Saturday, December 8, 2007

Probably the real reason behind all the sabre rattling

Iran drops dollar from oil deals:
TEHRAN (AFP) — Major crude producer Iran has completely stopped carrying out its oil transactions in dollars, Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari said on Saturday, labelling the greenback an "unreliable" currency.
"At the moment, selling oil in dollars has been completely halted, in line with the policy of selling crude in non-dollar currencies," Nozari was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
"The dollar is an unreliable currency, considering its devaluation and the oil exporters' losses," he added.
The world's fourth largest oil exporter, Iran has massively reduced its dependence on the dollar over the past year in the face of US pressures on its financial system and the fall in the dollar.
Nozari did not specify in which currencies Iran was now being paid. In the past, officials have said most oil income was in euros, with a significant percentage in yen.
Maybe a little background is in order:
If this measure is implemented it could have very grave consequences for the American economy. As early as September 2005 Aljazeera published an article on its website that Iran was about to begin pricing its oil in euros. According this article just about everyone would benefit, except the United States. For at least fifty years about 70 % of all currency reserves were in American dollars. This made the dollar the strongest currency on earth. Central banks need to have important reserves in dollars because up until now oil, the most important commodity of the world, is mostly priced in dollars. Since the irresponsible policies of the current American administration have allowed America's national debt to rise to crippling heights, its ailing economy became mostly dependent upon the high demand for its currency. Or, to put it simply, the dollar may no longer be exchangeable for gold but it can be exchanged for oil. Since the demand for oil increases steadily and the price of oil also increases, the dollar is a safe bet. Until now, that is.

[snip]

The adoption of the euro for oil transactions will provide the European currency with a reserve status that will benefit the Europeans at the expense of the Americans. On September 2, 2005 the Global Politician quoted an expert stating "One of the Federal Reserve’s nightmares may begin to unfold when it appears that international buyers will have a choice of buying a barrel of oil for $60 on the NYMEX (New York Mercantile Exchange) and IPE (London’s International Petroleum Exchange) or purchase a barrel of oil for €45 to €50 via an alternative Iranian bourse." In this scenario an already-existent global trend of shifting foreign currency reserves from dollars to euros would accelerate, thus strengthening the euro and weakening the dollar on the international market. Imports would start to cost America so much more that its economy would not be able to cope anymore and the stock market bubble would burst.

[snip]

But is it likely to happen? Well, it has happened before it seems. In 2000 Saddam Houssein demanded euros for Iraq's oil. At first he wasn't taken all to seriously but when it became clear that he meant business, political pressure was exerted to change his mind. Other oil producing countries began to voice their intent to accept payments in euros or yen. So, when Bush and his cabal of neocons invaded Iraq, why exactly were they doing this? Because of Saddam's long defunct pipe-dream of weapons of mass destruction? Was it about spreading democracy? Indignation about an inhuman regime? Or was it about defending the American dollar and sending a clear message to other countries that a superpower would not tolerate its super-currency flouted. Some have argued that Bush started the war to seize Iraq's oilfields. But why would he want to? Strangely enough: as long as the dollar is backed by oil, America can print as many dollars as it wants and... buy oil with them. Defending the dollar as the unique oil-currency is infinitely more important than seizing the oil itself. And look what happened: barely two months after the United States invaded Iraq, the Oil for Food Program was terminated and the Iraqi euro accounts were switched back to dollars. Global dollar supremacy was once again restored. That was the real mission that was accomplished.

That is also the reason neocons aren't too worried about the way the war in Iraq is going. As far as they are concerned it may drag on for another twenty years and cost tens of thousands of American lives as long as the supremacy of the dollar is maintained. For the neocons and their conspiracy for a New American Century this is the basis of all that they are trying to accomplish. This is what Krassimir Petrov in the Energy Bulletin has to say about it: "A nation-state taxes its own citizens, while an empire taxes other nation-states. The history of empires, from Greek and Roman, to Ottoman and British, teaches that the economic foundation of every single empire is the taxation of other nations. (...) Historically, imperial taxation has always been direct: the subject state handed over the economic goods directly to the empire. For the first time in history, in the twentieth century, America was able to tax the world indirectly, through inflation. It did not enforce the direct payment of taxes like all of its predecessor empires did, but distributed instead its own fiat currency, the U.S. Dollar, to other nations in exchange for goods with the intended consequence of inflating and devaluing those dollars and paying back later each dollar with less economic goods—the difference capturing the U.S. imperial tax."

The immediate question is whether the neocons will attempt to intervene in Iran in an effort to prevent the formation of a crude oil pricing mechanism in euros.
Abandoning the US Dollar coupled with much of Iran's oil reserves located on a narrow strip of land bordering Iraq, and we have at least some understanding for the current belligerence expressed by the White House (with plenty of complicity from both parties' political leaders) toward Iran. About two years ago I noted a couple possible outcomes if the Iranian government were to succeed at making a clean break from the Dollar:
...either deflation and economic depression or hyperinflation depending of course on what the Fed decides to do.
That of course would be bad news for an economy such as ours that is able to continue its huge deficit spending based on its currency being THE reserve currency. Wave bye-bye to those golden days of cheap happy motoring and disposable consumer goods at the Big Box stores, as well as a rather abrupt end to the government's ability to maintain its 700 plus military bases around the globe.

Hence the behavior of our government over the last year or two seem quite sensible (at least to them). It can be summed up as a sort of three-point plan as noted last year:
1. Escalation - with Democrats quite willingly enabling. Be wary of that term "surge" which seems merely a euphemism to suggest a temporary state of affairs (a two year "surge" or more properly escalation hardly seems short-term). Junior Caligula's War God requires more blood sacrifices, which the additional 30k troops plus the ensuing additional Iraqi victims will accomplish.

