Friday, December 08, 2006

Blood And Treasure

Joe Stiglitz, a nobel prize winning economist (he wrote Globalization And Its Discontents- excellent book), revises his estimate of the total cost of the Iraq war as being over $2 Trillion. That's right over $2 Trillion.

Chan Akya: A Feral Garfield With Guns

A couple of interesting articles from Chan Akya, a columnist for Asia Times Online. Is the US on the brink of a precipitous decline? Akya makes the case for a major geopolitical power shift with the US having.. I disagree with some of what he says, I suspect he exaggerates his pessimistic outlook for affect, but a fair bit of it is on the mark.

Garfield with guns.

America's backward leap
A wealthy family that got rich on oil co-opts religious extremists to maintain its stranglehold on power. Western readers of that statement would immediately assume that I am referring to the Saudi royal family, while at least some non-Western readers would surmise that my reference is to the Bush White House.

For neutral observers, the comparison is quite compelling. Much as the Saudi royal family signed away its role in society to Wahhabi leaders in return for political patronage, US Republicans have coasted to electoral victory on a combination of support for the rich that is balanced with concern for society's morals, as defined by the religious right. In other words, it is the politics of fear that is used to put harried middle-class voters into submission. This is very similar to the politics of fear that Muslim countries use to keep their populations in line, often engaging in lectures on threats to the religion.

Middle Eastern dictators need Israel as an available excuse so that they can themselves stay in power. Being portrayed as an opponent of Israel in Arab media carries with it a decided advantage, as any political opponent would immediately be labeled as pro-Israeli. In much the same way, US President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney probably need the Middle East to remain the sorry mess that it is for their own selfish reasons. This week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indulged in name-calling of Americans opposed to the Iraq war, likening them to Nazi-era sympathizers. In doing this, he has pulled a page straight out of the "Arab Despot Book of Governance".

As I wrote earlier, demographic calculations vary wildly once you remove immigration from the calculations. The question that Americans need to ask is whether ongoing trends allow their country to remain a magnet for immigrants. Assuming that the rightward shift in policies and practices is fully executed, will anyone from Asia want to live in America?

The Cold War kept the United States honest, by providing a tangible enemy. The resulting focus on innovation and technological leadership, combined with a free market for entrepreneurs...The end of the Cold War removed a key element in this balance, namely the omnipresent external threat. True to form, that provided lopsided behavior as Americans focused more on guaranteeing their standards of living, while resisting the influx of new ideas.

the United States is aging at the same rate as Old Europe. The relatively free system I talked about above did not include payments for retirement or medical insurance, leaving an ever-increasing hole in the ability of the nation to sustain its living standards. Initially, this was handled by increasing welfare payments that were offset by rising tax revenues - but once the latter fell, America's structural deficit became visible to everyone.

Americans recognize that the main attraction for foreigners to own their financial assets is their country's status as a solitary superpower. Any threat to that status would logically cause investors to diversify their holdings, at an obvious financial cost. This is what the financial implication of a multipolar world is. A terrorist attack produces an overreaction from the US precisely because the country cannot economically handle these consequences. It needs to be the solitary superpower to keep its girth intact, in other words. Hence "Garfield, with guns".

For their part, Islamic tyrants have long used external threats to justify their continuity, which is why they will relish and prolong the current standoff with the US.

This situation explains why neither the US-led West nor Islamic tyrants have any reason to control an escalation of the current situation. The result will be tragic, leading to World War III, although it will benefit any country that stays out. China and India should keep that in mind.

Feral cats, beware

With the US government firmly on the back foot in Iraq and President George W Bush rendered a lame duck by a Democratic Congress, the end of the American century is approaching rather faster than previously expected. [1] My characterization of the United States as Garfield may have been too gentle in the context of what is likely to happen going forward, when the cat becomes feral. The death of any superpower usually carries with it a combination of military and economic defeats and, as with the Soviet Union's demise in the 1990s, America's decline will prove equally cruel.

Iraq has descended into a civil war in recent weeks, as a feckless US military attempts to recover lost ground with the same failed tactics of the past few years. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result...As with the end of the Vietnam conflict, it might take 10 years or more for any resurgence in national optimism in the US. The difference is that this time around, putative successors are much better positioned to inherit the mantle of superpowers.

The US has lost its competitive edge in manufacturing ... The simple fact is that after the Cold War ended, US innovation stopped dead in its tracks. Evaluate the engineering aspects of any American car, and you are likely to walk away completely unimpressed. A six-liter engine used by US car companies produces the same power as an engine half that size from the Germans, and one-third of the size by the Japanese (tuned, admittedly). Leave out engineering, and simple design dynamics don't work either - Detroit has not produced a single desirable car in the past decade.

The United States came to the forefront of righting human-rights wrongs such as racism, but only when its economic prosperity was threatened by the status quo. Now, America's lost competitiveness in manufacturing comes alongside its declining demographics (when keeping immigrants out of calculations), and rising threats from the likes of India and China in all areas of the global economy that it currently dominates. In this high-pressure economic environment, rising geopolitical risks argue for an unwelcome acceleration of the country's transition. Much like a worker who becomes a wife-beater when threatened with losing his job, the US lashes out, with its anger directed toward garnering any resource advantage that it can to lengthen its reign at the top.

the US is unlikely to go quietly into the night. It will attempt to lash out at the rest of the world, particularly at its potential successors - the Eurozone, Russia and China.[3]...I have already written about the latter in the aforementioned article, concluding that China would make necessary accommodations to its currency and economic policy to avoid confrontation with the US.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Nir Rosen: "What you're going to see in Iraq is a virtual genocide of the Sunnis"

Here's a revealing interview of the American journalist Nir Rosen on Democracy Now. He's the author of the book In the Belly of the Green Bird, an excellent account life outside the Green Zone, he's arguably the most informed American journalist in regards to the reality on the ground in Iraq (he even managed to spend some time in Fallujah...after the US army withdrew):

Some of the more interesting statements he makes in this interview:

"Shias own Iraq now and Sunnis can never get it back...what you're going to see in Iraq is a virtual genocide of the Sunnis, and the Americans are going to be able to stop that."

"Bush and Maliki are absolutely irrelevant."

"Virtually every young Shia male in Iraq supports Muqtada Al-Sadr today."

Describing a surprise appearance of Muqtada at a Shia mosque: "it was like being at a Michael Jackson concert...the crowd just went crazy"

- The Americans are powerless at this point. They can't really distinguish between factions or make any sense of the situation, the US troops mostly kill and harass innocent people.

- Anbar province (Western Iraq) may eventually join Jordan, and Jordan is a safe haven for many of the Sunni insurgents. Jordan may become destabilized in the process.

"There's no solution, we've (US) destroyed Iraq"

Here's a long but fascinating account of the civil war in Iraq by Nir Rosen:

Anatomy of a civil war.

You can find links to more of his articles in this previous post.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

American 'Conservative Intellectual' an Oxymoron?

Austin Bramwell, former National Review director and trustee, lays the smackdown on contemporary American 'conservatism'. A lot of juicy tidbits in this article...I've probably cut and paste too much, the article is chock-full of goodness. Overall it's an excellent analysis, but Bramwell could have emphasized the fact that an intellectually vapid ideology serves US hegemonic/imperialist interests quite nicely in most circumstances- this is something that has arguably been cultivated by various conservative elites to serve their own interests. He does actually touch upon it in the article but he could have fleshed it out a bit more. Still a great article considering its coming from a former 'conservative' imperial lap dog.

Apologies for sounding a little too much like a Politburo member, but it sure is fitting rhetoric in our day and age. ;-)

In sum, NR [National Review] declared that we were "at war" when we were not, for reasons that it did not specify, against enemies that it could not define, and to achieve goals that war does not advance. "Defining Victory" dresses up as policy but inchoate thirst for vengeance against someone, anyone who hates us. How nations sink, by darling schemes oppressed / when vengeance listens to the fool's request! On Oct. 15, 2001, National Review had no position on post-9/11 foreign policy.

