Friday, July 30, 2004

For the few of you checking in...

When Blogger's new interface sent my formatting all to hell, my links and formatting went bye-bye. And when the links disappeared, so did nearly all of my readers. That turn of events came as a surprise, but stats don't lie. The good folks at Blogger tell me that they they recognise the problem (which is isolated to Internet Explorer, they helpfully point out) and hope to have a patch soon.

Well, my day job is making massive demands on my time right now, so this is a good time to bid a temporary -- I hope VERY temporary -- farewell to the world of blogging. But I've an open invite to write for other forums, and when I do, I'll also be posting here on a semi-daily basis once more.

So check in from time to time. I will return. the meantime, check out Capitol Hill Blue for more on the "Is Bush losing it?" motif. They say he's popping pills...!

Friday, July 23, 2004

Lost wages

"We are the revolution," said Ronald Reagan. True enough. Count me among the counter-revolutionaries. Why? Because statistics prove that the average working man had a higher standard of living in the 1970s.

Don't believe it? Read Billmon's piece on the Minimum Wage, the most important bit of blogging (complete with links and a nice chart) you will find on the net this week. Yes, a number of working families still manage to live well -- but only because two wage-earner households have become the norm.

Billmon's report reminds me of an experiment I've been meaning to carry out. I recall (vaguely) our family income in 1973, when I was a school kid. I also recall where we lived. There's a site on the net which can translate amounts from past years into current dollars. I wonder if the same purchasing power could fetch the same living space these days?

I strongly doubt it. Poor and working people increasingly have to pay as much as 80% of their income just to keep a roof overhead.

I shudder to think of the plight of today's women who find themselves in my Mom's position. She was a widow, a more-or-less unskilled working single mother raising two boys. We were poor, but we took no welfare and our lives had a certain small measure of dignity and comfort. In the post-Reagan era, we probably would have ended up in a homeless shelter.

Tell everyone you know to wake up, wise up, and rise up. Reagan screwed us.

Ever since supply side economics, union-busting and deregulation became the cornerstones of the national theology, working people have had to put up with deteriorating conditions. Meanwhile, in Europe -- where the theology is quite different -- working people have a higher living standard and longer average lifespans.

Our son of a bitch

I was interested to read that our new, ally in Iraq, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (a former CIA asset and Saddam henchman), is reported to have personally shot several insurgents who were in custody. So, at least, says the Sydney Morning Herald, a publication I have always found trustworthy previously.

Although Tony Blair -- not a disinterested party -- has dismissed the report, the Herald account comes to us via eyewitnesses.

Interesting, isn't it? The same Americans who tell us that we had to get rid of Saddam because he was a lawless monster will no doubt applaud Allawi for acting thuggishly.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Frying Berger

Well, the rightists are having a field day with Sandy Berger's misadventure at the National Archive. Bush has said that the matter is serious and requires immediate investigation -- unlike, say, such paltry concerns as 9/11, the investigation of which he tried to block.

The right-tilting bloggers and newsgroup shouters are doing their best to insinuate -- or state -- that Berger hoped to hide some incriminating fact about Clinton-era terror policy. That presumption falls apart when we note the following:

1. According to the reports I've read, the documents in question existed in multiple copies. Berger could not hope to eradicate the information, any more than you could hope to eradicate fascism by stealing your local library's copy of Mein Kampf.

2. Apparently, the major focus is on a specific document written by Richard Clarke, at Berger's instruction, during the Clinton administration. Nobody should be under the impression that this one file contains the secrets of the Qabala. As Berger's lawyer, Lanny Breuer, explained: "Now with respect to what this document is about, it is widely known. Its existence is widely known. It's written about in books and in magazines."

3. Perhaps the main accusation against Berger is that he made notes of classified documents. That's a serious matter, of course. Still, notes leave the original document intact. Which brings us back to the question: How could Berger hope to hide material from the record?

4. The National Archive has methods in place to keep track of its holdings; that institution knows when a piece of paper has gone missing and who saw it last. Berger surely knew this fact.

Although much remains up in the air, here's my guess as to what really happened. Berger's lawyer says that his client wanted to double-check all his facts before testifying to the 9/11 commission. Beyond that, I would not be surprised if Berger harbored hopes of writing a book or article discussing Clinton's terrorism policy. Anyone who has ever worked with archival material (as I have, though not with classified documents) has entertained the thought: "If only I could bring a box of this stuff home, peruse it at my leisure, then return it..." Berger, I am betting, gave into that temptation.

Yes, doing so constitutes a breach. But it does not constitute any sort of cover-up.

Incidentally, the Drudge-spread canard about Berger stuffing paper into his socks proves that the GOPropagandists still cannot resist the temptation to embellish. Remember all the wild, hyperbolic accusations that went flying around in the early days of Whitewater? History repeats itself. There is less to the Berger affair than met the eye at first.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Finally, someone says it!

From Joe Conason's latest on the Wilson smears:

From the beginning of this controversy, the C.I.A. has stated categorically that Mrs. Wilson was not responsible for dispatching her husband to Niger, which isn't exactly one of the planet's garden spots. The agency has never revised that statement.

Odd, isn't it? The conservatives scream about why the CIA picked Wilson -- which isn't even relevant to question of whether Saddam tried to buy uranium -- yet they discount what the Agency itself has to say.

The Grand Old Pedophile party

OK, I admit the link I'm offering up here amounts to a cheap shot. But after the Republicans offered up that whole "Kerry and Edwards are gay" meme, retaliation in kind is justified.

Some genius at the Democratic Underground cobbled together a list of God-fearin' conservs caught in the act of child molestation. (That was the term in my day. "Pedophilia" sounds like a disease; "molestation" connotes a willful act, and a crime.) As the DU wag puts it: "They leave no child's behind behind."

Easy $200

Blogger Michael Turner is offering a couple of C-notes to anyone who can prove that Joseph Wilson lied about yellowcake from Niger. Any takers?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


We return, once more, to the enigmas surrounding the hostages taken in the Middle East, where orange prison suits are as plentiful as botox in Beverly Hills. Many have felt that the Nick Berg controversy would go away after the deaths of Paul Johnson and Kim Sun-Il, but the bizarre Hassoun affair has once more perfumed the air with paranoia.

The incredibly sad Paul Johnson affair, which even the die-hard conspiracists tend to take at face value, nevertheless contains bafflements. For example, where's the body? We were originally told that Saudi cops killed the perpetrators, who were observed dumping the body. Later reports held that the body was never found. Which is it?

Australian journalist Nick Possum -- whose real name may or may not be Gavin Gatenby -- has, as many of you will know, been looking into the Berg controversy. You will want to read his latest piece, which is quite persuasive. While I'm not sure I agree with Gavin, he makes an intelligent, hard-to-refute argument that the Berg video was shot in Abu Ghraib prison, and that the uniform he wore was indeed an American-style prison costume.

I should also point out that Michael Berg (Nick's father) now claims that the family is being "stonewalled" in their attempts to investigate what Nick was doing in Iraq before the abduction.

On an Alternet forum, I brought up my previous posting on the Berg and Hassoun matters. Gavin had this reply which (with his permission) I would like to share:

Joseph: I think it'd be wrong to look for a common thread in all of the
kidnappings and executions. I remain about 99 per cent sure that Berg was a
black op, and I will have something new up on it Real Soon Now (yeah I know
I've been saying that for a while, but it's coming).

Before Berg the only similar thing was Pearl. That was undoubtedly a genuine
Islamist job, but we have to say also that the al-Q-type Islamists undoubtedly
have agents in the Paki secret police as well as vice versa. Also the evidence
is that Pearl was shot in the heart before being beheaded. Pearl wasn't
dressed in orange prison garb (Berg wasn't wearing generic orange coveralls
or "jumpsuit", he was wearing a genuine two-piece prison uniform).

Okay then there was Berg, with his weird connections, time in clink, the weird
editing, two apparent cameras, etc, etc, etc. Everything screams "psyops". But
I still think it most likely he died of overinterrogation. We know more about the
Berg case than anything since because if was the team's first job and they
were inexperienced and stuffed up a lot of stuff which gave us a window.

