Body and Soul

Thoughts on the body politic, the human soul, Billie Holiday songs (and other people's) -- with a lot more questions than answers

Monday, June 30, 2003

"Mother was really left of center; women's suffrage was her great cause, and I remember appearing at all the local fairs carrying huge flocks of balloons that said 'Votes for Women.' I almost went up with them." -- Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003)

This will sound strange, I'm sure, but I don't feel the least bit sad about Hepburn's death. She did exactly what she wanted to do in life, did it with grace, made the world better for her presence, and lived nearly a century. And she seems to have had a pretty interesting mother as well. Could anyone ask for more?

Cheerful news for Monday
  • The president doesn't even know who's in charge of looking for WMDs in Iraq.

  • Warren Rudman: We are all less safe because Bush hasn't put real money into preparing for terrorist attacks.

Trish Wilson has an intriguing post up about a new study of how children are effected by a parent -- either the parent the child lives with, or the non-custodial parent -- moving away after a divorce. Among the surprising findings:

  • Children who lived with their mothers, and whose fathers moved away, were marginally better off than children whose fathers continued to live nearby.

  • Children who were in the custody of their fathers were much worse off than children in the custody of their mothers.

  • There was very little difference in mental health between children who moved away with their mothers and children who continued to live near both parents.

It's a very limited study, with a lot of flaws (discussed at length by divorce and custody researcher Judith Wallerstein), but it's interesting not so much for what it demonstrates as for the use its author is attempting to make of it -- supporting an upcoming California Supreme Court case that could make it harder for mothers to move away with their children.


Sunday, June 29, 2003

The LA Times reports that the Bush Administration is considering setting up a standing global peacekeeping force, led and trained by the U.S., and operating outside the auspices of the U.N.

Trained by the U.S.? I guess that makes sense, now that we've so clearly proven ourselves masters of nation building.

Okay, sarcasm aside, is it a good idea?

Some of the words sound nice, but I still doubt it. There's probably a need for a permanent, well-trained, truly international peacekeeping force. It's obviously needed not only where the U.S. is fumbling -- in Afghanistan and Iraq -- but also in places where we've turned a blind eye, like the Congo and, increasingly, Liberia.

The hesitant "probably" in the last paragraph stumbles over my not knowing exactly what such a peacekeeping force would do. Are we talking about keeping civilians from being slaughtered, as the UN did, at least somewhat successfully, in East Timor and Sierra Leone (with American help, although Republican opposition to peacekeeping is nothing new)? The UN is weak, underfunded, and far from perfect, but its presence has helped in many instances. Or are we talking about an entirely different order of peacekeeping: keeping the natives pacified so we can steal their resources?

Donald Rumsfeld's sketchy plan looks suspiciously like the latter -- a colonial police force with a lot of the bodies provided by our client states.

The giveaway is that the idea seems to grow primarily out of problems in governing Iraq. Nobody is considering working with the UN because the UN isn't interested in helping Bush and Company police the Empire. So Rumsfeld is looking for an alternative.

In other words, some of us are looking at the situation in the Congo and Liberia and wondering why there isn't some sort of force that can stop thugs from killing people, and Rumsfeld is watching American soldiers tired and stressed to the limit, still dying in Iraq, and wondering if he can get some other nation's soldiers to do the dying. Both of us might use the term "peacekeeping force" to describe what's in our heads, but we're not in any way thinking of the same thing.

As I was reading the article, a recent move the administration made suddenly seemed to make more sense. Why are we standing in the way of sending a UN force large enough to actually accomplish something to the Congo? Lots of people have asked why we aren't sending troops, but the barrier we're setting up goes a lot farther than that -- we're stopping other countries from beefing up the UN force. Why?

I don't have a well-thought out answer, but I do have a concern tugging at me: If we plan to set ourselves up as the world's "peacekeepers," do we really have any interest in helping the UN succeed in its current attempt at peacekeeping?

Saturday, June 28, 2003

So the democracy in Iraq thing didn't work out too well, did it?

Something I heard Tom Friedman say before the war came to mind this morning. He said -- casually, the horrible thing about Friedman is the nonchalance he summons while saying things like this -- that we might discover after the war that Iraq could only be governed by a thug, and that we might have to be "the new Saddam Hussein."

From this morning's Washington Post:

U.S. military commanders have ordered a halt to local elections and self-rule in provincial cities and towns across Iraq, choosing instead to install their own handpicked mayors and administrators, many of whom are former Iraqi military leaders.

Now I really do understand the dilemma here. A popular election that brings a bunch of clerics with no respect for freedom or human rights to power is no accomplishment and not much (if any) of an improvement on the last thug's reign. I don't want to see a phony democracy rushed in. But, just out of curiosity, what exactly have we changed in Iraq?

Ten weeks into the occupation, the cities and towns outside of Baghdad are largely administered by former Iraqi military and police officers and people who had close ties to the Baath Party. Iraqi generals and police colonels, for example, are now mayors of a dozen cities, including Samarra, Najaf, Tikrit, Balad and Baqubah.

The U.S. military contends that these people have been vetted and were not in leadership positions under the old government or associated with crimes it committed.

