches Pakistan in 'chaotic' conditions'
::Robert Fisk, The Independent: 'As the refugees crowd the borders, we'll be blaming someone else'
::Nick Cohen, Observer: 'In the fogs of war, the innocent starve'

Monday, October 22, 2001

Has the world changed? The Guardian asks Barbara Ehrenreich, Tariq Ali, JG Ballard, Anthony Giddens, Michael Palin, Joan Didion and others...

From Ian McEwan:

In company, conversational monomania; in solitude, brooding worst-case daydreams; addiction to TV news and newspapers; unwarranted fatigue; loss of concentration; tendency to sighing; heightened distaste for religions; troubled sleep; uneasy dreams; suspicion of certain passengers in airport departure lounges; fear of flying; wariness of crowds; aversion to enclosed spaces; generalised anxiety; paranoia; misanthropy; cultural pessimism; indefinable melancholy; darker sense of humour. Otherwise, everything much the same.


Robert Fisk goes bookshopping in Peshawar, and finds that the locals are interested in a couple famous large-scale killers: one who's easy to guess, another who's less obvious:

After Osama, "Godfather of Terror'' – our very own cliché – comes Osama, "Saviour of the Muslim World'', Osama, the "New Saladin'', Osama "V Mahdi''. Amid the blue moped fumes of the Peshawar bazaar, his face beams out of a hundred bookshops, turbaned, wise, half-smiling, disembodied.

. . . And lunatics who demand the withdrawal of any book that dares to praise Mr bin Laden can rest assured that another personality is well represented among the book stacks of Peshawar. I don't know why, but Pakistanis seem obsessed with a man some regard as responsible for more deaths than Mr bin Laden. A certain Henry Kissinger.

Robert Fisk, The Independent: 'Obsession with bin Laden crosses all frontiers'


Some recent audio pieces from Democracy Now!:

:: Just before the US began attacks on Afghanistan, reporter Sputnik Kilambi spoke to Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things and The Cost of Living in her office in New Delhi. Listen (RealAudio) (Roy interview begins at 27:00 min into the file)

:: Seymour Hersh, author the Dark Side of Camelot and The Price of Power, comments on his recent New Yorker pieces, the instability of the Saudi royal family, and American intelligence. Listen (RealAudio) (Hersh interview begins at 7:00 min into the file)


From wood s lot:

The bad guys - Heroin oils Afghan war machine
::Taliban mullahs tap feudal state's most profitable natural resource.

The good guys - Rebels double opium output
::Opium cultivation in territory controlled by the opposition Northern Alliance in north-eastern Afghanistan doubled last year, the UN said last night.


The Toronto Star advises we add logic to the list of casualties, offering ten puzzling contradictions we've heard a lot lately. Who's left to bomb? What does 'moderate Taliban' mean? Is the anthrax weapons-grade or not? Plus seven other headscratchers. | Via Cursor.
Although at this point nobody seems to really know anything, indications suggest that the recent direct mail campaign may well be terrorism of the homegrown variety:

Investigators are also puzzled by the choice of targets. They do not bear the hallmarks of the hijackers. Selecting media organisations guarantees publicity but they are not politically symbolic. Mr Daschle, despite his prominence as majority leader, is a Democrat not a Republican (indeed, investigators have noted, few politicians have riled the right as much as Mr Daschle, with websites calling for a concerted effort to do him down).

Investigators have matched the anthrax used in the Florida, New York and Washington letters. They are all from the Ames strain, a variety of anthrax developed in the US but also exported overseas. This has made them revise an early thought that the anthrax may have originated in Russia or Iraq, two countries with a history of developing biological weapons. Neither country is thought to have had that particular strain.

So based on available information, Iraq's participation in this particular instance is doubtful, at the very least. Has that given the 'hard-headed realists' in the Wolfowitz Fiefdom pause? What do you think?

[Former CIA Chief James R.] Woolsey was quoted in The New York Times: "The first thing we have to do is develop some confidence that Iraq is involved in terrorist incidents against us, not meaning September 11."

He talked about a 1993 assassination plot against then President George Bush and of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs making the country "a prime candidate for regime replacement".