2. Target Sadr. Apparently that is already happening. In their minds Sadr is all that stands in the way of those coveted oil leases.

3. Expand the war into Iran. The sin of the Irani government is that of trading oil in Euros rather than US Dollars (which oddly enough was the Iraqi government's sin during the waning days of Hussein's reign).

The first two elements seem already well in place. As noted, the opening salvos against Sadr have been launched. So too does it appear that any military opposition to an escalation of the Iraq war has already been squelched and that the Dems will do as they usually do: merely roll over and play dead (with a lot riding on the fate of the dollar, I'm hardly surprised). As is typical of a failing state, the vast majority of the public, as gauged by opinion polls, is firmly against an escalation in the number of troops sent to Iraq, and yet the White House and Congress will likely be authorizing precisely the sort of escalation that a mere 11% of the public supports.
I also noted last year that a war with Iran would be fraught with difficulties:
Of course there are some problems with starting yet another war while the one in Iraq continues to fester. Getting a "coalition of the willing" could be a lot trickier this time around, as the author notes, and Iran is no slouch militarily unlike the case with Iraq. A nearly broken US military would find taking on Iran to be a gargantuan undertaking - one that would lead to even more spilled blood than has already been experienced. Iran could also more effectively cut off oil supplies which, given the sheer amount of dependence we have on oil to fuel whatever's left of our industries as well as shipping and agriculture, could easily precipitate a collapse of the US as we currently know it.
No doubt we'll be treated with a continued propaganda effort regarding Iran. The usual rationales will suffice: Iran is developing nukes (never mind the NIE report that just came out that indicates that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons program since at least 2003), its government has repressed its people, its president is a Holocaust denier, it's a new key battle field in the "war on terra," it's time to spread "democracy" to the Iranian people, ad nauseum. We've been down that road before. Just realize that underlying all the glib justifications is the drive to defend the all-mighty dollar at all costs. Also realize that given the Achilles' heel of the US occupation in Iraq, that yet another war amidst the others our government has committed itself to won't end well.

UPDATE: Welcome, Sideshow readers!

The crime is horrifically bad,

but the coverup is worse. Just how horrifically bad?
Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be....Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics.
[Other unrelated bungling described, all of which is worth clicking the link to read.]
Which brings us back to the unbalanced Abu Zubaydah. "I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?"
Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety — against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each...target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."
Last passage via Kevin Drum. Drum of course would like to cast all of this in partisan terms, but as I've pointed out before, such framing is quite unwise.

Quite the surprise eh?

House Democratic leaders could complete work as soon as Monday on a half-trillion-dollar spending package that will include billions of dollars for the war effort in Iraq without the timelines for the withdrawal of combat forces that President Bush has refused to accept, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said yesterday.

In a complicated deal over the war funds, Democrats will include about $11 billion more in domestic spending than Bush has requested, emergency drought relief for the Southeast and legislation to address the subprime mortgage crisis, Hoyer told a meeting of the Washington Post editorial board.

If the bargain were to become law, it would be the third time since Democrats took control of Congress that they would have failed to force Bush to change course in Iraq and continued to fund a war that they have repeatedly vowed to end.
Nerdified link

Looks like more "guns and (I can't believe it's not) butter." Supposedly Pelosi and Reid are vowing not to support any war funding bill that doesn't include some sort of timetables for withdrawal of troops (although as others have shown elsewhere, such "withdrawals" are more cosmetic than anything else); but I will predict that both "leaders" of their respective Congressional chamber will make like Sir Robin and bravely run away from even that weak challenge.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wow. Just. Wow.

First something I just happened to find over at JMBzine:

Wired.com: Cyberbullying Suicide Stokes the Internet Fury Machine

Crazy, crazy. What is even more nuts to me is to see Lori Drew (the mother behind the cyberbullying case who posted the notorious myspace profile), created another blog to attack the neighbor girl AFTER the child had committed suicide called MeganHadItComing.

I try not be hateful, but I think agree with the Wired.com folks. If the law won’t prosecute these folks, then maybe social shunning does make sense. I don’t know what the answer is, but it seems insane that these folks can get away with this.

On the other hand, the Wired.com story also points out the folly of cyberjustice and how quickly it can go awry. I don’t think anyone (except for nutjobs) think that death threats and bricks thrown though windows are a good idea.

I decided to follow some of the links to see where they led to, and I have to say that Jim's comments (above) and the folks at Wired.com seem reasonably sensible. I honestly do not know how I would have reacted had I been one of Megan's parents - feelings of rage toward the perp accompanying the mourning process would probably be most likely. I do know that just simply letting bygones be bygones would not be an option, and most certainly would be making a lot of noise around the community just to make sure that Lori Drew felt at least a modicum of the discomfort her victim had experienced. Shunning I think would seem reasonable under the circumstances. It would be perfectly understandable if Lori Drew no longer found herself welcome at neighborhood gatherings, PTA meetings, local businesses (and of course that potential customers of any business she is involved with take their business elsewhere), etc., as she's proven herself to be a poor community member who could apparently with impunity choose to harm other children in the future. Heck, other types of child predators get shunned all the time. Seems fair enough. It's safe to say that since I learned about the story (first via my wife), I find Lori Drew's actions to be just plain creepy. Given her subsequent behavior since her initial presence on Myspace, it's clear that she has, to put it diplomatically, issues. That she seems hell-bent on resorting to victim blame to clear her conscience is deplorable. If she were in my neighborhood, I wouldn't, in good conscience, give her the time of day.