I once heard an NR senior editor, a man revered for his high-mindedness, begin his defense of the Iraq occupation by reminding the audience that on 9/11 "they" attacked "us". In his mind as in others', the invasion of Iraq has so inescapable a connection to 9/11 that only a traitor or fool would deny it.

Never mind the conflation of "Arab radicalism" presumably a reference to Bathism with bin Laden's Muslim jihadism (how would discrediting Saddam's ideology discourage bin Laden's?), the allusion to Hussein rewarding the families of Palestinian suicide bombers (how does terrorism in Israel threaten the United States?), or the assumption that foreign terrorists are driving the insurgency in Iraq (if Iraqis hate the relatively benign Americans, why would they turn over their country to a bunch of foreign wackos?). Let us observe only that the conservative movement's best argument for staying in Iraq is that jihadists "will be perceived" differently, for "it will be clear" that they are harming Muslims at large. In short, if all goes well, the occupation of Iraq might just produce a useful propaganda victory. War as propaganda: surely this is the thinking of clownish dictators rather than mature analysts.

Yet even if fully informed, Muslims may still not perceive Iraq as a "democracy". Scholars can't even agree on the meaning the word. Joseph Schumpeter, the most penetrating modern theorist of democracy, argued in essence that "democracy" is a misnomer, while economist Kenneth Arrow won a Nobel Prize for proving (on one interpretation) that it is literally impossible for a democratic process to satisfy all relevant normative criteria of legitimacy. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people (what George Orwell in 1984 called the "proles", or the 85 percent of the world so uninterested in politics as to have no ideology whatsoever) have not even the most basic grasp of the concepts of democracy or legitimacy. Even if everything in Mesopotamia came up roses, therefore, Muslims may never see the Iraqi government as legitimate. To do so, they would need the minds of angels, not men.

In short, the steps in the causal logic whereby Iraqi democracy defeats anti-American terrorism are so numerous and doubtful that it becomes impossible to believe that Bush's supporters have ever actually thought them through. Those who wonder what error befell the conservative movement since Bush took office are asking the wrong question. Since 9/11, the conservative movement has not made unsound or fallacious arguments for supporting Bush's policies. Rather, it has made no arguments at all.

Some, for example, carry on the Cold War obsession with the so-called "crisis of the West." Convinced that history at some point took a wrong turn, they pore over ancient texts in search of some Hermetic insight into the fatal error. (Not surprisingly, this approach has little popular appeal, although it still commands respect among professional conservatives.) The notion of a crisis of the West, however, grossly overestimates the importance of ideas; indeed, it requires an unphilosophical and almost paranoid ability to treat ideologies (most conspicuously, liberalism) as living, breathing omnipresences to which intentions, tactics, strategies, feelings, disappointments, and conflicts can all be attributed. Believers in the crisis of the West rest almost their entire worldview on an elusive notion "modernity" borrowed from a half-formed science: sociology. Crisis-of-the-West conservatism, at one time a fruitful response to the calamities of the 20th century, has become more a posture than a genuine school of thought.

Another group pleads for the conservative movement to return to its alleged first principles. "If only people would still read Russell Kirk," one hears. But the movement never had any first principles to begin with. Although it boasts a carefully husbanded canon of supposedly foundational texts, the men who wrote them: Kirk, Strauss, Voegelin, Weaver, Chambers, Meyer were notorious eccentrics given to extravagant claims whose policy implications remain largely obscure. Russell Kirk, for example, even as he shrewdly positioned himself as the intellectual godfather of the conservative movement, had almost no political opinions whatsoever.

But "conservatism" has no mystical essence. Rather than a magisterium handed down from apostolic times, it is an ideology whose contours are largely arbitrary and accidental. By ideology, I mean precisely what Orwell depicted in 1984. I do not mean, of course, that conservatism is totalitarian. Taken as prophecy, 1984 has little merit. Taken as a description of the world we actually live in, however, it is indispensable. 1984 reveals not the horrors of the future but the quotidian realities of ideology in mass democracy. Conservatism exemplifies them all....First, like Ingsoc, conservatism has a hierarchical structure. Like Orwell's "Inner Party," those at the top of the movement have almost perfect freedom to decide what opinions count as official conservatism. The Iraq War furnishes a telling example...Second, conservatism is concerned less with truth than with distinguishing insiders from outsiders. Conservatives identify themselves in part by repeating slogans ("we are at war!") that, like "ignorance is strength," are less important for what (if anything) they say than for what saying them says about the speaker...Third, and closely related to doublethinking, the conservative movement engages in selective editing of history. When events have a tendency to disconfirm ideology, down the memory hole they go. Thus, conservatives do not recall their dire warnings about the Soviet Union during the Cold War or about the economy after the Bush I or Clinton tax increases....Fourth, conservatism is entertaining. Understanding the world, though rewarding, provides nothing like the pleasures of a "Two Minute Hate", a focused, ritualized denunciation of enemies.

Whatever its past accomplishments, the conservative movement no longer kindles any "ironic points of light." It has produced fewer outstanding books even as it has taken over more of the intellectual and political landscape. This trend will only continue. Worse, no reckoning will be made: they hope in vain who expect conservatives to take responsibility for the actual consequences of their actions. Conservatives have no use for the ethic of responsibility; they seek only to "see to it that the flame of pure intention is not quelched." The movement remains a fine place to make a career, but for wisdom one must look elsewhere.

Bramwell has previously described the vacuity of 'conservative thought' in somewhat more detail in this article from August 2005:
Defining Conservatism Down.

I suppose one could very make the argument that the lack of intellectual rigour in contemporary American 'conservatism' goes a long way in explaining the rise of authoritarian tendencies in US politics.

The Death Squads (Documentary)

Here's a revealing Channel 4 documentary showing one of the horrific realities of life in present day Iraq- the death and torture squads run by Shia militia groups, many of them run originating from groups actually inside the Iraqi government itself.

The Shia death squads are a side of the day to day violence in Iraq that seems to get a lot less attention from the Western media than the violence being perpetrated by the mostly Sunni 'insurgency'. Not too surprising considering that some of it appears to be orchestrated by certain figures within the Iraqi government- obviously something the White House wouldn't want the world to hear about. I suppose that death squads don't quite qualify as terrorism as long as they're being run from the green zone.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Why 'Imperial Fantasies' Rather Than 'Imperial Reality'?

Just thought I'd add some commentary to a previous post about a suggested redrawing of the Mideast map by Col. Ralph Peters. The purported aim of the redrawn borders was to bring 'stability' to the region by giving the various ethnic/sectarian groups their own nation-state.

First of all, it's just not feasible. An outside power, particularly the baggage-ridden US, blatantly attempting to completely re-engineer the regions politics will be met with furious resistance from most parties, even if the new nation-states are more ethnically homogeneous. Not to mention that Col. Ralph Peters seems pretty clueless about actual US national interests and foreign policy strategy. Why the heck would the US support a massive Arab Shia state that would potentially strengthen already rising Iranian influence over the region? Who actually thinks they'll dismember Turkey for the sake of the Kurds, when the Turks have been such obedient allies? Why would the US take out Pakistan's 'tribal' areas when their military is strongly allied with the US, and the resulting Baloch and Pashtun states would be much more prone to adopt Islamic radicalism and anti-US policy? His plan is quite simply incredibly naive, both in terms of implementation and in terms of the foreign policy objectives of the US. When it comes down to it, 'divide and conquer' is an invaluable strategy facilitating regional dominance, therefore expanding enormous amounts of energy to resolve all ethnic/sectarian conflicts in the region is simply not in America's interests. Here's some 'wisdom' from Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security advisor to President Jimmy Carter, quotes from The Grand Chessboard. Last quote suggests a reason for why the US would have an interest in encouraging multi-ethnic states throughout the Middle East.

"It is imperative that no Eurasian challenger emerges, capable of dominating Eurasia and thus also of challenging America. The formulation of a comprehensive and integrated Eurasian geostrategy is therefore the purpose of this book."