And then came the anthrax scares. There are hordes of US reporters climbing all over this story, but it was Britain's Observer that was given the leak last Saturday to publish on Sunday: the anthrax "outbreaks" - that's the word used - had all the hallmarks of a terrorist attack and investigators had named Iraq as a prime suspect as the source of the deadly spores.

It might well be - but there was no proof then and there is no proof now.

Of course, to hear some 'Pentagon sources' tell it, even if the culprits turned out to be right-wing militia types, that needn't preclude Iraqi involvement:

Some dismiss it as being akin to Elvis sightings, but a few top Defense officials think Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh was an Iraqi agent. The theory stems from a never-before-reported allegation that McVeigh had allegedly collected Iraqi telephone numbers. Why haven't we heard this before about the case of the executed McVeigh? Conspiracy theorists in the Pentagon think it's part of a coverup.

::The Independent, Sept 21, 'Anthrax attacks now being linked to US right-wing cranks'
::Sydney Morning Herald: 'Hawks chasing the bugs all the way to Baghdad'
::Observer, October 14, 'Iraq 'behind US anthrax outbreaks' '
::US News: Washington Whispers 10/29/01 -- 'McVie's Ghost'

Saturday, October 20, 2001

Robert Fisk is in Ghaziabad, northwestern Pakistan:

This was definitely not CNN country. Indeed, there are times when I would like all those Westerners who preach to Muslims about their respect for Islam – all those Bushes and Blairs and Powells and Straws with their sermons about Osama bin Laden's perversion of religion – to cross the dirty concrete bridge above the sewer to brown-brick mosques like the one at Ghaziabad. The names of all the Pakistani villages around here have a meaning. Bad, of course, means town. Ghazi is a warrior, one who is honoured to kill unbelievers. So this was the town of the infidel killer. And after a few minutes listening to the imam, you can see why.


Eric Ritter, former weapons inspector of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), has written a sharp refutation of Bush administration hawks who would like to pin the recent anthrax exposures on Saddam Hussein:

America's policy towards Iraq continues to be one of abject failure, and President Bush's administration exhibits the same level of frustration and impotence shown by its predecessor in trying to piece together a viable plan for dealing with Saddam's continued survival. Washington finds itself groping for something upon which to hang its anti-Saddam policies and the current anthrax scare has provided a convenient cause. It would be a grave mistake for some in the Bush administration to undermine the effort to bring to justice those who perpetrated the cowardly attacks against the US by trying to implement their own ideologically-driven agenda on Iraq.


From The Guardian: A concise overview of 'a long list of arms, intelligence and cash deals struck to obtain the support of surrounding countries for its war against terrorism and the Taliban.' It concludes with one particularly troublesome ally:

Saudi Arabia is under fierce criticism in Washington for its refusal to allow the unrestricted use of US airbases there and apparent refusal to share intelligence and act against al-Qaida supporters.

Members of the US intelligence community have been briefing journalists including the New Yorker magazine about the contents of some of their unsavoury national security agency phone taps involving members of the Saudi royal family and prostitutes. The threat to the Saudi elite is clear: help us or else.

The piece is referring to Seymour Hersh's recent article, and seems to imply that Mr. Hersh (who has a reputation for being an implacable CIA critic) was used by the Agency to apply pressure against the Suadis. Slate has recently published pieces noting Hersh's odd positions in his post 9/11 articles, and this one seems to follow that pattern.


And finally, some audio:

Counterspin from FAIR. This week's show has Laura Flanders discussing the humanitarian aid debacle in Afghanistan, and Ken Silverstein has been investigating our new friends in the Northen Alliance. Listen (RealAudio)

Via Znet | Noam Chomsky gives a recent talk at MIT. He outlines pretty much the same arguments he's presented elsewhere, but in much greater detail and goes deeper into the history. (2 hours of Noam! Live and uncensored! Too hot for TV!!!) Listen (RealAudio)

::Robert Fisk: The Independent 'A defiant sermon in the town of the infidel killer'
::Scott Ritter, The Guardian 'Don't blame Saddam for this one'
::The Guardian: 'New brothers in arms - and cash and intelligence'
::Seymour Hersh, New Yorker: 'King's Ransom'
::Inigo Thomas, Slate: Spinning Seymour Hersh
::Timothy Noah, Slate: 'Seymour Hersh, Spy Lover?'

