Friday, April 30, 2004

Maxwell murder: Addendum

A couple of posts ago, I gave the title of the Gordon Thomas/Martin Dillon book on the Maxwell controversy as The Assassination of Robert Maxwell. In America, the title is Robert Maxwell: Israel's Superspy: The Life and Murder of a Media Mogul

As I said before, the book rewards study, but examine it with caution. Thomas and Dillon include a number of howlers. For example, they write that the former Marina Oswald testified to the Warren Commission that John Tower was involved in the JFK assassination conspiracy. Nonsense; she did no such thing.

The book also delves into the PROMIS software imbroglio. You may already know about that controversy; if not, a little Googling should provide reams of material of varying quality. Maxwell appears to have been involved in selling the much-vaunted software to governmental agencies around the world. Israeli engineers had, we are told, placed a "backdoor" into the code, allowing Mosad to gain remote access to sensitive material. Alas, about ten years ago the PROMIS story became a lint trap for occult speculation. Wacky conspiracy buffs spread all sorts of tales: The software could be used to facilitate CIA mind control, to communicate with the space people, to engineer the New World Order's great gun round-up (always scheduled for "some time next year" -- or so runs the story I've heard since I was a kid), and to do god-knows-what-else. So much nonsense began to pile up that I soon hoped never to hear the name "PROMIS" again.

Thomas relates a tale to the effect that the Mossad had placed a chip into the software, in order to facilitate eavesdropping. When I first heard that claim in the early 90s, the obvious question occurred to me: How the hell do you put a chip "into" software? Thomas and Dillon don't provide an answer.

The most extraordinary aspects of their book concern former senator John Tower. The writers allege that Tower sold his services to Maxwell, providing the publisher with an entrance into places he might not otherwise have accessed -- Sandia labs, for example. These sales pitches were conducted of behalf of the Mossad. Tower died in a plane crash that a number of people found suspicious; the book claims that Tower had to go for the same reason Maxwell did.

Obviously, a conspiracy theory of this sort requires good sourcing; Thomas's phobic attitude toward footnotes makes the reader scream in frustration. The authors claim that one of their primary sources was John O'Neill, the former FBI terror expert who died in the World trade Center disaster. O'Neill has become something of a hero to many, yet this aspect of his career has gone almost entirely undiscussed. (Try a Google search linking the names of O'Neill, Maxwell and Tower.)

The book even prints a lengthy and startling O'Neill quote stating that the murder of John Tower had White House approval. (The death occurred in 1991, during the first Bush presidency.) I presume that an audiotape lies behind this quotation -- if so, we should be given the chance to hear it.

Maxwell's daughter Isabel, who used to run an Israeli internet company, has denounced Thomas and Dillon as sloppy sensationalists. Public access to original source material will render irelevant any negative opinions of the authors; the speaker, not the scribe, is what matters.

Pre-9/11 intelligence

I strongly urge you to visit the Democracy Now site and listen to the interview with FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, broadcast on Thursday, April 29. (By the time you read this, a transcript may be up.) Edmonds, as I hope you know by now, is the translator who has braved much harassment to present her first-hand knowledge that leading Al Qaeda operatives were wiretapped, and that these intercepts revealed detailed advanced information about the World Trade Center attacks. She will present testimony to that effect in the ongoing civil suit brought by 9/11 survivors.

Her revelations show remarkable courage. I know something about the translation business: Even in the private sector, professionals pride themselves on their discretion. They are like doctors or lawyers. Edmonds would not have come forward for anything less than dire reasons.

She says she cannot provide specifics (e.g., the names of those being surveilled) to the public. Moreover, her reports do not make clear to what degree this intelligence was squelched intentionally, as opposed to "honest" delays in translation. She does refer to key texts that remained untranslated until after the event, and other texts that were (deliberately?) translated in a misleading fashion.

Apparently, she now runs something of a risk every time she discusses this matter. The government has taken the position that even information made public can be "reclassified" -- a policy instituted for the purposes of CYA and lawyerly vengeance. This gambit targets whistleblowers without making life one whit more difficult for the folks under surveillance. It's not as though an Al Qaeda planner will forget something he saw on the net just because the data has been reclassified.

It is worth noting that the intercepts came from the NSA and were shared with CIA as well as the FBI. NSA and CIA both have their own translators. (CIA uses a translation unit called the JPRS, although probably not for material of this sort. I've been told they don't pay well, which may be one reason for their much-discussed difficulty in finding talent.) Could three different agencies have innocently dropped the same ball? Why bother to intercept terrorist communications if you're not going to listen to what they say?

I think much was known before 9/11. I think key information went into the unreleased pages of the August 6, 2001 briefing memo. And I think that's why a CIA leaker -- almost certainly not Tenet -- revealed the very existence of this memo to reporters.

Note the pattern: We were told that Bush would release every page of his military record. Many believe he did, yet he did not. We were told that the administration would release the August 6 PDB. Many believe it did; yet we received only a page and a half of twelve pages.

There will be a brouhaha about Bob Kerrey and Lee Hamilton walking out on the President and Vice-President during their non-testimonial testimony. I dislike Hamilton, so his seeming rudeness doesn't matter to me one way or the other; Kerrey disappointed me. I'm particularly interested to learn which questions were asked by commission member Tim Roemer, because Roemer is the only one -- so far -- who has voiced concern about the missing pages of the PDB. If Roemer is unable to pry those pages loose, perhaps that aforementioned CIA leaker would be so kind as to drop the other shoe...?

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Final solution to the Vanunu and Maxwell problems?

The Israeli daily Maariv sponsored a poll as to what should be done with the recently-released Mordechai Vanunu, who was abducted and jailed as a "spy" in 1986 after he had provided evidence of Israel's nuclear program to the British press. (In recent times, the word "spy" has received almost as much injury as "terrorist.") One of the options was "Kill Vanunu." After howls of outrage, the newspaper apologized. It was inappropriate to use the word "kill" -- "execute" would have sounded nicer.

At the time of his alleged offense, Mossad did consider assassination, but a decision was made to make an example of Vanunu. "Jews do not kill other Jews," Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit declared. A bestial mob of Israeli right-wingers disagreed, and shrieked for the blood of the alleged "traitor" upon his release. Other Israelis, I am happy to report, consider Vanunu something of a hero.

Everyone knows that Mossad has assassination squads known as Kidon teams, a term derived from the Hebrew for "bayonet." But does Mossad really follow a Jews-don't-kill-Jews policy?

Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon argue otherwise in their recent book The Assassination of Robert Maxwell. The book is flawed: As is always the case with Thomas, citations are nonexistent, minor errors creep in, and sources making sensational claims are viewed with insufficient caution. A few paragraphs seem cribbed from the work of Victor Ostrovsky. Even so, the authors did conduct important interviews, and the result is well worth reading.

The book makes a compelling case that Robert Maxwell did much secret work on behalf of Israel. When the publishing magnate encountered severe financial reverses, he attempted to blackmail the country he had done so much to aid: Bail me out, or I'll speak of things I know. Shortly thereafter, he died at sea. Suicide, according to the British government; "Kidonology," according to Thomas and Dillon.

The assassination of Robert Maxwell provides one instance of Mossad targeting a Jew; one can find other examples in the espionage literature. Interestingly, one of Maxwell's holdings was...Maariv.

As a wise Jew once noted, he who lives by the sword...

Define "Terrorist"

Does the word "terrorist" carry any meaning these days? The sole operative definition seems to be "anyone Republicans don't like."

Fox News refers to the combative denizens of Fallujah as "terrorists," even though both CNN and the American military use the term "insurgents." American forces are decimating entire city blocks via AC-130 gunships, a tactic described by Fox as a series of "surgical strikes." This description will make sense only to those who think surgery can be conducted with a claymore; such weaponry cannot be used discriminately. We are now conducting ruthless reprisal raids against civilians in a foreign land who won't kowtow to American authority. No other words describe the situation.

Pratap Chatterjee, a reporter on the scene, told Democracy Now that women and children are filling the clinics. According to Fox and the administration's fans, those women and children are "terrorists." Not the people who ordered the AC-130s into action. Women and children.

A few further examples demonstrate the pattern:

-- Karen Hughes, the obnoxious arch-conservative advisor to Bush, has used the T-word to describe abortion rights advocates.

-- Sean Hannity subtitled his newest book to implicate all liberals as terrorists.

-- On CNN, Richard Perle damned Seymour Hersh as "the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist," simply because Hersh had written a story pointing out a Perle conflict of interest.

-- Oregon legislator John Minnis drafted a bill that would mandate a 25-to-life sentence for "terrorism," a term he defined so broadly as to include peaceful protestors.

Bush defines his oil-grab invasion of Iraq as a "war on terror." Guerilla fighters fighting foreign occupiers of their home country are terrorists. Anti-war demonstrators are terrorists.

Does the word continue to have any meaning?

During the cold war, "communist" meant anything or anyone you didn't like. If the dog soiled your carpet, the dog was a communist. The situation has changed. Now poochie's a terrorist.

Poll my finger

Just a few weeks ago, Democrats were crowing about the polls; now we're seeing the inevitable articles about how polls don't matter. Billmon offers an interesting analysis titled "Half Empty or Half Full?"

