Wednesday, September 25, 2002

The loud little handful -- as usual -- will shout for the war.

The pulpit will -- warily and cautiously -- object -- at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, ¡®It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.'

Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will out shout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity.

Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers -- as earlier -- but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation -- pulpit and all -- will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open.

Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."

--Mark Twain, "The Mysterious Stranger," 1910

I've always admired that story. Thanks to Harry Spetnagel for the timely reminder.

Friday, September 20, 2002

I'll be away until the end of the month. I recommended some other weblogs in this posting.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

From Commonplace Book

In a scheme so wacky, it could only be COINTELPRO, the FBI sent something called The Black Panther Coloring Book to families across the United States, in an effort to subvert white support for black civil rights. The drawings are fabulously blaxploitation-meets-the-revolution. Oh, for a reader response survey of the original recipients!

This coloring book, which was purported to be from the Black Panthers, had actually been rejected by them when it was brought to them by a man later revealed to have intelligence connections. Not to be troubled by the fact that the Panthers found the coloring book revolting, the FBI added even more offensive illustrations, and mass mailed it across America... [The truth was revealed] in the Congressional inquiry into COINTELPRO.

See the pictures

Social Design Notes:

Uncle Sam Wants You

::The National Security Agency Kids' Page
::CIA's Homepage for Kids
::Whitehouse Kids
::NORAD Tracks Santa
::Department of Justice for Kids & Youth
::FBI for K-5th,and 6-12th grades
::Air Force Link Jr.
::Overseas Private Investment Corporation for Kids
::U.S. Department of the Treasury for Kids
::IRS's Tax Interactive
::Social Security Administration Youth Link
::Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Kid's Page
::The Army's free video game America's Army: Operations. (Article here.)

Found via American Samizdat

Friday, September 13, 2002

Farewell to a fashion statement

U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan have been ordered to shave and wear regular uniforms to look more like U.S. soldiers rather than locals, according to an official at the U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida.

"Ted Nugent would fuckin' love it here!"

The order to shave facial hair and to "re-adapt uniform and grooming standards" came after a special operations commander, Maj. Gen. Geoff Lambert, saw numerous photographs of troops operating on the ground in Afghanistan with full beards and partial uniforms, the official said.

A heavy heart of darkness trip

The decision came after the perception that the grooming standard of the troops was out of hand and that the time had passed for the need of the soldiers to blend in.

The official said that the leadership put the highest priority on the security of its forces and would not give an order for grooming if it would put the troops at harm.

Rest assured that the Generals won't issue any reckless haircut orders.

Today's Special Forces: not afraid to be stylish

Oh yes, and there's also this:

Four rockets were launched early Thursday near U.S. special operations forces outside Gardez in the southeastern Paktia province, said Col. Roger King at Bagram Air Base, the U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan.

One of the rockets landed about 400 meters (440 yards) north of the U.S. position. The other three landed in a nearby village, but there were no reported casualties, King said.

On Wednesday, three rocket-propelled grenades were fired at a convoy of U.S. special operations forces moving through the northeastern Kunar province, King said, without specifying the convoy's exact location.

And while we're at it, this too:

United States intelligence officials say Qaeda operatives who found refuge in Pakistan are starting to regroup and move back into Afghanistan, less than a year after a successful American military campaign forced them to flee their onetime sanctuary by the thousands.

...While American military might smashed Al Qaeda's training camps and terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan after last September's attacks on New York and Washington, officials throughout the American government say that Al Qaeda has quickly adapted. It is in the process of transforming itself into a more mobile, flexible and elusive force than ever before.

"Management books talk about learning organizations," said one American intelligence official. Osama bin Laden, the official said, "built something that is a learning organization. It is changing and adapting to the loss of its infrastructure."

Osama bin Laden: management guru.

::Mike Mount, CNN: Close shave for special ops forces in Afghanistan
::Associated Press: U.S. forces in Afghanistan come under fire in two separate incidents
::James Risen and Dexter Filkins: Though Scattered, Qaeda Fighters Said to Return to Afghanistan
That much-anticipated document the White House released yesterday, sporting the catchy title "A Decade of Deception and Defiance", was a real smash-hit...

The Critics Rave:

"Given the high priority for knowing what is going on in Iraq, I'm stunned by the lack of evidence of fresh intelligence," said Gary Milhollin, executive editor of Iraq Watch, a Washington-based nonprofit institution that tracks developments in Iraq's weapons program. "You'd expect that, for the many billions we are spending on intelligence, they would be able to make factual assertions that would not have to be footnoted to an open source."