Friday, October 19, 2001

Apparently concerned that they cannot, in Donald Rumsfeld's phrase, do 'sufficient damage' with air power alone, the military is said to have moved into a 'new phase' of the war. Hopes that this indicates a lessening of the bombing are likely to be disappointed. What is more probable, as the Washington Post reports, is that the 'war's intensity is about to increase dramatically'.

Of course, we will have little way of knowing if this is indeed the case. As Polly Toynbee writes, 'None but the leaders and generals has any idea what is being hit, how many bombs are falling and with what results. For all the pages of newsprint, barely a word or image emerges from Taliban-controlled areas.'

Rumsfeld has protested the thrust of media coverage, saying that when 'television says we're bombing Kabul, we're not bombing Kabul.' It's a puzzling complaint given that the Defence Department is virtually dictating network coverage, by overt requests and by snapping up civilian satellite pictures. The stray bomb dropped on a CNN office in Kandahar does tend to undermine claims of restraint and precision, though it promises the long-term benefit of limiting coverage of similar missteps in the future.

Even if we set such trifles as moral considerations and how it looks to the Arab world aside, it's difficult to understand what narrow strategic purpose heavy bombing is supposed to achieve. Jonathan Freedland interviews a number of military experts who, while mostly supportive, seem as confused by the American tactics as anyone:

. . . the leaders are no different from the led. The world's politicians, military chiefs, diplomats and analysts admit to being in the same hole - as unsure of the answer as the rest of us. Speak to some of Britain's most respected men of war and they'll confess they are foxed by this strange, unprecedented conflict. They, too, don't know whether the current plan will work - or what should take its place.

. . . One former and highly decorated general, reluctant to be named, confesses he finds the aerial bombardment of an already-benighted land like Afghanistan a little "strange". He fears we are "turning big bits of rubble into small bits of rubble".

. . . the very fact that this debate is under way reveals the fundamental conundrum military strategists have faced since September 11. Their armies - with all their planes, tanks and ships - are designed for fighting other armies, attached to states. Yet the new enemy does not wear a uniform and belongs to no state; it lives in 60 countries and its troops are civilians who can use Stanley knives to bring a superpower to its knees. Surely to confront this enemy with B52s and Cruise missiles is as ludicrous as sending cavalry horses in to defeat tanks?

Then there is the matter of the psychological carnage that accompanies the tangible destruction inflicted by bombing. Martin Woollacott notes that such damage is not limited to the Afghan side:

Short-circuiting normal reasoning, it leads to cries and demands that may seem contradictory but have an emotional logic which is both understandable and dangerous. The danger is above all that of magnifying a threat to one's own existence while remaining incurious and unmoved about threats to others. Now we are all the actual or potential victims of bombing in a way that was not true 10 years ago, we are all subject to the erosion of reason which fear brings.

. . . The citizens of western countries share a sense of apprehension with those of Muslim countries and of Israel. It is not only that we too can now be bombed. The projects of improvement, progress, and prosperity which give coherence to life in Europe and America have been undermined.

Perhaps most troubling is the likelihood that everything is in fact going exactly as planned. The problem is who is making the plans:

Osama bin Laden and his followers want it this way. They want the world polarised, and they want it frightened. They are delighted that the War Against Terror has succeeded in spreading more fear; that their US murders have managed, as far away as Pakistan, to destabilise an Islamic nuclear power. They will be enjoying the rhetorical simplicities of our leaders, and delighted that the US President and the Prime Minister scorned all the quiet ways to work. . . Osama bin Laden’s followers do not care what happens to poor and helpless human beings as long as it furthers their cause, so our bombing suits them. They know that every crying child and severed limb on the international TV news will make the world’s Muslims a little bit less sorry about the fire and death visited on Manhattan, and a little more inclined towards their lunatic jihad.