Sorry, but I find that last part pretty difficult to believe. We're purging Baath Party members from universities and the oil industry (hmmmmmmm...) -- two places where you'd expect to find plenty of people who just went along to keep their jobs -- but we continue to get along just fine with the Baathist police and military, and even install them in power.

Pardon my ignorance, but in a police state, aren't the police likely to be the people you most have to worry about? If a country is a military monster -- Iraq was a dangerous military monster, right? A threat to the entire world? -- are generals likely to be uncompromised?

Something stinks here.

In the current issue of Art News, there's a fascinating article on what happened to Iraq's national museum, based on interviews with residents of the museum's neighborhood, museum officials, U.S. troops, and Americans involved in investigating the looting. Suffice it to say, the difficulty of protecting the museum from looting was greater than I appreciated, but plenty of opportunities to protect it were ignored. One intriguing detail: The looting apparently slowed down when looters discovered something nearby that they were far more interested in than art -- weapons.

The chaos in Iraq still makes it impossible to assess the extent of the damage and loss of antiquities. Probably nobody's numbers should be taken too seriously yet, but Nawalla Al-Mutawalli, the museum's director, recently told a conference in Vienna that approximately 10,000 items are missing, including 47 masterpieces.

The looting in Baghdad is over. The more important issue now is the continuing looting of archaeological sites throughout the country. The American military is guarding some of the sites (and some have Iraqi guards, but they haven't been paid recently), but protection has been spotty. After helicopter surveys, a National Geographic team concluded that 33 of 41 archaeological sites showed signs of looting. Some sites had been so thoroughly picked over, a member of the National Geographic team compared them to waffles and Swiss cheese.

Guarding the sites is important. The National Geographic team has called for increased patrols and 24-hour guards by U.S. forces at the most important sites. But the fundamental problem is that the looting is being driven by collectors in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. The looting would stop if there were no buyers. There are bills in both the House and Senate that attempt to decrease the market by banning the import of undocumented archaeological materials from Iraq, although the Archaeological Institute of America is endorsing only the House bill. The Senate bill, the AIA concludes, offers "no disincentive to looting."

If you want to do a good deed today, you can contact your representative expressing support for the Iraq Cultural Heritage Protection Act (H.R. 2009).

Meanwhile, the Bushies are living up to their well-deserved reputation for ignoring real problems, while never letting a tacky public relations opportunity pass by. One of the few undeniably happy moments in this archaeological fiasco came with the rediscovery of the unharmed Treasures of Nimrud. Obviously trying to counter a lot of the bad news coming out of Iraq, the U.S. announced that Iraq will have its first post-war art exhibition on the Fourth of July (no significance to the date, I'm sure). No invitations have been sent yet, but it's planned "for an audience of international media." The pictures will be breathtaking and I'm sure most of us will be so dazzled and so grateful to Bush and Company for protecting these precious objects that we'll forget about the unfound and destroyed ones, and the ones that continue to disappear.

Friday, June 27, 2003

The MoveOn Primary results are up. Nobody got 50%, which I think is probably a good thing at this point.

By the way, I had trouble voting and I heard that some people couldn't get in at all. Did anyone else have that experience?

Don't try to convince Kevin about the evils of socialized medicine. He's having one of those something's wrong here moments.

I had the same feeling eight years ago, when I was sent home from the hospital less than two days after a Caesarian, while I was still unable to turn over in bed without help. I was back in the emergency room three times the next night (with a newborn baby in my arms, and a 10 year old, thank God, settled at a friend's house for the night). I reached the point where I was begging the nurse not to send me home again. I could not stand any more pain that bad in one night.

She sent me home.

And don't get me started on my Italian brother-in-law's reaction to his experience with our wonderful American health care system when he was foolish enough to get sick while visiting his family over here. No matter what we told him about how things worked, he refused to believe us, because he was utterly convinced Americans could not be that stupid. Americans set the standard, right? Surely our health care system had to be better than Italy's?

He learned better. (He did, however, admit that our waiting rooms were nicer.)

I apologize for the lack of posts, but Blogger switched me over to its "new" version yesterday, at which point it stopped working completely. (The post below was posted this morning, but it wouldn't publish until now.)

It seems to be working now, but unfortunately, I'm not. I'll be back with more later.

Surf City
  • Sam Heldman finds a bright side to Scalia's temper.

  • Emma
    (responding to a fascinating post by Dave Pollard) expands on a previous post on corporations and morality. Why is it that corporations have all the rights of individuals (and then some), but none of the responsibilities?

  • Speaking of the inordinate power of corporations, Paul Krugman's column today offers a frightening example of how unethical Republican pressure, mingled with corporate benefits, are creating a one-party political machine. The Washington Post has more details on the Republican arm twisting, and in the current Washington Monthly, Nicholas Confessore tells the whole scary story.

