Saturday, March 11, 2006

Neo-Con Sunset

Rupert Cornwell writes a fine analysis of the systematic errors of neoconservative judgment that have cost America and Iraq so dearly. This "emperor" is truly naked.

Freedom Riding 2006

Gay activists have embarked on a cross-country bus tour of 19 colleges with policies against homosexuality. The activists are calling the seven-week trip the Equality Ride, saying it is modeled after the anti-segregation Freedom Rides of 1961. As they visit the schools, most of which are Christian, the "riders" will talk about their experiences in facing hate and explain why they believe the Bible is accepting of homosexuality. All the riders are younger than 26, and about half are Christian, including two who were expelled from colleges on the route.

At Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., the first stop and the one closest to the Washington area, officials made it clear that the Equality Ride was not welcome.

"The parents of our students have entrusted their sons and daughters to our care," Chancellor Jerry Falwell said in a statement. "Liberty has an obligation to these parents not to expose their children to a 'media circus' that might present immorality in a positive light."

That’s right, Jerry. Keep them tuned exclusively to your media circus that presents hate in a positive light.

Falwell seems to be the exception, however. The story notes that an association of Christian colleges is assisting the activists in scheduling their visits and that many of the schools are open to the activists’ visits if not their message.

All I can say is Godspeed to you all.

Friday, March 10, 2006

One Small Accountability Moment...

A federal jury convicted a contractor of defrauding the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

Two Army veterans and their company cheated the U.S. government on a contract to furnish Iraq with a new currency in 2003 and should pay more than $10 million in assorted damages, a federal jury in Alexandria ruled yesterday.

In the first civil fraud verdict arising from the war effort, the eight-member panel decided, after two days of deliberation, in favor of two former workers who claimed in a lawsuit that Custer Battles LLC created phony Cayman Island companies to overcharge the Coalition Provisional Authority that ran Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

"This is a smashing victory for U.S. taxpayers and these whistle-blowers though the Bush administration did nothing to help," said Alan M. Grayson, the attorney for the plaintiffs, Robert Isakson and William Baldwin. Under the federal False Claims Act, citizens can sue on behalf of the government and the Justice Department can then decide whether to join the suit, which it did not in the Custer Battles case....[snip]

During the three-week trial, Grayson called the company executives "war profiteers," while defense attorneys called the accusers "bounty hunters."...

During the trial, retired Brig. Gen. Hugh Tant III told jurors that Custer Battles's performance amounted to "probably the worst I've seen in my 30 years in the Army." Tant had been overseeing the firm's work on the currency conversion contract.
He testified that of the 36 trucks the firm supplied, 34 did not work. When he confronted Battles, he said Battles responded: "You asked for trucks and we complied with our contract and it is immaterial whether the trucks were operational."...

Milo Minderbinder lives.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

More Ghosts

Once again, the ghost of Vietnam appears in BuschCheney’s Iraq misadventure. This ghost not only flies but has the appropriate nickname of “Spooky”. No spectral apparition, this particular ghost is real: the AC-130 gunship. These flying weapon platforms are now deploying to Iraq. AC-130s are not new to Iraq; they were used in the November 2004 assault on Fallujah but were based outside of Iraq. Now the Air Force will base some AC-130's in Iraq to reduce response times. (Thanks to Taylor Marsh for this story.

As long as I’m talking about similarities between Vietnam and Iraq, I shouldn’t ignore Donald Rumsfeld’s comments this week. The Defense Secretary believes that the media are misreporting the news about Iraq, thereby harming the US effort.

This misreporting, Rumsfeld said, has swayed American public opinion. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll reported yesterday that 80 percent of Americans believe that fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq will lead to civil war.


“Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side," Rumsfeld said today, referring to recent reporting on the conflict. "It isn't as though there simply have been a series of random errors on both sides of issues. On the contrary, the steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq."
"There's been a public opinion poll reporting that the readers of these exaggerations believe Iraq is in a civil war -- a majority do," Rumsfeld said, adding that faulty news reports had "an effect" on the poll results, swaying the opinion of the American people.

This is the same refrain that the militarists have been singing about Vietnam since, oh, the late 1960's. William Westmoreland spent his entire retirement and went to his grave spouting this nonsense which wholly absolves the leaders who got us into that war from any errors of judgment. It’s somebody else’s fault. BushCheney and his apologists would have Americans believe that only the press and faint-hearted traitors stand between America and success in Iraq.