*Independent: 'US ground forces move into Afghanistan'
*Washington Post: 'Special Forces Open Ground Campaign'
*Polly Toynbee, The Guardian: 'Our Leaders Must Decide'
*Newsday: 'D.C.'s Request to Media Is Unprecedented'
*Guardian: 'US buys up all satellite war images'
* 'Heavy bombing reported in Kandahar; CNN office hit'
*Islam Online via Alternet: 'Kabul's Poorest Have No Escape from U.S. Bombs'
*Arab News, Suadi Arabia: 'Death and destruction rain down unabated'
*Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian: 'We can't do it by bombing'
*Martin Woollacott, The Guardian: 'The chasm between us is being widened by this crisis'
*Libby Purves, The Times of London: 'Is this a losing battle against fear itself?'
*Ted Rall, Alternet: 'A Rational Alternative to Thoughtless Bombing'

Thursday, October 18, 2001

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

ee cummings, 1926

The Pentagon has revealed that it has outfitted an EC-130, known as 'Commando Solo', as a flying radio station to bombard the Taliban with propaganda. posts the text of one broadcast:

Attention Taliban! You are condemned. Did you know that? The instant the terrorists you support took over our planes, you sentenced yourselves to death. The Armed Forces of the United States are here to seek justice for our dead. Highly trained soldiers are coming to shut down once and for all Osama bin Laden's ring of terrorism, and the Taliban that supports them and their actions.

Our forces are armed with state of the art military equipment. What are you using, obsolete and ineffective weaponry? Our helicopters will rain fire down upon your camps before you detect them on your radar. Our bombs are so accurate we can drop them right through your windows. Our infantry is trained for any climate and terrain on earth. United States soldiers fire with superior marksmanship and are armed with superior weapons.

In the wake of repeated PR debacles, much has been made lately of a new approach for America's 'public diplomacy' in the Arab world, through speeches, media interviews, and advertising on Al-Jazeera, among other tactics. Judging from the tone of this message, the strategy involves hiring Saddam Hussein as a communications consultant.

As for dropping bombs 'right through windows', Cursor notes this claim is undermined by reports on the Department of Defense's own website. ( 1, 2 )

* 'U.S. propaganda to Taliban: 'You are condemned' ' via Cursor
*Advertising Age: 'U.S. Considers Advertising on Al Jazeera TV'
*US Department of Defense: 'JDAM Misses Intended Target in Afghanistan'
*US Department of Defense: 'U.S. Inadvertently Strikes ICRC Warehouse'

Some recent audio clips:

Susan Sontag responds to the avalanche of criticism she received for her New Yorker piece on CBC's As It Happens, September 28. [Listen (RealAudio)] (The segment with Sontag begins 13:30 into the clip.)

Noam Chomsky on Australian Broadcasting Corporation, October 16. [Listen (RealAudio)]

Propaganda The Connection, October 16 : Guests:  John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s and author of “Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War”; William Nash, Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations; and Abdel Bari-Atwan, editor of the London-based Arabic language newspaper al-Quds. [Listen (RealAudio)]
I've received a surprising amount of mail lately: notes from old friends, encouragement from webloggers I quite admire, and some welcome suggestions. One kind soul, who didn't care for my posting directly below, wrote that 'I imbibe tequila myself. But I try to not let it totally blur reality. Maybe best to read news when sober?'

Perhaps. I suppose most news accounts induce disorientation, belligerence and nausea by themselves.

Bruce McPhee writes:

There was an article in the NY Times that tried to piece together the structure of Bin Laden's organization. It postulated that Bin Laden acts "as a franchiser of terrorism, providing crucial financial and logistical assistance to locally sponsored plots brought to his organization by Islamic extremists." Osama bin Laden, the Ray Kroc of terrorism - I like that. It may also explain the presence of Bert from Sesame Street. He's being included in the Kid's Happy Terrorist packs as the prize. Thinking of Al Qaeda as McDonald's may provide some different tactical thinking. I suspect Greenpeace could do a better job of tracking them down.

New York Times: 'Failure to Heed Signs of Change in Terror Goals'

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Events have a way of overtaking the hapless observer these days. Writing late last night in a tequila-fueled frenzy I made a couple pretty glib references to anthrax infections, partly a reponse to the rash of crazy scares around the world. This morning there's news of the most alarming attack yet at the US Congress, and every time I look at a new report the number of exposures jumps dramatically.

So to atone for my foolishness, an update from Steve Perry, which reports that 'Bayer AG, the German pharmaceutical company that holds the patent on Cipro, the antibiotic of choice in treating anthrax exposure, is working round the clock to stave off international calls for vacating its copyright in the interest of public health'.