Johnson: He was an aircraft weapons mechanic. The orange jumpsuit might
have been what he wore to work. They all wear those things, and these days
they're often orange. Also the way that video leaked out, it could well have
been manipulated by a psyops team before being passed on to the media.
Easily possible. The alleged perpetrators were all shot, so they couldn't talk.
And the body was never found. We never found out anything interesting about
Johnson. For all we know the Saudis might have decided he'd transgressed
their notoriously strict rules in some way and decided to behead him
unofficially rather than officially.

Where the Saudi spooks, police, MI, etc, end and the Wahabist al-Q types
begin is anybody's guess! The two sides would have penetrated each other
so thoroughly they probably don't know themselves, from one day to the next,
which side they're on.

Kim Sun Il: Young Kim was as weird as Berg and again we know little in
detail. Here's a young Korean Christian who's working for a company that
supplies the US Army so presumably he gets to come and go inside the
bases and he wanders around Fallujah talking theology with the locals. I
mean either side could have decided on that basis that he was a real
problem. Then we learn he disappeared three weeks before he was first
reported missing in the press and his boss met with the Korean consul four
times and never said "Oh, by the way, young Kim's gone missing". There's
said to be a videotape that looks like the first two shots in the Berg video, in
which Kim freely expresses his support for the resistance. Hmmm. We haven't
seen that. No doubt most of the discussion is in Korean. And the stills from the
video I've seen look like they were set up to rescue the authenticity of the Berg

Then there was the young American soldier the resistance had been holding
since about the time Berg went missing. Finally they just shot him. Nothing
flamboyant. Not "Zarqawi". Looks totally genuine.

Since then there have been a few ransomed (undoubtedly genuine) and a
few just let go. The three Turkish truck drivers could well have been a psyops
job aimed at boosting the US while Powell (or was it Bush himself) was in
Turkey. Interestingly they were released when they promised to be good.
Unlike the others there was absolutely nothing suspicious about them (unlike
Berg, Johnson and Sun Il. Just truck drivers. If it was a black ops job, I'm sure
the black ops boys would prefer not to kill people who are totally innocent (we
all have standards) so they let them go.

Hassoun: gee, that's anybody's guess. Here's a very young bloke who's an
Arab and a translator. Most locals would have loathed him and his Marine
comrades (none of whom knows what he's saying when he talks to the locals)
would certainly have been highly suspicious. For all we know he could have
been used as the bait in an ambush set for the resistance. He could have
been pulled by MI or the CIA because they thought they had evidence on him.
You could write any number of airport bookshop novels on this one. Dunno.

The Kill Zarqawi Vigilantes: The US media reported that these masked guys
(videotape to al Jazeerah) said they were incensed that Zarqawi was killing
innocent Iraqis and trying to kill Allawi. The rest of the world media didn't say they included Allawi. Fascinating. Lots of Iraqi tendencies ranging from the
Baathists to al-Sadr say Zarqawi is a US front. Fascinating. These guys look
like resistance to me.

Which brings us to the Bulgarians and the Phillipino. Too early to tell.

The irony is that the black ops boys might unwittingly have started the fashion
for beheading people wearing orange "jumpsuits".

Sefton Delmar, who ran a big chunk of Britain's black ops during WWII called
his account of his exploits Black Boomerang, "precisely because the
techniques of psychological warfare were inclined to turn back on the
propagandist" (that's Muriel Spark, who was his secretary).

Regime change in Iran

Well, the signs have been there for a while, but now it is semi-official: If re-elected, Bush will topple the government in Iran. They're even trying out the old link-to-Al-Qaeda gambit.

I'll be amused to hear the neocons blather about "democracy" when and if W makes his play, since Iran already has at least some elements of democracy -- which means that nation's record is rather better than those of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, etc.

Besides, how can Bush of all people argue against a government which mixes a spoonful of democracy into a theocratic stew? Isn't that the recipe he has in mind for America?

So far, administration sources are claiming that they can take down Iran covertly, without military action. If you believe that, there's a sign in Hollywood I'd love to sell to you. Iran ain't going down easy.

An attempt

I am going to attempt to blog today, even though my site is not what it was. I wonder if Blogger's great experiment in WYSIWYG posting decimated other sites as it did mine? To make matters worse, I've had technical problems on my own end. (Ever have one of those periods where you spend three whole days trying to get the damn 'puter to behave as it used to?)

At any rate, this stripped-down version of CANNONFIRE is at least readable. I miss the red-and-black look, and hope to reinstate it. (The color scheme was inspired by Daredevil's costume. I was a big DD fan as a youngster.)

A few observations: I hate to admit it (for partisan reasons) but the allegations against Sandy Berger are serious. I fail to see how any actions by Berger reflect on Kerry, although you can be sure that the GOPropagandists will make strained arguments along those lines.

Not long ago, I caught the tail end of Truffaut's original, under-rated film version of Fahrenheit 411, a film I had not seen since the 1970s. (A remake is in the offing.) In the final act, Montag the bibliophile fireman -- having become a declared enemy of the state -- is the subject of a manhunt. The TV broadcasts images of the shoot-out which ends his life. Amusingly, Montag himself -- quite alive -- is among the viewers of this spectacle; the State staged a satisfying ending to the hunt when real-life proved recalcitrant.

I could not help but be reminded of the staged events we've all seen on our screens lately: The statue of Saddam Hussein toppled by Chalabi's goons pretending to be joyous citizens of Baghdad; the declared existence of WMDs in Iraq -- "found" and put on display, from time to time, on Fox News; and the Iraq war's non-existent battles between the Third Infantry Division and the dreaded Republican Guard. Some will add to this list the questionable beheading of Nick Berg and the very questionable kidnapping of Corporal Hassoun. One might even mention the cleverly edited video montages designed to convince illiterates that Kerry and Edwards are swishy.

In this light, you will surely want to read Eric Margolis' fine new article on "The era of strategic deception."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Politics are dead and the only question left is Pilate's. Bradbury predicted this. Fahrenheit 411 may have as much to say about our time as does Fahrenheit 9/11.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

More on yellowcake and yellow journalism

[NOTE TO READERS: Blogger has revamped its interface. Alas, it seems that there are bugs. When I upoloaded this piece originally, the format of the entire site went crazy -- posts went into the links section. I'll fix things as soon as Blogger tells me what went wrong.]
The rightists made a massive stink out of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report which, according to the Washington Post summary, painted JoesephWilson as a liar. The Coultergeist was particularly obnoxious especially when she (falsely) referred to Valerie Plame as a CIA "benchwarmer." How many benchwarmers operate under Non-Official Cover?
Turns out the Post story got it wrong. From a response published in Salon:
The Washington Post story, meanwhile, took the disputed Senate report conclusions even further. It stated in its lead that Wilson was "specifically recommended for the mission by his wife ... contrary to what he has said publicly." In the interview, Wilson argued that the Post story failed to make clear that only the intelligence panel's Republicans, and not its Democrats, came to that conclusion. He said he has written a letter of protest to the Post.

The Post article also contained one acknowledged error: In trying to build a case that Wilson's Niger trip had actually bolstered the administration's claims, Schmidt wrote that Wilson had told the CIA that Iraq had tried to buy 400 tons of uranium from Niger in 1998. In fact, it was Iran that Wilson said had tried to make the purchase, as the Senate report states. The Post ran a correction.

The only serious dispute tending to impugn Wilson's version of events concerns the question of whether his wife suggested him for the job. I fail to see the importance of this issue, or how it can be used to justify Bush's infamous 16-word exercise in deception.

Wilson has persuasively defended his position against the blatherings of the Senate Republicans: 

The conclusion is apparently based on one anodyne quote from a memo Valerie Plame, my wife, sent to her superiors that says, "My husband has good relations with the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity." There is no suggestion or recommendation in that statement that I be sent on the trip. Indeed it is little more than a recitation of my contacts and bona fides. The conclusion is reinforced by comments in the body of the report that a CPD [Counterproliferation Division] reports officer stated that "the former ambassador's wife 'offered up his name'" (page 39) and a State Department intelligence and research officer stated that the "meeting was 'apparently convened by [the former ambassador's] wife who had the idea to dispatch him to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium issue."

In fact, Valerie was not in the meeting at which the subject of my trip was raised. Neither was the CPD reports officer. After having escorted me into the room, she [Valerie] departed the meeting to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest. It was at that meeting where the question of my traveling to Niger was broached with me for the first time and came only after a thorough discussion of what the participants did and did not know about the subject.

