Saturday, April 15, 2006

Trivializing evil

A relevant clip from Juan Cole:
Those with strong stomachs may wish to see some photographs of the real situation in Iraq, photographs that American news outlets systematically refuse to print. Warning: they are often graphic. It should be noted that these sorts of scenes are shown on Arab satellite television all the time. For the past 3 years, American audiences have seen a sanitized Iraq, whereas the rest of the world has seen the real thing. When CNN interviewed Iraqi foreign minister Barham Salih recently, they showed him with a peaceful Baghdad backdrop. But in fact, Salih could not have so much as taken a stroll in West Baghdad without being immediately shot down dead.
One means of making violent evil less stressful and hence less cognitively dissonant among perpetrator states and their citizens is to offer sanitized coverage of the scene of the crime. Pictures of "happy" Iraqis or references to civilian victims of military strikes as "terrorists" or the more neutral sounding "collateral damage" resulting from "surgical strikes" and "smart bombs" will suffice.

I suppose that one's self-esteem might be tied to one's nation, it would be a terrible blow to the ego to face the reality that too often our government has done some very terrible things in our names, while we too often have willfully looked the other way. Sadly, that sense of shame is one that more of my fellow Americans need to experience.

And yeah, you might need some strong stomachs to view the pictures Dr. Cole links to (or to these). You will likewise need a strong stomach to view this picture of a kid who has suffered gross deformities due to the US government's use of depleted uranium in its numerous bombing raids.

Rumsfeld 'Personally Involved' in Torture and Sexual Abuse at Guantánamo

Salon reports new evidence that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was intimately involved in prisoner abuse at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
According to a Dec. 20, 2005 Army inspector general’s report on Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former commanding general in charge of Gitmo, Rumsfeld approved an interrogation plan for Mohammed al-Kahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker:
In a sworn statement to the inspector general, [Lt. Gen. Randall] Schmidt described Rumsfeld as “personally involved” in the interrogation and said that the defense secretary was “talking weekly” with Miller.
Rumsfeld developed an interrogation plan that required the Gitmo detainee to “stand naked in front of a female interrogator, was accused of being a homosexual, and was forced to wear women’s underwear and to perform ‘dog tricks’ on a leash.” Schmidt said that the open-ended policies Rumsfeld approved, and that the apparent lack of supervision of day-to-day interrogations permitted the wide-scale abuse to take place.
The report contradicts Rumsfeld’s earlier statements.
The people down there at Guantanamo Bay, under the President’s orders, have been treated humanely and they should be treated humanely…There’s no torture going on down there and there hasn’t been. [WPHT-AM Philadelphia, 6/21/05]
And let there be no doubt, the treatment of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay is proper, it’s humane, it’s appropriate, and it is fully consistent with international conventions. No detainee has been harmed, no detainee has been mistreated in any way. [DoD Briefing, 1/22/02]
Only relatively low-ranking military officials have been punished but the abuse of detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere started at the top.
Nerdified link
See this previous post of mine on the proximate causes of torture, and the latest Rumsfeld allegation provides a ready exemplar of what I was discussing from a theoretical standpoint.

Leave it to a Republican to say this:

...achieving fiscal discipline, can only lead to one thing: higher taxes. And higher taxes always mean a larger role for government and a smaller role for the private sector. Is that the way we want to go? I don't think so.

-- Treasury Secretary of the United States, John Snow, April 12, 2006
Nerdified link.

I've just about finished Kevin Phillips' recent book, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. Not only does Phillips describe the current state of fiscal insanity that has gripped the GOP increasingly over the last quarter century, but shows the historical precedents and consequences experienced by previous world powers. The short story: you have to be living in some sort of fantasy land to believe that accruing enormous debts won't come back to haunt you. Previous major world powers have experienced that the hard way, when reality hit with a vengeance (think Spain a few centuries ago, as well as the Netherlands, and more recently Great Britain).

As Dave Johnson implies (if you follow the above link), the warning signs are there for those willing to open their eyes.

Maryscott O'Connor hits the bigtime

At least in the sense that she's featured in a WaPo article: The Left, Online and Outraged. Congrats are certainly in order. The article itself is pretty decent, especially given that it appears in a corporate-controlled media rag. I do find it amusing that these journalists are only now discovering that we lefties are generally an angry bunch: focused anger, but anger nonetheless. Seems much akin to journalists discovering punk in 1979 or grunge in 1993, leaving the readers who knew those scenes to wonder what in the hell took 'em so long to notice. Amusing, all the same.

Anyways, the novelty of blogging wore off a while back, and although there are plenty o' bloggers out there who perceive themselves and their blogs as more powerful than they really are, I think the blogs on the left side of blogtopia have become useful tools for networking and for instigating real face-to-face activism to an extent not seen in my lifetime.

And just a quick plug on her behalf - if you haven't paid a visit to My Left Wing, you're missing out.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Amy Goodman vs Katie Couric

Damn. That's not even a fair fight. On matters of substance, Amy Goodman is Muhammad Ali and Couric is Alfred E. Neuman.

The Lobby and the Bulldozer

Interesting piece from Norman Solomon. An excerpt:
Overall, the Mearsheimer-Walt essay makes many solid points about destructive aspects of US support for the Israeli government. Their assessments deserve serious consideration.