... "This is a glorified press release that doesn't come close to the information the U.S. government made available on Soviet military power when we were trying to explain the Cold War," said Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East expert who has participated in many major studies of Iraq's capabilities. "It's clumsy and shallow when what we need is sophisticated and in-depth . . . as an overall grade, I'd give it a D-minus."

This document is based on "reports by U.N. weapons inspectors who scoured Iraq for outlawed weapons programs from 1991 to 1998" -- you know, those same inspectors that Smilin' Dick Cheney keeps trashing as worse than useless, mere pawns to be manipulated by Saddam's gamesmanship ...

Then again, they have little choice but to rely on this data, given that the last thorough intelligence review of Iraq's weaponry was compiled two years ago.

::Dana Priest and Joby Warrick, Washington Post: Observers: Evidence For War Lacking
::Eric Schmitt and Alison Mitchell, New York Times: U.S. Lacks Up-to-Date Review of Iraqi Arms

Thursday, September 12, 2002

One benefit of economic downturns is finding frank analysis on the business pages of major newspapers. When financial well-being is at stake, self-satisfied delusion is a luxurious liability ...

From the paper read by Canada's ruling elite:

Sept. 11 directly spawned the war in Afghanistan, which was mercifully brief and largely successful -- if you don't count the fact it may have failed to eliminate Osama bin Laden and certainly hasn't dismantled his al-Qaeda terror network or that the country remains as unstable and dangerous as ever.

Other than that, it's been a big success.

Then there's the prospect of war in Iraq, and the potential economic effects...

The Bush team appears convinced it can fight a war relatively quickly and cheaply, much as it did in Afghanistan, using air might and elite Special Forces units. But most experts disagree. They warn that the United States will have to commit to a large and costly military presence on the ground, including armoured divisions, for a lengthy period, even if they are able to wipe out the Iraqi command structure in a single powerful strike.

"The danger is that the U.S. will wind up with military and security spending draining the economy, holding down private investment and consumer spending, and forcing Draconian choices that will destabilize domestic political peace," BusinessWeek notes in its latest edition.

Some economists fear all this will plunge the United States and the rest of the world into a major recession while only increasing the risks of further terrorist attacks.

Other than that, it's a great idea.

::Brian Milner, Globe and Mail: Iraq war could prove an economic minefield
Nobody was in command of the situation. The president scuttled about the country from one obscure location to another, and those self-assured experts admitted they hadn't any better idea of what was happening than anybody else did. The sense of inevitability that lends purveyors of spectacle their authority was ripped away. As Thomas Homer-Dixon writes, the event was an assault on the very fabric of consensus reality. One year later ...

... we've busily stitched over the tear in reality's fabric. Alas, the stitches aren't strong. Events are multiplying that our conventional categories and theories can't easily explain. Moreover, our leaders' pronouncements and our experts' prattle seems less and less reassuring, because it's dawning on us that, much of the time, these people don't really know what's going on at all. Most importantly, they rarely have clear or useful solutions to the truly tough problems.

The Middle East is aflame and no one really has a clue any more how to bring durable peace to the region. India and Pakistan remain on the brink of a war that could escalate into a nuclear exchange; again, there's a dearth of credible solutions to the underlying crisis in Kashmir. The United States is planning to attack Iraq, but its plans are widely opposed, even by staunch allies, largely because no one can really predict the downside risk. (Will oil prices go through the roof? Will Saddam Hussein release smallpox when U.S. forces are at the gates of Baghdad?)

On the economic front, the world is a mess, and critical economic policymakers -- such as the heads of national central banks, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank -- seem flummoxed. Many of the richest economies are stagnating, while in poor countries nearly three billion people still live on less than $2 a day. The U.S. economy -- critical to world growth -- is sliding sideways. European growth is also almost non-existent, and Germany's unemployment rate is nearing double digits. The Japanese Nikkei Index has dropped to levels unseen in two decades, with renewed doubts about the stability of the country's banking system. Latin America is in financial crisis; a decade of market liberalization on the continent has produced growth rates half those of the 1960s and a rise in the number of poor people. Africa and its 700 million inhabitants aren't even on the economic map.