Needless to say, conservative "journalists" refused to wait to hear this side of the story before pronouncing Wilson a liar.
Other rightists have tried to defend those 16 words by pointing to the U.K.'s Butler report. That report was damningly harsh on the deceptive intelligence leading up to the war (a side of the story ignored by G.O.P. propagandists), but it did claim that Britain had agents-in-place within Iraq whose information tended to buttress the Niger story.
The Los Angeles Times and other news outlets have called into question the reliability of this data -- data which persuaded neither the CIA nor any other non-British intelligence agency. We have no independent way of knowing who these "inside" individuals were or what position they hoped to gain in post-war Iraq. They may well have presumed (not at all unreasonably) that Chalabi would be running the place. Many believe that Chalabi's INC, which was running a fake document shop, put together the Niger forgeries in the first place.
Defectors and agents-in-place have a long history of telling their secret paymasters what they think the paymasters want to hear. Doubt it? Do some Google research. Start by typing in the names "Angleton"and "Golitsyn." 
There are three major reasons for presuming that the whole "yellowcake" tale was never anything but a scam:
1. Bush distanced himself from the story and had DCI Tenet fall on his sword, even though Tenet was not really responsible. If those 16 words were verifiably true, why would Bush act embarrassed by them? Why not embrace them?
2. Niger's uranium is controlled by an international cartel. Any alleged discussion between Saddam Hussein's representatives and a Nigerian official simply would not have mattered.
3. If the story was something other than disinformation, why was it "proven" by demonstrably forged documentation? A factual allegation does not require forged evidence.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Child rape? Or disinformation?

The truth may be leaking out. Seymour Hersh has told an audience that American interrogators in Iraq raped children. With cameras rolling, no less.

Is this allegation true? If so, then why hasn't Hersh published the scoop?

I can't help wondering if some covert operative may have fed Hersh this data. Disprove the "child-rape" allegation, and everything else Hersh has said, even if perfectly accurate, will be tossed into the toilet. Worse, the radio right will scream for weeks about agenda-driven liberal liars in the media.

Hersh has been misled by sources before. The "Marilyn Monroe" mini-scandal comes to mind.

Yellowcake and yellow journalism

Speaking of bovine excretion -- and we were; see below -- I'm infuriated by recent efforts to revive the Niger yellowcake story, and the parallel efforts to trash Joe Wilson.

In the case of Wilson, right-wing "journalists" have not even sought out his response to the intelligence committee's assertion that his wife recommended him for the inspection gig. In the past, reporters understood the wisdom of learning both sides of a story.

More to the point: The Saddam-wanted-Niger-uranium story is dead, dead, dead. It has joined the choir invisble; it has ceased to be. Republicans can manipulate the corpse after the fashion of Weekend at Bernie's, but they still can't make the thing breathe. They can remove the stake, but they can't make the cadaver walk out of its coffin.

There is no proof that Saddam bought or tried to buy yellowcake from Niger. There is no proof that he had a nuclear program. There is no proof that, even if he had such a program, he did not already possess sufficient amounts of the needed material. And Niger could not have sold the material to Saddam under any circumstances; the uranium is not in that country's immediate control.

Republicans harp on Wilson yet never discuss Marine Gen. Carlton W. Fulford Jr., a four-star general who traveled to Niger and confirmed Wilson's findings. Before we let the propagandists toss certain key facts down the memory hole, re-read this Washington Post story published exactly one year ago:

In an interview, Fulford said he came away "assured" that the supply of "yellowcake" was kept secure by a French consortium. Both Fulford, then deputy commander of the U.S. European Command and his commander, Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, said the issue did not surface again, although they were both routinely briefed on weapons proliferation in Africa. "I was convinced it was not an issue," Fulford said.

Fulford was asked by the U.S. ambassador to Niger, BarbroOwens-Kirkpatrick, to join her at the meeting with Niger's President Mamadou Tandja on Feb. 24, 2002. "I was asked to impress upon the president the importance that the yellowcake in Niger be under control," Fulford said. "I did that. He assured me. He said the mining operations were handled through a French consortium" and therefore out of the Niger government's control. Owens-Kirkpatrick, reached by phone, declined to comment.

Fulford's impressions, while not conclusive, were similar to those of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, who traveled to Niger for the CIA in February 2002 to interview Niger officials about the uranium claim and came away convinced it was not true.

The charge that Iraq was seeking to buy nuclear material in Africa was based mainly on documents that the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded this March were forged.
And as for who cobbled together that forgery -- ah. Therein lieth a tale. Experts will argue over it for many a year to come, just as some people are still arguing about the Zenoviev letter or the bordereau made famous in the Deyfus affair. Despite the bleatings of propagandists who would complicate matters, those who seek the simplest explanation will cast a suspicious eye at the "fake document" shop run by neocon icon Ahmed Chalabi.

The anus of responsibility

"Mistakes were made." That's the nonsense we hear from both the British and the American investigations tasked to uncover why intelligence went awry in the run-up to the Iraq war. Of course, if the "mistakes" keep running in the same direction, then what we are dealing with are not mistakes but lies.

The mysterious blogger known as Xymphora today offered a fine summary of this situation: "The reports, coming out at the same time and with almost identical bullshit, might as well have been excreted from the same anus."

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Americans torture a Swede

My thanks to The Kirby File for directing my attention to this story:

Mehdi Ghezali, a Swedish citizen born in Algeria, was studying Islam in Pakistan prior to the invasion of Afghanistan. In the chaos of the invasion, Pakistani villagers discovered that they could receive hefty rewards if they turned foreigners over to the American forces. One can imagine what sort of tales these villagers peddled. Ghezali found himself caught up in this mess, and thus spent two-and-a-half years undergoing grueling treatment at Gitmo:

"They put me in the interrogation room and used it as a refrigerator. They set the temperature to minus degrees so it was terribly cold and one had to freeze there for many hours -- 12 to 14 hours one had to sit there, chained," he said, adding that he had partially lost the feeling in one foot since then.

Ghezali said he was also deprived of sleep, chained for long periods in painful positions, and exposed to bright flashes of light in a darkened room and loud music and noise.

"They forced me down with chained feet. Then they took away the chains from the hands, pulled the arms under the legs and chained them hard again. I could not move," he said.

After several hours his feet were swollen and his whole body was aching. "The worst was in the back and the legs," he said.
Naturally, the American captors were slow to understand that their bought-and-paid-for info might be faulty. One can only imagine what other horror stories will come out.

Hassoun, Berg, and hoaxes

I actually started to write it. A note of apology.

I may still publish it. After all, I've long castigated the rightists for their psychological inability to apologize for anything; if they step on your foot, they blame you for putting your foot there. That's why no right-wingers ever admitted that they were wrong about Whitewater or the Clinton hit squad or the Vince Foster "murder" or any of the other wacky conspiracy stories they peddled.

Then came the l'affaire Berg, a wacky conspiracy story that, rightly or wrongly, captured the attention of yours truly. I never wedded myself to the popular "fake beheading" thesis. But who can deny the Fleming-esque fascination of this outlandish idea?

More intriguing still, to me at least, are the manifold oddities -- and even (dare I say it?) hints of espionage -- in the career of Nick Berg.

Alas, the "spooky" aspect of the case did not interest others quite so much as it did me. Those who fixated on the Berg mystery were primarily drawn to the possibility of video fakery. And there is some evidence to support their view -- for example, this analysis of the voice of "Zarqawi," as heard on the Berg tape, notes some very unexpected details.

Like many others, I was stunned to see Berg wearing an Abu Ghraib-style orange jump suit. For many, that was the detail that permeated this business with an unmistakable odor of fish.

And then...and then...

Others were kidnapped: Paul Johnson. Kim Sun-il. Marine Cpl. Wassif Hassoun. All three men were displayed wearing American-style orange prison jumpsuits, as though Middle Eastern terrorists had found a discount store that carried such uniforms in bulk.

This turn of events placed the Berg "buffs" in an uncomfortable position. Even the hard-core conspiracy theorists tend to admit that the Johnson murder was precisely what it seemed to be. If a "real" beheading offers details similar to those found in the Berg video, then we can fairly presume that the Berg atrocity was genuine as well.

And then...and then...

Corporal Hassoun turned up alive.