His choice of title worries me, since the question it poses is not, as many think, beyond solution. A glass is half full if you started with an empty container and poured liquid into it. The glass is half empty if you started with a container brimming with liquid and then poured some out. Since Kerry once pulled higher numbers than he does now, we can fairly say that the glass is half empty. Or at least, it is in the process of emptying.

One follow-up comment is worth noting:

I think it is all good. We are political junkies and we make the mistake of assuming that everyone is paying as much attention to this stuff as we are. We look at the revelations of the past month, the deterioration of the situation in Iraq and marvel at the fact that Bush still has the support of nearly half the electorate.

But that isn't how this stuff works and I think Kerry is well aware of that. I think that the information that has been put out in the public domain over the past month will sink Bush but not immediately. There is a period of time when it is almost like spreading fertilizer around. The plants don't just spring up over night.

Hmm. Not so sure if that analogy holds. The modern news cycle tends to impose a "miracle grow" effect -- no fertilization needed; the plants pop up almost immediately. It is true that the general electorate has paid insufficient attention to the race, but that factor works against Kerry. He was more popular when people did not know him well. Bush is winning -- has won? -- the battle to define his opponent.

The disaster in Iraq seems to have had the surprising (to Democrats) effect of bolstering support for Bush, the 'onlie begettor' of the tragedy. But despair may be premature. If I may be permitted an uncharacteristic note of optimism, there is some chance that the history of 1980 will repeat itself. The Iranian hostage crisis rallied support for Jimmy Carter -- at first. As the debacle wore on, people became frustrated, and they took their frustrations out on a sitting president.

Polls often serve only to remind us that we live in a country where people watch Jerry Springer and wrestling. Remember that PIPA poll which revealed that a large majority of Americans continue to believe that Saddam and Osama were gay lovers (or something similarly intimate)? Those findings have been largely confirmed by a Harris poll reaching much the same conclusion.

As the Book of the Sub-Genius once noted, "You know how dumb the average guy is? By definition, half the people out there are stupider than that."

Say hi to Big Brother

I think it was Lily Tomlin who said that no matter how paranoid you get, you can't keep up. According to the Investor's Business Daily, domestic spooks and law enforcement officials are now going to be watching blogs. Such, at least, was the talk at a recent panel of intelligencers in Washington:

Some panel and conference participants, because of their profession, could not be identified. But another who could is Robert Steele, another blog booster. The former U.S. intelligence officer said "absolutely" that blogs are valid sources of intelligence and news, though he said authenticating the information in blogs "leaves a lot to be desired."

Steele is founder and CEO of consulting firm OSS.Net, which organized the conference. The OSS '04 conference focused on public sources of intelligence. (OSS stands for open source solutions. In this case, open source is an intelligence term, not a reference to Linux...

Cute. Of course, anyone in cop-land who wanted to make an easy bust could easily surf on over to Free Republic, where threats and hate-speech are as common as table salt. (Remember when they published the home address of the waitress who dared to card Bush's holy-and-untouchable offspring?) But since the hate is directed against Democrats and liberals, no-one shall censor the screams for blood.


An attempt to tweak the look of this site led to upheaval and revolution, followed by counter-revolution and restoration. But not a complete restoration. The comments, which I much appreciated, went bye-bye. I'll be re-instating them soon.

Technology is not my friend.

Turning against Kerry

A Newsweek poll reveals that Kerry's once-commanding lead over Bush among youthful voters has dwindled. The article suggests that Nader is the key factor, since he now commands eleven percent. I would counter that a turn to Nader is a desperation move by young voters subjected to anti-Kerry propaganda and conditioned to consider cynicism hip. (Some will argue that voting for a sure-to-lose candidate like Nader is idealistic, not cynical; I strongly disagree.)

The medal-tossing controversy strikes me as a particularly effective device.

The new generation cannot be expected to comprehend the social milieu in which young John Kerry tossed back his medals. Defending his actions on a televised interview yesterday, Kerry seemed ruffled and uncharacterstically tongue-tied. Older folks can spend hours explaining -- things were different then -- but youth remains ignorant of history and unwilling to learn.

I also believe that Kerry's long-ago congressional subcommittee testimony, in which he cited tales of atrocity he had heard from fellow soldiers, cannot play well in the modern context. Those atrocities occurred. Anyone who has read (to cite but one of many sources) Mark Lane's Conversations With Americans -- will know that they occurred. But most modern youths don't read, and those few who do won't believe anything that does not favor their biases. For all their affected captiousness, young people still want to live in a world of clearly-defined good guys and bad guys. How can a generation bred on simplistic Hollywood action movies comprehend the abyss of Vietnam?

If the Iraq situation worsens -- and it's worsening at this very moment -- they'll understand all too well.
The PDB: Note to a reader

I was hoping that Zapata, who offered a comment on the PDB controversy, could email me a copy of the NYT article he referenced, regarding Tenet's whereabouts on August 6, 2001. I fully understand the danger of relying on one source of info, even though Schroem seems trustworthy enough. I do feel that Tim Roemer's comment -- plus common sense -- validates the assertion that the PDB was originally much longer.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004


Few have commented on one fascinating factoid to emerge in the wake of Mordechai Vanunu's release from an Israeli prison. Vanunu, you will recall, was the fellow kidnapped in Rome, taken to Israel, and charged with spying after he revealed details of that nation's nuclear program to a British newspaper in 1986. He has served 18 years in prison.

To facilitate the kidnapping, Mossad agents baited Vanunu into a vulnerable position using a classic "honeytrap" -- i.e., an attractive female. In previous published accounts, this lady was a Mossad agent named Cheryl Hanin, code-named "Cindy." In the years since, Mossad has released much information about this lady -- see, for example, this story.

But what if the story we've been told doesn't reflect what really went down?

Maariv offers this intriguing quote from the newly-freed Vanunu:

Vanunu revealed for the first time the incidents related to his capture and arrest and denied that the published identity of the Mossad agent "Cindy" is real. "She was either an FBI or a CIA agent. I spent a week with her. I saw her picture. Cindy was a young woman from Philadelphia," he said.

FBI? CIA? Why would they be involved? And why would Mossad go to great lengths to create a false story around this event?

Israel's nuclear weapons programs owes it's existence to diverted uranium from an American corporation. President Johnson, perhaps in deference to a very pro-Israel backer, looked the other way. Perhaps the affair goes deeper than we imagined: Perhaps America wanted Israel to go nuclear.
Vlasto the vile

I usually steer clear of name-calling in this column, but when it comes to ABC news producer Chris Vlasto, resisting the urge is beyond my strength.

Vlasto, you will recall, is the highly-partisan pseudo-newsman whose "objective" coverage of the Susan McDougal affair included his behind-the-scenes functioning as an errand boy for Ken Starr. He covered of the Clinton-era "scandals" with a bias that almost made me think I was leafing through back issues of American Opinion.

He is also -- almost certainly -- the "news producer" responsible for feeding Matt Drudge the phony "Kerry and the intern" yarn.

The Vlastard is at it again -- trying to drum up KerryHate with a new take on the throwing-back-the-medals story. Good god, this thing has been settled. But it seems the gang at ABC has scraped up some old videotape...

Meanwhile, Karen Hughes is trying to weave together a tale which makes Kerry -- not Bush -- into the fellow who lied about his service.

People believe this nonsense, just as they believe that Saddam and Osama were comrades-in-arms. This is the sort of lying that has put Bush ahead in the polls.
A technical note...

If you're using Mozilla as your browser (and there are plenty of reasons to do just that), you may notice an odd phenomenon with this and other Blogger pages: Very very very VERY teensy type.

There's an easy fix. Go to Edit, Preferences, then click the little plus sign next to Appearance, then click on Fonts. A screen will pop up. Toward the lower right hand side, there's a "Minimum font size" setting. Type in 15 or 14 or whatever; adjust for taste. From now on, every single page on the web -- including this one -- will be easy to read. A great option for those with less than perfect eyesight.

Meanwhile, some IE browser users report that the font is HUGE. Go figure! Mozilla is clearly the superior browser.
It's semi-official...

"Peak oil" really was the prime motivating force for the Iraq invasion. Check out this article in the Asia Times. If you are wary of the inevitable pop-ups that accompany that site, here are some key bits:

In the months before he [Bush] became president, the United States had experienced severe oil and natural gas shortages in many parts of the country, along with periodic electrical power blackouts in California. In addition, oil imports rose to more than 50 percent of total consumption for the first time in history, provoking great anxiety about the security of the country's long-term energy supply. Bush asserted that addressing the nation's "energy crisis" was his most important task as president.

He and his advisers considered the oil supply essential to the health and profitability of leading US industries....

"America faces a major energy supply crisis over the next two decades," Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham told a National Energy Summit on March 19, 2001. "The failure to meet this challenge will threaten our nation's economic prosperity, compromise our national security, and literally alter the way we lead our lives."

The energy turmoil of 2000-2001 prompted Bush to establish the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG), a task force of senior government representatives charged with developing a long-range plan to meet US energy requirements. To head this group, Bush picked his closest political adviser, Vice President Dick Cheney...