For several decades, to the present moment, Israel's treatment of Palestinian people has amounted to methodical and despicable violations of human rights. Yet criticism of those policies from anyone (including American Jews such as myself) routinely results in accusations of anti-Jewish bigotry.

The US media reaction to the essay by professors Mearsheimer and Walt provides just another bit of evidence that they were absolutely correct when they wrote: "Anyone who criticizes Israel's actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle Eastern policy - an influence AIPAC celebrates - stands a good chance of being labeled an anti-Semite. Indeed, anyone who merely claims that there is an Israel Lobby runs the risk of being charged with anti-Semitism, even though the Israeli media refer to America's 'Jewish Lobby.' In other words, the Lobby first boasts of its influence and then attacks anyone who calls attention to it. It's a very effective tactic: anti-Semitism is something no one wants to be accused of."

Sadly, few media outlets in the United States are willing to confront this "very effective tactic." Yet it must be challenged. As the London-based Financial Times editorialized on the first day of this month: "Moral blackmail - the fear that any criticism of Israeli policy and US support for it will lead to charges of anti-Semitism - is a powerful disincentive to publish dissenting views. It is also leading to the silencing of policy debate on American university campuses, partly as the result of targeted campaigns against the dissenters."

The Financial Times editorial noted: "Reflexes that ordinarily spring automatically to the defense of open debate and free enquiry shut down - at least among much of America's political elite - once the subject turns to Israel, and above all the pro-Israel lobby's role in shaping US foreign policy."

The US government's policies toward Israel should be considered on their merits. As it happens, that's one of the many valid points made by Mearsheimer and Walt in their much-vilified essay: "Open debate will expose the limits of the strategic and moral case for one-sided US support and could move the US to a position more consistent with its own national interest, with the interests of the other states in the region, and with Israel's long-term interests as well."

But without open debate, no significant change in those policies can happen. That inertia - stultifying the blood of the body politic by constricting the flow of information and ideas - is antithetical to the kind of democratic discourse that we deserve.

Few other American academics have been willing to expose themselves to the kind of professional risks that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt took by releasing their provocative paper. And few other American activists have been willing to expose themselves to the kind of risks that Rachel Corrie took when she sat between a Palestinian home and a Caterpillar bulldozer in Gaza three years ago.

The bulldozer, driven by an Israeli army soldier on assignment to demolish the home, rolled over Corrie, who was 23 years old. She had taken a nonviolent position for human rights; she lost her life as a result. But she was rarely praised in the same US media outlets that had gone into raptures over the image of a solitary unarmed man standing in front of Chinese tanks at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

In sharp contrast to the high-tech killers who run the Israeli military apparatus and the low-tech killers who engage in suicide bombings, Rachel Corrie put her beliefs into practice with militant nonviolence instead of carnage. She exemplified the best of the human spirit in action; she was killed with an American-brand bulldozer in the service of a US-backed government.

As her parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, said in a statement on her birthday a few weeks after she died: "Rachel wanted to bring attention to the plight of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, a people she felt were largely invisible to most Americans."

In the United States, the non-stop pro-Israel media siege aims to keep them scarcely visible.

Quotable: Left I on immigration

... immigrant rights has always been a major issue for the left; the implication that the left has just shown up at immigrant rights demonstrations in order to "promote its own agenda" is nonsense. Immigrant rights is an integral part of the agenda of the left.

Nerdified link

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Quotable: On Fear and Resistance

Fear. That is what motivates the thoughts of many of the folks that support the deportation of all undocumented workers and and the armed actions of the Minutemen. It is why people support the torture of the men and women locked up in Gitmo and other US prisons around the world. It is what causes people to vote for politicians who openly call for legislation that directly counters the voters' own economic interests. It is why George Bush and his administration has gotten away with spying on US citizens, locking up people without charges, attacking countries based on lies, and eliminating much of the Bill of Rights. 911, terrorism, Al-Queda--the refrain of fear. A refrain that many in the US (and elsewhere) have incorporated into their most intimate consciousness.

Fear not only stems from ignorance, it helps enforce it. That is why the powers that be utilize fear. If we are afraid, than we will not act. If we do not act, those in power grow stronger until there is no room to act. Resistance is not only an andidote to this potentiality, it is a restorative remedy--for the individual and the planet.
Nerdified link.

The ideas expressed in the above passage should be pretty obvious by now, and fit in with the vibe of this blog. Needless to say, the idea of resistance as a remedy to fear is one that bears multiple repetitions.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A footnote to the preceding:

Check this out:
The recent United Nations report that the United States military is torturing detainees at the Guantánamo military base is profoundly troubling. The implications are dark, dangerous, and immediate for the detainees, the people of the United States, and the state of international human rights. Declaring individuals enemies of the state and subjecting them to indefinite detention in torture camps, despite legal obligations to the contrary, is perilously close to despotism and does not reflect the aspirations or actions of a democratic nation.

As troubling as these accounts of U.S. government sanctioned brutality are, they are not surprising to the people of Latin America. Since 1946, the United States has put its official seal of approval on torture by Latin American militaries at the Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). There, the United States has trained more than 60,000 members of Latin American militaries in torture, psychological warfare, interrogation, and counterinsurgency. Graduates of the SOA (lately renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) have frequently been connected to human rights violations and the repression of social movements in Latin America. These graduates have been implicated in the disappearance, massacre, rape, and torture of thousands of Latin Americans. There is no denying the United States approved the techniques used by these graduates; in 1996 the school’s training manuals were declassified, shedding light on the torture techniques taught at the school.