  • Still on the subject of abdicating responsibilities, who do American citizens think they are -- corporations? A Rational Animal pulls together just a sample of recent articles on what life is like for Iraqis today, and what is being done in our name. Cholera. Radiation sickness. Mental patients without food. Painful reading, but it's our mess, and we're morally obligated to face it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

One of these days I'm going to get around to writing a big fat post about children's literature, which is one of my deepest loves, despite the fact that I missed out on most of the best kiddie lit when I really was a kiddie. (Or maybe I love it now because I missed it then. There is something a bit odd about reading Charlotte's Web for the first time at 30, but it has its advantages.)

Let me get through the new Harry Potter first. I'm going slower than the rest of you, because I have an eight-year-old, and the book is a tad beyond her reading level, so I have to read it aloud. That takes longer. On the other hand, it gives you a good indication of how much better Rowling's writing is getting. I hated reading the first book aloud. The prose was awkward and my tongue kept stumbling over it. Each book has gotten easier and more fun to read, and this one is heaven. (A hint to parents: Never let a kid talk you into reading any of the Doctor Doolittle books. The writing is awful. My son was addicted to them when he was four or five, and I felt like I was being tortured.)

Anyway, apparently Eve Tushnet shares my love because she has an inspiring post with lots of great recommendations of children's books. Since we have a lot of the same favorites -- Dianna Wynne Jones, Madeleine L'Engle, E.L. Konigsberg, Beverly Cleary, Jean Merrill, E. Nesbit (although the previously mentioned 8-year-old recently broke my heart when she told me Five Children and It was boring) (It is not!) -- I'm going to have to check out several of Eve's suggestions that I wasn't aware of.

But I'm not getting through even this short and feeble post on children's books without mentioning Natalie Babbitt, Jane Yolen, Avi, Elizabeth George Speare, Susan Cooper, Scott O'Dell, Lois Lowry, Robin McKinley, and my son's all-time favorite, Lloyd Alexander.

The summer is short. Go find a kid (or the kid in yourself) and read.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

War and Peace and Then Another War
Chapter II

Yesterday I read a heartbreaking article in the New York Times on the toll that war in the Congo has taken on children.

The warlords have killed even childhood here.

As militia groups battle for control of this provincial town in Congo's northeast, Bunia's young are paying a high price. The war has shuttered their schools, left them lame and hungry, killed their parents before their eyes. It has turned children into merciless killers and haunted them with memories of mayhem unfitting for the most hard-bitten grown-ups. Girls have been raped, toddlers have been butchered, babies left crying among dead bodies.

A sickening irony hit me. I read the story on my computer. My computer would not run if it weren't for coltan. To a large extent, the war in the Congo is fueled by hunger for coltan.

Ethnic hatred is certainly part of it, but ethnic tensions are constant. The massive killings happen because people have something valuable to fight over, something the West is willing to pay for, without much concern about who it's paying and what they're doing with the money. There were always diamonds and gold, but the technology boom of the 90s created an enormous need for coltan, which is used in computers, cell phones, play stations, DVD players, jet engines, and -- if you can stand another ironic note -- weapons systems. The DRC holds more than 80% of the world's coltan reserves.

Did I mention Bechtel was there?

More irony: If you live in the Congo, and can afford one, a cell phone might save your life. Which is pretty sad and strange, considering that it's at least part of what's part of what's putting your life in danger in the first place.

Feeling guilty yet?

Don't bother. Guilt won't help.

The question is, what will?

Victoria Brittain argued in The Guardian last week that no amount of intervention in the Congo would help.

These complex African wars are wars of under-development. The countries' economic systems have collapsed. Education has broken down from decades without funding. Guns are readily available. Violence, often linked to drugs, has replaced tolerance. Respect for women and community has been eroded by the terror practices of the warlords.

Repairing the social fabric in Ituri and elsewhere will be a long slow process taking generations, and it will be done by Congolese. The local Ituri pacification commission has created an interim assembly and is trying to get dialogue going. Congo's civil society has many associations doing peace work, despite almost no resources. Local leaders, especially women, need the basic means to work in 21st-century conditions -- a computer, a bicycle, or a radio. Ocha, the UN's humanitarian organisation, has played an important role in helping local initiatives. It should be given a bigger budget and a higher status than the military.

That strikes me as a basically sound insight (and a necessary antidote to the more condescending mainstream attitude: Westerners must save the poor Africans from themselves), but an insight stretched beyond all reason. Long term, there's no doubt that local initiatives are the only things that will ward off future wars. But short term, somebody's got to get the weapons out of the hands of drugged children.

The French-led UN peacekeeping force that's currently there isn't accomplishing much. Nobody, not even the French, thought it would. For the life of me, I've been unable to come up with any reason why the UN would send such a feeble force, a force everyone knows can't stop the killing.

But one possible reason recently poked its head out from under its slimy rock.

Kofi Annan has called for a larger force with a "more robust mandate," and France, several African countries, and all the members of the Security Council but one agree. Unfortunately, the one balking country has a bigger voice than any of the others. The United States has "not come to a decision yet" about expanding the force, but the US ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, says that "no amount of peacekeeping forces are going to be able to resolve this situation if there isn't the political will both in the Congo and in the neighboring countries."

Mr. Negroponte, meet Ms. Brittain. At least from the left there's an understanding of the need to give people tools to solve their own problems (although she missed one of the most important ones: give people the tools they need to protect themselves from our greed, as much as from each other.) The attitude drifting out of the White House seems to be: If the savages want to kill each other, there's nothing we can do about it.