The group, as some of you will know, begat a report:

One-third of all the recommendations in the report are for ways to obtain access to petroleum sources abroad. Many of the 35 proposals are region or country-specific, with emphasis on removing political, economic, legal and logistical obstacles. For example, the NEP calls on the secretaries of energy, commerce and state "to deepen their commercial dialogue with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and other Caspian states to provide a strong, transparent and stable business climate for energy and related infrastructure projects".

The Cheney report will have a profound impact on future US foreign and military policy. Officials will have to negotiate for these overseas supplies and arrange for investments that will increase production and exports. They must also take steps to ensure that wars, revolutions or civil disorder do not impede foreign deliveries to the US. These imperatives will be especially significant for policy toward the Persian Gulf area, the Caspian Sea basin, Africa and Latin America.

Applying the Cheney energy plan will have major implications for US security and military policy. Countries expected to supply petroleum in the years ahead are torn by internal conflicts, harbor strong anti-American sentiments, or both.

Here is where I think the rose-colored blinders slid over presidential eyes. I suspect -- don't laugh, just think about it -- that Bush hoped the removal of Saddam Hussein would have helped squelch anti-American sentiment in the region, thereby rendering local sentiment more amenable to America's wishes. Bush wanted to be seen as a liberator. Unfortunately, people would rather be dominated by a homegrown bastard than by a foreigner of any stripe -- which is why War and Peace includes no scenes of Russians cheering Napoleon's arrival. Besides, Iraqis noticed the selling off of all their assets to multinational concerns, even if Americans prefer to remain ignorant of such matters.

To continue our peek at the AT piece:

Under the Saddam regime, Iraq was a major oil supplier to the US. It provided an average of 566,000 barrels per day in 2002, or 5 percent of total imports. Many in Washington hope to obtain far more oil from Iraq in the future. According to the US Department of Energy, Iraq possesses proven reserves of 112.5 billion barrels, more than any other country except Saudi Arabia, and it is thought to possess another 200 billion barrels in undeveloped fields. Iraq could become a leading oil supplier in the decades ahead, if a stable government is established that opens territory to exploitation by US firms...

In its pursuit of petroleum, the US is intruding in the affairs of the oil-supplying nations. In the process, it exposes itself to increased risk of involvement in local and regional conflicts. This reality has already influenced US relations with the major oil-producing nations and is sure to have an even greater impact in the future.

At no point does the NEP acknowledge this. Instead, it focuses on the economic and diplomatic dimensions of the energy policy. However, the architects of the Bush-Cheney policy know that ensuring access to some oil sources may prove impossible without the use of military force. The administration's military strategy takes up the slack with heavy emphasis on bolstering capacity to project firepower to key battlefields abroad. "The United States must retain the capability to send well-armed and logistically supported forces to critical points around the globe, even in the face of enemy opposition," states its Quadrennial Defense Review.

There's much more to this meaty article, including a look at US oil policy in various regions around the world.

(PS: Sorry I've been blogging lightly this past week. Real life sometimes has a tendency to get in the way.)

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Invincible ignorance

Why have Bush's poll numbers gone up after so much disastrous news from Iraq? One answer can be found in this stunning article from the Inter Press Service News Agency, titled "Majority Still Believe in Iraq's WMD, al-Qaeda Ties." A few key points:

Among the 57 percent of respondents who said they believed Iraq was either ''directly involved'' in carrying out the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon or had provided ''substantial support'' to al-Qaeda, 57 percent said they intended to vote for Bush and 39 percent said they would choose his Democratic foe, John Kerry.

57 percent? Still?

As I have noted often in private, and now in public, a week after the World Trade Center attack a CBS News poll found that only three percent of the American population blamed Saddam Hussein. That number jumped to stratospheric heights in the run-up to war, and apparently remains quite high. Such shifts do not happen by accident. Propaganda works.

I believe that these numbers reflect the psychology of patriotism, which is really the psychology of self-esteem. Anyone who allows himself to think that the government deliberately lied about such an important matter must then hear the nagging voice that says: "But then we had no reason to go to war. All those billions were wasted. We were the aggressor." On an unconscious level, the thought "Bush is bad" segues quickly to the forbidden idea "America is bad," which segues to the even more taboo notion that "I am bad." Rationally, we know better: We understand that a lie told by Bush is his fault, not ours. But rational thought does not always govern our opinions -- otherwise, fewer than 57 percent of our fellow citizens would believe unproven nonsense.

A few further excerpts:

As to WMD, about which there has been significantly more media coverage, 60 percent of respondents said Iraq either had actual WMD (38 percent) or had a major programme for developing them (22 percent). In contrast, 39 percent said Baghdad had limited WMD-related activities that fell short of an active programme -- what Kay as the CIA's main weapons inspector concluded in February -- or no activities at all.

Moreover, the message conveyed by Kay and other experts appears not to be getting through to the public, adds the survey, which found a whopping 82 percent of respondents saying either, ''experts mostly agree Iraq was providing substantial support to al-Qaeda'' (47 percent) or, ''experts are evenly divided on the question'' (35 percent).

Only 15 percent said it was their impression that ''experts mostly agree (that) Iraq was not providing substantial support to al-Qaeda".

Given these numbers, one can grasp why our citizens mistake the battle against Iraq's indigenous insurgency as a battle against Al Qaeda & co. As the old saying goes, the problem ain't what people don't know, but the things they know that just ain't so.

Are the American people even capable of being educated at this point?
"The awl bidness"

James Ridgeway's "Mondo Washington" column offers an important addendum to Woodward's on-again, off-again claim that the Saudis have agreed to keep a lid on oil prices to benefit Bush. The key observation:

If the Saudis decided to let the so-called free market take over, flooding the globe with crude and sending oil prices into a steep dive, then the U.S. would be faced with a true nightmare. Lower prices would finish off not only smaller international companies that had been enticed into the oil play by high prices, but could wipe out the domestic oil companies in the U.S., causing sheer political hell for President Bush in his little oil bastion of Houston.
Diebold debunked; fake friendliness

Check out the latest post on Unelectable-Bush, which discusses a recent finding by a California elections advisory panel to avoid all further use of Diebold voting machines. Don't expect our state's Fuehrer to sign off on this one. Still, a hopeful sign.

Scroll further down in that blog for an overdue rant about American customer service gone too far. I too have noticed the obnoxious trend toward store employees trained to make robotically friendly small talk with you the moment they make eye contact. I prefer to remain the Invisible Shopper, lost in a trance of consumer goods, calculating the fine balance between budget and desire. If you see me in this state, don't talk to me unless you know me. And maybe not even then.
Cracked wise.

Lyndon LaRouche is nuttier than a jar of Skippys. You know that; I know that. And yet he has fascinated me since my college days, way back in the 1970s. His publications wafted around campus, begging for attention. I gobbled them up like Christmas candy, asking everyone I knew: "Who the hell is this guy?" Nobody knew.

I've followed his antics ever since, buying second-hand copies of such LaRouche "classics" as The Hitler Book and Dope, Inc. (My edition of the latter volume includes the infamous bit about Teddy Kennedy being involved in the death of JFK; I've heard that this particular passage went missing in later rewrites.) I caught a glimpse of rare old broadsides from LaRouche's radical "Lyn Marcus" days. I corresponded briefly with Dennis King, author of Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism. Later, I corresponded at greater length with one of King's sources, repentant former LaRouche follower Kevin Coogan.

King's thesis holds that LaRouche only feigns madness; that beneath the wild-n-wacky political posturing, he is a straightforward fascist marshalling forces with one eye on Der Tag. With all due respect to King, I must disagree. LaRouche ain't faking: He seems wacky because he is wacky. Neither do I think him a fascist. Yes, I'm quite familiar with his previous associations with right-wing conspiracy theories and theorists. But many of his writings carry such a persuasive aura of pathology that they belong in the category "Neither right nor left, but off the map."

I'm thinking of such statements as "The Beatles had no genuine musical talent, but were a product shaped according to British Psychological Warfare Division specifications." I'm thinking here of such deathless works as Kissinger: The Politics of Faggotry. (Kissinger? Didn't he once bang Jill St. John?) And I'm thinking of LaRouche's late-1980s expose of Satanism, in which he describes, en passant, Wagner's Tristan and Isolde as a "satanic" opera.

Adolf would never have approved of such a declaration. But it sure made me smile. Of course, I'm the sort of connoisseur who used to collect the productions of Cosmic Awareness, Dr. Peter Better and Jack Chick.

The odd thing about LaRouche is that he can seem sane for, gosh, minutes on end -- until he just can't repress himself any longer and starts prattling about the Queen's drug ring or Walter Mondale's secret life as a KGB agent. LaRouche, for example, was one of the first to underline the ties between neoconservative thinking and the theories of Leo Strauss, a motif explored by more respected writers.

If you want to catch the former Lyn Marcus is one of his better moments, this piece captures the LaRouche spin on Iraq.

His advice is simple: Out now.

Many people lose their marbles as they enter their 80s. Is it possible that "Lyn" is regaining his?

By now, you've probably seen this story which quotes the Bush administration on the photos of returning soldiers' coffins. "The message is, the sensitivity and privacy of families of the fallen must be the first priority."


Question: How is "privacy" the issue when the photos show large numbers of coffins and do not provide names of the fallen? We've all seen these shots by now. Have you ever seen one of these images overlaid with an arrow pointing to one coffin, alongside a caption reading "Timmy Smith of Azusa, California is in here"?