"In brief, for the United States, Eurasian geostrategy involves the purposeful management of geostrategically dynamic states and the careful handling of geopolitically catalytic states, in keeping with the twin interests of America in the short-term preservation of its unique global power and in the long-run transformation of it into increasingly institutionalized global cooperation. To put it in a terminology that hearkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial [that is, AMERICAN] geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together."

"Moreover, as America becomes an increasingly multicultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstances of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat. Such a consensus generally existed during World War II and even during the Cold War...In the absence of a comparable external challenge, American society may find it much more difficult to reach agreement regarding foreign policies that cannot be directly related to central beliefs and widely shared cultural-ethnic sympathies and that still require an enduring and sometimes costly imperial engagement."

What Does An Iraqi Public Service Announcement Look Like Nowadays?

Well here's one...

Brought to you by No Terror...couldn't find out who was behind the campaign on their website...they seem a little secretive about their identity.

I have to admit, I'm a tad skeptical that a television ad like this is going to dissuade a committed fanatic from carrying out a suicide attack. I actually found the action movie style of it all kind of makes the suicide bomber and the ensuing mayhem look sorta badasss cool. I'm thinking they probably should have focused a bit more on the heart-wrenching aftermath and toned down the terrorist action flick drama and suspense.

Maybe they should have hired David Lynch to direct it. Here's a NY City public service announcement he made. Only Lynch could make littering seem far more disturbing than a devastating suicide attack on a bunch of civilians. o.O

Friday, September 01, 2006

Imperial Fantasies: Redrawing the Mideast Map as a Weekend Project

Wannabe American satrap brings peace to the Middle East after spending a few hours with Adobe Illustrator.

A gigantic new Kurdish state...a huge Arab Shia state composed of chunks of Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia..a massively expanded Greater Jordan...a Greater Lebanon eating up all of Syria's coast...Pakistan cut in half...

The only spot he seems to show any reticence whatsoever about carving up is Israel/Palestine...notice the status of the Occupied Territories is still 'undetermined'. ;-)

Hmmm...maybe that evil aspartame stuff really is an incredibly dangerous neurotoxin...say comparable to Roman lead plumbing... ;-)

Edit: More comments on Col. Peter's proposal for a new Middle East map.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Devestating Critique of Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration

So there is actually still a real journalist left in mainstream US television news. Kudos to Olbermann for pointing out the real threat to American democracy. What a rant!

You can find the transcript of the editorial here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Is Bush Drinking Again??

Sell Your McMansion!!

This is a looong term graph of the value of existing homes in the US housing market. A similar bubble, to varying degrees, has occurred in housing markets across the world. I believe that some Euro countries like the UK and Spain have even larger bubbles, while Canada has seen a somewhat smaller one. Regardless, they are economic 'bubbles' nonetheless, i.e. price and supply rising too rapidly causing a subsequent collapse in demand.

Well it looks like the US housing market is really starting to take a turn for the worse, could be the biggest housing bust in 4 or 5 decades. Housing prices are sticky for the obvious reason that it isn't easy to move, so you still have time to respond to this. If you're thinking about selling a house do it now. If you're thinking about buying one, if it's at all possible try to hold off for a year or two, you'll likely get the property at a cheaper price, at least in real if not nominal terms. And don't listen to the majority of useless economic pundits out there, this will likely lead to a recession in the US, and a possible corresponding downturn across the globe, in the next few months.

P.S. that cover on the top of the post is about a year old now. It's when you start seeing stuff like that in the most mainstream publications that you should think about selling rather than's way past due now.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

New and Improved!?

Any commnents on the new name and look for the blog?

Where's the Terror?

Some recent events which would have literally garnered 100x as much media attention if the perpetrators were Muslims:

Tamil Tigers kill hundreds of Muslim refugees.

Bombing of Russian market.

Canadian Tamil Tigers arrested buying surface-to-air missiles.

Actually the middle one could involve Muslims, the attackers aren't known yet. Seems like the 'War on Terror' is increasingly becoming one on 'Islamofascism'. A shift towards conceptualizing the conflict as a 'clash of civilizations'. I fully expect Shrub and friends to be using that latter term a lot more often.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Norman Finkelstein Lecture

A very highly recommended lecture on the Israel/Palestine conflict given by Professor Norman Finkelstein at Yale University. Don't have time at the moment, but I plan on posting some comments on Dr. Finkelstein's excellent and controversial work when I get the opportunity. The lecture is almost three hours long but well worth it if you have an interest in the subject.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Deliberate Lack of Perspective on Terrorism?

A nice piece written by John Mueller a political science professor from Ohio State University. In this article he gives a realistic assessment the dangers terrorism poses to individuals, and contrasts that with the completely out of proportion public hysteria.

A False Sense of Insecurity?

Some interesting bits:

terrorism actually causes rather little damage, and the likelihood that any individual will become a victim in most places is microscopic. Those adept at hyperbole like to proclaim that we live in the age of terror.” However, while, obviously, deeply tragic for those directly involved, the number of people worldwide who die as a result of international terrorism is generally only a few hundred a year, tiny compared to the numbers who die in most civil wars or from automobile accidents.

It should be kept in mind that Sept. 11 continues to stand out as an extreme event. Until then, and since then, no more than 329 people have ever been killed in a single terrorist attack (in a 1985 Air India explosion). And extreme events often remain exactly that -- aberrations, rather than harbingers.

A central issue, however, is whether such spectacularly destructive terrorist acts will become commonplace. Although there have been many deadly terrorist incidents in the world since 2001, all (thus far, at least) have relied on conventional methods and have not remotely challenged Sept. 11 quantitatively. If, as some purported experts repeatedly claim, chemical and biological attacks are so easy and attractive to terrorists, it is impressive that none have so far been used in Israel (where four times as many people die from automobile accidents as from terrorism). Actually, it is somewhat strange that so much emphasis has been put on the dangers of high-tech weapons in the first place.

Frantz Fanon, the 20th-century revolutionary, contended that the aim of terrorism is to terrify. If that is so, terrorists can be defeated simply by not becoming terrified -- that is, anything that enhances fear effectively gives in to them.

Accordingly, it would seem to be reasonable for those in charge of our safety to inform the public about how many airliners would have to crash before flying becomes as dangerous as driving the same distance in an automobile. It turns out that someone has made that calculation: University of Michigan transportation researchers Michael Sivak and Michael Flannagan, in an article last year in American Scientist , wrote that they determined there would have to be one set of Sept. 11 crashes a month for the risks to balance out. More generally, they calculate that an American's chance of being killed in one nonstop airline flight is about one in 13 million (even taking the Sept. 11 crashes into account). To reach that same level of risk when driving on America's safest roads -- rural interstate highways -- one would have to travel a mere 11.2 miles.

Or there ought to be at least some discussion of the almost completely unaddressed but patently obvious observation that, in the words of risk analyst David Banks, "It seems impossible that the United States will ever again experience takeovers of commercial flights that are then turned into weapons -- no pilot will relinquish control, and passengers will fight."

For their part, biological and chemical weapons have not proven to be great killers. Although the basic science about them has been well known for a century at least, both kinds of weapons are notoriously difficult to create, control, and focus (and even more so for nuclear weapons).
To this point in history, biological weapons have killed almost no one. And the notion that large numbers of people would perish if a small number of chemical weapons were to be set off is highly questionable.

What we need is more pronouncements like the one in a recent book by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): "“Get on the damn elevator! Fly on the damn plane! Calculate the odds of being harmed by a terrorist! It’s still about as likely as being swept out to sea by a tidal wave. Suck it up, for crying out loud. You're almost certainly going to be OK. And in the unlikely event you’re not, do you really want to spend your last days cowering behind plastic sheets and duct tape? That's not a life worth living, is it?"