Recall that 'just this summer the White House stunned the world community by rejecting new proposals to strengthen the biological weapons convention. The stumbling block came around verification procedures that would allow governments to inspect US biotech company laboratories.' In other words, the profits of Monsanto were deemed more vital than public health concerns. How shocking. It would be reassuring to believe that now, as we keep hearing, 'everything has changed', but so far indications have not been promising. If the Bush administration now endorses a meaningful biowar protocol, I haven't heard of it, and Perry reports that they are currently supporting Bayer's attempt to protect its patent.

We're likely to hear a great deal in the coming days about Iraq's possible involvement, keep in mind that Saddam Hussein acquired biowar capability with the support of the US, though it was obvious even then he was a violent lunatic. The US is currently led by pretty much the same national security apparatus that ran things back then, but we needn't worry, they are a far wiser and more ethical bunch now.

Thanks to Sandra McKenzie for forwarding me the page for the Dark Winter exercise, a frightening fictional scenario depicting a covert smallpox attack on US citizens. While the recent attacks are undoubtedly scary, the fact is anthrax is not a terribly effective weapon of mass destruction. Now smallpox, on the other hand...

You can trust Blowback to do its share of fear-mongering as our collective panic attack degenerates into total madness...

*Independent: 'Deadly spores, crazy scares: a world on the edge of panic'
*Guardian: 'Thirty-one exposed to anthrax at senator's office'
*Steve Perry: 'The Anthrax Chronicles: the check’s in the mail.'
*Jeremy Rifkin: 'Now for GM weapons'
*Guardian: 'Iraq stockpiled anthrax in run-up to Gulf war'
*The Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies: Dark Winter
*Guardian: 'Not a weapon of choice'
*Helen Hughes, Disarmament programme officer, United Nations Association, UK: 'Revamp the bio-protocol'
*New Scientist: Bioterrorism
*Federation of American Scientists: Chemical and Biological Arms Control Program: Recent Articles
Oliver Stone must be thankful that whoever mailed those nasty posts initially targeted news organizations, and not egomaniacal auteurs. His reputation suggests that if he opened an envelope and found it stuffed with white powder, its entire contents would be ingested through his nasal passages in seconds.

According to media reports, Stone met his match for bombast in Christopher Hitchens at a recent panel entitled 'Making Movies That Matter.'

The New Yorker describes Stone giving a characteristically informed and modest speech, in which he suggested that the terrorists were striking at the same Hollywood suits that restrain his own cinematic genius:

'Michael Eisner decides, 'I can't make a movie about Martin Luther King, Jr.—they'll be rioting at the gates of Disneyland!' That's bullshit! But that's what the new world order is. They control culture, they control ideas. And I think the revolt of September 11th was about 'Fuck you! Fuck your order—'

Hitchens lately pilloried Noam Chomsky for far less, and piped up: 'Excuse me, "revolt"'?

'Whatever you want to call it,' Stone said.

'It was state-supported mass murder, using civilians as missiles,' said Hitchens.

Did Hitchens think that would give Oliver Stone pause for thought?

Stone wagged his head and continued. 'The studios bought television stations,' he said. 'Why? Why did the telecommunications bill get passed at midnight, a hidden bill at midnight? The Arabs have a point! They're going to be joined by the people who objected in Seattle, and the usual ten per cent who are against everything, and it's going to be, like, twenty-five per cent of this country that's against the new world order. . . . Does anybody make a connection between the 2000 election and the events of September 11th?' he asked, and added cryptically, 'Look for the thirteenth month!'

Look for it yourself, Mr. Stone. Clutching scotch and cigarette after the event, Hitchens was still in a fine rage, 'a moral idiot, as well as an intellectual idiot,' he said. 'The man has completely lost it.'

*New Yorker: 'Oliver Stone's Chaos Theory'
Michael Ignatieff has written and spoken widely on nationalism, war and human rights. He is presently a visiting professor at Harvard University's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, their site posts writings by Ignatieff, Samantha Power, and Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Also, an excellent collection of policy analysis, via net.narrative.environments: Foreign Policy in Focus.