The Bushite's newfound respect for privacy is startling. Most of us were under the impression that the Patriot Act gave the FBI and other agencies new abilities to read our email and scope out which books we checked out of the library.

Friday, April 23, 2004

The PDB, again

I'm polishing a new piece on the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001. In it, we shall hear from a 9/11 Commissioner confirming the report that the PDB was originally 11-12 pages long, not a page and a half. I will also present evidence that the very existence of the memo was leaked to the press (in 2002) by someone at CIA -- almost certainly not DCI George Tenet.

I'll also have some information about what probably went missing, and will give a brief but (I hope) telling recounting of what the CIA knew, and should have known, about the forthcoming attack. Reference will be made to the Israeli surveillance teams tracking the hijackers. I'll end by presenting a new theory -- at least, I think it's new -- as to why the CIA did not act earlier.

The part of this analysis that still puzzles me is the ongoing "war" between the Bush White House and the CIA. Tenet seems willing to accommodate himself to just about anything the neocons dish out, but those beneath him at CIA seem to have a rather more combative attitude. The neocons who have infiltrated this administration seem to despise the Agency -- the same Agency which has named its headquarters after our current president's father. Where does this leave W?

My piece will include a fair amount of new, or at least unfamiliar, material. I may have to set up a web site for the permanent display of "formal" pieces of this sort, the PDB article is really too lengthy for a blog.

As I hope some of you know, editors have lost their position at USA Today as a result of the phony news stories cobbled together by one Jack Kelley. That's as it should be. What I find odd is the fact that the Kelley debacle has aroused much less controversy than did the Jayson Blair business. Why?

The Blair affront served the right's propaganda mills perfectly. There's no way to say it but to say it bluntly: The writer was black. While rightists always affect outrage if accused of racism, one cannot help but notice the double-standard. A black guy who fakes news stories arouses far more outrage than a white guy guilty of the same crime. This, despite the fact that Kelley's fictions addressed more "serious" subjects, such as the war in Afghanistan.

Blair also worked for the New York Times, the newspaper rightists love to hate (and love to pretend is as left-wing as Emma Goldman). USA Today, by contrast, is conservative -- not Murdoch-style conservative, to be sure, but conservative nonetheless. Kelley's stories, as I recall, tended to buttress the neocon outlook.

So his sins, while unforgiven, will be forgotten a lot more rapidly than Blair's.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Video of OKC bombing

For nearly a decade, we've heard rumors that a surveillance camera taped the Oklahoma City bombing as it happened. The FBI has long denied the existence of any such tape. The Bureau also denies that anyone aside from Timothy McVeigh drove the Ryder truck containing the bomb.

Now this little-noticed AP story reveals that such a tape does, or did, exist. While reporters have not viewed the footage, apparently someone at the Secret Service did. A recently-released Secret Service document even describes what appears on screen -- and get ready for a shocker: "Security video tapes from the area show the truck detonation 3 minutes and 6 seconds after the suspects exited the truck."

That's suspectS. As in "more than one."
It's an impeachable offense

From Kerry's DBunker site:

Bush Took $700 Million from Afghanistan Budget Without Telling Congress. “In the summer of 2002, Bush approved $700 million worth of ‘preparatory tasks’ in the Persian Gulf region such as upgrading airfields, bases, fuel pipelines and munitions storage depots to accommodate a massive U.S. troop deployment. The Bush administration funded the projects from a supplemental appropriations bill for the war in Afghanistan and old appropriations, keeping Congress unaware of the reprogramming of money and the eventual cost.” [Washington Post, 4/18/04]

Lying to Congress about $700 million is an impeachable offense. If the Democrats controlled even one house, Bush would be in danger of losing the White House.
Subculture wars

First they went for the Goths (see below); now they're conducting COINTELPRO-style surveillance of the Hip-Hop aficionados. Who's next? Trekkies?
Condi's slip is showing

At a party recently, Condi Rice (who is unmarried) started to say "As I was telling my husb..." She stopped herself, then regrouped: "As I was telling President Bush..."

I'm not sure what a psychologist would make of that slip. And it really isn't fair to read much into the story. But I can't resist a Luciferian grin.

"Condi and Georgie sitting in a tree...Eff-eye-bee-bee-eye-in-gee...."
Saudis influencing the election?

Bob Woodward -- who seems to be regaining his journalistic muscles -- has, as you must know by now, written a new book chock full of revelations discomforting to Bushfolk. One such revelation, which has received less attention than is deserved, concerns the Saudis. Allegedly, they have agreed to keep a lid on oil prices until the election, in order to favor Bush.

I just spent over $2.20 a gallon to gain a little mobility, and many say the price will top $3.00 a gallon this summer under the best of cricumstances. If this is what prices look like with the Saudis trying to help Bush, I shudder to contemplate the situation when (dare I say "if"?) he achieves re-election. We really must be running out of the black-n-sticky stuff, just as the "peak oil" theorists have claimed.

Consider the economy: Gas goes up, interest rates go up, housing topples, jobs remain stagnant or worse...yeesh. I'm not sure John Kerry should want to preside over such a mess.

At any rate, Joshua Marshalll has been all over this story. He quotes a Larry King three-way (which I'm sorry I missed) with Woodward and Prince Bandar. Woodward backtracked from the claim somewhat: Now the Saudis are keeping prices down for the good of the world economy, not for the good of Bush's election chances.

I wonder.
The Bubble Bursteth

Housing is going to plummet at a speed not seen since Dorothy entered Oz airspace.

I've been telling folks for well over a year that house prices can't stay sky high forever. Right now the average price in Los Angeles is creeping toward the half-mil mark. Not sustainable.

People have laughed at my prediction of a burst bubble. Stop laughing. Read this. Even if you rent, or sleep on Dad's couch, you'll be affected -- the refi boom was the foundation of the Bush pseudo-recovery. Without that boom, the economy will do what Wile E. Coyote does when he notices that he has walked off a cliff.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Just click it

If I tell you what is on the other side of this link, you won't believe me. So just click it. Read it. Especially the bit about crowd control.

Orwell was an optimist.
The Republicans' mission: Get those Goths!

I doubt that anyone since the days of ancient Rome has actually spent money in an attempt to combat the Goths. Until now. The Republican-controlled Congress, as part of what we might label the "Fundamentalist Full-Employment Act," has earmarked $273,000 for just that purpose.

According to the Examiner, a newspaper published in Eastern Jackson County, Missouri, the money was given to the Youth Outreach Unit, a program sponsored by the police department in the small-ish town of Blue Springs, Missouri. The specific purpose of the grant: combating the Goth menace -- which, it is said, fosters drug abuse and mutilation.

As the article notes, that kind of money in that kind of burg could probably buy every Goth kid in town a small house.

Many are under the impression that Goth is mostly a fashion trend. To be frank, I always considered Morticia Addams one of the most fetchingly-dressed women in popular culture, and I do hope Uncle Sam doesn't force her to switch to pastels. Other earmarks of the Goth subculture would include an interest in Victorian cemeteries, Anne Rice novels, horror movies, and unintentionally hilarious pseudo-Poe verse. I don't consider any of those "menaces" worthy of federal concern, with the possible exception of Rice's mummy book.

My ladyfriend and I once toyed with the idea of sponsoring a "Bad Goth Poetry" contest. Every entry would begin with the words "The darkness is dark." As in:

The darkness is dark; the crypt doors creak
Beware my wrath when prey I seek.
Embrace despair! Forswear the sane!
Let madness rule o'er mortal brain!

She and I would come up with reams of that material during long car trips, back in the days when we could afford long car trips. The contest idea is now on hold. Wouldn't want to arouse the attention of the Department of Homeland Security...
Egads! Another correction! More on the PDB...

Previously, I had written under the impression that Oliver Schroem was the first to publish details about the important August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." Schroem's account appeared in Die Zeit, on October 2, 2002. However, vague references to this memo popped into a number of news stories -- such as this CBS News piece -- on May 17, 2002. In a press briefing that same day, Ari Fleischer made glancing mention of the document and even gave a slightly-incorrect version of the title. The next day, a Washington Post story by Bob Woodward and David Eggen was the first to mention this document by name in print. The relevant paragraphs:

The top-secret briefing memo presented to President Bush on Aug. 6 carried the headline, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," and was primarily focused on recounting al Qaeda's past efforts to attack and infiltrate the United States, senior administration officials said.

The document, known as the President's Daily Briefing, underscored that Osama bin Laden and his followers hoped to "bring the fight to America," in part as retaliation for U.S. missile strikes on al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in 1998, according to knowledgeable sources.

Bush had specifically asked for an intelligence analysis of possible al Qaeda attacks within the United States, because most of the information presented to him over the summer about al Qaeda focused on threats against U.S. targets overseas, sources said. But one source said the White House was disappointed because the analysis lacked focus and did not present fresh intelligence.

New accounts yesterday of the controversial Aug. 6 memo provided a shift in portrayals of the document, which has set off a political firestorm because it suggested that bin Laden's followers might be planning to hijack U.S. airliners.

The title of the document was also revealed in a May 19, 2002 Observer article by Jason Burke and Ed Vulliamy.