The vigilante behavior is not something I would endorse, though. When anonymous and semi-anonymous people feel it appropriate to engage in threatening behavior, then they cross a line that really should not be crossed. That said, it can be readily explainable, in much the same way that Lori Drew's initial behavior was explainable: diffusion of responsibility. Just as torturers can and often do mask their identities via uniforms and dark sunglasses, on the internet, individuals can create cyberfictions that make them seem at least to themselves less accountable than they would be in ordinary interpersonal encounters. Mrs. Drew was able to create a fictitious character with which to prey on a child unbeknown to that child. In a sense it wasn't "Lori Drew" who was tormenting Megan but "Josh." Similarly, we know that in dealing with mob behavior, individual identity and accountability is lost, leading to more extreme behaviors than individuals acting in isolation would have ordinarily engaged in. This again is especially true in cyberspace, in which individuals can hide behind screen names, their own identities at least partially shielded. Folks will make threats or advocate threatening behavior that they would never otherwise have done if actually required to face their target. There is a sense that what "I" do is "not me." One can then play on that ambiguity that these cyber-encounters create to deny responsibility for their actions. We'll call it the cyber equivalent to Bad Faith.

I think it wouldn't hurt, and might actually help if computer users would place a mirror right beside their computer monitors, so that they would still see a reflection of themselves periodically. There is actually some experimental evidence available to suggest that merely the sight of one's reflection in a mirror can reduce aggressive and antisocial behaviors. Perhaps this is something to think about applying to those of us who use computers as well. Maybe the realization that it is "I" who am about to engage in a particular internet exchange rather than the cyberfiction would discourage some of the nastiness we see on a regular basis on message boards, blogs, Myspace, etc.

In the meantime, it strikes me as a wise idea for parents to think more than twice before letting their kids loose on Myspace, or any of these other social networking sites. My wife and I have been talking about this for a long time, now that one of our kids is close to adolescence, and have decided that erring on the side of caution would be well advised.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Impeach

If not the Lush/Zany gang, might as well go for the next best thing: Speaker Pelosi.

The Noose Meme Goes Viral

Yet another incident that has come to my attention:
This gentleman was working on a rig off the coast of Louisiana, and takes a nap. He wakes up with a noose around his neck and three white workers standing over him. They say it was a "prank."

Now that's comedy! Perhaps they can use it to bring back the Fox Half Hour Comedy Hour or whatever that crappy show was called.

In any case, this gets better. The victim tells his bosses at Noble Drilling (of Houston, call them and send your regards), and they fired him for "sleeping on the job." It was during his break. God forbid workers take one of those.

Now he's suing them. Let's hope, against all odds, Noble takes it in the gut.

Hat tip to the field negro. A pretty decent compendium of college noose incidents can be found at Vox ex Machina. I'm not sure if there is a similar compendium for workplace incidents. If I become aware of one, I'll update with a link to it.

Another Guantánamo Bay Training Manual Leaked

The story from Wired:
Wikileaks has published a second leaked Standard Operating Procedures manual that provides detailed instructions about how guards at Guantanamo's Camp Delta were instructed to treat detainees at the military prison in 2004. Like the 2003 Gitmo manual that Wikileaks published last month, this document is unclassified but still contains significant information about the isolation of prisoners, the use of dogs at Guantanamo, and forms of punishment for detainees. Wikileaks editor Julian Assange has put together a handy side-by-side comparison showing changes between the 2003 and 2004 documents.
Wikileaks also published a second document this week that details instructions for dealing with rendition flights involving the air transport of detainees. The document includes a diagram (pictured at right) of an airplane used for renditions. The document is fairly large and Wikileaks hasn't had time to analyze it. Therefore the organization is asking readers to help them review it and post interesting findings.
All Guantánamo Bay posts at Notes From Underground are compiled here and here for those wishing a bit more context.

Sy Hersh on the NIE Report

Here's a video clip via Youtube:


You can also catch a video clip at Think Progress.

As I said before, I think this makes Bu$hCo's efforts to undertake a war against Iran a harder sell, although far from impossible. Distal factors such as the on-going propaganda against Iranians (among others in the Middle East and central Asia) and our own cultural myopia (i.e., American Exceptionalism) suggest that we are all at risk for the US waging a war in Iran regardless of this new intelligence report. Of course, as I've tried to note previously, if one excuse for a war seems to fall flat, there's always another. If the WMD route won't fly, there's always the old "terrorist threat" angle (we'll probably see that one receiving more play), or some form of "humanitarian" angle (which given the general unquestioning acceptance by most Americans of the exceptionalist myth - especially those among the elites, would be an easy angle to take).

Hersh certainly offers one potential scenario: the Israeli government either unilaterally or in conjunction with the US hauls off and bombs Iran regardless. Another is that the White House hardliners merely bide their time and look for a new excuse to start a war. Certainly, given what I've heard about Junior Caligula's press conference this morning, this is a White House that is fanatically determined to do so - and would likely receive little more than token opposition from the rest of the ruling class. Civilians in Iran are definitely not out of the woods by any means.

More coverage and commentary can be found over at Ten Percent, Lenin's Tomb, masks of anarchy, and Once Upon a Time.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

100,000

This blog has now reached the 100,000 mark in terms of visits. Visitor 100,000 appears to have come from the blog, Why Now? At the rate we're going, I think this blog should reach the million mark somewhere around my 81st birthday - assuming of course that there is such a thing as blogging by then.

