Thursday, March 28, 2002

Hearts and Minds:

One icy night in mid-October, a U.S. military advisor who called himself "Baba John" rounded up villagers in this guerrilla fighters' paradise and asked them what they wanted when the war was over.

A school. A clinic. Roads that wouldn't turn to mud when it rained. Pens. Pencils. Grain.

"Baba John offered so many things," recalls Azim Naim Zada, a community elder. "He told us that if we fought hard against the Taliban, we'd get so much food we'd grow fat, like him."

The villagers did fight hard, and helped drive the Taliban out of this rocky canyon about 75 miles south of Mazar-i-Sharif. It was a key battle in the ground war leading to the capture of the strategic northern city, and it triggered a Taliban retreat across the country.

But five months later, the people here are still hungry. Waiting.

. . . "I'd imagine Special Forces would say whatever they needed to, to win cooperation from locals," said Maj. Martin Rose, an Army civil affairs officer based in Mazar-i-Sharif. "That doesn't mean we're going down there."

::Jeffrey Gettleman, LA Times: Empty American Promises Embitter an Afghan Village

Monday, March 25, 2002

Welcome to Tales of Amazingly Precise Bombing. This week's episode: "The Tractor Pull."

At about 9 a.m., the tractor was slowly rumbling over a bumpy sand road in the middle of a flat, desolate expanse of barren desert -- devoid of trees, streams, houses or any significant structure for miles in all directions. It was a clear, sunny day, the boys said, and there were no other vehicles in sight.

From behind the tractor, a plane suddenly appeared and flew over them at a fairly high altitude, the boys said. It turned when it was in front of them, dipped to a lower altitude and when overhead, dropped a bomb that landed about 15 feet from the trailer.

"The plane was black and circled around in front of us and then came back. I didn't see anything -- there was just a huge explosion," said Rahmatullah, who displayed a tender-looking wound on his right shoulder that he said he suffered in the blast. While visiting the site recently, he described a scene of pandemonium, with survivors crying and screaming amid body parts and personal belongings drenched in blood.

"I didn't realize what had happened," he said. He drew a finger across his throat: "My mother's head was cut off. It was like a slaughter. My sister was killed and the trailer was full of blood."

::John Ward Anderson, Washington Post: 'Intended' U.S. Target Mystifies Villagers
A comprehensive overview tracking a baffling series of reports:

We may never know the whole truth about the battle of Shah-i-Kot - but there are enough contradictory claims and clashing reports to suggest that it wasn't the 'unqualified and absolute success' claimed by General Tommy Franks. Did the Americans plan the attack badly, leading to US casualties? Did they drop thousands of bombs on largely vacated enemy territory? Did they or didn't they kill hundreds of enemy forces? And have the al-Qaeda and Taliban members now escaped from Shah-i-Kot - as leading Afghan and US commanders claim - ready to fight again in another part of eastern or southern Afghanistan?

::Brendan O'Neill, Spiked: The strange battle of Shah-i-Kot

Thursday, March 21, 2002

The recent breakup of the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica has briefly brought environmental issues to our collective attention...

The past few months have been wretched for anyone concerned that the economic and social path that the west has been cruising for so long might just be dangerous. September 11 had given the authorities around the world the excuse to bury what until then had been a virulent debate about globalisation, development, corporate influence, pollution, unfair trade, patents, new democracy movements, social justice, human rights, genetics, sustainable agriculture and whatever else comes under the broad heading of "environment".

September 11 heralded a new climate of debate. "Who cares about wetlands and the environment any more?", squawked the New York Times, entirely missing the point. US activists were roundly judged to be working against the interests of the state and deemed to be dangerously misguided. In Britain their arguments just fell off the map.

::John Vidal, The Guardian: The iceberg cometh
Thomas Frank of The Baffler, looking at the big picture...