Moreover, there is more reputational danger in underplaying risks than in exaggerating them. People routinely ridicule futurist H.G. Wells'’ prediction that the conflict beginning in 1914 would be "the war that will end war,"” but not his equally confident declaration at the end of World War II that "the end of everything we call life is close at hand." Disproved doomsayers can always claim that caution induced by their warnings prevented the predicted calamity from occurring. (Call this the Y2K effect.) Disproved Pollyannas have no such convenient refuge.

The communication of risk, then, is no easy task. Risk analyst Paul Slovic points out that people tend greatly to overestimate the chances of dramatic or sensational causes of death, that realistically informing people about risks sometimes only makes them more frightened, that strong beliefs in this area are very difficult to modify, that a new sort of calamity tends to be taken as harbinger of future mishaps, that a disaster tends to increase fears not only about that kind of danger, but of all kinds, and that people, even professionals, are susceptible to the way risks are expressed -- far less likely, for example, to choose radiation therapy if told the chances of death are 32% rather than that the chances of survival are 68%.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that virtually all central governments have an interest in exaggerating foreign threats. Why? Quite simply it gives people in office power and glory. All 'war-time' leaders on the victors side are 'great', it's a lot harder to achieve that status during peaceful periods. On top of that the media and various corporate interests have an interest in encouraging, rather than discouraging, hysteria- more viewers and consumers.

Dramatic violent acts, naturally grip the minds and hearts of most people. The ability of these events to grab and hold the attention of the public doesn't just work to the advantage of the 'terrorist', but also government and a variety of other powerful well-placed folk. Savvy, selfish people love conflict because they realize the chaos and lack of rationality brings great opportunity for profit.

So I ask you, in the end, who exactly benefits from dispelling the hysteria over terrorism...aside from the public and society as a whole? ;-)

Bush is an Idiot?? Really?!

Conservative media figure, Joe Scarborough, has an amusing segment of Bush's 'lack of gravitas'. Finally it seems like some of the footlicking Conservative crowd (as opposed to Conservatives who actually are capable of having an original thought) in the US are finally catching on to the fact that Bush isn't all that bright. Not bad, only took them what? 6 years or so? Hmm, seems like Shrub isn't the only slow learner here.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Production Versus Price

You notice anything developing here?

I can see two divergent conclusions arising from this:

1. Limited Supply
2. Price gouging

Believe me, it's more than likely #1. This of course raises the question of whether it's the start of 'peak oil' or merely a medium term blip which will be offset by future mega-projects. I'll leave it to you to decide.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Bunch of Interesting Links on the War in Lebanon

A few of the articles I've found illuminating from the last couple of weeks about the war being waged in Lebanon. In my opinion, it's hard to find relatively unbiased information about what's really going on there given the deep pro-Israel slant of most mainstream Western media outlets. I think the following articles do a good job of addressing some of the systematic bias and outright propaganda that traditionally favours Israel.

Hizbullah's attacks stem from Israeli incursions into Lebanon.

Chris Hedges: Mutually Assured Destruction in the Middle East.

It's about annexation, stupid!

Israel backed by army of cyber-soldiers.

Israel, Not Hizbullah, is Putting Civilians in Danger on Both Sides of the Border.

Our moral culpability for Qana.

No, this is not 'our war'.

The "hiding among civilians" myth.

IDF prepared for attack by Syria.

Noam Chomsky: U.S.-Backed Israeli Policies Pursuing "End of Palestine".

Brzezinski: Israel's Actions in Lebanon Essentially Amount to "the Killing of Hostages"

Noam Chomsky on Israel, Lebanon and Palestine.

Brzezinski: The Beginning of the End for Israel.

The neocons' next war

Now, I'm not claiming that these articles cover the whole reality of the situation, nor do they represent the 'one and only definitive truth', rather I bring them to your attention because most of them present perspectives that are rarely discussed in 'Western', particularly US, mainstream media outlets.
And yes, I know there is a couple of Pat Buchanan's editorials in the links- so what? He expresses his view on the subject eloquently, and convincingly, this happens to be one of the few areas of agreement between me and that 'paleocon' Buchanan. And of course, this point should be obvious to anyone who isn't a halfwit or a foaming ideologue, criticizing Israel does not make one an 'anti-semite'.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

John Dean: Neocon Fearmongering and its Consequences

The following was posted on one of my favorite internet forums. It's a great excerpt from John Dean's latest critique (that's probably far too gentle, 'skewering' is probably more appropriate), of the Bush administration, Conservatives Without Conscience. It describes how the Bushies constantly provoke mass fear to further their political agenda, a hallmark of all authoritarian regimes. Can't wait to read more of this book.

"Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."
--President Dwight Eisenhower

The following is an excerpt from John Dean's latest book Conservatives Without Conscience and is one of the best summations of this particular political phenomenon as it applies to the current administration that I have seen.

Among the most troubling of the authoritarian and radical tactics being employed by Bush and Cheney are their politics of fear. A favorite gambit of Latin American dictators who run sham democracies, fearmongering has generally been frowned upon in American politics.* Think of the modern presidents who have governed our nation--Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton--and the various crises they confronted--the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean war, the cold war, the Cuban missile crisis, the war in Vietnam, Iran's taking of American hostages, the danger to American students in Grenada, Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, the terrorist bombings at the World Trade Center in 1993, and Timothy McVeigh's 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma. None of these presidents resorted to fear in dealing with these situations. None of these presidents made the use of fear a standard procedure or a means of governing (or pursuing office or political goals). To the contrary, all of these presidents sought to avoid preying on the fears of Americans. (It will be noted that Nixon is not included in this list because he did use fear in both his 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns, and he continued to use this tactic once in office.)

Frightening Americans, nonetheless, has become a standard ploy for Bush, Cheney, and their surrogates. They add a fear factor to every course of action they pursue, whether it is their radical foreign policy of preemptive war, their call for tax cuts, their desire to privatize social security, or their implementation of a radical new health care scheme. This fearmongering began with the administration's political exploitation of the 9/11 tragedy, when it made the fight against terrorists the centerpiece of its presidency. Bush and Cheney launched America's first preemptive war by claiming it necessary to the fight against terrorism. Yet it is almost universally agreed that the war has actually created an incubator in Iraq for a new generation of terrorists who will seek to harm the United States far into the future. Even well-informed friends of the Bush administration have adopted this view. Senator John McCain, in a 2004 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, expressed his concern that we had "energized the extremists and created a breeding ground for terrorists, dooming the Arab world" in Iraq,84 and former National Security Adviser (to Bush I) Brent Scowcroft bluntly said of the war in Iraq, "This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism."85


*For example, President Alberto Fujimori manipulated the people of Peru for electoral gains and to justify authoritarian practices in 2000 by using the threat of terror. "Elitists and dictators have used fear tactics to control their constituencies since the beginning of time," noted scholar R. D. Davis in "Debunking the Big Lie," in National Minority Politics (November 30, 1995), 37. Chris Ney and Kelly Creedon, authors with expertise on Latin American politics, wrote that "fear won the election" in El Salvador in 2004, noting, "The rhetoric and tactics mirror those employed by other Latin American right-wing parties, including that of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet." They conclude with an observation remarkably applicable to American democracy: "The targeted use of fear is a powerful motivator, especially for people who have been traumatized by war, state terrorism, or economic insecurity. The implications for democratic government whether newly formed or well-established--are deeply disturbing." Chris Ney and Kelly Creedon, "Preemptive Intervention in El Salvador,'' Peacework (May 2004), 15.