Little of this affects the significance of Schroem's piece. These articles do not undercut the allegations that the PDB was originally 11 1/2 pages long. Woodward's source may or may not have been accurate in reporting that the memo contained no fresh intelligence. We won't know unless we see the full document. According to Schroem, Tenet traveled to Crawford to deliver this briefing, and one can hardly imagine the CIA's head honcho going to such trouble in order to present a history lesson.
Small correction

In the original version of my piece about the PDB controversy, I said that Tenet briefed Bush in the oval office on August 6, 2001. As everyone knows, the President was in Texas on a month-long vacation. This fact actually makes the tale even more remarkable: Tenet found the topic of sufficient importance to fly to Texas to brief W personally. Why would he do so if the briefing paper consisted of (to use Condi's terminology) "historical" information?

My post will be re-written. I reserve the right to make corrections of style without notifying readers, but I'll 'fess up to significant errors of fact.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

PDB = Phony Documents from Bush?

As noted in the post below, the October 2002 Die Zeit story by Oliver Schroem indicates that the key August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing document was originally ten pages longer than the version released with much fanfare to the public. Was Schroem correctly informed? Consider: He published the date, subject matter, and title of a highly classified piece of paper intended for the President's eyes only. As far as I have been able to determine, Schroem published these details before anyone else got wind of the story.

You don't pull off a trick like that unless you have a really good source.

Obviously, if ten pages were redacted, then those pages must contain important material. As Condi noted, the one-and-a-half pages made available to the public dealt largely with past events. But the CIA could have presented lots of up-to-date data: This Newsweek piece (co-authored by Michael Isikoff -- and if you've read The Hunting of the President, you know what to think of him) lists the wealth of detail available to the intelligence community.

The title of that piece is "What the PDB didn't say." But what if the PDB, in its unexpurgated form, did say such things? I doubt that this administration could ever recover from the revelation of an attempt to hoodwink the 9/11 committee.

One usenet commentator has offered the interesting suggestion that Schroem's source made a typo when he relayed information about the PDB to the German journalist: 1 and 1/2 pages accidentally came out as 11 1/2 pages. I would not discount the notion out of hand, but the weight of the available evidence is against this theory.

Look again at Schroem's wording:

In the PDB, as it's called in CIA jargon, a senior CIA official presents the President with a summary of the security situation. On this morning the CIA Director personally briefs the President. Instead of the usual two or three pages, today's briefing paper consists of eleven and a half printed page and carries the title "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.". The CIA chief argued that Al Qaeda was now also attempting to carry out attacks inside the US, and there were probably already members of the terror organization located in the US for some time. It's not clear whether or not the CIA Director told the President about statements made by Al Qaeda members who were already in custody. According to their statements, the terror organization had long thought about hijacking airplanes in order to use them as missiles.

The context clearly indicates that DCI George Tenet made the proverbial "big stink" about this briefing, which was substantially longer than usual. (At this point, many will not resist the urge to crack a joke about W's short attention span. I shall refrain.) This fact argues against the "typo" theory.

So does this AP story of November 15, 2003 (available, god help us, on the execrable Newsmax site). In the piece, one 9/11 committee member -- former Representative Tim Roemer, of Indiana -- makes this possibly confirmatory claim:

"We should be requesting the entire PDB, not an article from the PDB," said former Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind. "How can you get the context of how al-Qaida or Afghanistan is being prioritized in 10 or 12 pages when you only are seeing two paragraphs?"

The story does not specify that Roemer's statement refers to the August 6, 2001 PDB, but that would seem to be the safest bet. At the time of this article, only a brief snippet of the PDB in question had passed before the eyes of panel members.

The piece goes on to quote Philip Zelikow (Condoleeza Rice's former writing partner, appointed by Bush as executive director of the Commission) as saying that "None of those articles are being edited. We're seeing everything we asked to see." But to take this statement at face value would be to presume as a given the very point we hope to establish. Obviously, if Roemer saw only two paragraphs of a document which we now know contains at least a page and a half, then some editing must have taken place; the question is how much. Until the public or the commission sees those missing ten pages (presuming those pages exist) we should not presume that they discuss subjects other than Al Qaeda.

Now let's look once again at Schroem's paragraph. We have just begun to squeeze the juice out of it. Everything comes down to one question: Who was the writer's source?

I've written to Schroem care of Die Zeit but have yet to receive an answer. For now, let us note something extraordinary about this passage: It offers details about a highly sensitive meeting between George W. Bush and the Director of Central Intelligence. The passage implies but does not state that the two men were alone. Perhaps other administration staff members were present; even so, we can presume that the famously secretive Bush folks did not leak this material.

So how did it end up in the pages of a German periodical? Deduction: Tenet must have talked to someone.

But did he speak to Schroem directly? One cannot easily visualize a sitting DCI speaking to a journalist about a briefing of the President on a classified matter; such things are not done.

Turning once again to the passage in question, let us mull over this sentence: "It's not clear whether or not the CIA Director told the President about statements made by Al Qaeda members who were already in custody." If Tenet spoke to Schroem directly, that point would have been clear. Deduction: Tenet spoke to the President, and afterward described the meeting to someone else at CIA -- perhaps a high-ranking official close to Tenet with a keen interest in terrorism.

Can we insert a name here?

Not with confidence. But a possible clue may be found in this Guardian piece of March 25, 2004. The relevant quotes:

However, the impact of the CIA director's testimony was partially undermined by a report delivered yesterday morning by the commission's staff. The report found that when the CIA picked up increasing numbers of signals that a major attack was imminent, some agency officials, including Mr Tenet's deputy, were impatient with the administration's response.

"Some CIA officials expressed frustration about the pace of policymaking during the stressful summer of 2001," the report found. "Although Tenet said he thought the policy machinery was working in what he called a rather orderly fashion, [the deputy CIA director, John] McLaughlin told us he felt a great tension, especially in June and July 2001, between the new administration's need to understand these issues and his sense that this was a matter of great urgency."

The report continued: "Two veteran counter-terrorism officials who were deeply involved in Bin Laden issues were so worried about an impending disaster that one of them told us that they considered resigning and going public with their concerns."

Did Deputy DCI McLaughlin leak (either directly or indirectly) to Oliver Schroem? Or did the info come from those unnamed "veteran counter-terrorism officials"? (The Guardian piece does not specify them as CIA. The date of the article argues against the suggestion that we are talking about Richard Clarke. Perhaps Flynt Leverett?)

We are well within the bounds of plausibility if we suggest that Tenet described the meeting and the PDB to McLaughlin (or to someone in a similar position and beset by a similar sense of frustration) who then leaked the details.

All of this tortuous parsing of one paragraph leads us to a topic of paramount importance: The palpable tension between the CIA and the Bush administration.

Tenet, for whatever reason, has submitted himself to W's agenda. Tenet even fell on his sword during the "Yellowcake from Niger" scandal -- and historically, DCIs have not made a practice of falling on swords. Tenet has tolerated the Plame outing, he has tolerated the construction of an "alternative CIA" at the Pentagon, and he has tolerated endless CIA-bashing and turf-encroachment from the neocons. Throughout it all, he has muttered "Thank you sir; may I please have another?" None of his predecessors would have endured such treatment without fighting back. The Murdoch press is now screaming for Tenet's removal. I wouldn't be surprised if he skulks away in a fog of obsequiousness and spends the rest of his days telling Mistress Kitty that he's been a very bad boy.

Others at CIA will not submit so readily. Maybe that's why Bush has kept Tenet on as Director: Who else would prove so pliable or pitiable?

Janissaries often try to control the throne. Few presidents can survive an angry CIA. Just ask the shades of JFK and Richard Nixon.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

The Presidential Daily Briefing Paper: Fake? (a site which arouses mixed feelings in me) draws our attention to a fascinating claim which -- if true -- could force us to re-think the operatic histrionics surrounding the 9/11 commission. The site reprints an investigation by German journalist Oliver Schroem, published in the October 2, 2002 issue of the respected magazine Die Zeit. Schroem gives a chronology, of sorts, leading up to the tragedy. Here is the paragraph which now seems so stunning:

Crawford, August 6, 2001. George W Bush is on vacation. He wanted to spend the whole month at his ranch in Texas."The Presidential Daily Brief" was part of his morning routine. In the PDB, as its called in CIA jargon, a senior CIA official presents the President with a summary of the security situation. On this morning the CIA Director personally briefs the President. Instead of the usual two or three pages, today's briefing paper consists of eleven and a half printed page and carries the title "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.". The CIA chief argued that Al Qaeda was now also attempting to carry out attacks inside the US, and there were probably already members of the terror organization located in the US for some time. It's not clear whether or not the CIA Director told the President about statements made by Al Qaeda members who were already in custody. According to their statements, the terror organization had long thought about hijacking airplanes in order to use them as missiles.

Eleven and a half pages? The briefing paper released on the internet just a few days ago is a mere two pages.

Who or what is the source of Schroem's information? Is it true? Is it possible that the trappings of melodrama surrounding this document's release amounted to a diversionary tactic -- a clever ruse designed to keep both the public and the commission from suspecting censorship?

The very notion seems outlandish -- but not beyond the realm of the possible, given the many indications that Bush has turned the White House into the Home of the Whopper. My suggestion: Write to members of the committee (you can use this convenient link) and ask them to interview Oliver Schroem.
Will the military continue to back Bush?