The great myth of the 1990s was the fundamental decency of capitalist motivations. Free markets were democracy at its finest. CEOs were men of the people, lovable friends of rich and poor alike. The disappearance of job security and labor unions was "free agency." Even the endless cycles of obsolescence and destruction and ruin were something creative, something cool. Only when such destruction threatens to derail the stock market and discredit the entire New Economy does the moral turpitude of top management become an issue. Only then do the Aquinases of business journalism discover the fine distinctions between sensitivity to incentives and base greed.

However spectacular its effects, the wreck of Enron is a far more ordinary matter than such moralizing makes it appear. This is not the result of sin; this is the way markets work. It is simply what happens when regulatory oversight is systematically shut down, bought off and defunded; when business journalism becomes salesmanship; when investment banking becomes salesmanship; and when political power is a prize that goes to the highest bidder.

Thomas Frank, The Nation: Shocked, Shocked! Enronian Myths Exposed
One thing we can all agree on, those that supply arms to rogue nations need to be addressed with the greatest severity -- bombings too good for them.

The huge volume of U.S. defense exports — $55 billion worth in fiscal 2000 alone — makes halting illegal arms and technology exports difficult. Identifying and inspecting each suspicious export would require new staffing and likely cost millions. And those behind the trafficking don't make the job easy.

The illegal exporters — international traders, U.S. businessmen, even U.S. military veterans — often place profits over politics.

It's all part of the genius of capitalism.

::Kevin McCoy, USA Today: U.S. arms illegally go to 'axis of evil'
Let's roll, baby.

Fear itself has become a consumption item, and fear-dependent corporations feed off a public paranoia created by terror attacks. From health insurance to financial services ads that emphasize "security," the media has filled with appeals to prevent what is almost impossible to prevent and to do so through product consumption. Islamic terrorism has become an invisible brand name that joins disparate products anew. The fear of Allah-bonded men with death wishes and distant mullahs is the covert unmentionable that enables insurance companies and Florsheim Shoes to employ the Statue of Liberty as their new-old advertising flack, or Ralph Lauren to merge Polo shirts with the flag. All reaffirm freedom as consumer freedom. Images of American shrines and commercial invocations of "E Pluribus Unum" nationalize consumer purchasing power. To buy American is to meet the enemy.

As we buy on, we roll on.

::Joe Lockhard, Bad Subjects: Social Fear and the Commodification of Terrorism

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

This riff qualifies as stating the obvious, but worth noting...

Last November, Bush hosted the first-ever White House dinner marking the start of Ramadan. Muslim dignitaries were invited to pray in the East Reception Room before listening to Bush tell the assembled that "America seeks peace with people of all faiths."

And with that line, Bush exhibited the same moral blindness as his attorney general. Of course the United States seeks peace with people of all faiths. But what about people of no faith at all? In fact, the Bush administration never mentions nonbelievers; it never suggests that they, too, possess a moral sense that leads them to abhor terrorism and defend freedom. To the contrary, Bush has said, "The true strength of America lies in the fact that we are a faithful America by and large." He has described the job of political leaders as "call[ing] upon the love that exists not because of government, that exists because of a gracious and loving God." As Vice President Cheney put it last year, "Every great and meaningful achievement in this life requires the active involvement of the One who placed us here for a reason."

Don't get me wrong. It's perfectly fine for Bush, Ashcroft, and Cheney to declare their faith. It's even fine for them to speak about the good they believe religion does in the world. But Tony Blair has done that as well, and yet he's also said, "This atrocity is an attack on us all, on people of all faiths and on people of none." As far as I can tell (and the website chronicles George W.'s statements on religion), President Bush has never uttered a similar thought. And when he and his top advisers, in hundreds and hundreds of statements, never miss an opportunity to exclude nonbelievers, it's hard to believe the exclusion is purely accidental.

::Peter Beinart, New Republic: Bad faith via Cursor
An open letter from George Monbiot, posing some questions I've been stumbling over myself...