The news reports are sketchy and contradictory to the point of infuriation. At one point, we were told that Hassoun went AWOL to be with a girlfriend in Lebanon. No, other reports countered: The girlfriend was Iraqi. Friends in Iraq, according to some news accounts, conspired to shuttle Hassoun off to his native land of Lebanon. No, said other news accounts: Those "friends" were actually terrorists who kidnapped him for real. Now that he has spent some days in American hands, Hassoun's de-briefers aren't telling the press much. Initial accounts indicate that they take his kidnapping at face value. Yet the majority of news articles continue to treat the whole affair as a hoax.

I've just begun to list the oddities surrounding this episode. The ultimate oddity is this: There was a videotape of Hassoun in captivity -- wearing the now-ubiquitous orange jumpsuit.

Don't underestimate the ramifications. If this kidnapping was indeed a hoax, then it was a very elaborate prank involving a number of perpetrators. They were able to replicate the essentials of the Berg video, and they were able to send the video to the internet without being traced.

Which means, at the very least, that we may well possess at least one verifiable instance of a staged video documenting a terrorist "kidnapping." And the existence of one staged video means we cannot discount the possibility of others.

More than that: If the Hassoun kidnapping was a fake designed to help the Marine shuffle off to Lebanon, then we must presume that Hassoun had no serious objection to the idea of his family being informed of his murder. The man cared so much about beating the AWOL rap that he let his mother, rather and siblings believe that decapitation had occurred. Or so some news stories would have us think.

More than that. Various news accounts imply that Hassoun intended to start a new life, probably under a new identity. Would he really take such a drastic step just to impress a girl?

The "fake kidnapping" reports place us -- egads! -- directly in the middle of conspiracy-land. The only question concerns the conspiracy's size. We are permitted to consider the notion that Hassoun and his buddies worked up an elaborate scheme of this sort on their own, ad hoc. But if we don't want reasonable, sober-minded folk to snarl or guffaw at us, we must never, ever, ponder the possibility that the American military or espionage apparat might have engineered such a deception. To allow such a notion to percolate in our noggins would constitute Thoughtcrime Most Foul.

Far be it from me to wallow in Thoughtcriminality. But...well, you remember that apology I was going to offer for my interest in the Berg controversy? I may yet offer my mea culpas.

But not today.

The Muslim vote

Poking fun at fulminating usenet hate-mongers is easy sport -- too easy, really, to provide much amusement. Sometimes, though, the vitriol serves to underscore an important point. Consider, if you will, the following insight from one Herb Suol, noted victim of testosterone poisoning:
Every dumbass liberal, still hasn't gotten it through his thick scull that he is the prime target for the subhuman scum, known to the rest of the world as muslims. I'd like to see all the bleeding heart morons go to Iraq and befriend their muslim friends. Their heads would be coming off in record numbers. Idiiots.
Well. At the risk of seeming like an "idiiot" with an impermeable "scull," I should note that sentiments of this sort have done much to reverse all the courting of the Muslim vote done in the year 2000 by Grover Norquist of the GOP.

American Muslims outnumber Jews, or so I've read. (The numbers have been questioned -- very questionably questioned, in my eyes -- by the American Jewish Committee.) Muslims are thus an increasingly powerful voting bloc -- and a tight election is fought bloc-by-bloc.

So while I decry the racism evinced by Mr. Suol and his ideological compadres, part of me hopes they all continue to spew venom in very public places. American Muslims who have flirted with the idea of voting Republican -- and in the past, many have done just that -- now know just what kind of people are drawn to that party.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Election overseers

Boy, is this a good idea! is promoting a petition to have U.N. overseers monitor the upcoming election. The peitition mentions the problems of touchscreen voting machines, the "felon" purge, discrimination against minorities, and biased media coverage.

I rarely ask folks to sign peitions, but this one is a superb idea. Even if U.N. monitors do not insure a clean election, their observations -- if negative -- will have a tremendous effect on world opinion.

Thirteen members of Congress are already on board.

Michael "Anonymous" Scheuer plays Spiderman

If you haven't read it yet, Salon has a terrific piece on Michael "Anonymous" Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris.

Scheuer brings to mind the image of Spiderman trying to stop that runaway train, his hands wrapped around tethers pulling him in opposite directions. Unlike Spidey, he's not strong enough to keep from being torn asunder.

On one side, the tether leads toward neoconservative anti-Arab thuggishness. Scheuer, sympatico to Pipes and Emerson, is a man who understands the primal appeal of that infamous cry: "Exterminate the Brutes!"

On the other side, the tether leads in this surprising direction:

And Scheuer is extraordinarily harsh on the Jewish state, America's unqualified support for it, and the enormous pressure commentators are under not to criticize it.

"The American political and social landscape is littered with the battered individuals who dared to criticize Israel ... Surely there can be no other historical example of a faraway, theocracy-in-all-but-name of only about six million people that ultimately controls the extent and even the occurrence of an important portion of political discourse and national security debate in a country of 270-plus million people ... Washington yearly pumps more than three billion taxpayer dollars into a nation that defiantly proclaims itself 'the Jewish State' and a democracy -- claims hard to reconcile with its treatment of Muslims in Israel, its limitations on political choice for those in the occupied territories, and the eternal exile it has enforced on those camped in the refugee diaspora across the Levant."
There are, it seems, two Michael Scheuers. Both deserve reading. But we can't applaud both.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Chem war in Israel

Have the Israelis been using poison gas against Palestinians? This report by James Brooks makes a persuasive case:

The incident in Al-Zawiya appears to be the tenth attack by Israeli soldiers using an "unknown gas" against Palestinian civilians since early 2001. We have photographs of the canisters. We have film of victims suffering in the hospital. We have interviews with Palestinian and European doctors who have treated the victims. And we presumably have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of survivors. But we know nothing of their fate. Despite the evidence, we have not inquired.

Though it is a state secret, Israel's development of chemical and biological weapons has been known and analyzed for decades. From the typhoid poisoning of Palestinian wells and water supplies in 1948 [3,4] to the conversion of F-16s into nerve gas 'crop dusters' in 1998 [5], Israel has always demonstrated a strong interest in developing CBW agents and methods for their dispersal.
I should add that Victor Ostrovsky revealed the existence of an Israeli biowarfare testing center which uses captured Palestinians as experimental subjects. The ghost of Mengele, invoked by the most ironic of hosts, still haunts the world.

Torture of children in Iraq: The latest

ABC News has offered a new account on the allegations that children have been tortured by Americans in Iraqi prisons.
The allegations come from UNICEF and the Danish contigent of the international group Save the Children.

Intel failure: The blame game

Today's newspapers, and last night's broadcast of Nightline, fixed the blame for poor pre-war Iraq intelligence squarely on the CIA. Certain commentators tell us that former DCI George Tenet should have reported the unwanted truth, not the welcome lie -- even if doing so would have resulted in job loss. The Los Angeles Times feels that the fault rests not with any individual actor but with a case of "groupthink." Hard-core neocons blame the massaged data on the intelligence community as a whole, or at least on the analysis division of the CIA.

Only Newsday discusses the minority report which details how the Bushites placed the CIA analysts in a pressure cooker.

This is not a new issue. During the run-up to the Iraq war, a number of articles decried the pressures put on the intelligence community to deliver product shaped by the customer's request. Even Doonesbury devoted a few strips to this motif. We do not need a Senate investigation to tell us that sky is blue and grass is green and Bush likes his facts fudged.

Now the neocons who created this mess are taking a blame-the-spooks stance. I wonder what would happen if all of society adopted a similar tactic?

Consider the possibilities. You can blame Ben and Jerry for selling you the ice cream that made you fat. The fact that you asked for their product hardly mitigates their responsibility.

But don't stop there. The neocon strategy tells us who is responsible for Mad Cow Syndrome.

Many experts say that prion-borne livestock diseases are spread by feeding animal product to herbivores. Who, then, should be held accountable? The captains of the ranching industry? The FDA officials who allowed this practice? The guys who own the large feed companies?

Nope. Let's fix blame squarely on the poor $8-an-hour shmoe at the rendering plant who physically tosses "downer" cow carcasses, euthanized pets, and expired zoo animals into the slurry. Let's call him before a congressional committee and interrogate him: "Didn't you know the slop you were cooking up was being fed to livestock?"

"Yes, but..." he might start to answer.

"And didn't you notice that sick animals became part of the feed?"

"Look, if I didn't do as I was told, I would have lost my job!"