But it's on environmental issues that our leaders and experts have proved most inadequate. In the last century, humankind's total impact on the planet's environment (measured, principally, by the flow of materials through our economies and our output of wastes) has multiplied about 16-fold. We're now disrupting fundamental flows of energy and materials within the biosphere -- that layer of life on Earth's surface as thick, proportionately, as an apple's skin -- and we're producing profound changes in cycles of key elements, like nitrogen, sulfur and carbon.

These changes will have immense consequences for life, industry and agriculture across the planet. Yet, just when we need, more than ever, aggressive policies to deal with our common environmental challenges, the recent summit in Johannesburg produced a pathetic spectacle of cacophony and global gridlock.

This combination of intractable political, economic, and environmental challenges is not a recipe for a humane and peaceful world society. Looking at them together, one gets the dismaying sense that deep and inexorable forces are building within the global system. At some point, these forces could combine in unforeseeable ways to cause a sharp breakdown of world order.

::Thomas Homer-Dixon, Globe and Mail: There's no going back
The decision whether or not to invade Iraq will be made on an assessment of the best intelligence that is not available.

The White House still has not requested that the CIA and other intelligence agencies produce a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, a formal document that would compile all the intelligence data into a single analysis. An intelligence official says that's because the White House doesn't want to detail the uncertainties that persist about Iraq's arsenal and Saddam's intentions. A senior administration official says such an assessment simply wasn't seen as helpful.

::USA Today, Iraq course set from tight White House circle

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

"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

-- e. e. cummings

An agitated Vice President Cheney, in a tête-à-tête with NBC's Tim Russert on Sunday, said it was "reprehensible" that people would think the administration had "saved" its ammunition on Iraq to bring it out now, 60 days before an election. "So the suggestion that somehow, you know, we husbanded this and we waited is just not true," Cheney said.

Now where would people get such a cockamamie idea? Well, maybe from White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and Bush political adviser Karl Rove, who made the case to the New York Times's Elisabeth Bumiller last week that they pretty much did what Cheney said they didn't do -- waited patiently and deliberately to launch a long-planned rollout. "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August," Card said. Added Rove: "The thought was that in August the president is sort of on vacation."

::Dana Milbank, Washington Post: No Crawfishing From a Unique Vernacular

Monday, September 09, 2002

The Asia Times updates us on the HIA, a radical Muslim group that appears to gearing up for a Jihad against the foreign occupiers, led by former Afghan leader and notorious mujahideen warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar:

Sources in the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan maintain that it has restructured its command and control systems across Afghanistan, with key commanders in Ghazni, Hekmatyar's home town, Gardez, Logar, Kunar and Kandahar being given specific tasks for action against foreign troops. Further, the local administration in eastern Afghanistan, including the police and the Afghan army, is completely at the mercy of these HIA commanders. Even the powerful commander of Jalalabad, Malik Hazrat Ali, who is a confidant of Afghan Defense Minister General Qasim Fahim, has given assurances to local HIA commanders that he will remain neutral in the next offensive, which is likely to be launched in Jalalabad and the southern Kabul region. The HIA is also in the process of making contact with commanders in northern Afghanistan, where new "activities" can be expected to start soon.

The new fight being led by the HIA will be named a freedom struggle against the occupation of foreign troops and tyranny against Pashtuns, and it is expected to gather widespread support among different Afghan factions, irrespective of their political affiliations. An important strategy will be to fan the flames of Pashtun dissatisfaction with the Tajik ascendancy in the Kabul government.

::Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times: The new Afghan jihad is born

Sunday, September 08, 2002

Anyone who claims the US media didn't censor itself is kidding you.
It wasn't a matter of government pressure but a reluctance to criticize anything in a war that was obviously supported by the vast majority of the people.

And this isn't just a CNN issue--every journalist who was in any way involved in 9/11 is partly responsible."

-- Rena Golden, executive vice-president and general manager of CNN International

And they're about to do it again in Iraq.

::The Memory Hole: Senior CNN Executive Admits News Media Distorted Afghanistan War

Paul William Roberts wrote a useful and very funny book about the Gulf War, The Demonic Comedy, and is likely the only person to interview Saddam Hussein while tripping on Ecstasy. Though thanks to the tell-all books, we now know Koppel was completely coked up when he hosted the Iraqi dictator on Nightline in 1991, though in fairness to Ted, at the time blow-fuelled broadcast journalism was the norm... back then Buzz Rather used to snort long white rails off his desk during commercial breaks. CBS staffers (who boasted of possessing the 'hardest working noses for news') took to calling a gram of coke '60 Minutes' , because typically that's how long it would take for one to disappear up through Morley Safer's nostrils.