There's nothing we can do. Bull. There's a lot we can do, and ought to do. Adam Hochschild, who knows as much as anyone about the history of violence and exploitation in the Congo, has written about the need for three things, all of which seem reasonable to me:

  • First, intervention. Whether or not the US should contribute troops is debatable. Our history in the Congo isn't exactly inspiring, and if Dick Cheney developed a sudden interest in saving the Congolese, I'd check to see what kind of investment Halliburton had in coltan. But certainly we shouldn't be the only country standing in the way of a larger UN force. That's despicable (but, unfortunately, not unprecedented).

  • Second, outlawing "conflict minerals" -- not just diamonds, but coltan as well.

  • Finally, stop arming Africa. According to Hochschild, during the 1990s, the United States gave more than $200 million worth of equipment and military training to African armies, including six of the seven that have troops involved in Congo's civil war.

So what's stopping us?

Mike Martinez has a theory, and given the history of this administration, it's not all that hard to believe: "It is in the economic interest of corporate America not only to ignore the bloodshed, but to prolong the misery." It's a theory Adam Hochschild agrees with:

The Balkanization and war suit the amazing variety of corporations -- large and small, American, African and European -- that profit from the river of mineral wealth without having to worry about high taxes, and that prefer a cash-in-suitcases economy to a highly regulated one.

An exhaustive report to the United Nations Security Council last year detailed the dozens of companies now making money from Congo's conflict, based everywhere from Ohio to Johannesburg to Antwerp to Kazakhstan. As a result, neither the United States nor any other nation now seems to have much interest in seeing a strong Congolese central government keep profits from the country's patrimony -- the word the White House uses about Iraq's oil -- mostly at home.

I did mention that Bechtel was there, right?

Cowboy Kahlil has a moving reminder of the simple goodness Americans are capable of.

Everything you always wanted to know about WMDs in Iraq but were afraid to ask...

They lied.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Want to hear my Claude Rains imitation? I'm shocked. Shocked!

U.S. Aid Plan Comes Up Short

For months, President Bush has basked in praise from champions of the world's poor, such as the Irish rock star Bono, who have extolled the White House for ambitious proposals to boost foreign aid and provide treatment for African AIDS victims.

But now, congressional appropriators appear poised to approve hundreds of millions of dollars less than the president requested for foreign assistance next year. And as Bush prepares to travel to Africa next month, aid advocates are starting to question whether the president has gotten credit for programs that aren't going to be funded at the levels the initial headlines suggested.

I really am shocked. Just not surprised.

Soldier Says U.S. Army Turns Away Burned Iraqi Children in Need of Help

On a scorching afternoon, while on duty at an Army airfield, Sgt. David J. Borell was approached by an Iraqi who pleaded for help for his three children, burned when they set fire to a bag containing explosive powder left over from war in Iraq.

Borell immediately called for assistance. But the two Army doctors who arrived about an hour later refused to help the children because their injuries were not life-threatening and had not been inflicted by U.S. troops.

Now the two girls and a boy are covered with scabs and the boy cannot use his right leg. And Borell is shattered.

"I have never seen in almost 14 years of Army experience anything that callous," said Borell, who recounted the June 13 incident to The Associated Press.

A U.S. military spokesman said the children's condition did not fall into a category that requires Army physicians to treat them and that there was no inappropriate response on the part of the doctors.

The incident comes at a time when U.S. troops are trying to win the confidence of Iraqis, an undertaking that has been overwhelmed by the need to protect themselves against attacks. Boosting security has led to suspicion in encounters between Iraqis and Americans. There are increased pat-downs, raids on homes and arrests in which U.S. troops force people to the ground at gunpoint measures the Iraqis believe are meant to humiliate them.

In addition, Iraqis maintain the Americans have not lived up to their promises to improve security and living conditions, and incidents like the turning away of the children only reinforce the belief that Americans are in Iraq only for their own interests.

For Borell, who has been in Iraq since April 17, what happened with the injured children has made him question what it means to be an American soldier.

"What would it have cost us to treat these children? A few dollars perhaps. Some investment of time and resources," said Borell, 30, of Toledo, Ohio.

"I cannot imagine the heartlessness required to look into the eyes of a child in horrid pain and suffering and, with medical resources only a brief trip up the road, ignore their plight as though they are insignificant," he added.

Maj. David Accetta, public affairs officer with the 3rd Corps Support Command, said the children's condition did not fall into a category that requires Army doctors to care for them. Only patients with conditions threatening life, limb or eyesight and not resulting from a chronic illness are considered for treatment.

"Our goal is for the Iraqis to use their own existing infrastructure and become self-sufficient, not dependent on U.S. forces for medical care," Accetta said in an e-mail to AP.

The incident came to light after an AP photographer took a picture of Borell being comforted by a colleague after the doctors refused to care for the children. When Borell's wife, Rachelle Douglas-Borell, saw the photo, she contacted AP with a copy of a letter he sent her describing what happened.