On the topic of traffic, I've noticed that the blog is finally back to some semblance of good health. The number of visits has been relatively consistent since about the last week of October (usually somewhere between 60 and 80), and last month's figures actually looked reminiscent of the late 2006. For a fairly long stretch after that snafu that occurred when migrating to the "New Blogger" platform, traffic was at best inconsistent, ranging from almost nonexistent to maybe 40-50 visitors with the occasional spike into the hundreds (and one day in June over a thousand - in the process racking half of that month's visits) whenever someone like Crooks and Liars picked up on one of my blog posts. Since this blogging gig is strictly a hobby, the numbers aren't crucial - as in, my ability to make rent and feed the kids is in no way shape or form affected - but does indicate to me something by way of consistent repeat visitors, etc. It's nice to know that some folks have decided once more that there might be something semi-worthwhile here.

There are a couple folks who still come back here who have been around almost from the beginning (LarryE comes most readily to mind), and I've noticed some newer readers show up in the comments (e.g., cthulu's mom, who is a blast to read). I often don't have a pithy reply to my commenters , but just be rest assured that I do read them, and very much appreciate them.

Personally, when I started this thing up, I had no idea how long I'd keep it up. I'll keep this going for a while yet. Hopefully Manny and Duke1676 will periodically continue to offer up some of their prose here as they have in the past; and who knows, maybe I'll con yet another blogger or two to do likewise.

Okay, enough of the navel gazing. Back to keeping it real.

Follow-up to previous post

Just wanted to take a few moments and provide a bit more context regarding the hype and its consequences in the Balkans and Iraq during the 1990s. We'll start out with the Balkans -- Yugoslavia and its break-away states, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo. Note that all the following text comes from the chapter "A Government of Laws?" in On the Justice of Roosting Chickens, by Ward Churchill (and of course what follows can easily be sourced elsewhere as well):

August 5, 1992: A photograph is taken through barbed wire by British TV reporter Penny Marshall of a longterm tuberculosis victim named Fikret Alic, a Bosnian Muslim. The image of Alic's emaciated body is then deployed in the media by Ruder Finn, a public relations firm retained by Bosnia's Izetbegovic government, as well as the Tudjman régime in Criatia, to portray the treatment of Muslims by Bosnian Serbs -- and by extension, Yugoslavia -- as being comparable to that of the Jews by the nazis, the Trnopolje camp in which Alic was photographed as "a new Belsen." No mention is made, needless to say, of Alic's TB, that Trnopolje is not a concentration camp but rather a refuge facility to which many Muslims had fled rather than being pressed into service by Izetbegovic's forces, or that it was Marshall, not Alic, who had been behind barbed wire when the photo was shot. Because it is under sanctions, Yugoslavia is barred from hiring a PR firm to make such things public. In one of history's more sublime ironies, Ruder Finn's propaganda blitz -- passed off as "news" in U.S. outlets -- is thus spectacularly successful in mobilizing the potent American Jewish lobby in support of Izetbegovic's Islamic fascists and, at least implicitly, Tudjman's literal nazis. The Serbs' supposed "genocide" of Bosnian Muslims is then used by the U.S., with broad international support, to organize a tribunal in the Hague for the explicit purpose of prosecuting Serbian leaders and soldiers. This in turn serves as the "humanitarian" pretext for the U.S.-organized NATO intervention in Kosovo.

August 4, 1995: In a massive exercise in "ethnic cleansing," the Croatian army -- trained and equipped by the U.S. pursuant to a military agreement signed in Nov. 1994 -- launches "Operation Storm," a fullscale invasion of the Serbian district of Krajna. An estimated 14,000 people are quickly killed, another 170,000 pushed as refugees into neighboring Bosnia. U.S. aircraft, committed to NATO "peacekeeping" forces in the region, fly air support missions in behalf of the attackers, and the U.S. blocks a Russian attempt to pass a security council resolution condemning the offensive.

March 24, 1999: Claiming it is necessary to halt yet another "humanitarian disaster" -- this one centering upon a supposed Serbian "genocide" of ethnic Albanians -- the U.S. completely disregards the UN by heading up a NATO air offensive to "liberate" Kosovo from the "criminal state" of Yugoslavia. Over the next 11 weeks, an "awesome array" of both "smart" and "dumb" aerial ordnance is expended not only against Yugoslav military forces, but such targets as "television stations, schools, hospitals, theaters, old folks homes," and other elements of the civilian infrastructures of both Kosovo and Yugoslavia itself. Even the Chinese embassy in downtown Belgrade is hit by a U.S. cruise missile. Thousands are killed, tens of thousands maimed, hundreds of thousands rendered homeless and made into refugees. By the time a peace accord is entered on June 3, making Kosovo into a NATO protectorate, an ad hoc group of international lawyers in Toronto has joined with the American Association of Jurists to file a complaint with the Hague War Crimes Tribunal charging that U.S.-led coalition forces have engaged in a range of crimes including "willful killing, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, employment of poisonous weapons or other weapons to cause unnecessary suffering, wanton destruction of cities, towns, and villages, dwellings or buildings, destruction or willful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences, [and] historic monuments, [as well as] open violation of the United Nations Charter, the NATO treaty itself, the Geneva Conventions and the principles of International Law." Since the Tribunal is U.S.-sponsored, the charges -- while entirely accurate -- are quietly shelved (and go all but unreported in the media).