Among the few who have spoken out against the politics of fear, no one has done so more forcefully, and with less notice in the mainstream news media, than former vice president Al Gore, who was the keynote speaker at a conference in February 2004 titled "Fear: Its Political Uses and Abuses." Gore analyzed the administration's continuous use of fear since 9/11 and expressed grave concern that no one was correcting the misinformation being fed to Americans by Bush and Cheney. "Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction," Gore observed. "President Dwight Eisenhower said this: 'Any who act as if freedoms defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America.' But only fifteen years later," Gore continued, "when Eisenhower's vice president, Richard Nixon, became president, we saw the beginning of a major change in America's politics. Nixon, in a sense, embodied that spirit of suppression and suspicion and fear that Eisenhower had denounced." Getting right to the point, Gore continued, "In many ways, George W. Bush reminds me of Nixon more than any other president....Like Bush, Nixon understood the political uses and misuses of fear." While much of the press has ignored Bush's and Cheney's fearmongering, letters to the editor occasionally surface to address it, like the letter from Steve Mavros to the New York Times saying he was "sick and tired of living in fear," yet "President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney want us to fear everything. Fear the terrorists, fear Muslims, fear gays."86

By and large Bush, Cheney, and their White House media operation have churned out fear with very few challenges from the media. Cheney regularly tells Americans that we are "up against an adversary who, with a relatively small number of people, could come together and mount a devastating attack against the United States," adding, "The ultimate threat now would be a group of al Qaeda in the middle of one of our cities with a nuclear weapon."87 Did the interviewer ask how likely that might be? Or what the government was doing to prevent it or to minimize its impact? No such questions were raised. The Bush White House understands that the media will treat their fearmongering as news, because fear sells news; it keeps people reading, watching, and waiting for updates. There is more fear to come, for the Bush White House is relying on it in their campaign for the 2006 midterm congressional elections. This, in turn, will set the stage for the 2008 presidential election, where authoritarians will make certain fear is a prominent part of the platform.

Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove, gave the word to the political troops at a meeting of the Republican National Committee in early 2006. "America is at war--and so our national security is at the forefront of the minds of Americans," Rove said, as he rattled the White House saber. "The United States faces a ruthless enemy--and we need a commander-in-chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of this moment. President Bush and the Republican Party do. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Democrats."88 I have said little about Rove, principally because this is not a book about the Bush White House. But Karl Rove has all the credentials of a right-wing authoritarian, and if he has a conscience, it has hardly been in evidence during the five years in which he has been in the public eye. He is conspicuously submissive to authority, exceedingly aggressive in pursuing and defending the policies and practices he embraces (namely, whatever George W. Bush believes, or that which is politically expedient), and he is highly conventional. As a political strategist, Rove appreciates the value of fear, so it is not surprising that he proclaimed that the 2006 midterm elections would be won or lost based on how frightened Americans are about terrorism.

A writer for Harper’s magazine recently collected facts that illustrate the 9/11 terror attack from a "detached perspective," leaving out hot hyperbole by making a cold comparison of hard numbers regarding causes of death in the United States:

In 2001, terrorists killed 2,978 people in the United States, including the five killed by anthrax. In that same year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease killed 700,142 Americans and cancer 553,768; various accidents claimed 101,537 lives, suicide 30,622, and homicide, not including the [terror] attacks, another 17,330. As President Bush pointed out in January [2004], no one has been killed by terrorists on American soil since then. Neither, according to the FBI, was anyone killed here by terrorists in 2000. In 1999, the number was one. In 1998, it was three. In 1997, zero.* Even using 2001 as a baseline, the actuarial tables would suggest that our concern about terror mortality ought to be on the order of our concern about fatal workplace injuries (5,431 deaths) or drowning (3,247). To recognize this is not to dishonor the loss to the families of those people killed by terrorists, but neither should their anguish eclipse that of the families of children who died in their infancy that year (27,801). Every death has its horrors.89

On a broad base, Jim Harper, the director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, has observed, "We can compare the risk of terrorist attack to other dangers our country has historically faced: During the height of the Cold War, we drew within a few figurative minutes of midnight--the moment that the Soviet Union and United States would hurl their world-ending arsenals at one another." Harper further noted that "we didn't throw out the rulebook during the Cold War. The executive branch did not make extravagant claims to power," as are Bush and Cheney.90


*The total number of fatalities resulting from the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was 168.


Despite such realities, the Bush administration continually presents the public with a worst-case scenario. Clearly, the most serious threat from terrorists is that they obtain a weapon of mass destruction (WMD). But we face another very serious threat: namely, that our own government terrorizes us so much that we are willing to give up the ideals of democracy in exchange for reducing our fear. This threat to democracy seems well understood by Osama bin Laden and his troops. I have noted in the past, and I believe even more strongly today, that "the real danger posed by terrorism for our democracy is not that they can defeat us with physical or military force," rather "terrorism presents its real threat in provoking democratic regimes to embrace and employ authoritarian measures that (1) weaken the fabric of democracy; (2) discredit the government domestically as well as internationally; (3) alienate segments of the population from their government, thereby pushing more people to support (passively, if not outright actively) the terrorist organizations and their causes; and (4) undermine the government's claim to the moral high ground in the battle against the terrorists, while gaining legitimacy for the latter."91 This is precisely what is happening in America today, as Bush and Cheney are being sucker punched by Osama bin Laden. Authoritarianism is everywhere in the federal government, not because Bush and Cheney do not realize what they are doing, but because they are authoritarians, and they are doing what authoritarians do. In the process they have weakened the fabric of democracy, discredited the American government as never before in the eyes of the world, caused people to wonder if terrorists have a legitimate complaint, and taken the United States far from the moral high ground in refusing to abide by basic international law.

In citing the worst-case potential of the next terror attack in the United States--a nuclear weapon, a "dirty bomb," or a chemical or biological weapon that could kill or injure millions of Americans--the Bush administration is not making a baseless argument. Such things could happen. But there is much that can be done to reduce the potential, as well as the impact, of a WMD terror attack. It would, therefore, seem logical--if the Bush administration is truly concerned about such a catastrophic terror strike in the United States--for it to focus its efforts on such measures, rather than simply frightening people.

How serious is the Bush administration about addressing the possibility of another major terror attack in the United States? Remarkably, not very. Notwithstanding the level of importance the administration purportedly places on fighting terrorism, according to the 9/11 Commission's 2005 year-end "report card" Bush and Company were given five Fs, twelve Ds, and two incompletes in categories that included airline passenger screening and improvement of first responders' communication systems. The bipartisan members of the 9/11 Commission found that "there has been little progress in forcing federal agencies to share intelligence and terrorism information and sharply criticized government efforts to secure weapons of mass destruction," according to the Washington Post.* "We believe that the terrorists will strike again," 9/11 Commission chairman Thomas H. Kean told reporters. "If they do, and these reforms that might have prevented such an attack have not been implemented, what will our excuses be?"92 When the president and his cohort continue to raise the threat of terrorism but refuse to implement even the minimum measures recommended by the commission, it is clear they are playing the politics of fear. No one knows when, if ever, terrorists will use a weapon of mass destruction in the United States, but using the issue to frighten people while not addressing the 9/11 Commission's concerns is worse than irresponsible; it is cruel.

It appears that most Republicans are content to allow the Bush White House to engage in fearmongering if that is what is needed to win elections. Many contend that terrorism, after all, is a real threat, and they feel safer with Republicans in charge, because they believe Republicans will deal with the issue more effectively than Democrats. Of course, demagoguery is not new; there have always been and always will be politicians who appeal to emotions rather than reason, because it works.