Dear President Bush,

In commemorating the victims of the attacks on New York and Washington last week, you called for disputes to be "settled within the bounds of reason". You insisted that "every nation in our coalition must take seriously the growing threat" of biological and chemical weapons. You assured us that on this issue "there is no margin for error, and no chance to learn from mistakes... inaction is not an option". These are sentiments with which most of the world's people would agree. While many of us believe that attacking Iraq would enhance rather than reduce the possibility that weapons of mass destruction will be used, few would dispute that chemical and biological agents present a grave danger to the world.

So those of us in other nations who have followed this issue are puzzled. Why should you, who claim to want to build "a peaceful world beyond the war on terror" have done all you can to undermine efforts to control these deadly weapons? Why should the congressmen in your party have repeatedly sabotaged attempts to ensure that biological and chemical agents are eliminated?

Of course, many of you reading this are likely responding, "Because we're American. Isn't that proof enough of our good intentions?"

::George Monbiot, The Guardian: America's bioterror

Monday, March 18, 2002

The Carlyle Group is in fact performing a great service for America. It is ensuring the financial security of the President's father and cronies, his keen mind thereby freed up to plot our next triumph in the war against Evil.

The revolving door has long been a fact of life in Washington, but Carlyle has given it a new spin. Instead of toiling away for a trade organization or consulting firm for a measly $250,000 a year, former government officials can rake in serious cash by getting equity cuts on corporate deals. Several of the onetime government officials who have hooked up with Carlyle--Carlucci, Baker, and Darman, in particular--have made millions.

::Melanie Warner, Fortune: The Big Guys Work For the Carlyle Group

Sunday, March 17, 2002

If America wishes to pursue its "war on terror", what has Iraq got to do with it? Where is the evidence that Saddam was involved in 11 September? None exists, so Mr Cheney has invented a new dogma for Arabs: "The United States will not permit the forces of terror to gain the tools of genocide" he said. President Saddam has "weapons of mass destruction" and they could fall into the hands of Osama bin Laden.

Since Mr bin Laden hates President Saddam and has gone on record to say as much, just how the Iraqi weapons, if they exist, would reach America's nemesis is unclear. And the Arabs have been asking who is threatening genocide in the Middle East? Who is being attacked?

The one Middle East nation that supports a strike at Iraq is Israel, where Mr Cheney is expected to arrive later today. The Vice-President will therefore hear what he wants to hear from the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, whose reoccupation of Palestinian territory has done so much to destroy his mission.

::Robert Fisk, The Independent: Arab states united in rejecting attack on Saddam

Friday, March 15, 2002

Ahh, lookit them there mini-nukes! Ain't they cute and cuddly?

The 100 KT Sedan nuclear explosion, one of the Plowshares excavation tests, was buried at a depth of 635 feet. The main cloud and base surge are typical of shallow-buried nuclear explosions. The cloud is highly contaminated with radioactive dust particles and produces an intense local fallout.

After a delightful overview of the scientific and political implications of developing a new generation of nuclear weapons to piggyback on conventional warfare, the Federation of American Scientists report concludes...

Proponents of building a new generation of small nuclear weapons have seldom been specific about situations where nuclear devices would be able to perform a unique mission. The one clear scenario is using these warheads as a substitute for conventional weapons to attack deeply buried facilities. Based on the analysis here, however, this mission does not appear possible without causing massive radioactive contamination. No American president would elect to use nuclear weapons in this situation — unless another country had already used nuclear weapons against us.

How reassuring. 'No American president' would ever think of deploying such a catastrophic weapon. Sanity will prevail. I feel much better already.

Oh, wait. The article was published January/February 2001.

::Robert W. Nelson, Federation of American Scientists: Low-Yield Earth-Penetrating Nuclear Weapons via Cursor
A canny rant from Mark Steel:

Each new stage of the war against terrorism makes it clearer that the real aim has little to do with the twin towers and is a bid for what the American military describes as "full spectrum dominance". Partly, this entails revenge against anyone who's caused the US embarrassment, starting with the most recent and going back, making the named targets so far Iraq, Somalia, Iran and North Korea. Blair ought to be careful. Historically speaking, after that it goes Japan, Spain, the Confederacy, Mexico and then Britain.