May 27, 1999: Even as it ignores charges filed against the U.S. and other NATO participants in the onslaught against Yugoslavia, the Hague Tribunal, to much fanfare indicts President Slobodan Milosevic and five other top Serbian officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity. One problem is that even a team of 56 FBI forensic specialists dispatched by the Clinton Administration to gather evidence can find almost no indication that the grisly atrocities the Serbs are alleged to have committed against Kosovo Albanians ever occurred. Most spectacularly, a mine shaft near the town of Mitrovica widely reported as a mass grave for some 700 Albanians massacred by Serbian forces disgorges not a single corpse. At 30 other reputed "mass grave" sites, the FBI comes up with the bodies of fewer than 200 victims, the great majority of them apparently killed after NATO's "humanitarian intervention" had commenced. Ultimately, tales of the Serbs' "Nazi-like butchery" of Albanians proves as illusory as did those of their policy-driven mass rape of Bosnian Muslim women and the "new Belsen" they'd created at Trnopolje.
Some noteworthy US bombings of Iraq during the Clinton years:
June 27, 1993: The U.S. launches a cruise missile attack on the headquarters of Iraq's intelligence service. Although the action, which is not authorized by the Security Council, is allegedly undertaken in retaliation for an attempt to assassinate former Pres. Bush during a visit to Kuwait, no evidence is ever produced to confirm that Iraq was involved (or even if the supposed assassination attempt actually occurred. Among the many "collateral" victims of the missile strike is the prominent Iraqi painter, Leila Attar.

September 3-4, 1996: The U.S. launches a series of cruise missile attacks against targets in northern Iraq. Although the action, which is not authorized by the Security Council, is supposedly undertaken to protect the Kurdish population around Irbil from Iraqi depredations, the U.S. policy of supporting assaults against these same Kurds belies any such noble motive. On Sept. 14, Pres. Clinton admits that he actually "ordered these attacks in order to extend the no-fly zone." The U.S. missile strikes thus violate Chapter VII of the UN Charter, As Well as UNGA resolution 337A (V) and a host of other elements of international law. Given the extent of "collateral" civilian casualties involved -- not the least among the very Kurds Clinton claimed to be trying to "save" -- violations of the 1923 Hague Rules of Aerial Warfare and the 1949 Geneva Convention IV are also at issue.

December 16, 1998: UNSCOM chief Richard Butler, having withdrawn the last of his personnel from Iraq, submits a report to the Security Council stating that the Iraqis had refused admission of inspectors to a number of "sensitive" installations (this is a conscious misrepresentation; Iraq had refused admission mainly to presidential palaces and other facilities deemed essential to "the dignity and sovereignty of the country."). On this pretext, and without Security Council authorization, Pres. Clinton orders the commencement of "Operation Desert Fox" the same evening. Over the next 4 days, more than 100 sites -- several of them in Baghdad -- are subjected to heavy bombing. As U.S. inspector Scott Ritter later observes, by that point, Iraq's existing stockpiles and capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction had already been completely destroyed. The U.S. airstrikes are thus plainly geared far more to impress upon the Iraqi government that it must do whatever it is told, than to "eliminate Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capabilities."
We might also mention, a noteworthy bombing of Afghanistan during the Clinton era:

August 20, 1998: Still trying to lay a glove on the illusive Usama bin-Laden, the U.S. launches cruise missile strikes on what it believes are al-Qaida training camps in northeastern Afghanistan. The facilities turn out to be occupied mostly by Pakistanis training to fight in India-controlled Kashmir; of the 20 killed and 30 wounded in the attack, none are members of al-Qaida.
Finally, let's look at an attack on Sudan from the Clinton era:

August 19, 1998: Claiming that it is engaged in the illegal manufacture of chemical weapons, the U.S. bombs the Sudan's only pharmaceutical plant, al-Shifa, near Khartoum. In actuality there is no evidence whatsoever that any such activity is occurring, a matter readily borne out by the strenuousness of U.S. efforts to block a UN inspection of the site in the aftermath. Shortly, it becomes clear that the primary U.S. objection to al-Shifa is that it was built in part with donations from Usama bin-Laden, a Saudi millionaire who, as nominal head of the al-Qaida terrorist network, is believed by the CIA to be responsible for recent attacks upon the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen (frustrated at its inability to come to grips with bin-Laden himself, the U.S. is simply lashing out at anything associated with him). In reality, the al-Shifa plant was producing some 50% of the medicines available in the deeply impoverished Sudan, and its destruction left the country bereft of choloroquinine used to treat malaria, drugs with which to treat tuberculosis, and most of the veterinary drugs needed to combat parasites. The "collateral" effect of the U.S. bombing ... was thus the deaths of tens of thousands of Sudanese bystanders, the majority of them children.
Consider these just a few items to suggest that the old canard, "nobody died for Clinton's lies" is more of a stretch of the imagination than is warranted by reality. The pretexts for these various cruise missile and air attacks are ones with which were are abundantly familiar: allegations of ethnic cleansing or genocide, possession of the dreaded WMDs, or fighting terrorism (al-Qaida has of course become a sort of catch-all for alleged Muslim-based terrorist cells over the years). We're being treated to the usual allegations as our government tries to sell us the next wars in Iran (which has suddenly become a much harder sell than it was just a couple days ago -- though it should be duly noted that with our propaganda capabilities such a sales pitch for an Iran war is still quite feasible) and Darfur. Be wary of the hype -- it tends to be lethal.

The 800 pound gorilla in the room

Okay, as far as he goes, Josh Marshall is basically right when it comes to Bu$hCo:
I haven't had a chance yet to weigh in on today's news about the IC's apparent conclusion that the Iranians shuttered their nuclear program in 2003. But it's awfully big news. There's a secondary, though still very interesting question, of just why the NIE findings were released at all, and what intra-administration in-fighting might be behind it. But it shows us once again, for anyone who needed showing, that everything this administration says on national security matters should be considered presumptively not only false, but actually the opposite of what is in fact true, until clear evidence to the contrary becomes available. They're big liars. And actually being serious about the country's security means doing everything possible to limit the amount of damage they can do over the next fourteen months while they still control the US military and the rest of the nation's foreign policy apparatus.
Yup, contrary to the official state propaganda, Iran hasn't been pursuing nuclear weapons. That was already a given. And yet, we've had all sorts of hype about the need for economic sanctions along the lines of what was done to Iraqis [1], which as we all now are well aware led to a whole lot of casualties (including 500,000 dead kids due to starvation and disease). We get all sorts of hype about the need to do aerial strikes against Iran (again as was done to Iraq & also the Balkans [2] both circa 1990s), which will also lead to plenty of dead civilians. Needless to say, the propaganda has worked its black magic, much as it has before. It's the same lies all over again, just with a different target. Let that sink in.