There are very good people in our military. And what they are being asked to do is shameful. Just go read the whole story. We are a better country than this.

UPDATE: When I told my husband about this story, he had exactly the same reaction as Deb, and now I'm wondering about it. If you're a doctor in the military, are you first and foremost a soldier or a doctor?

For Kevin:

Sausage Sauce
1/2 lb. Italian sausage
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 can (16 oz.) tomatoes, chopped (or 5-6 medium, ripe tomatoes)
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1 cup water
3/4 tsp. basil
3/4 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper

Remove casings from sausage. Cook meat slowly in a medium-sized pan, breaking up with a spoon, until no pink remains. Remove meat with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Remove all but 1 Tbl. drippings from pan.

Saute onion and garlic in drippings until tender, about 5 minutes. Return sausage to saucepan; add tomatoes, tomato paste, water, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and red pepper. Bring to boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes, or until thickened.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Having spent my entire voting life hanging on to the atrophying left wing of the Democratic Party, I normally take very little interest in who the party's presidential candidate will be, figuring that my preferences don't mean a hell of a lot. In the end, I will hold my nose and vote for a Democrat who is far to my right only because he's infinitely preferable to anything the Republicans have to offer. I'll probably end up doing the same thing next time, but considering the stakes in 2004, I'm taking a lot more interest in the candidates a lot earlier than I ordinarily would. Start here: If you aren't already on MoveOn's mailing list, please register here to vote in their PAC Primary next week. If one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, MoveOn will make an endorsement, which could be a boost to a progressive Democratic candidate. I'm not endorsing anybody (although leaning toward Dean), but I'm counting on the fact that few people reading this will head on over to vote for Lieberman (although, yes, I would hold my nose and vote for Lieberman over Bush -- I'm really that desperate to be rid of the worst president ever.)

UPDATE There may be some serious problems with the MoveOn vote. Nathan Newman has the whole story.


  • Tim Dunlop on why blogging needs amateurs.

  • Halley on how blogging could allow women to change the face of business.

  • Emma, demonstrating the truth of Tim's argument about blogging amateurs, is an "economically challenged" non-economist who asks essential questions about corporate morality, or more precisely, what can be done about corporate immorality.

  • And speaking of corporate immorality, while I was gone, the go-where-no-other-mainstream-paper-is-willing-to-go Los Angeles Times ran a good two part series on unkept promises about the economic and social benefits an oil pipeline running from Chad to Cameroon was supposed to have. I found the story interesting for several reasons (beyond the fact that this is the first time I've seen so much about the issue in the mainstream press), but the main reason is that the corporate misconduct here is not involvement with huge violations of human rights (as in the case of Unocal in Burma.) It's a far more typical example of people not benefiting from globalization in the way proponents -- and corporate beneficiaries -- claim. That's significant to me because, although this blog probably leaves a lot of people with the impression that I'm resolutely anti-globalization, I'm not. I'm still open to the conservative argument that corporate investment can aid development and respect for human rights, I just see far too many examples of corporations benefiting from, and encouraging the continuation of, gross human rights violations. And even when investment by multinationals doesn't help dictators, it's clear that its benefits don't remotely live up to the promises made. Like Emma, I wouldn't deny anyone's characterization of me as "economically challenged," but the more I learn about how these investments actually effect people's lives, the more anti-globalization I become. It's an issue that will become increasingly important as the US gets more and more involved in oil-rich West Africa.

  • Two related articles: John B. Judis & Spencer Ackerman on the pre-war hyping of intelligence about Iraq's alleged WMDs, and Matthew Yglesias, writing at Tech Central Station, on why the failure to find WMDs is important.

  • Ampersand's two posts (and cartoon) on Israel's wall. (And, as usual at Alas, the comments are as interesting as the original post.)

  • Dennis Kucinich has a blog.

  • Eleanor Robson, writing in The Guardian with more on Iraq's museum losses. According to a UNESCO report, most of the objects that have been returned since the looting were reproductions and forgeries, and among the losses were "some 2,000 finds from last season's excavations at sites in central Iraq." In a related vein, John Malcolm Russell, a member of the UNESCO team, wrote in the Washington Post about what is still missing, and Newsday reported on looting of archaeological sites in southern Iraq. And while I'm on the subject, the Washington Post ran an article awhile back on the return of the Warka Vase, one of the most important artifacts looted from the museum. But it turns out that the picture they ran of the vase does not resemble its current condition.

Friday, June 20, 2003

I haven't looked at a newspaper since Monday morning, but as far as I can tell, nothing earth-shattering happened while I was gone. The headlines are dispiritingly similar to last week's. Soldiers are still dying in Iraq, and they still want to go home. They still haven't found any banned weapons in Iraq, but nobody cares (except John Kerry, who is displaying sudden outbursts of Rainsian -- or should that be Claudian? -- shock). Aung San Suu Kyi is still imprisoned in Burma (although, speaking of political prisoners, there's better news from Zimbabwe). Donald Rumsfeld still has foot-in-mouth disease. John Ashcroft is still a dangerous fool. The Brooklyn Bridge is still hanging in there.