There are, in fact, relatively few people who are truly intimidated by the possibility of terrorist attacks.** Those few who are genuinely frightened, however, help Bush and Cheney. Dr. Jost and his collaborators, in the study reported in Chapter 1, found that fear of terrorism is a useful recruiting tool for Republicans. When the Bush administration reminds people of terrorism, it clearly works to their political benefit. Jamie Arndt, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri, reported,
"Reminders of death create anxiety that causes people to cling to cultural and societal touchstones." Because the president is such a touchstone, "he may benefit from keeping [terrorism] in people's mind," Arndt said.93 This finding is corroborated by public opinion polls. While political exploitation of terror does not make a tremendous difference in voting behavior, it has been sufficient to keep Bush in the White House. At the outset of the 2004 presidential campaign, President Bush was more trusted than Senator Kerry to do a good job protecting the country from terrorists by a substantial margin of 53 percent to 37 percent.94 A CNN exit poll taken at the end of the race, after Bush had repeatedly raised the issue of terrorism, showed that people voted for Bush over Kerry on this issue by a similar--but better for Bush--58 percent to 40 percent margin.95

Fearmongering has serious political consequences. Timothy Naftali, a diplomatic historian at the University of Virginia who worked as a consultant to the 9/11 Commission, is troubled by the ramifications of Bush, Cheney, et al.'s use of fear and their politicizing of policies needed to deal with terrorism. A reviewer for Foreign Affairs noted that in Naftali's view, "the Bush administration's reliance on a 'politics of fear' has stymied a mature national conversation about counterterrorism. He urges the government to keep terrorism at the forefront of its concerns and pursue a pragmatic foreign policy while helping the public put the threat in perspective and evaluate the difficult tradeoffs between national security and civil liberties."96 Al Gore, in his keynote address at the 2004 conference on fear, also noted the consequences of Bush's preying on American fears. "Fear was activated on September 11 in all of us to a greater or lesser degree," Gore observed. "And because it was difficult to modulate or to change in particular specifics, it was exploitable for a variety of purposes unrelated to the initial cause of the fear. When the president of the United States stood before the people of this nation--in the same speech in which he used the forged document--he asked the nation to 'imagine' how fearful it would feel if Saddam Hussein gave a nuclear weapon to terrorists who then exploded it in our country. Because our nation had been subjected to the fearful, tragic, cruel attack of 9/11, when our president asked us to imagine with him a new fear, it was easy enough to bypass the reasoning process, and short-circuit the normal discourse that takes place in a healthy democracy with a give-and-take among people who could say, Wait a minute, Mr. President. Where's your evidence? There is no connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.' At one point, President Bush actually said, 'You can't distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.' He actually said that," Gore added, and with disappointment explained how even he had trusted Bush to do the right thing, but that Bush had abused the trust people had in him.97

In short, fear takes reasoning out of the decision-making process, which our history has shown us often enough can have dangerous and long-lasting consequences. If Americans cannot engage in analytical thinking as a result of Republicans' using fear for their own political purposes, we are all in serious trouble. I am sure I am not alone in worrying about the road that we are now on, and where the current authoritarianism is taking the country. I only wish more people would talk about it.

And some more info from the same person who posted the first article:

Dean's book draws on an impressive array of historical facts and empirical evidence to show how the conservative movement in America has been hijacked and is now dominated by authoritarianism, both at the leadership as well as the popular level.

While familiar with some of the early pioneers who have helped us better understand the authoritarian social/psychological/political phenomenon such as Hannah Arendt and Stanley Milgram, I was unfamiliar with Dean’s references to the more recent work in this area by those such as Bob Altemeyer.

The focus of Dean’s book is on right-wing authoritarianism as it has expressed itself in the United States. While authoritarianism isn'’t exclusively a right-wing political phenomenon, empirical evidence demonstrates that it is primarily so. Someone who is an authoritarian personality type is much more likely to also be identified with the political right (as well as the religious right in particular) than the political left.

Recent research by those such as Altemeyer and others end up with the division of authoritarianism into three distinct sub-categories: 1) Social Dominators—Leaders; 2) Right-Wing Authoritarian —Followers; 3) The “very scary” Double Highs, i.e., those who score highly on both the Social Dominator as well as the Right-Wing Authoritarian scale.

The characteristics of the above authoritarian sub-categories are as follows (an asterisk represents a required characteristic):

Social Dominators- —Leaders:

typically men
• opposes equality*
• desirous of personal power*
• amoral*
• intimidating and bullying
faintly hedonistic
• vengeful
• pitiless
• exploitive
• manipulative
• dishonest
cheats to win
• highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
• mean-spirited
• militant
• nationalistic
• tells others what they want to hear
• takes advantage of "suckers"
• specializes in creating false images to sell self
• may or may not be religious
• usually politically and economically conservative/Republican

Right-Wing Authoritarian- Followers:

• men and women
• submissive to authority*
• aggressive on behalf of authority*
• conventional*
• highly religious
• moderate to little education
• trust untrustworthy authorities
• prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals, women, and followers
of religions other than their own)
• narrow-minded
• intolerant
• bullying
• zealous
• dogmatic
• uncritical toward chosen authority
• hypocritical
• inconsistent and contradictory
• prone to panic easily
• highly self-righteous
• moralistic
• strict disciplinarian
• severely punitive
• demands loyalty and returns it
• little self-awareness
usually politically and economically conservative/Republican

The real danger to society is when authoritarian leaders (current GOP leadership) team up with authoritarian followers (majority of current GOP base). That's when you end up with creeping political authoritarianism, known also as fascism.

I know more than a little over the top, but the pic is hilarious...and disturbing at the same time. Perfect! ;-)

OK Johnny boy. You've more than made up for that sordid episode covering up for tricky dicky...but keep it coming anyway!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Another Ex-Con Cleans Up His Act

This time its the notorious John Dean. Yes the 'master manipulator' behind Watergate turned Nixon staff turn-coat. Well, like many other former 'Cons', he's become a very vocal critic of the Bush White House. Here's an interesting review of his latest book Conservatives Without Conscience.

He seems to be arguing that the Neocons and Christian fundamentalists, who presently dominate the Republican party, share a dangerous authoritarian streak. Certain types of 'conservatives' tend to show authoritarian personality traits and Dean argues that they are the ones presently controlling American Conservatism. This new school of Cons unquestioningly shows allegiance to their party, with vitriolic contempt for 'liberalism' being the other major unifying factor behind the movement. Interesting stuff...sounds pretty close to the truth to me.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Everyday Brutality and Criminal Incompetence: The US Occupation of Iraq

A couple of excellent articles courtesy of US-born reporter Nir Rosen in Iraq. Rosen is one of the very few English language reporters in the Iraq that isn't a completely useless shill for the occupation forces. Being part Iranian and fluent in Arabic, Nir Rosen has the 'good fortune' of being able to pass for an Iraqi, enabling him to do more than just regurgitate US army propaganda. The first article vividly conveys the everyday brutality and absurdity of the occupation in Iraq. You rarely get this kind of honesty from mainstream media sources.

'The Occupation of Iraqi Hearts and Minds'

For the sake of highlighting some of the meatier parts (and in case the gentle reader is too lazy to read through the article him/herself ;-)), I've liberally cut and pasted sections of the article below.

Home after home met the same fate. Some homes had only women; these houses too were ransacked, closets broken, mattresses overturned, clothes thrown out of drawers. Men were dragged on the ground by their legs to be handcuffed outside. One bony ancient sheik walked out with docility and was pushed forcefully to the ground, where he was wrestled by soldiers who had trouble cuffing his arms. A commando grabbed him from them, and tightly squeezed the old man’s arms together, lifting him in the air and throwing him down on the ground, nearly breaking his fragile arms.

The soldier guarding them spoke of the importance of intimidating Iraqis and instilling fear in them. “If they got something to tell us I’d rather they be scared,” he explained.

One sergeant was surprised by the high number of prisoners taken by the troop I was with. “Did they just arrest every man they found?” he asked, wondering if “we just made another 300 people hate us.” The following day 57 prisoners were transported to a larger base for further interrogation. Some were not the suspects, just relatives of the suspects or men suspected of being the suspects.

A lieutenant colonel familiar with the process told me that there is no judicial process for the thousands of detainees. If the military were to try them, there would be a court-martial, which would imply that the U.S. was occupying Iraq, and lawyers working for the administration are still debating whether it is an occupation or liberation. Two years later, 50,000 Iraqis had been imprisoned by the Americans and only 2% had ever been found guilty of anything.