SOA graduates are integral to the long, brutal line of torture and secret detention by regimes throughout Latin America. The unimaginable horrors suffered by our sisters and brothers there are tragic examples of vicious government repression, and contrary to every ideal of peace and human rights. We must never forget the suffering of thousands at the hands of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, the systemic torture under General Ríos Montt in Guatemala, or the atrocities that continue to be committed by the Colombian military.

Torture is not only a breach of international and U.S. domestic law, but also a violation of basic human rights to which every human being, regardless of nationality or criminal status, is fundamentally entitled. Torture strips away the humanity of those who commit it and the dignity of those who endure it.
Tip o' the hat to Tim of Democratic Left Infoasis.

Some tentative thoughts on genocide and torture: Part Three

Proximate Causes of Torture and Genocide

In discussing torturers’ “obedience to the authority of violence,” Haritos-Fatouros (2003; see also, Huggins, Haritos-Fatouros, & Zimbardo, 2002; Zimbardo, 2004) outlines a number of proximate causes designed to increase compliance and bonding with those in authority as well as with peers, and to reduce stress and strain.

1.) Harassment, compliance, and conformity. If the perpetrators feel sufficiently trapped in the situation, authorities are better positioned to order them to continue escalating destructive behaviors against their victims. If the perception is that there is no viable recourse but to continue doling out the abuse, then it’s not terribly surprising that the perpetrators will do precisely as they are told.

2.) Deindividuation of the torturer. Destructive obedience is much more easily carried out if the perpetrator can distance himself or herself from the victim (Milgram, 1965, 1974). This can be facilitated by deindividuation (e.g., uniforms, etc., that make one blend in with the group, thus decreasing accountability; see Zimbardo, 1970).

3.) Dehumanization of the victim. Victims may be dehumanized in a number of ways, including the use of racial epithets, claims that the victims are “savages” or “have no souls” or are “sub-human”, thus reducing the perpetrator’s ability to empathize with the victim. Disguising victims with hoods or masks can also achieve similar effect (Zimbardo, 2004). The photos that documented the torture in Abu Ghraib showed prisoners who were hooded, whose faces were covered by female undergarments, or completely stripped of clothing altogether (Hersh, 2004) – which itself can have a dehumanizing effect to the extent that they are being stripped of their identities and their cultures. We can also look at the rampant racism and ethnocentrism that appears to be endemic in the U.S. military culture. The organization itself promotes the use of racial and ethnic slurs (e.g., Hajjis, ragheads) and stereotypes (e.g., Islam as a religion that is inherently violent) that serve to dehumanize their victims (see, e.g., Rockwell, 2005). The more psychological distance that can be created in such an environment, the more difficult it is for military personnel to have empathy with the prisoners and it is this loss of empathy that may pave the path to torture.

4.) Victim blame. One means of reducing the psychological strain of destructive obedience is to shift responsibility to the victim. In Milgram’s (1974) obedience experiments, for example, participants often blamed the victim for having volunteered for the experiment in the first place, or blamed the victim for being stupid or obstinate. Haritos-Fatouros (2003) observes a similar phenomenon among Greek torturers. The psychological function of blaming victims of torture for their humiliation is to make the torture victim appear less than human, which in turn reduces the perpetrators’ inhibitions. In fact, such victim blame is likely facilitated by techniques in which the victims’ pain or humiliation appears self-inflicted (McCoy, 2006). By releasing the psychological constraints regarding how to treat fellow human beings, torturers find it easier to engage in the cruel treatment of their victims.

5.) Belief in a higher cause. Atrocity perpetrators often believe that they are acting in the name of some higher cause. The Greek military junta of the late 1960s and early 1970s trained recruits to believe that they were serving a sort of “Greek Christianity” and that they were “pillars of the state” whose actions were necessary in the struggle against evil, inhuman dissidents (Haritos-Fatouros, 2003). Belief in a higher cause enables torturers to align themselves with those in authority while at the same time viewing torture victims as tangible threats to that order. To the extent that torture can be perceived as “just, moral, and worthy,” torturers can deceive themselves into believing that their actions are ultimately good.

6.) Social modeling. The modeling of torture may be done either formally (as in the case of the Greek military police; Haritos-Fatouros, 2003) or informally (as in the case of Brazilian torturers and executioners; Huggins, Haritos-Fatouros, & Zimbardo, 2002). Role modeling may be either direct or indirect, and may be either explicit or implicit. As part of formal or informal training, recruits may be directly involved in acts of abuse against victims or merely brought along as observers. In the case of Abu Ghraib, it is plain that the organizational culture was primed for human rights abuses. It appears that at every level of the US military organization there was an acceptance of cruel treatment. General Sanchez, for example, obviously had no problems with activities that were known violations of international law as recent news reports have shown (American Civil Liberties Union, 2005). He led by example. Of course we also know that the military was highly secretive about its treatment of POWs, as has been discussed in detail elsewhere (see, e.g., Ratner & Ray, 2004, for more detail).