My only source of news for the past few days has been a half hour or so of morning television in the hotel lobby, consumed with coffee and bagel. I know that's how most people consume news, but it leaves you with a very odd sense of the world. On Tuesday, they had Fox on, and I learned that Jessica Lynch had been rescued (I know that's old news, but in the space of a half hour, Fox reminded me of it at least three times), a bishop was arrested for a hit and run accident that killed a man in Arizona, and Norma McCorvey (otherwise known as Jane Roe) now wants to overturn Roe v. Wade. That's old news, too, but Fox played it as the biggest story of the morning. Repeatedly.

On Wednesday, they switched the television over to NBC, where Dolly Parton broke my heart. Being a Dolly Parton fan has always necessitated an ability to overlook kitsch in order to hear that glorious voice, but Dolly has now gone way beyond kitsch. Picture Dolly in a white miniminimini dress with star-spangled sleeves and red and white stripes covering a small portion of her breasts. She's singing an entirely forgettable "patriotic" song. I'm already cringing, when suddenly cowboys on white horses ride out in front of her, carrying American flags so enormous you expect them to topple over. I'm also wondering when the jousts begin. The lights are flashing stars on the ground. If Leni Riefenstahl ever decides to do a remake of "Nashville," this is what it will look like.

You really don't want to see this before you've finished your first cup of coffee.

On Thursday, the t.v. was back to Fox, and that bishop was still standing in front of a judge -- in exactly the same place, with exactly the same hangdog expression on his face as he had on Tuesday. Fox apparently has a limited supply of film clips, so Fox viewers inhabit a world in which newsmakers endlessly repeat the same action. After seeing the bishop over and over on Fox, all I know is that he had a broken windshield and no chin. I've watched enough old movies to know a guy with no chin is always guilty. I have a feeling I could watch this story forever and never go any deeper than what I "know" from that visual.

Fortunately, I'm home now and I've got the remote control, and the t.v.'s not going anywhere near Fox.

Monday, June 16, 2003

I'll be in San Diego for most of this week and I assume blogging from Sea World and the zoo would be a little tough. See you on Friday.

I know I'm going to sound like a broken record, but humanitarian relief is not a public relations stunt -- not when it's done right. Today's New York Times and Washington Post have interesting articles about the military's mixed mission in Iraq -- hunting down stray Baathists and carrying out "high-visibility relief projects for Iraqi civilians." I'm afraid that adjective may be far too telling. The important thing is not effectiveness, but visibility. The military is patting itself on the back for re-building a school (out where everyone can see and admire their work) and giving away soccer balls, but local people seem pretty clear that law and order is their greatest need at the moment.

That, along with the need to deal with sewage and acces to clean water, are priorities in most parts of Iraq. But clearing weapons dumps and collecting garbage don't give you pictures of handsome soldiers putting up a blackboard. And "the soldiers built a school" sounds a lot better than "the soldiers picked up the garbage" -- although the latter is, in most places, far more urgent.

This is not what the military is good at, and their attempt to do the NGOs' job is hurting people.

The head of Care International UK argued in the Telegraph today that the UN-led civil administration needs to take over quickly, because the humanitarian needs of Iraqis simply cannot be met under current conditions.

Do you feel safer now?
One of George Bush's top counterterrorism experts -- and the man who replaced Oliver North on Reagan's NSC -- quit shortly before the war in Iraq started because, in his words, "The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terrorism. They're making us less secure, not more secure. As an insider, I saw the things that weren't being done. And the longer I sat and watched, the more concerned I became, until I got up and walked out."

He now works for John Kerry, and is trying to make this country safer by getting his former boss out of office.

UPDATE: Tristero has more on members of the Bush Administration who have left because of the boss's incompetence.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

One of the reasons I like the Los Angeles Times better than the New York Times is that they have the courage to put articles like this one on the front page: A two-part look at Unocal's involvement with the Burmese junta's brutal treatment of people who lived in the path of the Yadana pipeline, which was built by Unocal, Total, and the Burmese government's Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise. Oddly enough, the NYT also ran a piece on the Unocal case today, but it was in the Business section, and was written to reflect the concerns of businesses and the Bush administration. The NYT article, unlike the one in the LAT tells you almost nothing about why people are bringing these suits.

It's almost a parody of the different focuses of the two newspapers: The LAT deals with the human rights involved, while trying to be fair in its assessment of how much responsibility Unocal bears. The NYT worries about the problems of stockholders, while tossing in a few quotes from human rights advocates. Same story, with very different points of view.

There is a really important issue at stake here: To what extent is a company responsible for grotesque human rights violations committed by its partners and with its knowledge? And how much knowledge does the company need to have about the crimes before it can be considered complicit?

Unocal isn't unique and that's why the case is so important. In a sidebar in the print edition, the LAT cites seven other current cases (others have been dismissed), in which foreign citizens have invoked the Alien Tort Claims Act against corporations that they accuse of human rights violations:
  • In Guatemala, banana workers charge that Del Monte conspired with local vigilantes to have them kidnapped and tortured in order to stop a labor demonstration.

  • In Colombia, relatives of three union leaders killed by paramilitary death squads are accusing Drummond Co. of complicity in the murders.