"Not an excuse! It's all your fault! You poisoned our beef supply! J'ACCUSE!"

Similarly, we can point the accusing finger at the person who poisoned our intel -- not at he who demanded the dash of arsenic, but at he who reluctantly supplied it. Thanks to the neocons, we always know who to blame: Anyone but the neocons.


I'm a pessimist. I always presume that the candidate I like won't win the election. In 1992, I did not allow myself even to consider the possibility that the elder Bush might lose -- until the tabloids turned on him.

The specific moment of samsara came when the Weekly World News' beloved space alien endorsed Bill Clinton. Remember the space alien? In a succession of cover photos, he posed with Poppy, then with the Ferengi, then with Bubba. In these shots, the alien always seemed the same size as the candidates, even though Perot was shorter than Clinton and Bush.

Now, I'm not saying that anyone (outside of certain counties in Mississippi) has ever taken the Weekly World News seriously. In general, though, the tabloids -- the ultra-goofy ones as well as the sorta-maybe-sometimes "serious" ones -- serve a propaganda function.

For what it's worth: Ten years ago, a former writer for the National Enquirer -- whose name I cannot reveal because I do not recall it -- confirmed my suspicion that virtually all the tabloids have a political agenda. Yes, I know that most people scoff at the credibility of these publications -- but so what? They still offer an incessant series of headlines screaming the guilt of a Condit while ignoring any troubling material in the background of a Schwarzenegger. In the business of perception management, pure repetition of an idea can outweigh concern over credibility.

Whenever talk turns to tabloid bias, conspiracy buffs of a certain stripe will remind us of the background of Generoso Pope, former owner of the National Enquirer and the Weekly World News. Hint: He had previously worked for a "Company" some refer to as the Cigar Importers of America.

Now, I told you that to tell you this:

A couple of weeks ago, the National Enquirer ran a story with a cover headline reading (if memory serves): "BUSH SEX SCANDAL!" The article itself simply rehashed the "Washingtonienne" wackiness discussed in loving detail by Anna Marie Cox, a.k.a. Wonkette. I'd say the story was up her alley, but she might use the occasion to proclaim once more her preference in alleys.

The scandal -- at least what we know of it thus far -- doesn't really touch the oval office. Yet a quick glance at the Enquirer headline gave the impression that W uses hookers.

Hmmm. Has Poppy's whelp lost the tabs? If so, then maybe -- just maybe -- Kerry has a chance.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

More Moore

Not long ago, I offered a "respectful critique" of Fahrenheit 911, in which I asserted that the movie did not go far enough, particularly in its refusal to address the phenomenon of neoconservatism.

Of course, there have been no shortage of non-respectful criticisms of the film. For insight into the many lies and absurdities offered by the anti-Moore squawkers, you can do no better than to consider the points raised by Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler. He has been lambasting some cheap shots taken by purported liberal Ellen Goodman.

The anti-Moore effort has all the earmarks of what I call a "scratch and sniff" campaign. That is my term for a propaganda offensive designed to create the odor of something that isn't really there. In the case of Whitewater, for example, the intention was to create the stink of scandal where no scandal existed. In the case of this film, the propagandists hope to evoke the fragrance of deception, even where no deceit exists.

This has happened before. Remember the campaign against JFK? Back in the early 1990s, I distinctly recall meeting people who told me that they were furious, furious at all the "lies" in Stone's movie.

"Okay," I replied. "Name a lie. Be specific."

They couldn't. They didn't know the case well enough to have an intelligent opinion one way or the other. But the media had screamed "Liar! Liar!" so often and so loudly, many felt obliged to scream along.

Granted, there were and are a number of people who do know the case and who don't like Stone's film; those individuals represent a separate phenomenon. I'm talking here about those who put great emotion into expressing an opinion without being able to articulate why they feel that way. The creation of such inchoate opinion is the very purpose of a "scratch and sniff" propaganda campaign.

And that's what's happening in the case of Fahrenheit 9/11.

The film has been called anti-troops, when in fact Moore bends over backwards to hail the bravery of American soldiers. Joe Scarborough claimed that Moore compared Al Qaeda to our founding fathers; Moore said no such thing. Moore has been accused of saying that no member of Congress has a child serving in the military in Iraq; in fact, Moore's narration names the one congressman who does. Moore is accused of claiming falsely that Saudi nationals were transported by jet before September 14; Craig Unger has proven that just such a flight did indeed take place. Moore's critics have argued that Richard Clarke bears sole responsibility for this flight; those critics never note that Clarke had been misinformed about FBI vetting of Bin Laden's relatives and the other Saudi nationals.

Again and again, the conservative critics -- not Moore -- are the ones who cannot pass the truth test.

One of the most widely-noted critiques comes from Brendan Nyhan of the allegedly objective Spinsanity site. Nyhan's "objectivity" is such that he sees fit to quote Michael Isikoff without qualification. (Yeesh. That's almost as bad as taking a statement from Chris Vlasto at face value!) The afore-mentioned Craig Unger has sufficiently countered Isikoff on his site and elsewhere.

Nyhan then hits us with this doozy of a paragraph:

Finally, Moore drops a big number - $1.4 billion - claiming "That's how much the Saudi royals and their associates have given the Bush family, their friends and their related businesses in the past three decades," adding that "$1.4 billion doesn't just buy a lot of flights out of the country. It buys a lot of love." But Isikoff and Hosenball show that nearly 90% of that total comes from contracts awarded by the Saudi government to BDM, a defense contractor owned by Carlyle. But when the contracts were awarded and BDM received the Saudi funds, Bush Sr. had no official involvement with the firm, though he made one paid speech and took an overseas trip on its behalf. He didn't actually join Carlyle's Asian advisory board until after the firm had sold BDM. And though George W. Bush had previously served on the board of another Carlyle company, he left it before BDM received the first Saudi contract. As usual, the connections are loose and circumstantial at best.
Nyhan deftly steers us away from the important point: Did the elder Bush benefit financially from investment in Carlyle?

Indeed he did, according the New York Times of March 5, 2001. Speeches are one thing; parking your money at the firm quite another. Everything I've read on this subject -- and you can find an excellent summary at Bush Watch -- indicates close-n-cozy financial links between Carlyle, the Bush family, and allied Republicans.

"Loose and circumstantial"? My ass!

The purveyors of this tripe often compare Moore to Leni Reifenstahl, director of Triumph of the Will. I know Reifenstahl's work well, and I never could understand why people consider her the propagandist par excellence, since her films probably never swayed anyone toward Hitler whose affections did not already lean that way. Triumph is mostly parade coverage. Most television networks covering a similar event would take similar shots. The imagery from that film has proven quite useful to anti-Hitler documentarians, who use the footage to portray the Third Reich as a robot factory.

Most of the people who make careless references to Reifenstahl don't know that Goebbels didn't get along with her. She was allowed to direct films only because she had Hitler's patronage. (She always denied sleeping with Hitler, although nearly everyone believes that she did.) Goebbels didn't like her triumphalist approach: Even after the invasion of France, he felt that the most effective propaganda portrayed the Nazis as the eternal underdog. If you've seen the film-within-the-film in Kiss of the Spider Woman, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Now fast-forward to the present day. Despite the G.O.P. takeover of all three branches of government, right-wing propagandists perpetually bleat about the awe-inspiring power of the Great Liberal Conspiracy. In other words, they always portray themselves as the underdog, despite copious evidence that they have no valid claim to underdog status.

Looks like someone has been following Goebbels' advice. And the name of that "someone" is Murdoch, not Moore.

The Big Bang theory -- again

Homeland Security head Tom Ridge is predicting a massive terror attack. There have been many such prophecies, and most of us have learned to ignore them. Not a few of us believe that Bush uses these warnings to foster fear, fear being one of his chief weapons. (Apologies to Monty Python.)

Nota bene: Ridge claims that the motive for this new attack is to disrupt the elections and to undermine the nation's resolve. Translation: Ridge hopes to convince us that Osama wants Kerry to win.

Once again, I must point out that in the only purported Al Qaeda communication to address the elections, the terrorists expressed a desire for Bush to win, because they consider him a fool.

Granted, this message came to us via those happy funsters at the Abu Mafs Al Hasri Brigades, whose antics we have followed for some time now. Experts have expressed doubt as to whether this group has any real link to Al Qaeda. At this point, frankly, I'm not sure what to think on that score. I will note, though, that Tony Blair once quoted an "Abu Hafs" missive during Parliamentary questioning. So we can conclude, at the very least, that the group possesses credibility in his eyes -- at least when they say something that the pro-war faction can use to its advantage.