But I digress. I had set out to introduce Mr. Roberts' reflection on the September 11th attacks and the subsequent war on terror:

To adapt Oscar Wilde, no one wishes to shake hands with Liberty when her hands are daubed in blood. "Wild liberty," Emerson wrote, "develops iron conscience. Want of liberty, by strengthening law and decorum, stupefies conscience." America has ultimately shown no grace under pressure.

How can we reconcile the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity with the necessities of security? Why did this happen? How can we address the causes in such a way that it will not happen again? To what extent are we to blame? These were the appropriate responses for which one waited largely in vain, while Liberty was put back in her crate and shipped off home. Aside from Harper's magazine editor and essayist Lewis Lapham, the media voices of reason and objectivity were nearly all either bullied into silence or else drafted into that vast choir chanting day and night for God and America the Beautiful, as consent -- for an endless revenge -- was manufactured. It was frightening to behold.

But it was also understandable. What the whole situation was not was "unexpected" -- a term frequently used to characterize the suicide-hijackings. Given America's greedy, 40-year romp through the world -- the wars and sponsored coups d'etat of self-interest, the tide of cultural trash -- it is only surprising that it didn't happen sooner.

:: Paul William Roberts, Globe and Mail Books: Islamists and their enemies
::Image from Samuel Rose, Parallel Journal: "Welcome to the cradle of civilization..."

President Bush has said from the outset that the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks hated America because "they hate our freedoms." But the available evidence does not support this explanation. Bin Laden's own statements and the personal histories of participants in the Sept. 11 plot suggest there are more specific reasons for the terrorists' hatred. They include American support for regimes that they detest in the Arab world; American bases on Arab territory, especially in Saudi Arabia; and American support for Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory and for Israel's military campaign against the Palestinians. Psychological alienation from modern Western culture and a radical interpretation of Islam add spice to this deadly stew.

By ignoring the items on this list and denouncing an enemy that hates us for what we are, not for what we say and do -- or what they think we do -- President Bush has created an all-purpose bad guy whose existence allows him to sidestep any examination of American policy. But al Qaeda is led by Arabs from the Middle East and is deeply rooted in Middle Eastern politics and intrigue. Its grievances, however irrational, come from there.

::Robert Kaiser, Washington Post: The Long and Short of It

Saturday, September 07, 2002

We're assured decisions will be made based on the 'best' intelligence:

Shortly before US strikes began in the Gulf War, for example, the St. Petersburg Times asked two experts to examine the satellite images of the Kuwait and Saudi Arabia border area taken in mid-September 1990, a month and a half after the Iraqi invasion. The experts, including a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who specialized in desert warfare, pointed out the US build-up - jet fighters standing wing-tip to wing-tip at Saudi bases - but were surprised to see almost no sign of the Iraqis.

"That [Iraqi buildup] was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didn't exist," Ms. Heller says. Three times Heller contacted the office of Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (now vice president) for evidence refuting the Times photos or analysis - offering to hold the story if proven wrong.

The official response: "Trust us."

. . . John MacArthur, publisher of Harper's Magazine and author of "Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War," says that considering the number of senior officials shared by both Bush administrations, the American public should bear in mind the lessons of Gulf War propaganda.

"These are all the same people who were running it more than 10 years ago," Mr. MacArthur says. "They'll make up just about anything ... to get their way."

On Iraq, analysts note that little evidence so far of an imminent threat from Mr. Hussein's weapons of mass destruction has been made public.

. . . in the fall of 1990, members of Congress and the American public were swayed by the tearful testimony of a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, known only as Nayirah.

In the girl's testimony before a congressional caucus, well-documented in MacArthur's book "Second Front" and elsewhere, she described how, as a volunteer in a Kuwait maternity ward, she had seen Iraqi troops storm her hospital, steal the incubators, and leave 312 babies "on the cold floor to die."

Seven US Senators later referred to the story during debate; the motion for war passed by just five votes. In the weeks after Nayirah spoke, President Bush senior invoked the incident five times, saying that such "ghastly atrocities" were like "Hitler revisited."

But just weeks before the US bombing campaign began in January, a few press reports began to raise questions about the validity of the incubator tale.

Later, it was learned that Nayirah was in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington and had no connection to the Kuwait hospital.