  • In Ecuador, Oriente Indians accuse Texaco of dumping toxic petroleum wastes into their bathing, fishing, and drinking water, causing injuries and illnesses.

  • In Nigeria, Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. is accused of conspiring with Nigerian authorities in abuses of ethnic Orgonis.

  • In South Africa, more than 100 corporations (in several different suits) are accused of aiding apartheid. The companies include Ford, IBM and Bank of America.

  • In Sudan, Christians accuse Talisman Energy of aiding military forces in an ethnic cleansing campaign.

  • People in the Indonesian province of Aceh accuse ExxonMobil of complicity in kidnappings, tortures, rapes, and murders committed by the Indonesian military, which was protecting an ExxonMobil plant.

It's not an issue that's going away, and the LA Times deserves a lot of credit for devoting space and attention to it.

UPDATE: Part Two

Friday, June 13, 2003

I'm rushed today, and won't have time to post much, if anything, but there are some fascinating posts up about the museum and archaelogical site looting in Iraq. Go read Hesiod, Trish Wilson, and Sean Malloy.

The most important point about this story, I think, is this: The looting has not stopped.

UPDATE: Teresa Nielsen Hayden explains it all for you.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

I've been writing a lot lately about human rights, which can be extremely draining. It's a subject I've cared about for most of my life, but I understand why most people don't share my fanatic interest. There is only so much you can learn about the horrors human beings are capable of inflicting on each other before you scream, "Stop! I don't want to hear any more." Sometimes just carrying the names and deeds of despots and thugs around in your head makes you feel corrupted.

I want to mention a book that's been an oasis for me to return to each day. Blogger Brooke Biggs recently published Brave Hearts, Rebel Spirits, a series of portraits of faith-based activists -- Buddhists and Catholics, Hindus and Muslims, Baha'is, Jews and Quakers. Some of the activists -- like Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, and Cesar Chavez -- are well known. Others, like Hindu anti-globalization activist Vandana Shiva, I had never heard of. But after a few hours of doing research on human rights issues, it's been literally a God-send to have these positive stories of people putting their faith into action to return to, and an inspiration to see how much the different faiths have in common. And as if that weren't enough, the book is a treasure trove of resources for spiritual activists -- web pages and addresses of organizations, and books for further reading. It's really an inspiring and sanity-saving book.

Several weeks ago, Steve Bates linked to some articles about plans to turn Guantanamo into a combination prison, courtroom, and execution chamber. Speedy justice. To be honest, I wasn't sure how trustworthy the sources were, and the "plans" sounded pretty tentative, so I hoped the story was just a bit of paranoia from the left. Uh-uh.

Via Beautiful Horizons, which does a great job of covering human rights issues, I discovered that there's opposition on the right to John Ashcroft's attempt to protect Unocal from a suit by Burmese citizens. Bravo! Go read Instapundit and Winds of Change on the issue.

"Even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man." -- Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom From Fear

Burma seems to have gotten the blogosphere's attention lately -- and the press's -- which is entirely a good thing. When it comes to human rights, publicity is one of the most important tools, and the detention (and possible injury) of Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (as well as other missing, detained and injured supporters) has, fortunately, gotten plenty of publicity. Significantly less than Laci Peterson, of course, but if you pay much attention to human rights stories, you have to be grateful for the times when they get as much attention as Burma is currently getting. The world is watching. So to speak. Taking into frustrating account the fact that the world has always had a short attention span when it comes to human rights.

There are, God help us, human rights violations the world is not watching at all.

I certainly wouldn't say I'm not worried about the situation in Burma, and about the safety of Suu Kyi. But the Burmese crackdown has many qualities that make it relatively easy to deal with. ("Relatively" being the operative word -- what's going on is undeniably frightening.) The first positive is Suu Kyi herself. If you're trying to gain the world's attention about a human rights violation, it always helps to have a charismatic, English-speaking, Western-educated, pro-democracy leader. (Photogenic doesn't hurt either.) It is easy for the world to care about someone as heroic and inspiring as Suu Kyi (or, similarly, Saad Eddin Ibrahim in Egypt -- not that we necessarily listen to such people, but we at least care about their safety). Publicity is a lot harder to get when the victims are poor, uneducated, anonymous, and have no articulate spokesperson.

Equally important, Burma has few powerful friends. There are advantages (or disadvantages, from the point of view of the junta) to having little strategic or economic value. Although the Bush administration has never shown much interest in the atrocities committed by the military government there, the outcry over Suu Kyi's arrest has been universal. It's not a liberal cause or a conservative cause, but a human one. All human rights cases ought to be like that, but unfortunately they're not.

George Bush, to his credit, called for Suu Kyi's release within days of her detainment. There have been calls for new sanctions by both the European Union and the United States, and support for the sanctions in Congress crosses party lines. (Just a word about sanctions and boycotts: They can, of course, and often do, backfire, hurting the very people they're intended to help. But in this case, the Burmese opposition has been unwavering in its support for economic action against the junta. Bishop Tutu recently compared the campaign to South Africa, where opposition leaders also called for sanctions, and where they aided the struggle to bring down apartheid. As in the case of South Africa, Western supporters aren't simply acting on their own, protecting their own delicate sensibilities by not doing business with a "bad" company or country -- admittedly, an occasional liberal failing. Unless someone can convince me they're wrong, I'll assume Suu Kyi and her supporters have the best understanding of what will help them the most. )

I expect whatever can be done to support Suu Kyi and the Burmese opposition will be done. That may not be much, but it's a lot more than can be achieved in the case of many human rights violations. (That does not, needless to say, release anyone reading this from the responsibility to contribute to the cause.)