Of course the last sentence betrays the 800 pound gorilla that our elites (and unfortunately most Americans) ignore: why not impeach the bastards? Maybe because Bu$hCo is a symptom, not the disease itself. The disease will likely continue to metastasize much as it has been over the past few decades. The Democrat-controlled Congress will not impeach anyone in this White House because the crimes of the Executive Branch are essentially their own. The occasional Congressional lone wolf, such as Kucinich (and Cynthia McKinney before him) shall be ignored, whatever legislation they offer with regard to impeachment simply knocked (as Pelosi might say) off the table and into the dustbin. It's almost a foregone conclusion that the Dems will get complete control of the War Machine next year, and any serious soul-searching now would merely spoil the fun. That people halfway across the world die in the interim is just the cost of doing the business of empire.

Footnotes:

[1] From Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival (pp. 126-128): The 1991 war, involving the purposeful destruction of water, power, and sewage systems, took a terrible toll, and the sanctions regime imposed by the US and UK drove the country to the level of bare survival. As one illustration, UNICEF's 2003 Report on the State of the World's Children states that "Iraq's regression over the past decade is by far the most severe of the 193 countries surveyed," with the child death rate, "the best single indicator of child welfare," increasing from 50 to 133 per 1,000 live births, placing Iraq below every country outside Africa apart from Cambodia and Afghanistan. Two hawkish military analysts observe that "economic sanctions may well have been a necessary [sic] cause of the deaths of more people in Iraq than have been slain by all so-called weapons of mass destruction throughout history," in the hundreds of thousands according to conservative estimates.

... Academic researcher Joy Gordon ... learned enough, as have others, to reveal a shameful record of deliberate cruelty and efforts pursued "aggressively throughout the last decade to purposefully minimize the humanitarian goods that enter the country ... in the face of enormous human suffering, including massive increases in child mortality and widespread epidemics." The US blocked water tankers from reaching Iraq on grounds so spurious that they were rejected by UN arms experts, "this during a time when the major cause of child deaths was lack of access to clean drinking water, and when the country was in the midst of a drought." Washington insisted that vaccines for infant diseases be withheld until it was compelled to back down in the face of vigorous protest by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, supported by European biological weapons experts, who charged that the dual-use claims by the US were "flatly impossible."

[2] Just to give you a bit of an idea, here's Chomsky from Hegemony or Survival (pp. 57-58): Andrew Bacevich gives an even more cynical interpretation, dismissing all humanitarian motives. Clinton's resort to force in Bosnia in 1995 and his bombing of Serbia in 1999 were "not, as claimed, to put a stop to ethnic cleansing or in response to claims of conscience, but to preempt threats to the cohesion of NATO and the credibility of American power."

And some example of the human cost in the Balkans from William Blum's Rogue State (p. 104): After the April NATO bombing of a Belgrade office building -- which housed political parties, TV and radio stations, 100 private companies, and more -- the Washington Post reported:
Over the past few days, U.S. officials have ben quited as expressing the hope that members of Serbia's economic elite will begin to turn against Milosevic once they understand how much they are likely to lose by continuing to resist NATO demands.
Before missiles were fired into this building, NATO planners spelled out the risks: "Casualty estimate 50-100 Government/Party employees. Unintended Civ Casualty est: 250 - Apts in expected blast radius." The planners were saying that about 250 civilians living in nearby apartment buildings might be killed in the bombing, in addition to the government and political party employees.

From the same book, pages 7-8: There's also President Clinton himself, who on day 33 of the aerial devastation of Yugoslavia -- 33 days and nights of destroying villages, schools, apartment buildings, the ecology, separating people from their limbs, from their eyesight, spilling their intestines, traumatizing children for the rest of their days ... destroying a life the Serbians may never know again -- on day 33 William Jefferson Clinton, cautioning against judging the bombing policy prematurely, saw fit to declare: "This may seem like a long time. [But] I don't think that this air campaign has been going on a particularly long time." And then the man continued it for another 45 days.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Faux News Sez: Don't Watch This Ad



The ad's title is Rescue the Constitution, and can be found at Beyond Guantánamo (hosted by the CCR). Jeralyn at Talk Left sez:

This is a big week for the Center for Constitutional Rights with the Supreme Court about to hear oral arguments in the Guantanamo case, Al Odah v. United States. To raise consciousness on the case, it tried to buy an ad on Fox News. Fox rejected the ad. CCR says (no link yet, received by e-mail):

In our ad, Danny Glover says the Bush administration is “destroying the Constitution,” and they said we needed proof. Were they expecting video of Bush sneaking into the Library of Congress with a shredder? I wonder how many times Bill O’Reilly has accused someone of destroying America or destroying Christmas?

You can watch the ad, Rescue the Constitution, here.

The CCR also has a campaign to send President Bush a copy of the Constitution as a Christmas present.

While we're at it, we should also note another bit of torture related news that hasn't quite received the coverage it deserves:

The Federal Court of Canada Thursday struck down a refugee agreement between Canada and the US, noting that the US does not meet international refugee protection requirements or respect international conventions against torture. Justice Michael Phelan essentially nullified the 2004 Safe Third Country Agreement, which barred foreign refugees who first arrived in the US from seeking refugee status in Canada and vice versa. Phelan noted that the US has not been compliant with the Refugee Convention or the UN Convention Against Torture. The court also held that the agreement discriminates against refugees based on how they first arrived in Canada and thus violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The nullification of the agreement will likely result in Canada processing thousands more refugees each year. The US and Canadian governments have until January 14 to file an appeal. CTV News has more. The Montreal Gazette has additional coverage.