Ridge hopes you won't notice one obvious point: Osama Bin Laden knows damn well that a new strike will probably give Bush a landslide victory. So when Ridge warns that the new attack will benefit Kerry -- be (as they say) very afraid. You have just witnessed a classic example of before-the-fact spin.

They would not be offering pre-event propaganda unless they knew that an event was coming.

Question: How do they know? The administration may not want to give even a hint in public as to the nature of their intelligence, but they can certainly give a general idea to the appropriate committees of Congress. Not that I expect Congress to demand oversight on this issue.

I am predicting a nuclear event in Chicago. I'm not saying it will happen before the election. After it happens, if it happens, I'll tell you how I knew.

Incidentally, this issue is the primary reason why I hoped Kerry would pick General Clark. I like Edwards, but after another episode of mass death, the people will want to vote for a high-ranking military figure.

After the event, Democratic forces must not give into the temptation to rally around the President. The theme should be: "Bush could not protect us." That rallying cry may not be enough to swing the election in Kerry's favor -- but what other approach has even a slim chance of prevailing?

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

300,000 French cows can't be mad. Or can they?

The Telegraph reports that, over the past thirteen years, 300,000 cows in France were exposed to BSE -- mad cow disease. The findings were originally published in Veterinary Research. Six -- perhaps seven -- Frenchman have contracted the human variant of this prion-borne disease.

If the French kept this problem under wraps, I wonder what sort of disturbing dmoestic food-factoids have been covered up by the Bushites?

Child abuse by Americans in Iraq?

Remember when we discussed the speech by Seymour Hersh -- the one in which he warned that the worst news about prisoner abuse had yet to be aired? He muttered something about children. And then his voice trailed off.

According to the Norway Post and Germany's Der Siegel, Americans have imprisoned and abused Iraqi children.
Samuel Provance, a staff sergeant stationed in the now infamous Abu Ghraib prison said that interrogating officers had pressured a 15 or 16 year old girl. Military police had only intervened when the girl was already half undressed. On another occasion, a 16 year old was soaked with water, driven through the cold, and then smeared with mud.
Any soldier who witnessed or participated in such ghastly behavior should speak up now. Confession and remorse is the only way to avoid making a terrible situation worse.

How many casualties?

Is it possible...could it be...that the Pentagon is lying to us about the number of casualties we've suffered since the invasion of Iraq? Check out this transcript of an interview broadcast on Bill Moyer's program. An excerpt:
MITCHELL: The cost is great and far higher than the approximately 5,000 wounded-in-action the public has been hearing about.

BENJAMIN: The number of casualties from Operation Iraqi Freedom are exponentially higher, thousands and thousands of soldiers higher than what the Pentagon seems to say the casualty numbers for Operation Iraqi Freedom are.

MITCHELL: Mark Benjamin is the investigations editor at U.P.I. For the past year, he's traveled to American military bases to report on how the military counts casualties.

BENJAMIN: It just seemed to me from walking around on military bases that the human cost of the war was a lot higher than what I had been reading.

Essentially just the numbers didn't seem to add up.

MITCHELL: Didn't add up, says Benjamin, because the Pentagon only reports as casualties those soldiers who are wounded-in-action. Those hit, for example, by enemy fire or improvised explosive devices.

What's missing in the Pentagon's count of the wounded are all the other soldiers — at least 11,000 more, injured or sickened in what the Pentagon considers non-combat circumstances.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Bush nuts?

(Forgive the light posting this week. Real life tends to get in the way.)

A rash of articles have asked the semi-obscene question: Is Bush nuts? For examples of the genre, consider Katherine Wormer's take here, Bob Fritakis' musings here or William Thomas' assessment here. You may also recall the largely unsourced -- but undeniably delicious -- descriptions of erratic Bush behavior that appeared in Capitol Hill Blue. And who could forget Maureen Dowd's speculations that the prez was doing Xanax?

One wag has even published an online poll on this issue. Cast your vote to determine which DSM category best applies to our Fearless Leader!

Is this line of attack legit?

First, the obvious point (which I've made before in this column): Putting questions of legitimacy aside momentarily, I can't suppress a giggle at the sight of the shoe slipping so easily onto the other foot. After the G.O.Pundits made so many outrageous claims about Al Gore, after they subjected Bill Clinton to plentiful analyses-from-afar, the conservs damn well had it coming. For years now, the rightists have made amateur shrinkery a tool of their slimeball trade. Remember Limbaugh claiming that Wesley Clarke was a General-gone-psycho, a la Sterling Hayden in Dr. Strangelove? Remember the inane observations about Howard Dean?

Still, many liberals feel uncomfortable with the psychoanalytical approach to the Bush presidency. Just because the reactionaries use this tactic doesn't mean we should do likewise.

Is it ever proper for someone untrained in the head-shrinker's art to offer an assessment of another man's mental state? Many would say no. That judgment should be left to the pros.

Ah. But there's the rub. What if a professional psychologist were to offer his or her assessment?

The aforementioned Katherine Wormer once wrote a well-regarded book on the treatment of addictions, so one should not easily dismiss her claim that Bush exhibits classic "dry drunk" symptoms. Other commentators, such as Dr. Carol Wolman and psychologist Oliver James, have come to similar conclusions. Dr. James offers an analysis based on family history, with particular focus on W's relationship with the cold and patrician Barbara Bush. The impeccably-credentialed Dr. Justin Frank, director of psychiatry at George Washington University, has come out with a book-length Bush "psychohistory" titled Bush on the Couch.

Yes, but...

Frank's approach angered Nick Confessore of Tapped, who wrote: "Frank has never met nor treated the president, but sees fit to diagnose him as mentally unfit to be president." Confessore continued in this vein:
It's one thing to speculate on the motives or thought processes of people in politics, although it is very easy to go too far in doing so. But it is the cheapest of cheap shots to assert that someone is clinically nuts because they don't agree with you or because they are liberal or conservative. It's even worse if, like Krauthammer and Frank, the person asserting it is a trained psychologist.
Yes, but...

If a mental health professional did interview the president, said professional would be required to keep mum about his findings, at least in public. So here's the situation: Assertions about Bush's mental health are out of bounds if they come from laymen. They're out of bounds if they come from experts who have not interviewed the man directly. And they're out of bounds even if they were to come from a pro who has literally interviewed Bush on the couch. Such claims are, in short, out of bounds altogether.

Okay, but...what if the guy really is nuts? Is everyone on the planet forbidden from giving voice to his or her concerns?

After all, Bush does have his finger on the proverbial nuclear trigger. We have a stake in that man's mental health. Some of the points raised by Frank, Wormer and company strike me as genuine concerns, as opposed to partisan shots.

Moreover, I remain unconvinced that one needs to be a psychiatrist to offer an opinion on this score. When you overhear a homeless person arguing with the Invisible Man, you don't need be an expert to understand that this unfortunate person is one patty short of a Big Mac.

Nobody thinks that W displays such obvious symptoms, of course. The writers cited above describe the president in terms that fall far short of full-blown psychopathology.

Still, after reading some of the afore-linked articles, one must wonder: Just what sort of symptoms must W display to justify our wondering whether the pressures of office have taken their toll?

Saturday, July 03, 2004

All Fall Down

The Los Angeles Times finally admits that the toppling of Saddam's statue was "stage-managed." Unfortunately, this piece conveys the impression that the psychological operation was improvised on the spot. That can't be the case. If you ever get a chance to see video of the event recorded as it happened, you'll see lots of imported Chalabi supporters, dancing and cheering and waving iconographic images of their Fearless Leader. Getting INC goons into that location must have required some advance planning.

An "Anonymous" vision of World War III

You may have read that the “Anonymous” intelligence professional who wrote the upcoming book Imperial Hubris has lost his anonymity. His name is Michael Scheuer, and he is the CIA’s primary expert on Osama Bin Laden. Revealing his name does not replicate the Plame outrage, since Scheuer is an analyst, not an undercover operative. Apparently, he never embraced the “Anonymous” façade, which the Agency foisted upon him.