It’s like a song that sticks in your head and just won’t go away. Except this one is far more deadly and pernicious.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not believe that the Iraq War is identical to the Vietnam War. The two are separated by more than time and geography. Expecting the same policies and script to replay in Iraq is to misunderstand the nature of the current conflict. See Steven Biddle’s article in Foreign Affairs for a discussion on the differences.

That said, the similarities are all too disturbing. Maybe it's just that the US is trapped with no good options.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

They Didn't Even Legalize Gay Marriage First

The wingnuts will love this.

British tourist Sharon Tendler has finally made her dream match - by "marrying" a dolphin she has been visiting for 15 years in the Israeli resort of Eilat, the mass-circulation Yediot Ahronot daily reported today. [snip]

The wedding took place Wednesday, with the bride, wearing a white dress and watched by amazed spectators, walking down the dock to where the groom was waiting in the water.

She kissed him, to the cheers of the spectators and then, after the ceremony was sealed with some mackerels, was tossed into the water so she could swim away with her new husband.

"I'm the happiest girl on earth," the bride was quoted as saying. "I made a dream come true. And I am not a pervert."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Pat Tillman is Still Dead

The Army is yet again investigating the death of Pat Tillman, who is perhaps the highest profile casualty in the BushCheney’s wars. You may recall that this National Football League star gave up his pro contract to serve his country in the wake of the 9-11 attacks and died as the result of “friendly fire” during a 2004 firefight in Afghanistan.

The story of his death has changed dramatically, from brave hero leading his men into hostile fire to unfortunate accident of war. Tillman’s family has been outraged by the cynical use of their dead son as an icon by BushCheney. The new investigation focuses on criminal negligence by Tillman’s fellow soldiers involving their failure to properly identify their target before opening fire.

I’m always uneasy about this kind of investigation. The chaos of combat forces soldiers to make split-second, often lethal decisions. It’s a difficult environment, to be sure, but that’s what soldiers are trained for. They are always supposed to identify targets before shooting at them. Otherwise, they are putting people at risk unnecessarily. Perhaps this investigation will be better than the last few. Maybe the Tillman family will get some straight answers this time.

Even if the investigation does determine whether anyone is criminally liable for Tillman’s death, it won’t answer all the questions about his death and the distortions that were issued in its wake. ReddHedd at Firedoglake is asking questions that the new investigation is unlikely to address:
“...Of course there needs to be a thorough investigation into Pat Tillman's death. We owe that to his family, and if gross negligence was involved, those responsible need to be held to account. That goes without saying.

But those responsible for spinning out the lies to a grieving family -- lies that they also fed to the public and the press in a close campaign season -- need some exploration as well. Who gave the orders to silence the Rangers on the ground? Who gave the orders to burn Tillman's gear? Who gave the orders to falsify information contained on Tillman's Silver Star citation -- because it now appears that some of the information in the chain of events does not match up with later stories? Who fed Tori Clark the information she spewed from the press podium at the DoD? Who fed it to Donald Rumsfeld? Did Rumsfeld order this to be propgandized -- or did that come from the President's campaign staff, including from Karl Rove?

Who gave the orders to start all of this ass covering -- up the line to the President of the United States?

And who made the decision for the President to use Pat Tillman as a campaign prop in Arizona -- when the taped message the President gave was a lie? And did the President know at the time that his lovely public words about a fallen American hero were nothing but lies -- and gave the taped message anyway? If not, has anyone been held to account for feeding the President false information that he publicly stated about the Tillman matter -- and if so, who has been held to account and by what means?...”

Tillman’s death is one of the many tragedies of BushCheney’s wars. The lies and distortions compound the loss.

Monday, March 06, 2006

From the Great White North

I'm reading Paul William Roberts' A War Against Truth, his account of the US invasion of Iraq. Roberts is a Canadian journalist with long experience in Iraq, including interviews with Saddam Hussein, so he knows the country. His account is raw, brutal and intimate. Not the "All is Well, Stay the Course" presentation so prevalent in the the US media. I'm about half way through so far.

After a confrontation with a pistol-wielding Iraqi angry at the American invasion, Williams writes:

"...[O]ddly enough, you don't care you don't care much why someone is going to kill you--and no cause having your death among its goals seems like a good one. It did occur to me, however, that being killed because because you were mistaken for an American would be the worst of all possible deaths. To steady my nerves, I handed out maple-leaf pins to everyone. I had over twenty of them.

'Maybe you all want one of these to wear...Eh?'