. . . Almost every week sees a new "post 11/9 film" in which American soldiers blast their way heroically through a sinister land to deliver democracy to ungrateful savages. Mel Gibson's next effort will be to play Henry Kissinger parachuting into Santiago to help General Pinochet to stop the Chilean parliament drowning a litter of kittens.

In a typical article in one Sunday paper, an American writer lamented how he had "thought twice" about becoming a father in this "post September 11th world". Funny how it didn't bother him that he was bringing a child into a post-napalming-Cambodia world or a post-Chile-coup world or a post-Contra world. To the inevitable accusation that this makes me "anti-American", I would point out that three of my greatest living heroes are Muhammad Ali, Richard Pryor and Bart Simpson. To suggest that anyone who questions the American military is "anti-American" is like suggesting that someone who voices concerns about the techniques of Harold Shipman holds an "instinctive hatred of doctors".

::Mark Steel, The Independent: Don't ask for the evidence, just nuke Baghdad

Thursday, March 14, 2002

Oilmen. Who better to have unquestioned stewardship over the earth?

. . . why are the Bush administration and its allies so vehement about [drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve]? Pay no attention to rhetoric about national security; the Kerry-McCain proposal would save about three times as much oil per year as ANWR would deliver even in its brief period of peak production.

The real reason conservatives want to drill in ANWR is the same reason they want to keep snowmobiles roaring through Yellowstone: sheer symbolism. Forcing rangers to wear respirators won't make much difference to snowmobile sales — but it makes the tree-huggers furious, and that's what's appealing about it.

::Paul Krugman, New York Times: ANWR and Peas

Been a long time gone. Spent much of my time in exile living among the Mormon faithful in Provo, Utah. I'll refrain from the obvious cheap insults directed at the locals (I was actually treated quite well), nor will I dwell on my personal inability to find -- in a city of 200,000 people, home to Brigham Young University -- a watering hole, coffee, a downtown, a bus or a taxicab.

Provo's cafe district

Suffice it to say I watched a lot of TV, and since I don't have cable in Vancouver it was my first time actually seeing gasbag pundits like Hannity, Colmes, Matthews, O'Reilly, and all the other multi-millionaire media whores. Viewing the world through the prism of all-lunacy all-the-time news networks, I'm surprised that support for the Campaign to Eradicate All Evil Everywhere (CEAEE) is only 80%. Given the Pravda-like bounds of acceptable debate in the televised parallel universe, I would expect a full 100% of Americans to fall into line...

Monday, March 04, 2002

I missed this story first time round. Words fail me.

It was the stuff American dreams are made on. A few weeks ago, Yussuf Hussein, a Somali who came to the United States in his teens, was living in Boston with his wife and two children, earning $70,000 (£43,000) working for a computer software company.

Now, he and more than 30 other American-Somali men are holed up in a squalid hotel costing $2 per night in downtown south Mogadishu, without either money or passport, determined to return home.

In late January, officers of the Immigration Naturalization Service arrived unannounced at the offices of Intel Corp and arrested Mr Hussein. They refused to tell him what he had been charged with, taking him instead to a cell without access to a lawyer or a telephone. He has not been able to contact his family since.

'It was three days after Black Hawk Down was released (on January 18),' he said of Ridley Scott's film depicting the ill-fated mission of the US Rangers on October 3, 1993, to bring peace to Somalia and destroy the grip of the warlords.

His is the tale of about three dozen American-Somalis who have been sent back to Somalia by the US without charge or reason. All, except for one woman, are young men who emigrated with their families to America as young teenagers or babies to escape almost a decade of civil war.

Not under arrest yet and without any means, many are heading north to escape across the Somalian border and make the long journey home to America. But even if they survive the journey, they have no money nor papers to prove their existence.

Talk about fighting with an existential dilemma. Give the freedom-loving folk of the INS credit, they have a gift for enacting sublime dehumanization.