Scheuer reminds me of another “anonymous” intelligence insider -- the one who revealed that the infamous Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001 (titled “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States”) was originally much longer than the version released to the public. Could Scheuer be the source? Could he have revealed the existence of the PDB in the first place?

If so, we may presume that Imperial Hubris, published with the acquiescence of the CIA’s public review board, represents another volley in the war between Langley and the neocons. The Boston Phoenix relays Agency scuttlebutt that former DCI George Tenet pushed publication in order to deflect some of the heat directed his own way. In his latest book, Scheuer blasts the FBI, the Bush and Clinton administrations – and, to some degree, his own employer.

Despite the wisdom of his policy critique, I find Scheuer’s weltanschauung troubling. His outlook may be described as neoconservatism stripped of illusions. His is a stance so nakedly brutal, few on either the right or the left will embrace it. Despite his manifold criticisms of the Iraq and Afghan misadventures, Scheuer continues to see the world in terms of “clash-of-civilizations” theory. His vision of the future reeks of cordite and carrion.

He scoffs -- correctly -- at the big lie that Osama Bin Laden attacked the United States because he “hates freedom.” The truth, says Scheuer, is that Bin Laden declared war on us in response to our Middle East policy. When Scheuer uses the word “policy” in this context, he primarily means our policy toward Israel -- the nation we dare not criticize, the nation we customarily assign to elephant-in-the-living-room status.

As Talking Points Memo summarized:
But Anonymous doesn't really consider it possible for the U.S. to answer bin Laden in a battle of ideas throughout the Islamic world: U.S. support for what many Muslims may see as unjust policies has drained us of our credibility, he argues. He combines that critique with a rejection of anything resembling democracy promotion. Woodrow Wilson, to Anonymous, is a "bloody-handed fantasist." Insisting on democratic reform in the Muslim world then becomes naïve futility--even though one of Bin Laden's rallying cries is, as Anonymous puts it, U.S. support for "tyrannical Muslim governments."

Without the option to work for reform, a large portion of what Anonymous advocates is essentially a policy of brutal and unforgiving war.

Killing in large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure. Roads and irrigation systems; bridges, power plants, and crops in the field; fertilizer plants and grain mills--all these and more will need to be destroyed to deny the enemy its support base. … [S]uch actions will yield large civilian casualties, displaced populations, and refugee flows. Again, this sort of bloody-mindedness is neither admirable nor desirable, but it will remain America's only option so long as she stands by her failed policies toward the Muslim world.
Is Scheuer truly as bloodthirsty as he here seems? I wonder. He may be playing an interesting psychological game: ‘Yes, we can go down that road,’ he is telling us, ‘but have no illusions as to where the journey will bring us.’

George W. Bush speaks dreamily of creating new democracies throughout the Arab world. Alas, the concept of democracy appeals neither to the region’s current rulers nor to their Salafist discontents who have cornered the market in Muslim dissent. Thus, the likely result of American intervention in Egypt or Saudi Arabia (to name the two biggest prizes on the neocon wish list) will be mass carnage.

As Scheuer points out, most Muslims now scoff at our pro-democracy propaganda. Why? Because the Unites States has lost credibility in that part of the world. Why? Because our dollars pay for the slow-motion genocide of a largely Islamic population.

Scheuer, we should note, always frames his argument with a qualifying “if.” If we continue to maintain our policies –- if we continue to ignore the elephant -- then we must become butchers without historical parallel.

But is Scheuer’s “scorched earth” option truly an option? Our rapidly draining stores of treasure cannot fund such an adventure. Nor would the rest of the world tolerate it. If America turns Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt into radioactive slaughterhouses, we will invite a worldwide hatred keener than any directed toward the Third Reich or the Soviet Union. Americans who scoff at world reaction should ask themselves how long those other two great pariah states lasted.

Who would do business with us? Could our troubled economy survive an international trade boycott? Do we want former allies to target us with nuclear weapons?

We run the risk of creating this nightmarish world if we follow Scheuer’s prescription. I doubt that the American people may not tolerate his “scorched earth” vision, despite undergoing decades of preperatory propaganda. Even after terrorists have reduced much of Chicago to nuclear cinders -- and just such an attack will occur -- our citizens may balk at the task of retaliatory genocide. No amount of Murdochian mind-laundering can transform our servicemen into the happy incinerators of an innocent multitude.

How to avert this catastrophe? Remember, everything hinges on the word “if.” If we deal with the elephant in the living room -- if we do the right thing right now -- the world may avoid the grim fate Scheuer forecasts.

America need not maintain policies toward Israel that the rest of the world -- and even a blessedly large proportion of our own Jewish population -- damns as unfair. Our leaders must learn to stop cowering every time someone flings the label “anti-Semite” at those who oppose the cruelty of Ariel Sharon. America can take strong action to reign in Israel’s outrageous behavior. This would mean, at a minimum, shutting off the money spigot and thereby forcing a humbled Israeli government to the bargaining table. We should endorse a “single state” solution: Universal voting rights for all inhabitants of territory now under Israeli control, along with a right of return not circumscribed by racism.

Needless to say, if the next president were to choose this course, both mainstream media pundits and the fundamentalist fulminators would unite in high-decibel outrage. To deflect that outrage, our government need but open a few files and reveal secrets embarrassing to Israel. Those who have read the books of Victor Ostrovsky will have some idea of the material available. The president should emphasize that, just as the crimes of Osama Bin Laden do not reflect on the average Muslim, so too the crimes of the hawks in the Israeli government do not reflect on the average Israeli or the average Jew.

Some will argue any change in our stance toward Israel would constitute capitulation to terrorism. No great nation can change policy under the gun. But we cannot consign the Palestinians to ethnic cleansing merely to spite a few Salafist fanatics who claim to act in their name.

Suppose some madman were to kill your child in order to protest a polluting factory. No-one could, or should, forgive such a crime. But would our outrage at that crime justify tolerating the pollution that gave birth to it?

Our "see no evil" stance toward Israel helped give birth to the Salafist monster. It is possible to eradicte both the monster and the evil that sired it.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Another take on Fahrenheit 9/11

First, my thanks to the good folks at Counterbias for republishing my review of Fahrenheit 9/11.

I was directed to an oddly sympatico review of the movie by Laura Dawn Lewis. "Oddly," because Lewis is a conservative. Yet we are very much on the same page, despite the pride I take in being a Liberal Marxist Devil-Worshipper. These are strange times; you can spot many a LMDW nodding in agreement with conservatives of various strains, particularly those of a libertarian bent.

Lewis has some worthwhile things to say about Moore's treatment of the Bush/Saudi connection. Again, let me emphasize: This connection deserves exploration. By all means, read Craig Unger's book on the topic. But read with discretion, because this is an area in which an insufficient appreciation for nuance could have disastrous consequences.

To put the matter bluntly: There is a growing "blame Saudi Arabia" movement among those looking for an alternative theory of 9/11. This movement attracts people on both the right and the left. And it is a simplistic, potentially dangerous weltanschauung.

Alas, the public has a psychological need to affix blame for disaster on a state actor, as opposed to an amorphous entity such as Salafism or Al Qaeda. When (not if) the next big terror attack occurs, the public may direct its fury at the Saudi Kingdom. While no small-d democrat could ever truly like that ruling family, the fact remains that they have nothing to gain from either a destabalization of the American economy or a strengthening of Osama Bin Laden's forces.

Despite the many troubling ties between the Bushes and the Saudis, no-one should presume that the two dynasties (a word the Bushes hate, so let's all use it as much as possible!) see eye-to-eye on all matters. For a good overview of the strains in the relationship, see this piece in the International Herald Tribune. Briefly put, the current administration's unswerving loyalty to Israel is not in Saudi interest. The Saudis expended much political capital in support of a Middle East peace plan which the Bushites scuppered. The Saudis saw through Chalabi long before our government did. They're also, quite understandably, chary of Chalabi's neocon allies -- which is why the Kingdom no longer welcomes reporters from the Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Stop everything...

...and read this. Sibel Edmonds -- the FBI translator who blows the whistle on the government's foreknowledge of the 9/11 attack -- has given a long, detailed, meaty interview. You'll want to savor this.

Comments on Fahrenheit 9/11

For the most part, I was happy with Fahrenheit 9/11, which relays many a fact known to internet researchers but not to the general public. The film's most important revelation -- the appearance of James R. Bath's name on one of Bush's service records -- has gone almost without comment. Bath later functioned as the go-between linking the Bushes, the Bin Ladens, and the Saudis.