A bit more commentary can be found at Why Now? and The Newshoggers. It was only a matter of time before Canada's Federal Court reacted as it did. Of course the US has been involved in perpetrating and exporting torture for decades, but is only now getting some of the international attention it so richly deserves. Unfortunately, most Americans likely don't have a clue as to how their government's actions are being viewed by those outside of the US. Suffice it to say, the reactions are far from favorable. Part of the price tag for being a rogue nation is that other nations increasingly wish to dissociate themselves, and seek ways to end agreements that would have seemed perfectly okay at an earlier juncture.

Bill Clinton as Autobiographical Revisionist

Not entirely news, but it turns out that Baby Doc Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, would like us to believe that he was always against the Iraq war. There's just one little problem: he seemed quite the warmonger not that long ago. The sheer amount of war and genocide perpetrated during the Clinton years is adequately covered elsewhere - just pick up a recent book by Noam Chomsky or William Blum for a crash course. This blog has certainly had a few cross words for those pining for a return of the Clinton years:
The call for war to overthrow Saddam had been made for some time throughout the 1990s by members of a thinktank called PNAC - many of whose members are currently staffing the White House. It is also the case that the US and UK had been cooperating since the end of the 1991 Gulf War to continue periodic bombing raids within Iraq's borders. None of this is a secret. The US (abetted by UK) campaign of genocide in Iraq was already on-going by the time Bu$hCo usurped the throne - the economic embargo imposed by the US had led to the death by starvation and disease of some 500,000 children in Iraq, for example - something that Clinton's ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright considered an acceptable price to pay. The US had also just two years prior to 9-11 been involved in a war in the Balkans region. There was plenty of war going on.
Further:
I've discussed previously the fact that following the presumed "end" to the Gulf War the regular bombings of Iraq targets continued unabated throughout the 1990s and early 2000s - at which point begins the official "beginning" of the war that our government is currently perpetrating. These airstrikes, conducted under the pretext of preventing the Evil Saddam from engaging in further hostilities with his neighbors, actually served the purposes of preventing efforts to rebuild the infrastructure (and worked in tandem with economic sanctions serving the same end). These strikes included, among other targets, the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq on Sept. 3 & 4, 1996 (ostensibly to "protect" the Kurds) ordered by none other than Bill Clinton (see, e.g., Ward Churchill's On the Justice of Roosting Chickens for a more thorough treatment of the US posture towards Iraq during this period). Of course, there were periodic spikes in bombing activity including - as it turns out - a noticeable escalation in airstrikes during the latter half of 2002:
THE RAF and US aircraft doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, new evidence has shown.

The attacks were intensified from May, six months before the United Nations resolution that Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, argued gave the coalition the legal basis for war. By the end of August the raids had become a full air offensive.

The details follow the leak to The Sunday Times of minutes of a key meeting in July 2002 at which Blair and his war cabinet discussed how to make "regime change" in Iraq legal.

Geoff Hoon, then defence secretary, told the meeting that "the US had already begun `spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime".

The new information, obtained by the Liberal Democrats, shows that the allies dropped twice as many bombs on Iraq in the second half of 2002 as they did during the whole of 2001, and that the RAF increased their attacks even more quickly than the Americans did. Link
Also, why I have increasingly turned my back on the Dems can be traced in part to:
Whether it's dismantling facets of the New Deal, turning their backs on labor in order to support neoliberal cheap-labor economic policies, or going along with the latest war of aggression in spite of public protest and good sense. We've seen that genocide has been a bipartisan affair: the current state of affairs in Iraq is truly an outrage, but let us not forget that the genocide against the South Vietnamese occurred under a Democrat's watch as did the continued genocide against the Iraqi civilians via periodic bombing raids and economic policies designed to starve Iraqi civilians under Clinton.
We could add to the list two Balkans wars fought under false pretenses, as well as a continuation of the Somalia "humanitarian" intervention started under Papa Doc Bush. That might indeed really be the only real "difference" between the mainstream of the Dems and the mainstream of the GOP: the former will frame wars in "humanitarian" terms whereas the latter will frame wars under the pretense of "national security." Assuming that the Democrat half of the War Party is in control starting January 2009, we can expect plenty of humanitarian bombs to be dropped on civilians in Darfur, as well as humanitarian massacres of Iranian civilians. Perhaps this will appeal to the "nurturing parent" schema held by their supporters: "we had to destroy a few hundred thousand or more lives in order to make the world a more gentle loving place." It'll be some sort of rubbish along those lines no doubt, and I'm sure that there will be plenty of Dem activists singing "Kumbaya" as villages burn, water sources are poisoned, children starve, and cronies' pockets are lined with plenty of greenbacks.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Saletan's Mea Culpa: "Whoosh"

Cosma Shalizi has a worth-while follow-up to journalist William Saletan's eugenicist-riddled idiocy and epilogue to said idiocy. Saletan claimed to rely upon published, presumably peer-reviewed writings and rebuttals when doing his "research" for his now-easily discredited series of articles. Sez Shalizi:

But let me back up a minute to the bit about relying on "peer review and rebuttals to expose any relevant issue". There are two problems here.