7) Trivialization and routinization of evil. Destructive obedience does not occur overnight, but rather the perpetrator must be eased into increasingly brutal behaviors over a period of time. Both Milgram (1965, 1974) and Zimbardo (1970) aptly demonstrated this point with their own experimental research, and historically we’ve seen this point documented time and time again (the atrocities committed by the Germans during the Nazi era come most readily to mind). By gradually escalating the abuses against the victims, those who will perpetrate those abuses don’t realize what’s going on until it is too late. They become increasingly desensitized to the horrors that are going on around them, and that they too may be perpetrating.

The horrors present in Abu Ghraib did not happen immediately, but rather escalated over a period of months. Indeed, the basic thrust of the Sanchez memo (American Civil Liberties Union, 2005) provides some insight into the desensitization process. Once personnel are used to roughing up prisoners, threatening them with muzzled dogs, and placing them in highly uncomfortable postures for long periods of time, personnel are unlikely to perceive encouragements to “up the ante” as extreme. Gradually, using un-muzzled attack dogs, sodomy, and other torturous acts become seen as “normal” or “reasonable” behaviors within the context of the military prison - so normal, in fact, that personnel likely saw nothing unusual in posing next to these tortured prisoners as their colleagues took photos (Hersh, 2004).

Diffusion of responsibility is another vehicle for trivializing torture. Destructive obedience is most easily facilitated under conditions where the perpetrators can pass the buck to someone else. Perhaps the authorities in charge give their assurances that they, rather than the perpetrators, are in charge and responsible for whatever outcomes occur (Milgram, 1965, 1974). Diffusion of responsibility may be accomplished by compartmentalizing tasks sufficiently so that one has only a small role in the abuse that is perpetrated. Some individuals in a prison camp may be merely assigned clerical duties, whereas others have some other limited role in the process of torturing or harming their victims. This provides the basis for the so-called “Nuremberg Defense” in which one can claim to be merely following orders, or simply involved in filing paperwork, taking photos, or other routine tasks. Diffusion of responsibility can also be facilitated by group size. In large groups where individuals feel relatively anonymous, it is easier to engage in cruel behaviors, such as lynchings (e.g., Mullen, 1986).

(Note: This is a continuation of a series of posts started in January. See the previous installments here and here.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Inalienable Rights of Select Citizens of the American Empire

1. We have the right to pre-emptively attack the nation or region of our choice simply based on our belief that they may be a threat to the Empire. No evidence necessary.

2. We have established and will maintain the right to murder an unlimited number of innocent civilians so long as our military machine does the killing and we label the victims as “collateral damage”.

3. We have the right to label whomever we choose as “terrorists” or “enemy combatants” and to hold them indefinitely without a trial.

4. We are exempt from the Geneva Conventions and have the right to commit acts of torture or to rendition our unconvicted prisoners to other countries which will torture them.

5. We have the right to continue glorifying and justifying the land theft and genocide we committed against Native Americans.

6. We have the right to continue to claiming we are the “leader of the free world” when slavery was a legal institution in our nation until the Civil War, women were not able to vote until the Twentieth Century, institutionalized segregation existed until the 1960’s, and we deny 5% of our population (Gays and Lesbians) equal rights and protection under the Constitution.

7. We have the right to sell ourselves as a “democracy” despite the fact that we are a constitutional republic, and despite the fact that corporate interests, lobbyists, wealthy campaign donors, and Israel shape most of our foreign and domestic policy.

8. We have the right to bill ourselves as a “bastion of human rights” (and thus justify our imperial interventions) despite the fact that we have the highest prison population in the world, we have a government which tortures on a wide scale, and we are one of the few “developed” nations which metes out the death penalty.

9. We have the right to hoard the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction in the history of humankind while prohibiting other nations from possessing such weapons. We also are the only nation with the right to employ WMD’s on a wide scale, as evidenced by our annihilation of over 100,000 Japanese civilians.

10. We have the right to plunder 25% of the world’s resources to provide for a scant 5% of the world’s population, while blustering that if the rest of the world embraced laissez-faire capitalism, they could reap the same bountiful harvest. (Forget the mathematical impossibilities involved. Those just get in the way of the propaganda!)

11. We have the right to continue to empower multi-national corporations with the rights of person-hood, limit their exposure to criminal prosecution and civil suits, and to enable them to exploit human beings in other nations. As long as our corporate friends are showing a profit, they can operate sweat-shops, facilitate the murder of labor agitators, maintain monopolies, off-shore American jobs while exploiting the foreign workers who take them, avoid paying taxes by setting up “shell headquarters” in places like Bermuda, destroy the environment, and continue the race to the bottom in wages and benefits, here and abroad.

12. We have the right to maintain and enhance a socio-economic system that places a significant portion of the world’s wealth in the hands of about 3 million people (approximately one percent of the US population). Tax cuts and an end to estate taxes will ensure that the Empire’s plutocracy perpetuates its reign. We have the right to foster a malevolent world economic order which results in 3 billion human beings living on less than $2 per day.

13. We have the right to account for half of the world’s military expenditures to “provide for the common defense” of 5% of the world’s population while 46 million of our people have no health insurance, 13% of the overall American population lives in poverty, over a million are homeless, an alarmingly high percentage of Black America suffers poverty and receives a pathetic education, and crises like New Orleans result in passive mass murder and diasporas of “undesirables”.