*Michael Ignatieff, 2000 Massey Lecture: 'The Human Rights Revolution' (RealAudio format)
*Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
*Foreign Policy in Focus

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

However you refer to it -- the anti-globalization movement, the anti-capitalism movement, the fair trade movement, or, as Naomi Klein does, simply as 'The Movement' -- it clearly faces a crisis of identity in the post-911 world. Pulling off grand anarchic street spectacles is hard to fathom at the moment. Similar questions were being posed by activists before the attacks, but there's no doubt that the horrible new world has changed the tactics of dissent for good.

It bears remembering, though, that it's not just anti-corporatists who've been forced to radically rethink their strategies. As the Herald Tribune reports, newly-unleashed anger at American cultural imperialism has multinational execs wondering if globalism is going to work after all:

McDonald's and other major brands - such as Burger King, which was founded in Florida but is owned by Diageo of Britain, and KFC, which is owned by Tricon Global Restaurants of Louisville, Kentucky - said they were not considering scrapping their global ambitions or taming their expansionist hopes. But some branding specialists said a global presence for such indisputably American brands as McDonald's may now, more than ever, be as much a liability as an asset.

"I definitely think the golden age of the global brand has passed," said Alan Brew, a corporate branding expert at Addison, a communications consulting company in San Francisco. "The great appeal of the global brand in the '50s, '60s and '70s was that it could be the same worldwide; that it's just a question of distribution. But you're getting a lot of reaction against that, particularly against the big American brands."

. . . And now there is the question of how the McDonald's juggernaut, as well as other American icons such as Coca-Cola, American Express and Nike, will cope with the world's changing viewpoint on their dominance.

"The world will not stand still and let one brand dominate," said Mr. Brew at Addison. "You can no longer sit in Atlanta and decide what people in Karachi are going to drink."

Or, 'How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Lethal Bio-Engineered Spores':

Advertisers in the US have been urged to delay their direct marketing campaigns amid increasing fears about terrorists using the post to spread anthrax.

The Direct Marketing Association, a US trade body, warned its members that costs could escalate as mailing houses modify their methods and employ new security procedures.

"In reality, there is very little likelihood of the mail being used to spread anthrax," said Robert Wientzen, the president of the organisation. "But this scare is not based on reality. It has become a very emotional issue."

Trust a direct marketing executive to tell it like it is.

*Naomi Klein: 'Signs of the Times'
*Red Pepper: 'After Genoa'
*International Herald-Tribune: 'From Golden Arches to Lightning Rod'
*Guardian: 'Anthrax scare hits direct marketing'

Monday, October 15, 2001

According to every poll drilled into our collective skull, the Bush administration enjoys such a high level of support that dissent is registered as a statistical anomaly. Americans are evidently are folks easy to please, or maybe the vaunted Dubya charm is the tonic of our times. Because from the outside, at least, he seems to be presiding over a war that's in Vietnam-like disarray after only one week. As Gary Younge suggests, you have to wonder what Americans are so approving of:

Even by its own standards, Operation Enduring Freedom is proving a disaster. Taking western leaders at their word, its stated aim is to defeat terrorism. A reasonable test of their war aims, therefore, would be to ask whether their actions have made a terrorist attack more or less likely. More plainly speaking: do you feel more secure today than you did last Saturday? Americans don't seem to.

The American government is reportedly rife with conflict. To nobody's surprise, the Demopublican party has resumed its territorial squabblings, and news reports have indicated deep divisions between the State Department and the hawkish factions of the administration, with Paul Wolfowitz apparently presiding over some sort of knight-errant fiefdom.

Similar divisions exist in the Defense Department itself:

After the suicide attacks on New York and Washington were traced to Bin Laden and his camps in Afghanistan, Mr Rumsfeld gave his top generals the task of drawing up a radical and innovative battle plan.

His aides predicted that apart from a few opening air strikes to destroy the Taliban's air defences, the war would be a largely covert conflict. Instead the first week of the campaign has involved wave after wave of Gulf war-style strikes, and a rising toll of claimed civilian casualties.

The traditionalist generals believe that there are more military targets in Afghanistan which can be hit from the air, and have backed the renewed use of heavy bombers this week, after a weekend in which most strikes were carried out by smaller, tactical strikers launched from carriers in the Arabian sea.