One has to do with the fact that, as I said, it is really very easy to find the rebuttals showing that Rushton's papers, in particular, are a tragic waste of precious trees and disk-space. For example, in the very same issue of the very same journal as the paper by Rushton and Jensen which was one of Saletan's main sources, Richard Nisbett, one of the more important psychologists of our time, takes his turn banging his head against this particular wall. Or, again, if Saletan had been at all curious about the issue of head sizes, which seems to have impressed him so much, it would have taken about five minutes with Google Scholar to find a demonstration that this is crap. So I really have no idea what Saletan means when he claimed he relied on published rebuttals — did he think they would just crawl into his lap and sit there, meowing to be read? If I had to guess, I'd say that the most likely explanation of Saletan's writings is that he spent a few minutes with a search engine looking for hits on racial differences in intelligence, took the first few blogs and papers he found that way as The Emerging Scientific Consensus, and then stopped. But detailed inquiry into just how he managed to screw up so badly seems unprofitable.

The other problem with his supposed reliance on peer review is that he seems confused about how that institution works. I won't rehash what I've already said about it, but only remark that passing peer review is better understood as saying a paper is not obviously wrong, not obviously redundant and not obviously boring, rather than as saying it's correct, innovative and important. Even this misses a deeper problem, a possible failure mode of the scientific community. A journal's peer review is only as good as the peers it uses as reviewers. If everyone, or almost everyone, who referees for some journal is in the grip of the same mistake, then they will not catch it in papers they review, and the journal will propagate it. In fact, since journals usually recruit new referees from their published authors or people recommended by old referees, mistakes and delusions can become endemic and self-confirming in epistemic communities associated with particular journals.
Shalizi, of course takes great pains to note that he is not in any way, shape, or form trashing the peer review process but merely making it clear that it is a social process - albeit a considerably more rigorous social process than its alternatives. The quality of that process will vary from journal to journal, and even if the journal follows a high-quality peer-review procedure its editors and reviewers themselves can be blinded by the idols of the theater. Hence, some variant of caveat emptor is advised when figuring out whom to cite, etc. Get familiar with the journals that cover the research topic in which you are interested (learn their editors' assumptions, and so forth) - this would be advice given not only to those beginning scholarly careers but also to those outside that particular area of inquiry who wish to cover it for newspapers and magazines. Saletan failed badly in large part because he did not do so.

Footnote to The Splendid Blond Beast (21st Century Edition)

Here is Walter Kaufmann's translation of the passage in On the Genealogy of Morals I cited in that post (this time with some surrounding context):
There they savor a freedom from all social constraints, they compensate themselves in the wilderness for the tension engendered by protracted confinement and enclosure within the peace of society, they go back to the innocent conscience of the beast of prey, as triumphant monsters who perhaps emerge from a disgusting procession of murder, arson, rape, and torture, exhilarated and undisturbed of soul, as if it were no more than a students' prank, convinced they had provided the poets with a lot more material for song and praise. One cannot fail to see at the bottom of all these noble races the beast of prey, the splendid blond beast prowling about avidly in search of spoil and victory; this hidden core needs to erupt from time to time, the animal has to get out again and go back to the wilderness: the Roman, Arabian, Germanic, Japanese nobility, the Homeric heroes, the Scandinavian Vikings -- they all shared this need.
All italics are Kaufmann's. The passage is from the First Essay, Section 11 (Basic Writings of Nietzsche, p. 476). I should also mention Kaufmann's footnote to the term blond beast since it also provides some useful context:
This is the first appearance in Nietzsche's writings of the notorious "blond beast." It is encountered twice more in the present section; a variant appears in section 17 of the second essay; and then the blonde Bestie appears once more in Twilight, "The 'Improvers' of Mankind," Section 2 (Portable Nietzsche, p. 502). That is all. For a detailed discussion of these passages see Kaufmann's Nietzsche, Chapter 7, section III: "...The 'blond beast' is not a racial concept and does not refer to the 'Nordic race' of which the Nazis later made so much. Nietzsche specifically refers to Arabs and Japanese ... -- and the 'blondness' presumably refers to the beast, the lion."
In other words, the "blond beast" is a general metaphor for the predatory behavior that so often characterizes the elites, the ruling classes. The cultures to which Nietzsche refers are ones that contemporary cross-cultural psychologists would characterize as vertical (ones in which Triandis notes, hierarchy is accepted as a sort of starting value or given. "People are different from each other. Hierarchy is a natural state. Those at the top "naturally" have more power and privileges than those of the bottom of the hierarchy.").

Today's blond beasts are the predatory capitalists and their aligned political, religious, and media authorities. That to me seems as good a reading of Baby Doc Bush, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Ledeen referred to at A Tiny Revolution as any.

The Splendid Blond Beast (21st Century Edition)

Friedrich Nietzsche sez:
They revert to the innocence of wild animals: we can imagine them returning from an orgy of murder, arson, rape, and torture, jubilant and at peace with themselves as though they had committed a fraternity prank—convinced, moreover, that the poets for a long time to come will have something to sing about and to praise. Deep within all these noble races there lurks the beast of prey, the splendid blond beast, bent on spoil and conquest.




The splendid blond beast has indeed shown quite the lust for blood in recent years. It's been a while since I last read any of Nietzsche's work. The quote above came from On the Genealogy of Morals, which I would have tackled during my undergrad years (in the late 1980s we were still using Walter Kaufmann's translations of many of Nietzsche's works). He certainly had a flair for characterizing some of the most base impulses of humanity, in particular within the psyches of those who aspired to be the "best and brightest."

See also, excerpts from the book, The Splendid Blond Beast, by Christopher Simpson.

Credit where credit is due: this is something of a remix of a post at A Tiny Revolution.

Don't believe the hype

Good idea to be skeptical of the hype surrounding "saving" Darfur. I'm expecting some sort of "humanitarian" intervention there in the next couple years or so - I'm sure the oil reserves the country is sitting on is merely coincidental. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Image from When I'm Out on the Street.