My ladyfriend and I had lunch today with a young soldier just back from a year-long "working vacation" in Iraq. Nice kid; positive attitude. He said that American forces are stretched dangerously thin at that this time. He also relayed scuttlebutt to the effect that another Iraqi "working vacation" should commence a year from now.

Many Americans seem to be under the impression that our military involvement will end after the "turnover of power" in June. That's a delusion. And while my young acquaintance didn't seem to mind the extension of his commitment, other soldiers may feel differently.

In World War II, the experience of serving in the British army turned many recruits into leftists, a key factor in the electoral defeat of Churchill. "I went in pink and came out red," was the common saying at the time. While we should not expect that history to repeat itself, it is possible that many members of our nation's military class will rethink their traditional pro-Republican bias. War has a way of forcing combatants into an examination of their most basic beliefs.

That process will take place both on the grunt level and within the Pentagon. Sidney Blumenthal's important new piece on Bush's Iraq policy -- a policy derived from a willful blurring of the line separating hope and belief from fact -- includes this observation:

Nor was Bush aware of similar warnings urgently being sounded by the military's top strategic analysts. One monograph, Reconstructing Iraq, by the US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute, predicted in detail "possible severe security difficulties" and conflicts among Iraqis that US forces "can barely comprehend". I have learned that it was suppressed by the Pentagon neocons, and only released to US central command after Senator Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the foreign relations committee, directly intervened. A revolt within the military against Bush is brewing. Many in the military's strategic echelon share the same feelings of being ignored and ill-treated by the administration that senior intelligence officers voice in private. "The Pentagon began with fantasy assumptions on Iraq and worked back," one of them remarked to me.

Don't expect the Pentagonians to turn peacenik, and don't expect anyone in uniform to contemplate a Seven Days in May scenario. But don't be surprised to hear a growing number of military voices -- privates, high-ranking officers, and everything in-between -- call for a retreat from fantasyland.
Bush: "Me doesn't make mistakes"

If you haven't seen it yet, check out this delightful tale! Reporters, finally chafing at the administration's arrogant pretense of perfection, asked Bush to name a single mistake he has made. Apparently stunned by his own flawlessness, he could not cite a single specific. But as he hemmed and hawed, he sputtered an observation about weapons of mass destruction -- somehow managing to fit three errors of fact into sixteen words.

Other than that, the past three years have been perfek.
A crappy energy policy

"Peak oil" theorists -- folks who think we're running out of the black-n-sticky stuff -- are gaining a lot of attention, especially after the collapse of all the official reasons given for the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, not to mention skyrocketing prices at the gas pump. Back in the 1970s, certain environmentalists would screech about the end of oil only to be shouted down by industry spokemen, who would assure the citizenry that all was well. In the current debate, you hear such assurances much more infrequently.

If the spigot is indeed running dry, what do we do?

A glowing account in Discovery magazine turned much attention to Thermal depolymerization. TD is the proposed technology of deriving energy from our society's plentiful waste -- plastics, styrofoam, nylon, animal products, and even -- well, crap. That's right: In the future, Al Bundy will be considered a patriot, doing more than his fair share to keep America humming.

So, at least, runs the theory. It's an idea that should soon be put into practice, albeit on a limited scale. Changing World Technologies is opening a new plant in Missouri which will take 200 tons of turkey offal and poop and convert this material into 600 barrels of a-bubblin' crude. According to one published report, the process should achieve 85% efficiency.

Critics question such assertions. For a good brief summary of the "pro" position, check out Martin Bento's analysis. For the curmudgeon's point of view, go here and read the back-and-forth analyses. You'll have to wade through a few "Dear-sir-you-cur" posts, plus a lot of skull-bursting science-speak. Even so, some excellent points are raised.

The numbers may be iffy, and claims of high efficiency may be severely hyperbolic. Still, companies paying a fortune for waste disposal will probably appreciate a chance to make money from that garbage. One poster to the afore-linked website suggests that if the entire American poultry industry used this process, our foreign oil dependency could be reduced by one percent. That may not seem like a huge amount. But it's a good start, and there are other industries. Pigs, cows and people could also, support.

So pass me the tacos! Anything to help my country...

Friday, April 16, 2004

Radio warfare

By now, everyone knows the situation with Air America. The network claims that station owner Arthur Liu "double booked" airtime; so far, Mr. Liu has not denied the charge. Air America posted a silly response referring to Mr. Liu as "Liu-cifer" and "Liu-ser." That attempt at humor has been removed. Contrary to Mr. Liu's charges, it appears that the network is not insolvent. Although a court ruled that Air America must be allowed back on the air in Chicago, the broadcasts remain unheard in Los Angeles. Everyone doubts that Liu and Air America will continue to do business with each other much longer.

Liu, incidentally, has been confirmed as a donor to Republicans Alfonse D'Amato and Rick Lazio. I have yet to see any evidence that he has ever supported a Democrat.

Let us turn our attention to a related, but broader, question: The political uses of the radio medium.

Is it true -- as many have alleged -- that nuance has no place in this medium? Do listeners always prefer broadcasters who do their jobs with all the understated refinement of Conan the Barbarian?

The history of allied radio propaganda in Germany during World War II may provide an answer.

The allies faced a big problem: Any German caught listening to a broadcast unapproved by Goebbels could receive the death penalty. What was the best way to fetch an audience under those grim circumstances?

The British and the Americans decided upon a subtle approach. They put together German entertainment programs featuring music, comedy, and so forth. The broadcasts seemed to originate within the Third Reich. The news segments were pro-Hitler. But the broadcasts gingerly questioned the competence of Reich officials and emphasized wartime losses. The use of such understated methods would -- it was hoped -- slowly undermine confidence in Hitler's regime.

The Russians, by contrast, used "meat cleaver" tactics. No subtlety for them: They filled Germany's airwaves with incessant anti-Hitler rants, which took on a nearly hysterical tone. They also discovered ways to interrupt official Third Reich broadcasts with sneering commentary. They even heckled Hitler himself during his broadcast speeches.

Which form of propaganda worked best -- the subtle approach or the thuddingly obvious in-your-face approach? Despite the risks, Germans listened to the Soviet harangues. Russia's propaganda campaign -- the verbal equivalent of a punch in the eye -- had far more impact than did the British and American equivalents.

The lessons for today are obvious. Anyone wishing to get a political message across through the use of the radio medium should take off the gloves and get ready for some bareknuckle brawling. Like it or not, that's what works.

I wish the situation were otherwise. I prefer more measured forms of discourse. But we have to take the audience as it is.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Air America Update

Not many minutes after finishing the previous post, I encountered further word on the Air America situation. (If you're not up to speed on the problem, scan down to the post below, then come back up here.)

First, it is reported that the man who shut down the airwaves, Arthur Liu (the former "father of Taiwanese rock and roll"!) is a Republican donor. At the moment, I have but one source on this claim, which requires confirmation.

Second, Air America's lawsuit against Liu has already appeared on the Smoking Gun site.

The document states that Air America has paid all amounts due vis-a-vis the Chicago station, which refused to broadcast Air America this morning. This shut-out, claims the suit, breaches the agreement between the network and the station, which specified that all conflicts would be arbitrated.

As for the dispute involving the Los Angeles station, an internet poster who goes by the nickname Aeryl has claimed:

Multicultural [Liu's outfit] aired another station, while AAR had paid for the airtime, though they had not yet debuted. He should not have rented out airtime already paid for.

That is where the double dipping came in

The contracts for LA and Chicago are two different contracts.

I have not been able to verify these data yet, and I advise readers to exercise caution. I can verify, however, that 1580 AM in Los Angeles was broadcasting material from another source in the time previous to Air America's debut. If the contracts for the two stations are indeed separate, then Air America would seem to have a strong case in the Chicago dispute.
Attack on Air America

Well, I guess Air America must have made an impression. I was surprised to tune in this afternoon to hear Spanish when I expected to hear Al Franken.

Matt Drudge, that glistening example of journalistic excellence, reports that the network experienced "serious cash flow problems." The complaint comes from one Arthur Liu, owner of the stations in Los Angeles and Chicago carrying the network. Liu has claimed that a million-dollar check from Air America bounced. "The CHICAGO TRIBUNE is developing a story, insiders tell DRUDGE, on how the network was pulled off the air this morning in Chicago and Los Angeles, the network's second- and third-largest markets, because, the owner of both stations said, the network bounced a check and owes him more than $1 million! A charge the network strongly denies."

You will recall that the last time "insiders" confided in Drudge, the subject was the Kerry sex smear, which turned out to be a total concoction. History has a way of repeating itself.

Obviously, the sort of "insiders" who make a practice of speaking to Matt Drudge would love to relay the impression of Air America's insolvency, or cancellation over poor ratings. By creating an aura of financial irregularities, opponents can scare advertisers away from the network.

Rush Limbaugh has chimed in, of course, spinning the familiar spin: "It appears there is a problem with debt and that there is a problem with cash flow in certain sectors of the American economy ... this new lib radio net being the stellar example of same. We'll keep a sharp eye on this story."

A cash flow problem? Very strange... Previous reports on Air America's finances made clear that the company was in a position to broadcast for some years without turning a profit.