She had been coached – along with the handful of others who would "corroborate" the story – by senior executives of Hill and Knowlton in Washington, the biggest global PR firm at the time, which had a contract worth more than $10 million with the Kuwaitis to make the case for war.

Thankfully we don't have to worry about that sort of manipulation this time round, what with honour and integrity restored in the Oval Office and all...

::Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor: In war, some facts less factual: Some US assertions from the last war on Iraq still appear dubious

Oh my. Don't let the Killbloggers see this... they'll be calling for B-52's over Vancouver to complement the ones smashing Baghdad.

[An] Ipsos-Reid survey - which polled 1,000 Canadians last week - [found that] 69 per cent of respondents said the U.S. shares some of the responsibility for the attacks [because of U.S. policies in the Middle East and around the globe], while 15 per cent said all of the responsibility sits on American shoulders. The attacks killed thousands of civilians and U.S. military personnel at the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

Fourteen per cent said the United States does not bear any responsibility for the attacks.

In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, critics were pilloried for suggesting the United States bore some responsibility for the attacks, and Mr. Wright said U.S. pollsters will not ask the question.

As a Canadian who received a fair amount of hate mail for asserting historical context in the wake of the September 11th attacks (note weblog title), I feel compelled to add a couple notes of clarification.

* I don't think that the result of this poll indicates that 15 per cent of Canadians are followers of Michael Ruppert or David Icke.

* "Some responsibility for" does not equal "deserved it". My father's sedentary lifestyle and love of booze and rich food does not mean he had that heart attack coming (hedonistic bastard). But neither was the attack completely unexpected or inexplicable, or the handiwork of a shadowy, inhuman Evil. This is an obvious distinction, and those who claim not to see it are either dishonest or morally retarded.

No memory is honoured by willful ignorance of pertinent history.

And yes, I know Americans don't give a rat's ass what Canadians think.

::Shawn McCarthy, Globe and Mail: Most think U.S. partly to blame for Sept.11
When was the last time the U.S. Bombed Iraq?

::U.S. Bombing Watch

Friday, September 06, 2002

At first, it was only a whisper, a guarded remark in the days after 11 September. For Afghans and expatriates who had long followed Afghanistan's misfortunes, the international campaign which gathered pace after the attacks on the US had "a silver lining in very dark clouds".

After three decades of political instability, there was a new chink of hope. Many feared it was - and still is - Afghanistan's last hope.

But one year on, that hope is fading.

. . . And, if a military campaign is launched against Iraq, the focus on Afghanistan will shift even more dramatically - troops, money and hope will move on.

::BBC via - Analysis: Afghanistan miracle turns to muddle

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

It's nowhere near as pessimistic as some other assessments out there, but Geoffrey York of the Globe and Mail presents a balanced and detailed summary of how things stand in Afghanistan, with special emphasis on the near-intractable ethnic rivalries...

Although Mr. Karzai was given the presidency, the most powerful man in the new government is Mohammed Fahim, the shadowy Defence Minister from the Panjshir Valley, who has accumulated vast influence in the new regime. A former boss of the Afghan secret police in the early 1990s, he was promoted to head the Northern Alliance's military command after last year's assassination of fabled guerrilla leader Ahmed Shah Masood. (It is widely believed the assassination, on Sept. 9, was ordered by Osama bin Laden in an effort to regain favour with his Taliban hosts before the terrorist attacks.)

This year, Mr. Fahim promoted himself to the rank of marshal, assuming command over the entire Afghan military and also acquiring the title of Vice-President. He has consolidated his power by filling the upper ranks of the military and secret police with fellow Panjshiris.

Mr. Fahim is widely suspected of involvement in the Qadir assassination because the vice-president was under military guard when he was shot. It was only after the assassination that Mr. Karzai got rid of his own Afghan military guards and replaced them with Americans.

A month earlier, in June, when the country held its loya jirga (grand council) to select a new government, Mr. Fahim insulted the husband of the only woman candidate for president, saying she should quit because her candidacy was not Islamic. According to some reports, he also threatened to use military power to reverse the council's outcome if he disapproved.

"Fahim was rewarded for his bullying with the deputy presidency," the International Crisis Group said in a report this summer. "His brazenness, and the apparent acquiescence of the U.S. and the UN, has made President Karzai look weak."

::Stratfor, via Analysis: Situation Deteriorating Rapidly in Afghanistan
::Geoffrey York, Globe and Mail: 'I lost everything I had, but it was worth the sacrifice'