14. We have the right to send military recruiters into public schools. Our recruiters have access to student addresses and phone numbers and we pay them to use propaganda and financial incentives to entice our youth into sacrificing themselves for the latest imperial crusade.

15. We have the right to accrue as much public and personal debt as we deem “necessary” to perpetuate the American Dream for our nation and to satiate our personal obsessions with acquiring material possessions.

16. We have the right to impose our hollow, shallow, and violent cultural values on a world cowed into acceptance by the raw military and economic power of the American Empire.

17. We have the right to spy on our citizens, eliminate habeas corpus, and contract private companies like Blackwater to avoid the constraints of posse comitatus. It is of no concern to us that our actions seriously conflict with the US Constitution.

18. We have the right to produce 25% of greenhouse gasses, ignore and discount mounting evidence of global warming, and refuse to sign the Kyoto Treaty.

19. We have the right to malign, threaten, intimidate, or kill those within the Empire who have the audacity to question or oppose our agenda.

20. We have the right to maintain a corrupt Duopoly consisting of the Republican and Democratic Parties, which consistently present American voters with candidates whose goals are to perpetuate the Empire and the agendas of its corporate and plutocratic leaders.

21. We have the right to use the IMF and World Bank to impose our economic will on “developing” nations which we “help” by burdening them with crushing debt.

22. We have the right to ignore and violate international law while demanding that the rest of the world (excepting Great Britain and Israel) adhere to it stringently.

23. We have the right to subsidize and support Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

24. We have the right to concentrate the power of the United States government in the hands of the Executive Branch under the pretext that it is necessitated by the “War on Terror”.

25. We have the right to label those who dare to oppose our invasions or genocides as savages or terrorists and strip them of their human rights.
Nerdified link

Quotable: Iran

We have never initiated the use of force or resorted to the threat of force against a fellow member of the United Nations. Although chemical weapons have been used against us, we have never used them in retaliation -- as UN reports have made clear. We have not invaded another country in 250 years.

-- Iranian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Mohammad-Javad Zarif

More bad news for US hegemony in South America

Say what you will about Ollanta Humala, Peru's front-runner in the national elections (he's hardly pristine), but he's definitely tapping into that populist vibe that's sweeping South and Central America. Kurt Nimmo notes:
Ollanta and his brother, Antauro, are leaders of Movimiento Etnocacerista, also known as Movimiento Nacionalista Peruano (the Peruvian Nationalist Movement), and embrace an Inca Native American ethnic identity philosophy and nationalization of the country’s industries, starting with industries privatized by foreign globalist neoliberals.

But what is really scary to the neolibs and the neocons in the Bush administration is the fact Humala appears to be following the ideas of Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez and has embraced the nationalist ideas of Simón Bolívar. If Ollanta Humala wins in Peru, it will spell disaster for the neocons and the “free trade” (unhindered thievery) scam they want to run on the whole of South America.

Last December, Evo Morales, a full-blooded Aymara Indian, won the election in Bolivia, much to the disappointment of the neocons. “You have a revolution going on in Bolivia,” declared an advisor to Donald Rumsfeld at the time, “a revolution that potentially could have consequences as far reaching as the Cuban revolution of 1959. Che Guevara… is back..”

Not exactly, although it does appear many people in South America are sick and tired of globalist tricks and rampant thievery and are voting democratically in large numbers to send them packing.

It's deja vu all over again:

i would probably feel a little more relieved when i read this:
President George W. Bush said on Monday that force is not necessarily required to thwart Tehran's nuclear ambitions and dismissed reports of plans for military strikes on Iran as "wild speculation."
if i didn't remember this:
President Bush yesterday dismissed the mounting speculation about a US invasion of Iraq as a "frenzy," describing himself as a "patient man" who would consult with international allies and congressional leaders before taking any action against Saddam Hussein.
Nerdified link

Monday, April 10, 2006

Today is:

The National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice.

Some good folks will likely be marching at one of numerous locations. See also Today we march, tomorrow we vote.

Other good reads on immigration legislation on Migra Matters:

The immigrant path to acceptance

The Great Compromise: The devil will be in the details

Mr. Frist's Wild Ride: The deal collapses

Bush blames Democrats: Mr. President, have you no shame, sir?

Why immigration reform failed in the Senate (Boehner, not Reid Killed the Immigration Bill)

Oh, and XicanoPwr has an excellent use for the term "illegals":
  • the illegal former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham - California Republican admits selling influence for $2.4 million;
  • the illegal lobbyist Jack Abramoff - pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges;
  • the illegal Tony C. Rudy - pleaded guilty to charges that he conspired with the "illegal" lobbyist Jack Abramoff to corrupt public officials and defraud his clients;
  • the illegal Michael Scanlon - pleaded guilty for conspiracy to defraud Indian tribes;
  • the illegal Elliott Abrams - pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of withholding from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence his knowledge of Oliver North's Contra-assistance activities, Bush Sr. pardoned Abrams before trial;
  • the illegal Randal David Ankeney - Republican activist from Colorado, arrested on suspicion of sexual assault on a child with force;
  • the illegal Jim Bakker - indicted on 23 federal charges of fraud, tax evasion, and racketeering
Works for me. I'm sure we could add a few more to that list.

Footnote to the preceding regarding a possible war against Iran

Read Seymour Hersh: The Iran Plans and WaPo's U.S. Is Studying Military Strike Options on Iran.