::Janine Di Giovanni, Times of London via Common Dreams: How American Dream Faded in Downtown Mogadishu

. . . found via George Monbiot, The Guardian: War on the third world
The Attorney General slumbers in a comfortable psychosis so profound that it defies comprehension. Not too busy tracking down the source of those anthrax letters or billion-dollar white-collar thieves, he's launched a new career as a crooner. Let the Eagle Soar, indeed, right over the Cuckoo's Nest...

Mr Ashcroft's staff are complaining that printed versions of the song are being distributed at meetings so that they will be able to join in.

When asked why she opposed the workplace singalong, one of the department's lawyers said: "Have you heard the song? It really sucks."

A group of Hispanic justice department employees were recently summoned to see the attorney general, and went along hoping that their boss might be making a special effort to promote diversity in the department's higher ranks.

Instead, they were asked to provide a hasty Spanish lesson to give the secretary a few phrases to use on a foreign delegation the next day. The Hispanic staff were then handed printed copies of Let the Eagle Soar and asked for volunteers to translate it.

Look and Listen (RealPlayer)

::Julian Borger, The Guardian: Staff cry poetic injustice as singing Ashcroft introduces patriot games via Liberal Arts Mafia
::Image from Art Attack

Sunday, March 03, 2002

A few months after that amazingly effective proxy war campaign was deemed a success, some of the heaviest fighting yet in the east, and pro-Taliban posters popping up in the south. Not only is there still a war on in Afghanistan, things aren't going entirely smoothly:

The biggest U.S.-led ground offensive of the five-month Afghan war was repulsed on Saturday, prompting government troops and U.S. advisers to withdraw to the nearby town of Gardez, about 150 km (95) miles south of Kabul, while B-52 planes bombed up to 5,000 Taliban and al Qaeda troops in their mountain bunkers.

::Mohammad Bashir and Taras Protsiuk, Washington Post: U.S. Bombs Resistant Taliban in East Afghanistan

Saturday, March 02, 2002

Smilin' Dick sez: "Underground living is A-OK!"

As if the acknowledged existence of a 'shadow government' headed by Smilin' Dick Cheney wasn't creepy enough, now we find out it was set up by the Executive Branch without consulting Congress. Give the Bushies credit for knowing how to assertively navigate through the democratic obstacles of checks and balances -- simply ignore them. If only Nixon had thought of that. His cryogenically preserved corpse might still be President.

What's disturbing is how the underground bunker lifestyle might further warp the mindset of the desktop warrior class, who are not exactly immune to paranoiac tendencies and rash decision-making. The Guardian reports a pertinent case study:

Frenchman Michel Siffre, described as a "chronobiologist", has conducted a series of experiments over the past 40 years to determine the effects of long periods of time spent underground.

They began in 1962 when he spent 61 days in an Alpine cave and came out on September 17, believing it was August 20. Ten years later, working with Nasa, he went to a cave in Texas for 205 days - and found his calendar was two months out.

He saw in the millennium at a grotto near Grenoble, celebrating new year 2000 on January 4. He believed that, while underground, he tended to stay awake for 30 hours then sleep non-stop for 20.

::Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post: Congress Not Advised Of Shadow Government
::Matthew Engel, The Guardian: Hazards of living in hiding
Justin Raimondo of does what the mainstream American media (unless you count the Moonie-owned Washington Times) refuses to do: some elementary follow-up to Barbara Hatch Rosenberg's analysis of the Anthrax non-investigation.


. . . given the information compiled by Rosenberg, and with the aid of, anyone with computer access can identify by name the person or persons in possession of the key to unlocking the mystery of the anthrax attack.

Unlike Rosenberg, Raimondo names names.

::Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federation of American Scientists: Analysis of the Anthrax Attacks
::Justin Raimondo, Anthrax Cover-Up
::Justin Raimondo, The Plot Sickens
::Jerry Seper, Washington Times: Suspect worked in U.S. lab