This link tends to buttress some of the more controversial allegations made by Daniel Hopsicker, which you can read here. Hopsicker alleges that W, during the famed "missing period" of his National Guard service, actually went on a mission for the CIA. Bath, claims this writer, did likewise:

For answers we turned to the story of an important 'player' in the saga of George W Bush in the National Guard, James Bath. Bath was mustered out of the Texas National Guard -- and allegedly into the CIA -- exactly one month from when George W Bush allegedly goes through the same process. Bath's story is entwined with George W's for the next twenty years, almost as if they worked for the same company...from the Texas Guard to BCCI to Saudi money allegedly funneled into George W. Bush's first fledgling oil venture, Arbusto, and then later into Bush's failing Harken Energy, from people who increasingly are being fingered as having participated in the attack on America September 11, 2001.
Hopsicker here operates in a speculative (arguably too speculative) mode. Still, one fact gnaws at me: Why was Bath's name redacted from the document? Given the current enmity between the Agency and the neocons, maybe a further leak or two will clear up these mysteries.

Speaking of the neocons, I was a little bothered that Michael Moore did not. Speak of them, that is. How can someone make a feature-length critique of Bush's foreign policy without once mentioning the word "neoconservatism"? I suspect that the audience would have been shocked by some of the riper quotations offered by the Machiavellian worthies of PNAC, whose rantings helped father the current debacle. The well-known neocon prophecy about a new "Pearl Harbor" surely rated a mention.

Moore's odd silence on this topic is the foundation of Bob Dreyfuss' over-the-top denunciation published by the Tom Paine website. Dreyfuss represents a viewpoint which damns Moore's emphasis on the Bush/Saudi relationship.

In my view, that relationship does deserve scrutiny -- Moore's "Who's your daddy?" crack is priceless -- but any discussion of the topic requires greater context. The film should have noted that the neocons also view Saudi Arabia as a target for destabilization, and that Osama Bin Laden unwittingly functions in accordance with their grand scheme.

Osama's ultimate goal -- which many on both the left and the right tend to forget -- is dynasty change in the Islamic holy land. This simple, all-important fact undermines the oft-heard charge that Saudi Arabia funded the 9/11 terrorists -- a misperception which may afflict some of Moore's viewers.

True, it has been established that the leaders of Saudi Arabia gave Osama Bin Laden "go play somewhere else" money. No-one should doubt that factions within that country share Al Qaeda's vision of a change in rulers; history teaches us that plotters against the throne skulk within every monarchy. So far, though, I've seen no evidence that the rulers of Saudi Arabia viewed the World Trade Center attacks with anything other than horror. Moreover, Saudi Arabia offered strong cautions against Bush's Iraq adventure -- a fact unmentioned by Michael Moore.

However, he does discuss the massive Saudi investment in the United States. That fact alone will give the public good reason to mistrust those voices who consider Saudi Arabia the real enemy, and who call for "democratization" of that nation. War and turmoil in that land probably will not create democracy -- more likely, Saudi assets (representing a huge chunk of our economy) will fall into the hands of Salafist religious maniacs.

The film's odd reluctance to address the issue of neoconservatism affects its coverage of the drum-beat for war. The film offers not a word about the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, the Office of Strategic Influence, the Redon Group, or the little shop of liars run by Ahmed Chalabi. (For more on these topics, see here.) Neither, if memory serves, does Moore see fit to mention the Plame scandal or the Niger uranium lie.

Israel and Ariel Sharon rate nary a mention. Had Moore breathed a word about the convergence of Likudnik aspirations and the neoconservatives' grand visions -- well, one can easily guess the response.

Toward the end of the film, Moore offers his thesis statement. Memory does not allow a precise quote, but here's the gist: "Our soldiers are mostly poor and working class. They represent America at her finest. All they ask is that we not go to war unless absolutely necessary."

An admirable sentiment. Although the reactionary pundits will try to convince you otherwise, Moore takes a very pro-military stance. He is at his best when he details Bush's budget-cutting disservices to our men and women in uniform.

Unfortunately, in his understandable and laudatory zeal to salute the grunts, he turns away, for the most part, from the prisoner abuse scandals. (The film does contain some video of open-air prisoner mistreatment. I wasn't shocked by this footage; the worse images we've all seen may have had a desensitizing influence.) I suspect Moore did not want to portray ground-level military men in a poor light. In an odd sense, Moore's sympathy for the servicemen, and his closeness to the mother of a fallen soldier, may have transformed him into something akin to an embedded journalist.

Moore shows the hideous fate of American contractors in Fallujah, but neglects to detail the vicious American response, which killed many civilians but managed to leave Al Zarqawi and his ilk unharmed. Also unmentioned is the fact that American forces withdrew from the city, now controlled by the insurgency. In essence, we lost the battle. Moore's coverage of these events does not differ much from the view one might find on Fox news.

I expected some discussion of the lies surrounding the actual invasion. For example, on April 2, 2003, the public heard reports of a grand battle in which the Third Infantry Division took out two Iraqi Republican Guard divisions -- a battle which never took place. In fact, the much vaunted Republican Guard seems to have bowed out of the fight entirely, perhaps because its leaders (wisely) took a pay-off. We were told -- falsely -- that Syria had supplied Saddam with night vision goggles. The pulling down of Saddam Hussein's statue was a public relations scam using imported cheering "Iraqis," who were actually Chalabi's goons. One can list many similar deceptions.

I'm not sure why Moore shied away from these fabrications. He may have feared that bringing these matters up might have made our fighting men and women look unheroic.

Moore implies -- correctly -- that the primary motive for the war was to seize the oil fields. He does not discuss "peak oil" theory, which -- if valid -- does much to explain why Bush viewed this seizure as a necessity. I suppose the time is not yet ripe for public debate over peak oil. (Although one wonders when the right time will come. Perhaps after we've all reverted to horse-drawn carriages...?)

I hope these criticisms will not dissuade anyone from seeing the film. It is a remarkable, effective document. Moore's editing is sharp, and his commentary has real bite. Jeff Gibbs provides a terrific score with a discernable Philip Glass influence. (Few documentaries generate soundtrack albums; Mondo Cane and The Thin Blue Line come to mind. Fahrenheit 9/11 should join their ranks.) The responses of the reactionaries -- who have resorted to their usual tactics of distortion, character assassination, and the trumpeting of opinion as fact -- only underscore the power of Moore's argument.

Perhaps some future film-maker will take that argument into deeper realms.

Will Michael Moore sue Joe Scarborough?

On a June 28 broadcast, Joe Scarborough slammed into Michael Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," as was certainly his right. But he may have crossed the line of acceptable debate when made an outrageous statement vis-a-vis Al Qaeda.

Michael Moore, according to Scarborough, "compares the terrorists to our founding fathers."

Question: Did Moore make any such statement? If he did, you'd think that the internet would hold some record of it. So far, my search has come up goose eggs.

Scarborough's claim, if false, is actionable. I've read a fair amount about libel law. Journalists who have committed lesser offenses have lost in court and paid dearly.

For years, Democrats have refused to contest smears by their opponents. Michael Moore has said that he will stand up to lies of this sort. The time has come for him to be as good as his word.

Two additional points:

1. For the record, barely half-a-month ago, Scarborough was making noises about suing Moore over an unrelated matter. Scarborough dropped the issue, it seems. You can read about it here.

2. Scarborough, or his lawyers, might offer as a defense the fact that one can, technically, compare anything with anything else. That's why I get ticked off whenever I hear someone say "You can't compare apples and oranges." In context, though, it is clear that Scarborough was trying to convince his audience that Moore had publicly stated that Al Qaeda terrorists were similar to our founders. The important point is that Scarborough seems to have concocted the reference out of whole cloth.


A usenet response pointed out that Moore once did say that the Iraqi insurgents are similar to the American Minutement. I do not agree with the implications of this remark (did the Minutemen hang charred corpses from a bridge?) -- although I must confess that, yes, the Minutemen and the Iraqi anti-American rebellion both qualify as insugencies, so a similarity does exist.

There is a difference, of course, between a terrorist and a rebel. Scarborough, in context, clearly implied that Moore considered Osama Bin Laden like unto George Washington. Thus, in my eyes, Scarborough's assertion still qualifies as a libel.