Iran and War by Andrew Carr

Iran and War by Andrew Carr.

The implications of a pre-emptive war against Iran are appalling.

(this article has been sent direct to the Respect Blog by Andrew Carr - why not join him and send your articles to be posted on this Blog)?

The Islamic state has no nuclear weapons, no nuclear weapons program, and there’s no proof that it plans to develop nuclear weapons in the future. In other words, the US is planning an attack against a nation that does not even meet its minimal requirements for pre-emptive war. Iran is no threat to anyone. It does, however, sit on vast reserves of oil and natural gas, a consideration that may have factored heavily into the battle strategy.

The decision to attack Iran has already been made. Like with the Iraq war, now the process of finding a reason to attack Iran will begin. First the war was devised, then the justification comes afterwards to make the people sheep buy into the outrageous lie that we're a peace loving country... but just this one time... just this once... we need to go to war.The last obstacle for the war against Iran was the German elections.

The German elections?

The Bush administration believed that Angela Merkel would win a hands down victory in Germany, putting a fellow neo-con in the driver’s seat of Europe’s largest economy. Merkel could be counted on to support the expansion of NATO (which is to say the extension of American power) to dismantle the social welfare system, energize the privatisation processes, quash the movement for an independent EU military, strengthen ties with the US and Israel, and disrupt European solidarity. All this fits within the Washington neo-con vision of a balkanised, free market Europe operating as a subordinate to its US overlords.

If the US or Israel had attacked Iran before the German elections, Merkel, who has promised to rebuild ties with America, would have taken a nose dive in the polls. Fortunately this didn't happen, and Mr Schroder managed to cling to at least some power by moving radically further to the left and using an anti-US stance to woo his people into voting for him again.

The media has already began beating the war drums of specious charges aimed at the Iranian government. The major news providers describing Iran as "defiant" and "thumbing their nose" at the world community or, worse, "out of compliance" with prior agreements. The new Iranian president is described as a "hardliner" who is "fiercely anti-American." These claims are normally accompanied by quotes from unidentified sources who refer to a fictional nuclear weapons program that is just months away from developing the bomb.

It’s all lies. In fact, the world community is not troubled by Iran’s nuclear program at all. It is only the US who would like to use the allegations of Iran being a threat to the peace so they can once again employ the propaganda system to "justify" another illegal pre-emptive war.

Unlike the US, Iran does not have a history of territorial aggression, is not involved in massively destabilising colonial wars and does not abduct civilians from other sovereign nations and torture them in foreign prisons.

Iran has no nuclear weapons program. That is not simply my contention, but the judgment of the foremost nuclear inspections team in the world: the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It was the IAEA that consistently disputed the erroneous claims by the Bush administration that Saddam was developing a nuclear weapons capacity. No such program existed and anyone who thought about it would know that the US knew the charges were false at the time.

For the last two years, Iran has willingly undergone the strictest regime of “go anywhere, see anything” inspections of any nation in the history of the IAEA. They have consistently received a clean bill of health from the chairman of the watchdog agency, Mohammed ElBaradei. Even now Iran is eager to admit the IAEA inspectors to all suspect locations, allowing them to set up their permanent video cameras, so they can assure the global community that they are complying with the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

What Iran refuses to do, and what every sovereign nation should refuse to do, is accept rules mandated by the United States especially designed for Iran. That is precisely what is happening at present. Iran is IN COMPLETE COMPLIANCE WITH ITS OBLIGATIONS UNDER THE TERMS OF THE NPT (according to the IAEA). The Bush team is demanding is that they forgo the conversion of nuclear fuel to be used for peaceful purposes in the production of nuclear energy for power plants (this conversion process does not create weapons grade plutonium). This is their right under the terms of the treaty. For Iran to accept less than what they agreed upon destroys the meaning of the treaty, creates an apartheid system of compliance, and is a national humiliation.

Why would Iran accept such an obvious double standard while the US is busy building a new regime of bunker busting nuclear weapons and threatening to use them pre-emptively on Washington’s enemy of the week?

Presently, the Bush administration is busy working the diplomacy track to see if they can obtain some vague sense of legitimacy for their war plans. Operating behind their allies in the EU, the US is using a two part strategy. On the one hand, they are trying to persuade the 35 member IAEA to adopt a consensus resolution singling out Iran for censure by the Security Council in New York. On the other hand, they are attempting to persuade the IAEA to endorse an EU draft that Iran is in non-compliance with the NPT. Both censure and non-compliance have been blocked by a newly formed coalition of Russia, China, India and many of the non-aligned nations that refuse to allow the resolutions to move forward. Bush's shabby attempt at diplomacy has ground to a halt and doesn't look like it's going anywhere in a hurry.

The administration’s goals in attacking Iran are simple and straightforward. They hope to control Iran’s vast petroleum and natural gas reserves, disarm a regional rival to Israel, prevent Iran from opening its own market for trading oil in petro-euros, and manage the global energy market to maintain US dominance over rising powers like India and China. These can be achieved by putting the region's resources under US control.

There are many signs that the US is drawing closer to a war with Iran. Numerous reports indicate that the military is conducting routine flyovers of Iran, as well as "defence" secretary Rumsfeld suggested that Iran was behind the street violence that erupted in Basra when two British commandos were arrested by Iraqi police. Rumsfeld claimed that Iran’s involvement was "not helpful."