It is suspicious that only one man -- Arthur Liu, head of a company called Multicultural Radio Broadcasting -- has registered a complaint. Moreover, it seems unlikely that Air America would have increased their network from five to sixteen stations in so short a time span if the project had fared worse than expected.

Regarding the "bounced check" accusation, the aforementioned Chicago Tribune story highlights this rejoinder:

"That is an outright lie," said Evan Cohen, Air America's chairman, in a statement. "Multicultural Radio Broadcasting's conduct in this matter has been disgraceful.... [I]t is a clear violation of their contractual obligations."

Air America filed a complaint today in New York state Supreme Court charging Multicultural with breaching their contract and seeking an injunction to force Multicultural to restore the Air America broadcast on both stations

One would presume that if Air America had indeed bounced a check, they would not have filed charges for breach of contract. Air America's parent company, Progress Media, has told host Randi Rhodes the following information (as relayed by one internet source). Read closely:

There are two contracts with Arthur Liu, the stations' owner; one for the Chicago station (WNTD) and one for the LA station (KBLA). Progress Media learned that Liu had been charging two different entities- Progress Media and another party- for time on the LA station at the same time.

Progress Media objected to this, figuring that charging two different entities for time on the same station at the same time amounted to theft, and disputed some of their charges related to the LA station. They did send Liu his checks on time but instructed Liu not to cash those checks until the dispute had been settled, and began negotiating to settle the dispute. Meanwhile, they allowed Liu to cash the checks for the Chicago station, since their dispute was related to the LA station only.

In the middle of negotiations over the contract dispute in LA, Liu pulled the plug not only on the LA station but the Chicago station as well, in violation of the Chicago station contract.

Again, no checks have bounced. Liu has been asked not to cash checks for the LA station until disputes over charges for that station's service are settled.

I have no idea whether this information is accurate. I have no idea if Mr. Liu has, as claimed, "double charged" for airtime. I would suggest, however, that if -- if -- someone commits an illegal action of this sort, that person becomes easily manipulated by powerful figures with a political agenda: "Play ball with us, and we can make your problems go away..."

Although I don't understand Spanish, I must note that the Spanish-language broadcast heard today seemed amateurish and non-commercial. Hard to believe that those guys could cough up bucks while Air America -- supposedly -- could not.

Finally, here is a press release from Air America itself:

But Arthur Liu --- not funny. He lied to us, he ripped us off and now we’re chasing him down with a pipe wrench. It’s a metaphor.

Here’s what really happened:

This Liu-ser was ripping off our boss Evan Cohen big time (he can’t do that, that’s our job). Evan found out about it and he stopped payment on a check to keep Liu-cifer from ripping him off even more. You can touch Evan for the occasional meal or drinks but a million bucks is crossing the line. And if we ever get low on cash, we can always call Barbra Streisand. Or any of the Baldwins. Except Stephen.

So we got screwed, Liu’d, and tattooed. How Liu can you get? In Liu of payment. Liu’d and lascivious behavior. These write themselves. What we’re getting at is that we hate him.

I would advise Air America to steer away from the hipster humorist tone: This is neither the time nor the place. I would also advise them to clear up one important seeming contradiction: Was there a "stop payment" or was Liu simply advised not to cash the check? Also, if Liu truly was charging two entities for the same airtime, would not the better course of action have been to bring suit, as opposed to issuing a stop payment?

I am sure that as more facts come out, we will get a more comprehensible accounting of the problem. In the meantime, responsible observers (a category which does not include Matt Drudge) should not accept Liu's version of events without considering the other side.

Alas, even if the man proves to be -- as the Air Americans suggest -- something of a shady operator, the spinners will use this story to discredit liberals as people who cannot manage money.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Bake sale for Democracy!

It's an idea that seems silly at first, but I like it better the more I think about it. (Then again, those who have seen me know the quickest way to my heart.) MoveOn is having a massive bake sale to support their efforts to unseat George Bush. Eat a brownie today, or Bush will make us eat it for another four years...
Massacre updates

The punitive massacres in and around Fallujah have received surprisingly little coverage in the United States media. The Guardian reports that U.S. commanders insist that the 600 dead consist primarily of rebels. One wonders what intel could separate insurgents from civilians in a city known for an act of mob violence.

For further insight, check out this Democracy Now interview with Aaron Glantz, reporting from Iraq. Glantz, in turn, relays this message from Aljazeera reporter Samir Khader:

Anybody who served in the army knows what the job of an army. It is to wage war. The images that we received from our crew in Fallujah live on Al-Jazeera were the images of a true war, a war between two armies, but the problem here is that there were no armies, only the American army, and no Iraqi army to fight. Only civilians, civilians and some insurgents. A limited number of insurgents. And what the Americans contend is that this is a tiny minority in Fallujah, fighting the Americans, but what we have seen and heard of these pictures is that the whole population of Fallujah was against the Americans. Therefore, what we have seen F-16's, Blackhawk helicopters pounding the city indiscriminately, killing a huge number of children and women. The latest information that we got from the city is that the last amount of insurgents is very low, very, very low, which means that the Americans targeted the city, as I said, indiscriminately pounding the civilian areas and killing children and women, and this is no war.

A UPI report quotes one resident of the city:

"There is no place in Fallujah without a fight," he says. "The Americans have snuck snipers all over Fallujah and everyone can be hit anytime. We only can work at night, but during the day, they kill the civilians. I saw them shoot a family just for trying to run to a car to leave part of the fighting."

"Once they blocked the roads, they began throwing bombs anywhere in the city," the mother interrupts. "They came from the towns outside (Fallujah, which is surrounded by small farming towns populated by staunchly anti-American residents) where they had taken one after another, killing all of the towns."

While the coalition military statements deny any targeting of noncombatants, this family and virtually every person that has come out of the city during the siege says that the Americans were treating every resident as an insurgent out of revenge for the killings of the contractors.

"I have seen their snipers kill women and children," Ahmed says.

If the situation worsens -- and it will -- the raids against Fallujah will be filed alongside historical accounts of the Third Reich's retaliatory measures after the assassination of Reinhold Heydrich.
Living in Con-denial (update)

I am glad to report that Condoleezza Rice did not experience a surge in popularity as a result of her testimony, even though she spoke well, and even though the right-wing cheerleaders have worked overtime trying to whip up enthusiasm. I suspect that two factors undercut her effectiveness: The release of the Presidential Daily Briefing and (especially) the disastrous news from Iraq, which has left even the most reactionary of the chickenhawks musing whether any good options now exist.

Even though she did not succeed in "Northing" the commission, she does seem to have gotten away with twisting the truth under oath. For those of you looking for a list of iffy areas in her testimony, the Center for American Progress has cobbled together a one-stop shopping resource.

Even so, I'd bet everything in my wallet right now (it ain't much, but it sure means a lot to me) that she'll never be charged with perjury.
Negotiating with terrorists

CNN ran one of their cute little non-scientific polls today, asking if there could ever be circumstances permitting negotiations with terrorists. Of course, nearly everyone participating in such a poll will answer no. Good thing CNN won't poll the United States military.

Consider, for example, the negotiations which led to ceasefires in Iraq. Under the current rules of permissible public discourse, all insurrection is categorized as "terrorism." (In this, we are following the Israeli model of propaganda.) You can't have it both ways: Either the rebels are not terrorists, or the U.S. military has, in fact, recently negotiated with terrorists.
Deny, Deny, Deny

A '60s sex comedy titled (if memory serves) A Guide for the Married Man includes a skit about the power of denial.

A wife returns home unexpectedly and catches her husband in bed with another woman. Wifey screams and shrieks and hollers. The adulterous couple calmly leave the bed, dress, and refuse to admit that anything untoward was going on. "Honey, you're seeing things," the husband assures his spouse. "I have no idea what you're talking about, honest. I'd never cheat on you." The denials are so eerily calm and so persistent that, once the lover leaves the home, the wife begins to wonder if she truly saw what she saw.

I think our current president uses the same guidebook. Regarding the now-infamous Presidential Daily Briefing, W told reporters: "I am satisfied that I never saw any intelligence that indicated there was going to be an attack on America -- at a time and a place, an attack." And: "But that PDB said nothing about an attack on America."

Oh really? It did in my reading. It may not have given a date and flight numbers, but it did mention hijackings. And nobody beefed up airport security.

That's just for starters. For an eye-opening view of the PDB, turn to this analysis by CIA veteran Larry C. Johnson. A key quote:

At a minimum, the details in the 6 August PDB should have motivated Rice to convene a principals’ meeting. Such a meeting would have ensured that all members of the president’s national security team were aware of the information that had been shared with the president. George Bush should have directed the different department heads to report back within one week on any information relevant to the Al Qaeda threat. Had he done this there is a high probability that the FBI field agents concerns about Arabs taking flight training would have rung some bells.

Recall that two of the hijackers were living in San Diego with an FBI informant. Had anyone bothered to shake the trees (to use the newly-chic phrase), some very pertinent information might well have come to the attention of agents in California.

Sunday, April 11, 2004


I had hoped to post nothing political on Easter Sunday. But we cannot avoid the growing reports of a retaliatory massacre by American forces in Falluja, in response to last week's atrocity against the security men.