American journalists would seek me out to beg for these little lifesavers. The world is not a safe place for Americans any more, and they know why. A sense of shame pervades the language of decent Americans, the ones who know that the War on Terror will be no more successful than other wars waged against abstract nouns--hunger, drugs, sutpidity. A Canadian, on the other hand, now walks tall and safe through the alleys of hell, acknowldged gratefully by all as Friend to the Friendless, Refuge of the Refugee, Resort of Last Resort. Such was the genius of Jean Chretien that no one knew where Canada really stood on the issue of thei war, yet everyone thought we were on his side. This, I often told myeslf, is diplomacy!

Canada's actual role in the world, however, is what it always has been since the Korean War: to act as the conscience of America. It's a full-time job, a dirty job--but someone who speaks English has to do it. It is much like having a violent drunk for an older brother: you are ultimately the only one who can talk him down from his latest bender and the crunchy beating he is about to adminster for no reason he will remember tomorrow."
(emphasis in original)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Border Crossings

Listening to all the politicians and groups barking about illegal immigration, I can’t help but think that the entire debate is based on a the false premise of the nation-state, a premise that has become increasingly irrelevant in a globalized world. We like to think that a nation can seal itself off from the rest of the world and limit access to “our” territory and resources. Just as the nation-state became a reality in the 16th and 17th Centuries, I think that globalism and the technologies supporting globalism are now superceding the nation-state as the basis for organized society.

In many respects the waves of immigration from the Third to the First Worlds are the result of the latter’s aggressive expansion and colonialism in the past few centuries. By occupying and exploiting much of the world, Europe and the United States destroyed indigenous cultures that were self supporting and self-limiting. In the 21st Century the world is now faced with large populations unable to feed or support themselves in their traditional homelands. These economic refugees do what human beings have done for millennia: they move on, seeking places where they can support themselves. In the era of the nation-state, these migrations are restricted by political boundaries.

Or we like to think that. Any resident of southern Arizona can tell you that this migration is a well established fact. Like water running downhill, economic refugees move toward opportunity. The tide of humanity now flowing north from Mexico reflects a simple fact of life. Mexico cannot support its population, so Mexicans move to the United States where there is ample need for neo-slaves to serve businesses unwilling to pay US citizens a wage they will accept. Europe faces a similar migration as excess populations move toward opportunity. It’s as simple as Economics 101.

So I don’t see any hope for the United States or any nation stopping this migration. Our attempts so far have been pretty ineffective, even with the growth of the police state at the border with all of its attendant militarization. In the name of protecting our borders, we are destroying fragile ecosystems in Organ Pipe National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge with ATV’s and vehicles. Illegal immigrants are trashing our national forests to escape the dragnet. Border communities suffer from crime and property destruction in the lawless environment that prevails there. It’s a pretty ugly scene.

Contrast this migration with the ease of moving capital. Money moves pretty much at will, to wherever it finds the best return. Conservatives like to call this the free market, a market that doesn’t apply to labor. It never has. This capital flow has the effect of immiserating workers left behind as their opportunities for making a living decline. Which brings me to Karl Marx, who predicted that workers would revolt as capital became more and more concentrated and their prospects became ever worse. His predictions weren’t exactly accurate but he wasn’t wholly wrong, either. Capitalism proved to be far more supple and his workers’ paradise never really happened. But the trend is still there: increasing polarization of wealth and resources reduces economic opportunity. Sooner or later, those of us who are hogging all the resources will have to contend with the masses who have less and less and ultimately decide they have nothing to lose. The world saw a small example of the consequences on September 11, 2001.

That’s why I no longer believe in nation-states and closed borders. They are an artificial construct that allows the rich to exploit others. The major powers of the past three centuries (read: us) used their (our) technological, military and economic advantage to exploit the rest of the world to create the vast wealth we now enjoy. The idea that we have no obligation to the descendants of those whom we pillaged and enslaved, that they have no claim to “our” resources is laughable, especially in light of the neo-colonialism that replaced overt colonialism after World War II.

Open borders would allow labor to move toward opportunity. More important, it offers opportunity to manage the flow of immigrants. Instead of illegal immigrants, who have no rights and protection, we would have legal workers with some leverage in their dealings with employers. Instead of coming into the United States under the radar, immigrants would enter through border crossings where officials could screen out the criminals and potential terrorists. (Yeah, I know, they would still try to sneak in but there would be far fewer of them.)

The wave of immigration sweeping over America’s (and other First World nations’) borders is as old as human existence even as it characterizes the modern world. We can either deal with it honestly and humanely or try to wall ourselves off from it. The latter approach has a certain nationalistic appeal but in the long run, only the former offers anything like a realistic solution.