Rumsfeld's claims are absurd. The riot that broke out when 10 British tanks and armoured vehicles crushed the walls surrounding the Basra jail had nothing to do with Iran. It was a purely spontaneous reaction to the abuse of force on behalf of my country.

Weeks earlier, Rumsfeld made similar allegations about arms that had been captured in house-to-house searches. "It is true," he said, "that weapons clearly, unambiguously, from Iran have been found in Iraq."

Clear to whom exactly?

Rumsfeld's allegations are suspect and surely designed to expand the regional war.

Why would Iran want to increase the ongoing chaos in Iraq? Does it help Iran to have an unstable neighbour where, at any moment, the war could spill over it's borders?

Or do the Mullahs simply have a death wish and long to be nuked by the United States?

Rumsfeld is mistaken. Iran does not want a war.

A leaked document from the CIA attracted considerable attention a while ago. Under orders from Dick Cheney, the US Strategic Command drew up contingency plans for a "large scale air assault employing both conventional an nuclear weapons." Understandably, the document caused quite an uproar, leaving many to conclude that Bush was considering a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Surprisingly, to the best of my knowledge, the leak never produced the expected recriminations from the White House. Bush and Cheney simply ignored its appearance as though it never happened.

A lot of major internet news outlets ran stories about the Pentagon's draft of a US nuclear doctrine that spells out conditions under which US commanders might seek approval to pre-emptively use nuclear weapons.

Would the Pentagon really execute a first-strike initiative against a non-nuclear country?

What country would be the likely target of such an attack?

The answer is almost too obvious to mention. Iran.

Both of these examples suggest that the US is trying to send a strong message to Iran that they will respond with overwhelming nuclear force if Iran retaliates. It is a clever strategy that offers nearby Israel (who will presumably lead the attack) some insurance that Iran will not strike back.

But, Iran will strike back. That much is certain. And, of course, Iran has every right to retaliate if it is bombed in an unprovoked act of aggression.

Whatever you might think of the repressive Islamic regime, it's right to defend itself against unprovoked hostilities cannot be challenged. Thus, Iran will be defending the principles of sovereignty, self-determination, borders, and the right to live in peace with its neighbours without the threat of attack. These principles are the foundation blocks upon which the current world rests.

I believe that the Mullahs will honour their obligation to defend their people if they are attacked and will act accordingly.

Just exactly how much weight the oil factor carries in the US's decision making is not something that we can determine with absolute assurance at this time, but given the importance energy has played in the careers and thinking of various high officials of this administration, and given Iran's immense resources, it would be ludicrous not to take the oil factor into account, and yet you can rest assured that, as relations with Iran worsen, American media reports and analysis of the situation will generally steer a course well clear of the subject (as they did in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq).

When talking about oil's importance in American strategic thinking about Iran, it is important to go beyond the obvious question of Iran's potential role in satisfying the west's future energy requirements. Because Iran occupies a strategic location on the north side of the Persian Gulf, it is in a position to threaten oil fields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates, which together possess more than half of the world's known oil reserves. Iran also sits on the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway through which, daily, forty percent of the world's oil exports pass. In addition, Iran is becoming a major supplier of oil and natural gas to China, India, and Japan, thereby giving Iran additional clout in world affairs. It is these geopolitical dimensions of energy, as much as Iran's potential to export significant quantities of oil to the United States, that undoubtedly govern the US's reasons for wanting this war.

According to the most recent tally by Oil and Gas Journal, Iran houses the second largest pool of untapped petroleum in the world, an estimated 125.8 billion barrels. Only Saudi Arabia, with an estimated 260 billion barrels, possesses more. Iraq, the third in line, has an estimated 115 billion barrels. With this much oil, about one tenth of the world's estimated total supply, Iran is certain to play a key role in the global energy equation, no matter what else occurs.

It is not, however, just sheer quantity that matters in Iran's case. No less important is it's future productive capacity. Although Saudi Arabia possesses larger reserves, it is now producing oil at close to its maximum sustainable rate which is about 10 million barrels per day. It will probably be unable to raise its output significantly over the next 20 years while global demand, pushed by significantly higher consumption in the United States, China, and India, is expected to rise by fifty percent. Iran, on the other hand, has considerable growth potential. It is now producing about 4 million barrels per day, but is thought to be capable of boosting its output by another 3 million barrels or so. Few, if any, other countries possess this potential, so Iran's importance as a producer, already significant, is bound to grow in the years ahead.

And it is not just oil that Iran possesses in great abundance, but also natural gas. According to Oil and Gas Journal, Iran has an estimated 940 trillion cubic feet of gas, or approximately sixteen percent of total world reserves. Only Russia, with 1,680 trillion cubic feet, has a larger supply. As it takes approximately 6,000 cubic feet of gas to equal the energy content of 1 barrel of oil, Iran's gas reserves represent the equivalent of about 155 billion barrels of oil. This, in turn, means that its combined hydrocarbon reserves are the equivalent of some 280 billion barrels of oil, just slightly behind Saudi Arabia's combined supply. At present, Iran is producing only a small share of its gas reserves, about 2.7 trillion cubic feet per year. This means that Iran is one of the few countries capable of supplying much larger amounts of natural gas in the future.