The Procrustean application of spurious information gathered by intelligence officers who cannot speak Arabic and are not familiar with Iraqi, Arab or Muslim culture is creating enemies instead of eliminating them. The S2 captain could barely hide his disdain for Iraqis. “Oh he just hates anything Iraqi,” another captain said of him, adding that the intelligence officers do not venture off the base or interact with Iraqis or develop any relations with the people they are expected to understand. A lieutenant colonel from the Army’s civil affairs command explained that these officers do not read about the soldiers engaging with Iraqis, sharing cigarettes, tea, meals and conversations. They read only the reports of “incidents” and they view Iraqis solely as security threat. The intelligence officers in Iraq do not know Iraq.

One morning in Albu Hishma, a village north of Baghdad cordoned off with barbed wire, the local U.S. commander decided to bulldoze any house that had pro-Saddam graffiti on it, and gave half a dozen families a few minutes to remove whatever they cared about the most before their homes were flattened. In Baquba, two 13-year-old girls were killed by a Bradley armored personnel carrier. They were digging through trash and the American rule was that anybody digging on road sides would be shot.

It is common practice for soldiers to arrest the wives and children of suspects as “material witnesses” when the suspects are not captured in raids. In some cases the soldiers leave notes for the suspects, letting them know their families will be released should they turn themselves in. Soldiers claim this is a very effective tactic. Soldiers on military vehicles routinely shoot at Iraqi cars that approach too fast or come too close, and at Iraqis wandering in fields. “They were up to no good,” they explain. Every commander is a law unto himself. He is advised by a judge advocate general who interprets the rules as he wants. A war crime to one is legitimate practice to another. After the Center for Army Lessons Learned sent a team of personnel to Israel to study that country’s counterinsurgency tactics, the Army implemented the lessons it learned, and initiated house demolitions in Samara and Tikrit, blowing up homes of suspected insurgents.

The second article is an honest soldier's first hand account of his time in Iraq.

'Ugly Americans in Iraq'

One of the more amusing bits:

My friend was rare in that he had somehow overcome the necessary brainwashing soldiers undergo and was able to critically assess his role in Iraq. “In hindsight,” he said, “I have often asked myself what my reaction would be like if I were on the opposite end of this equation. After years of living under a harsh dictatorship, 150,000 soldiers of Sharia show up and offload into Georgetown from boats on the Potomac River after shelling the Capitol. They have a simple mission, they say: transplanting Islamic enlightenment in the decadent land of Kafir. They take over the D.C. Mall and throw a wall around the Smithsonian buildings; they call it the ‘Halal Zone.’ The White House becomes the embassy of Iraq. Some asshole like John Walker Lindh (Ahmed Chalabi), who has lived in the Middle East while the U.S. suffered under dictatorship, is Iraq’s favorite child for taking over the peacock throne of the U.S. My house gets raided and my mother patted down by hygiene-deficient Wahhabis, so I go to Georgetown to force the humiliation off my mind. A group of wirey majahedin show up at Haagen Daaz while I’m enjoying a cone of cookies and cream—a rare moment of bliss in a country going to shit—and grab the owners while taking their ice cream. I return to my home, after walking through one foot of raw sewage water, to turn on the radio and hear the Arab ‘viceroy’ declare in a fatwa that all Christian values should be erased from our governing culture. Meanwhile my dad is laid off from his paycheck for the crime of serving in the U.S. Army to provide for his struggling family.” My friend concluded that “without much doubt in my mind, if I were an Iraqi under the U.S. occupation, I’d be an insurgent.”

You can find more of Nir Rosen's articles on his website.

And finally, in case you haven't had enough of him already, you can listen to an NPR interview with Rosen here.

The Fog of War

Just wanted to share a very very good documentary that you can watch in its entirety on google video. The documentary is Errol Morris' The Fog of War. It's basically a 2 hour interview with Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy administration, one of the architects of the Vietnam war. A really fascinating and likeable guy, and suprisingly sharp for an 85 year old. Sit back and soak up McNamara's rules of war gained from a lifetime of experience as a strategist. Too bad he's not in charge of the Department of Defense today, I'm pretty sure he'd be a vast improvement.

From Wikipedia, here's a list of McNamara's lessons:

The film's eleven lessons

1. Empathize with your enemy.
2. Rationality will not save us.
3. There's something beyond one's self.
4. Maximize efficiency.
5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
6. Get the data.
7. Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
10.Never say never.
11.You can't change human nature.

McNamara's additional ten lessons
These were written as a companion to the film and were included in the Special Features of the DVD.

1. The human race will not eliminate war in this century but we can reduce war, the level of killing, by adhering to the principles of a just war, in particular of proportionality.

2. The indefinite combinations of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations.

3. We are the most powerful nation in the world - economically, politically, and militarily - and we are likely to remain so for decades ahead. But we are not omniscient.

4. If we cannot persuade other nations with similar interests and similar values of the merits of the proposed use of that power, we should not proceed unilaterally except in the unlikely requirement to defend the continental US, Alaska and Hawaii.

4.Moral principles are often ambiguous guides to foreign policy and defense policy, but surely we can agree that we should establish as a major goal of U.S. foreign policy and, indeed, of foreign policy across the globe : the avoidance in this century of the carnage--160 million dead--caused by conflict in the 20th century.

5. We, the richest nation in the world, have failed in our responsibility to our own poor and to the disadvantaged across the world to help them advance their welfare in the most fundamental terms of nutrition, literacy, health, and employment.

6. Corporate executives must recognize there is no contradiction between a soft heart and a hard head. Of course, they have responsibilities to their employees, their customers and to society as a whole.

7. President Kennedy believed a primary responsibility of a president--indeed "the" primary responsibility of a president--is to keep the nation out of war, if at all possible.

8. War is a blunt instrument by which to settle disputes between or within nations, and economic sanctions are rarely effective. Therefore, we should build a system of jurisprudence based on the International Court--that the U.S. has refused to support--which would hold individuals responsible for crimes against humanity.

9. If we are to deal effectively with terrorists across the globe, we must develop a sense of empathy--I don't mean "sympathy" but rather "understanding" to counter their attacks on us and the Western World.

10. One of the greatest dangers we face today is the risk of mass destruction as a result of the breakdown of the Non-Proliferation Regime. We--the U.S. are contributing to that breakdown.

11 Lessons from Vietnam

The origin of the film's lesson concept, these eleven came from McNamara's book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam:

1. We misjudged then — and we have since — the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries … and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions.

2. We viewed the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of our own experience … We totally misjudged the political forces within the country.

3. We underestimated the power of nationalism to motivate a people to fight and die for their beliefs and values.

4. Our judgments of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders.

5. We failed then — and have since — to recognize the limitations of modern, high-technology military equipment, forces and doctrine…

6. We failed as well to adapt our military tactics to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people from a totally different culture.

7. We failed to draw Congress and the American people into a full and frank discussion and debate of the pros and cons of a large-scale military involvement … before we initiated the action.

8. After the action got under way and unanticipated events forced us off our planned course … we did not fully explain what was happening and why we were doing what we did.

9. We did not recognize that neither our people nor our leaders are omniscient. Our judgment of what is in another people's or country's best interest should be put to the test of open discussion in international forums. We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our image or as we choose.

10. We did not hold to the principle that U.S. military action … should be carried out only in conjunction with multinational forces supported fully (and not merely cosmetically) by the international community.

11. We failed to recognize that in international affairs, as in other aspects of life, there may be problems for which there are no immediate solutions … At times, we may have to live with an imperfect, untidy world.

Underlying many of these errors lay our failure to organize the top echelons of the executive branch to deal effectively with the extraordinarily complex range of political and military issues.

wow...doesn't that last list sound familiar? ;-)

Fun With Guns

What would life be like without firearms? Well for one, a whole lot less entertaining.

Here's a video of a handgun versus a samurai sword...surprising result.

Another google video of a variety of different objects getting blasted in slowmo.

And finally, how not to fire a gun. Or as whoever put the video on google unkindly titled it, Gun versus Idiot.

Hooray for guns!!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The US Hawks are Smelling Blood: Are the warpigs getting ready to bomb the Shiite out of Iran?