The problem resisted solution. How could the American forces hope to target the "bad guys" when so many in that town had acted in a frenzy of mob violence? The affront could not go unanswered -- yet what answer could avoid worsening the situation? What counterstrike could avoid making the Americans even more despised by Iraqis throughout the country?

If initial reports are to be believed, the Americans have launched a full-scale punitive massacre against Falluja, and damn the repercussions. The administration's operative motto would seem to be: "If they will not love us, they will learn to fear us." If such is our attitude, how do we differ from Saddam?

The American media are concentrating on the horrible treatment accorded allied hostages. For another side of the story, consider this report from Aljazeera:

Breaking news from Aljazeera on a nearby television shows fresh images from Falluja: scores of dead, including many children. The town has turned into a bloodbath.

The images prove too much for Ahmad; he drops his face into his hands and breaks down. As he walks away, I call an Aljazeera cameraman in Falluja to check on his safety.

Falluja's hospitals are overflowing with dead and wounded

My colleague's voice is panic-stricken as he describes the scene, echoing the pictures that have shocked Ahmad.

"There are images we can't show because it's just too gruesome. I have never seen anything like this before," he says.

"There are bodies everywhere, and people can't go out to retrieve them because they're too afraid of being blown away themselves.

"I can't believe the number of children here, we were at the hospital and it's full of dead and wounded kids.

"The ones that aren't dead have lost limbs and are wailing in pain, begging for their parents. What parents?" he screams. "I don't have the heart to tell them that their parents are in pieces.

"Back at our office the Americans are shooting at us. I walk out of the bathroom and a laser is pointed at my chest," he says, referring to US sharpshooters in the area.

"We'd just bought cigarettes from a store across the street; no more than ten minutes later it was bombed."
An Easter message: What Jesus looked like

Today, let us turn from the realm of politics. Let us consider the origins of Christianity.

Most people think that we have no physical description of Jesus. What if that common presumption is wrong?

The gospels do not describe him. Neither do the epistles. Neither do the non-canonical gospels. Neither do we find a description of Jesus in the works of the ancient Jewish historian Josephus -- at least, not in any manuscript of Josephus that has come down to us.

In fact, Josephus (in the standard version of his works) never refers to Jesus at all -- even though he describes many less-important figures, and even though at least one early church father reports that Josephus did discuss the founder of Christianity. If those passages ever existed, they have gone missing.


In the eighth century, the archbishop of Crete, one Andreas Hierosolymitanus, quoted a description of Jesus Christ which (he said) could be found in a version of Josephus extant at that time. Andreas' report is startling. Jesus, he said, was a dark-skinned hobbit-sized hunchback with a big nose, thinning hair, a patchy beard, and eyebrows that joined in the center in a monstrous fashion.

Yes, I hear you asking, but did he have any distinguishing characteristics?

Other early Christian writers -- Tertullian, for example -- make reference to Jesus being disfigured and un-handsome. The weight of what little evidence we possess suggests that Jesus was...well, ugly.

Let us suppose that Andreas had the straight skinny. Would widespread distribution of this information have impacted the attractiveness of the new religion? Would Christianity have spread so rapidly and so widely if the world understood that the faith's central figure was dark, short, unattractive and "differently abled"?

Such considerations shouldn't make a difference. Nearly everyone will agree on that point. But that's not the question I'm asking. Would Christianity have gained fewer converts if everyone knew that Jesus looked like Quasimodo?

I wonder.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Vigilant Guardian

One of the more troubling aspects of Condi's testimony is her continuing reliance on the assertion that nobody in the administration knew that terrorists might use airplanes as missiles. The primary problem with this idea, as many have pointed out, rests in the fact that she was warned that attackers might try to crash a commandeered jetliner into the July 2001 G-8 Summit meeting in Genoa, Italy, killing President Bush and other world leaders. On twelve separate occasions the American intelligence community issued reports warning of similar plans.

Was NORAD training for just such a contingency? Coincidentally or otherwise (some think otherwise), on September 11, 2001 that agency was embroiled in a large-scale training scenario called Vigilant Guardian. Details of this under-reported exercise remain sketchy, but it appears that the idea of "hijacked jets" played a role. An Aviation Week story of June 3, 2002 argued that the exercise expedited NORAD's response to the emergency:

Part of the exercise?" the colonel wondered. No; this is a real-world event, he was told. Several days into a semiannual exercise known as Vigilant Guardian, NEADS was fully staffed, its key officers and enlisted supervisors already manning the operations center "battle cab."

In retrospect, the exercise would prove to be a serendipitous enabler of a rapid military response to terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Senior officers involved in Vigilant Guardian were manning Norad command centers throughout the U.S. and Canada, available to make immediate decisions.

Further on, we read:

Mineta's decision--and the military recommendation that triggered it--may have been prompted by a few airline pilots reporting terrorists on the radio, talking about other hijacked aircraft. American Flight 77 had hit the Pentagon, and United Flight 93 was being tracked, heading for Chicago or Cleveland, then Washington, prompting the F-16s' scramble.

"We had all of our armed fighters in the air, but needed more," Marr said. Every unit in the northeastern U.S. was loading F-16s, F-15s and A-10s with any armament available, then being directed to combat air patrols (CAPs) over major cities. Soon, Navy F/A-18s, F-14s and E-2Cs--some from two carriers steaming off the East Coast--were flying CAP and surveillance missions over major cities. Ultimately, Navy P-3s and USAF/ ANG C-130s would be pressed into service, using their normal radars to search for intruders.

The Aviation Week piece contains further interesting revelations. Reports streamed into NORAD of other hijacked airliners; those glued to the news on that day (as who was not?) will recall that such warnings also nosed their way onto the airwaves from time to time. Another report concerned an alleged plan to destroy the entrance to Cheyenne mountain headquarters, using the proverbial Ryder truck filled with explosives. We can presume that this nightmarish possibility had a foundation other than wispy legend-spinning, because NORAD briefly considered evacuating Cheyenne Mountain -- at a time when the country was under attack. I'd like to know more about how this "rumor" began.

But Vigilant Guardian should rivet our closest attention. If, as the Aviation Week writers claim, the exercise helped to ready NORAD for the disaster, then why did so many later ask "Where was NORAD on September 11?" Could the exercise have in some way aided the terrorists?

The few news accounts mentioning Vigilant Guardian emphasize that commanders understood quickly that the real-time hijackings had no relation to the training simulation. But can we believe those assurances? Given the credibility problems that color so much of what this administration has said since September 11, and given the fact that all bureaucracies take ass-covering lessons from Fruit of the Loom, how can we rest certain that the simulation did not hinder reaction to the Real McCoy?

All of which leads to the most troubling idea: Did the terrorists know about Vigilant Guardian?

I hope the 9/11 commission answers these questions. I doubt that we'll hear any answers, unless we press for them.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

I know a pornographer...

My pornographer friend runs what he considers a nice, small-scale mom-n-pop enterprise. He produces fetish materials of the sort Dick Morris would understand (and may even patronize, for all I know), video extravaganzas which involve few of the clinical intimacies visible in "normal" pornography. Much of this product could run on commercial television. Still, the very concept of fetish porn tends to horrify moralizers, and any governmental attempt to crack down on the industry could well place a red laser dot on my acquaintance's forehead.

Unlike most others in the adult video industry, he votes Republican. In his mind, it's the Democrats who want to regulate what you can see and hear. When I ask him to cite facts in support of that odd conclusion, he mutters something incomprehensible about Tipper Gore, then changes the subject.

I hope he reads this frightening piece from the Baltimore Sun (brought to my attention by the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy). Bush says there's no more money in the Federal cash drawer for raising combat pay or aiding our ailing cities. But he's willing to spend untold millions to keep our nation's masturbators pure. Praise be to Jesus!
Condi job

In 1987, Oliver North testified that Congress could not be trusted with classified information, citing leaked details of the Achille Lauro operation. In fact, the man who leaked those sensitive military data was none other than Oliver North himself. Did this blatant act of hypocrisy make North a detested figure?

No. To the contrary: Oliver North gained great popularity. His impassioned propaganda for the contra cause convinced a majority of the American population that this country needed to intervene in Central American civil warfare. Image ruled the day. North appeared the very model of the American fighting man, while his inquisitors -- particularly counsel Arthur Liman -- became the national poster boys for lawyerly pettiness. Testimony that some liberals had hoped (and even, god help us, advertised) would bring down the Reagan administration ended up helping to elect George Bush the elder.

Did this history repeat itself in today's interrogation of Condoleezza Rice?

I believe that she testified in a misleading fashion, claiming (for example) that she did not receive a memo from Richard Clarke that he did, in fact, send her. Over the next few days, liberal web sites (including this one) will point out these inconsistencies and problems. These efforts serve a valuable purpose. But I doubt whether any internet responses to Rice will counteract the overall impact of her testimony, which should give George W. Bush's re-election numbers a significant boost.

She was not so confident as she might have been. She did not demolish her opponents. But she held her own, appearing poised and articulate, while her interrogators made the inevitable segue into the Liman-esque hair-splitter role. Relatively few people in this country will pay any attention to the problematic aspects of her testimony. Millions will simply nod and say: "She did well."

Image is all.

I now feel less likely to suggest that she will take the vice-presidential oath of office in January of 2005. I am more confident -- and more fearful -- than ever before that George W. Bush will once more be sworn in as president.