What all this means is that Iran will play a critical role in the world's future energy equation. This is especially true because the global demand for natural gas is growing faster than that for any other source of energy, including oil. While the world currently consumes more oil than gas, the supply of petroleum is expected to contract in the not-too-distant future as global production approaches its peak sustainable level in 2010 and then begins a gradual but irreversible decline. The production of natural gas, on the other hand, is not likely to peak until several decades from now, and so is expected to take up much of the slack when oil supplies become less abundant. Natural gas is also considered a more attractive fuel than oil in many applications, especially because when consumed it releases less carbon dioxide which is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect.

No doubt the major US energy companies would love to be working with Iran today in developing these vast oil and gas supplies. At present, however, they are prohibited from doing so by Executive Order 12959, signed by President Clinton in 1995 and renewed by President Bush in March 2004. The United States has also threatened to punish foreign firms that do business in Iran under the Iran/Libya sanctions act of 1996, but this has not deterred many large companies from seeking access to Iran's reserves. China, which will need vast amounts of additional oil and gas to fuel it's red hot economy, is paying particular attention to Iran. According to the US Department of Energy, Iran supplied 14 percent of China's oil imports in 2003, and is expected to provide an even larger share in the future. China is also expected to rely on Iran for a large share of its liquid natural gas imports. In October 2004, Iran signed a $100 billion, 25 year contract with Sinopec, a major Chinese energy firm, for joint development of one of its major gas fields and the subsequent delivery of LNG to China. If this deal is fully consummated, it will constitute one of China's biggest overseas investments and represent a major strategic linkage between the two countries.

India is also keen to obtain oil and gas from Iran. In January, the Gas Authority of India Ltd, signed a 30 year deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Corporation for the transfer of as much as 7.5 million tons of LNG to India per year. The deal, worth an estimated $50 billion, will also entail Indian involvement in the development of Iranian gas fields. Even more noteworthy, Indian and Pakistani officials are discussing the construction of a $3 billion natural gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan, which is an extraordinary step for two long term adversaries. If completed, the pipeline would provide both countries with a substantial supply of gas and allow Pakistan to reap $200-$500 million per year in transit fees.

"The gas pipeline is a win-win proposition for Iran, India, and Pakistan," Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz declared in January.

Despite the pipeline's obvious attractiveness as an incentive for reconciliation between India and Pakistan, nuclear powers that have fought three wars over Kashmir since 1947 and remain deadlocked over the future status of that troubled territory, the project was condemned by Condoleezza Rice during a trip to India.

"We have communicated to the Indian government our concerns about the gas pipeline cooperation between Iran and India," she said on March 16 after meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh in New Delhi. The administration has, in fact, proved unwilling to back any project that offers an economic benefit to Iran. This has not, however, deterred India from proceeding with the pipeline.

Japan has also broken ranks with Washington on the issue of energy ties with Iran. In early 2003, a consortium of three Japanese companies acquired a 20 percent stake in the development of the Soroush-Nowruz offshore field in the Persian Gulf, a reservoir thought to hold one billion barrels of oil. One year later, the Iranian Offshore Oil Company awarded a $1.26 billion contract to Japan's JGC Corporation for the recovery of natural gas and natural gas liquids from Soroush-Nowruz and other offshore fields.

When considering Iran's role in the global energy equation, the Bush administration officials have two key strategic aims... a desire to open up Iranian oil and gas fields to exploitation by American firms, and concern over Iran's growing ties to America's competitors in the global energy market. Under US law, the first of these aims can only be achieved after the President lifts EO 12959, and this is not likely to occur as long as Iran is controlled by anti-American mullahs. Likewise, the ban on US involvement in Iranian energy production and export gives Tehran no choice but to pursue ties with other consuming nations. From the Bush administration's point of view, there is only one obvious and immediate way to alter this unappetising landscape... by inducing regime change in Iran and replacing the existing leadership with one far friendlier to US strategic interests.

The Iranian leadership is well aware that it faces a serious threat from the Bush administration and is no doubt taking whatever steps it can to prevent such an attack. Here, too, oil is a major factor in both Tehran's and Washington's calculations. To deter a possible American assault, Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz and otherwise obstruct oil shipping in the Persian Gulf area.

"An attack on Iran will be tantamount to endangering Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and, in a word, the entire Middle East oil," Iranian Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezai said on March 1.

Such threats are taken very seriously by the US Department of "Defence".

"We judge Iran can briefly close the Strait of Hormuz, relying on a layered strategy using predominantly naval, air, and some ground forces," Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby, the director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 16.

So, even while publicly focusing on Iran's weapons of mass destruction, key administration figures are certainly thinking in geopolitical terms about Iran's role in the global energy equation and its capacity to obstruct the global flow of petroleum. As was the case with Iraq, the White House is determined to eliminate this threat once and for all. And so, while oil may not be the administration's sole reason for going to war with Iran, it is the most important and essential factor in the overall strategic calculation that makes war likely.

I was hoping to come up with something a bit more catchy for the end of this post, but I can't think of anything, so I hope it's merits speak for itself.

Credits:The Oil and Gas Journal

Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Oil

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Andrew Carr to RESPECT -THE UNITY COALITION (click to return to main Respect Blog).

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Hat tip to Uncle $cam at American Samizdat.