I think most 'informed' people out there would say that a US led attack on Iran is not very likely any time in the near future. The majority seems to believe that America's neoconservative policy makers wouldn't be reckless or dumb enough to open up a new front when military resources are already stretched thin. Arguably even more important, no prudent decision maker would decide to jump into another open conflict in the region when the world's oil supplies are so limited, with world demand due to 'Chindia's' growth increasing everyday, and the essential Middle Eastern supply of oil potentially so easily cut off by war. It sounds perfectly reasonable, but let's not forget the mindset of the leaders who are making the decisions. Never underestimate the irrationality of a committed ideologue.

Ahmadinejad isn't going to back down and compromise on his country's nuclear program; and he probably wouldn't mind a limited conflict to bolster domestic support anyway. He and the theocracy supporting him will end up gaining a great deal of legitimacy if the US, or its regional proxy Israel, decides to attack Iran. I honestly don't think the Bush administration really understands this- once again they're listening too much to an unrepresentative and self-interested 'Iranian' minority telling them the country is ripe for change. More importantly, Bush and his neocon buddies might not even care all that much for changing Iranian regime. Of course, the primary objective of any attack would be to weaken the regional influence of Iran rather than 'liberate' its people. There are actually advantages of having a weakened and isolated radical theocracy still in power in Iran from a cynical 'divide and conquer' perspective. It helps to keep the Sunni Arab majority frightened and distracts them from US domination of the region. In fact, it actually gives America another reason for being there: to prevent the region from descending into sectarian violence. Just look at what a good job the US is doing of it in Iraq ;-)

And how exactly do the people dismissing the possibility of an attack on Iran expect the present 'stand-off' to be resolved? I personally don't see much way out of some sort of military confrontation between the world's hegemon and the intransigent Shia state. It's probably more than a little foolhardy to speculate in the detail on the political future of region as complex as the Middle East. Regardless, I'll stick my neck out and make some predictions. My guess is that Shrub holds off on any strike until after the november midterm elections, perhaps sometime in the winter-spring 2007? I don't think he would want to wait too long for the strike since he only has until the end of 2008 to shape policy in the wake of an attack. The US and/or Israel will conduct a limited airstrike to take out some of Iran's nuke capacity and attempt to 'humble' the leadership. A full scale ground invasion is definitely not a possibility, but airstrikes and covert ops are certainly within the US's and/or Israel's capacity at present. Iranian reprisals would probably be largely symbolic and actual counter-attacks would almost entirely be small scale and primarily conducted by proxy through sympathetic Shia militias in Iraq or Lebanon. They could send more Shia irregulars and weapons into Iraq, but their ability to attack US troops would be limited to pretty much what's going on at present (IED attack, small ambushes, snipers). On top of that the Shia would still be preoccupied with fighting the Sunni and protecting their own people. In the finaly analysis, the primary reason I suspect there will be a limited attack on Iran is the thinking prevalent among political elites in the US, Israel and Iran. In my opinion, they've clearly demonstrated that they are fully prepared for war, and even more troubling is that they all appear to believe they can benefit from it.

The recent clash between Hezbollah and Israel can be viewed as one of the prepatory phases in a war between the US-Israel and Iran. Hezbollah has stated they jumped into the fray between Israel and Hamas to take pressure off the Palestinian resistance movements. But it seems likely that their actions were also engineered to bolster Shia influence in Lebanonese politics, and to demonstrate the ability of their organization to attack Israel in the event of a strike against Iran. As well, the recent massively disproportional response by Israel has larger strategic objectives. There are trying to destroy the military capacity of Hezbollah, and possibly embroil them in domestic strife, in order to weaken the a potential Iranian proxy group.

The one counterargument that has me questioning the possibility of an attack is the ability of the Iranians to conduct reprisal attacks on oil transported by tankers through the Strait of Hormuz. This is a very narrow body of water in which something on the order of 1/4 of the world's oil production passes through. Iranian territory makes up the northern shore of the strait and they likely have the potential to disrupt the transport of this vital supply of oil. The Iranian's appear to have some capacity to carry out naval attacks on tankers and US warships, but I think it's safe to assume that the US has the naval and air capabilty to eventually force the Iranian's to stop any such attacks. My guess would be that the Iranian's wouldn't be able to block the flow of oil for long, and/or wouldn't be willing to deal with the consequences of cutting off the transport of oil which is vital for most of the world. If the rest of the world's oil supply is threatened because of Iranian attacks, it will likely push many more countries closer to the US side, since they would want to get their oil fix back ASAP. If what I've outlined is correct and the oil supply can only briefly be interrrupted then you would expect crude prices to spike for a few weeks, or even shorter, and then quickly settle at a much lower level. The new 'floor' on the oil price might be $10-20 higher for some time but that wouldn't be a disaster. I might be underestimating how easy it would be for the Iranians to disrupt this supply of oil for a significant period of time, but I very much doubt they will have the political will to do it.

One thing I don't doubt however is that an attack on Iran will greatly increase tensions all over the region and decrease the stability of a number of Arab governments closely allied with the US. However, while recognizing the reality of this in the short term, this is probably viewed as manageable by the majority of Bush's Neocon crew. After all, I'm sure they're pointing at the Iraq war naysayers who were talking about the 'Arab street' exploding in outrage because of the invasion, which essentially never happened. At the end of the day, all the major US allies are still safely ensconced on their thrones. The neocon policy makers probably think this provides enough evidence to dismiss the 'regime instability' argument.

Personally, I'm quite convinced that a US led attack on Iran will most likely end up harming US interests in the long run. It will almost certainly further damage their standing and influence in the Middle East, further bankrupt the nation, and will probably decrease their own security. Such a provocative escalation will probably end up pulling the US deeper into a 'unwinnable' fight with guerilla forces it won't be able to restrain. You can't wage a 'conventional' war against a people's mistrust and contempt, and it will always be too easy for irregulars to attack US troops and civilian 'allies' in the region.

Having said that, the chances of the conflict spreading uncontrollably throughout the entire region are slim. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, etc. likely won't collapse. Iraq will become more violent, but it already appears to be in a low-level civil war anyway. Bush and his cronies aren't good with 'nuance' and will only see the improbability of total failure, the rest of it to use Rumsfeld's terminology is 'known unknowns' and 'unknown unknowns'. The Bush Neocons haven't altered their basic policy and are still committed to completely reshaping the politics of the region. In the final analysis, what's going to stop them from attacking Iran?

Some excellent corroborating analysis from Jim Lobe below. These articles illustrate the growing calls for war from many of the most influential Neocons.

US Hawks Smell Blood.

The Drums of War Sound for Iran.

A possible roadmap to war with Iran?

Step 1: Start actively propagandizing in mainstream media outlets about the Iranian threat. Plant false accusations and notch up the fearmongering against Iran...has been well underway for some time.

Step 2: Isolate Iran. Destroy Hezbollah, and frighten Syria into submission.
From the NYTimes:

US Plan Seeks to Wedge Syria Away From Iran.

So where are we heading?? Looks like a one-way ticket...

Paul Craig Roberts: "America Is Being Set-Up For Wider War In The Middle East"

Another great article from a former Reaganite turned fierce critic of the Neoconservatives Paul Craig Roberts. America is being set-up for wider war in the Middle East. In a handful of paragraphs he manages to pick apart of the pro-Israel PR smokescreen that surrounds recent events in the Middle East.

Friday, July 21, 2006

American Petrocracy

Yet another insightful piece from former Reaganite turned vehement critic of the Neoconservative agenda, Kevin Phillips, entitled American Petrocracy. It lays the case for the least discussed possible motivating factor behind the Iraq invasion- continued control over the world's supply of oil.

Phillips is the author of American Theocracy. In this book he gives an inside account of the alliance between the Neocon faction of the Republican party and Christian Fundamentalists, the possibility of a coming oil crunch, and America's looming fiscal nightmare. Trying to get my grubby hands on a copy of this, seen him in interviews and found his comments to be right on the mark. He's one of the astute few- few but definitely growing larger everyday- who are fighting to pull American conservatism out of the madhouse.