As you might expect, Robert Fisk finds the military planning to be ludicrous:

[Do] we really believe that punching holes into the runway of Kandahar airport is going to have any military effect on men who smash televisions and hang videotapes from trees? Do we think that blowing up fuel dumps is going to stop bearded men from shooting at us in the mountains? If the equally bloody men of the Northern Alliance are to be our foot soldiers, do we intend – once they reach the ruins of Kabul – to allow them to return to their good old days of rape and looting? Or are we going to send in the Americans and the British to capture the cities – which is exactly what the Russians did in 1980 – and leave the mountains to the bad guys?

Robert Fisk might be expected to have a low opinion of US military strategy. It's surprising when the Secretary of Defense agrees with him:

Mr Rumsfeld and his civilian advisers believe the US military does not have the flexibility to combat an enemy like Bin Laden. They point to a computerised war game in 1997 in which the army took on a terrorist organisation similar to al-Qaida, and lost. The generals, the analysts concluded, spent too much time looking for things to bomb, and not enough time looking for innovative methods of eliminating the enemy.

Mr Rumsfeld is reported to be so frustrated with the pursuit of the war by Gen Franks's command, with its emphasis on waves of Gulf-style bombing sorties, that he is pressing to have operational control shifted from Tampa to Washington.

Of course, bombings are not merely absurd. There have been the inevitable blunders and heavy civilian casualties, with bombers leveling Karem village in eastern Afghanistan, killing more than 100 people. And the Pentagon yesterday admitted that a 2,000lb bundle of joy missed its target at the Kabul airport, and instead did what bombs do in a residential area.

Until now Western politicians have been quick to dismiss the claims as propaganda. Britain's International Development Secretary, Clare Short, said 'there had not been so many civilian casualties'. Now apparent confirmation of serious casualties among non-combatants is beginning to emerge.

If the evidence is accurate, an attack on Karam village, 18 miles west of Jalalabad, last Thursday was the most lethal blunder yet by the Allied forces, and will seriously shake the increasingly fragile coalition built by President Bush and Tony Blair.

Reports of between 50 and 150 deaths there provoked rage and grief throughout Afghanistan and throughout the Muslim world.

Fisk characteristically lays out the goods in his article title, 'Slaughter of the innocent bolsters view that this is war against Islam':

Of course it's time for that tame old word "regret''. We regretted the Baghdad bunker. We were really very sorry for the refugee slaughter in Kosovo. Now we are regretting the bomb that went astray in Kabul on Friday night; the missile that killed the four UN mine clearers last Monday; and whatever hit Karam.

It's always the same story. We start shooting with ''smart'' weapons after our journalists and generals have told us of their sophistication. Their press conferences produce monochrome snapshots of bloodless airbase runways with little holes sprinkled across the apron. "A successful night," they used to say, after bombing Serbia.

And here's the rub. In every Middle Eastern country, even tolerant Lebanon, suspicion is growing that this is a war against Islam.

That is why the Arab leaders are mostly silent and why the Saudis don't want to help us. That is why crowds tried yesterday to storm a Pakistani airbase used by the American forces.

All this in the name of eradicating the spectral forces of 'terrorism' and 'evil'. Younge points out that this is akin to wiping out racism or poverty:

That does not mean that we shouldn't try. It does mean you have to be clear in your objectives, realistic in your expectations and subtle in your means. The bombing of Afghanistan cannot lay claim to any of those attributes. If they kill Osama bin Laden they will create a martyr; if they capture him America will find itself on trial; if he remains on the loose they will have failed.

This is not just a question of the west losing the propaganda war. The problem is not with the marketing, but the product.

A final note: the most provocative quote I came across while researching this piece was in the Guardian:

"The media are preparing to cover a second Gulf war," [Rumsfeld's] aide said, "and the military are preparing to fight one."

Just who is dictating to who?

Gary Younge: 'We are all victims now'
Guardian: 'Pentagon split over war plan'
Robert Fisk: 'Will a few holes in the runway of Kandahar airport make a difference?'
Guardian: 'Week of bombing leaves US further from peace, but no nearer to victory'
Guardian: 'US admits lethal blunders'
Robert Fisk: 'Slaughter of the innocent bolsters view that this is war against Islam'