The closest thing to support for Burma you'll find in powerful circles is in the Justice Department, where John Ashcroft has filed a brief to protect companies like Unocal from the legal consequences of aiding Burmese atrocities. It's a horrible message to be sending right now, and I hope that while the world's attention is focused on Burma, Ashcroft's move will be more publicized and so widely and loudly condemned that he's forced to back down. This is the time to stand up for human rights, not corporate rights. And as Jimm, over at Project for a New Century of Freedom demonstrates, Ashcroft may not be the only junta enabler in the Bush Administration. Unocal wasn't the only American company involved in the infamous Yadana pipeline case that Ashcroft is trying to cut off. Halliburton was there, too.

But that kind of "support" is limited and roundabout in comparison to the kind of support other human rights violators get. The situation in Burma is horrible, but it could be even worse.

Take Indonesia. (To be continued.)

Monday, June 09, 2003

I just discovered a wonderful idea for a human rights campaign.

Last year, George Bush not only unsigned the International Criminal Court treaty, he conducted a childish campaign to destroy it.

He didn't destroy it. The court came into existence -- without U.S. participation -- in July of last year, although American opposition is certainly a drawback.

Now here's the campaign: The ICC has set up a Victims Trust Fund to provide reparations for victims of atrocities in order to help them rebuild communities and continue with their lives. In and of itself, it's a good cause to donate to, but USA for ICC had an idea to make the donation even more effective. They're asking people who donate to make a copy of the check and mail it, along with a letter supporting the ICC and a foreign policy that takes human rights into consideration, to their senators. In doing so, you'll let your representative know that you care about human rights.

Today's Los Angeles Times has an editorial and two op-eds that are essential reading for anyone interested in human rights. The first deals with the Bush Administration's attempt to eviscerate the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreigners to bring suit in American courts for violations of international law, including human rights abuses. It's one of the few tools victims have, but it's being used to go after corporations that benefit from crimes against humanity -- in this case Unocal in Burma -- and holding businesses accountable is not popular in this administration:

By trumpeting the importance of human rights in public while quietly taking actions that shield the most egregious rights abusers from legal accountability, President Bush comes across as strong on human rights, without bearing the burden of sacrificing something for the cause.

If this administration truly cared about human rights values, it would praise the law for its ability to make abusers pay. It would abandon its line that human rights lawsuits ruffle too many diplomatic feathers, instead adopting a clear policy that U.S. courts must be tough on rights abusers and the governments that sponsor them. It would hold corporations to the ethical standards it has purported to support with rigor since a string of accounting scandals moved Bush to declare last July that "there is no capitalism without conscience."

The second piece, also focusing on the Justice Department's attack on the Alien Tort Claims Act, is by Ka Hsaw Wa, a Burmese immigrant, and co-founder and co-director of Earth Rights International, which is co-counsel in the Unocal case. He states eloquently the simple moral issues involved here:

In Burma, under the military dictatorship, stories of rape, summary execution, torture and forced labor are common. But in the Tenasserim region, where the population is largely ethnic Karen, those stories often involve a natural-gas pipeline run by the French company Total and California-based Unocal. These companies brought the military in to help clear the pipeline corridor and to provide security. The military made the lives of villagers miserable, even unlivable.

Villagers were forced to carry heavy loads for hours and to grow food for soldiers even though they hardly had enough for their own families. Young women were raped. Families and entire villages were relocated for the sake of the pipeline. When one villager fled from forced labor on the project, soldiers went to his home and kicked his wife so hard she dropped their infant daughter into a cooking fire. The baby later died.

The villagers I interviewed in the area consistently connected these abuses to the presence of Westerners and work on the pipeline. The Burmese soldiers committed these atrocities on behalf of their pipeline partners.


For our clients — the villagers I met while I was hiding from the Burmese regime — this law is the only hope for a modicum of justice. Burma, after all, does not have a functioning legal system. Crime and punishment is determined by the military alone.

Is it consistent with U.S. ethical sensibilities to allow an American company to aid and abet human rights crimes? If not, then the Unocal trial now scheduled to start in July in California should be allowed to go forward without interference from business or from the administration.

The op-ed piece raises important issues not only in its reminder of the American corporate connection to the current human rights problems in Burma, but also in its reminder that the human rights issues in that country don't center entirely around the saftety of Suu Kyi. She's the most visable symbol of the military government's repression. But even if she is released, the repression remains.

Finally, the LAT editorializes on the "shame" of Indonesia's brutal crackdown in the province of Aceh. The LAT gives the Bush Administration credit for trying to put pressure on Megawati Sukarnoputri, however, in the spirit of its two forceful op-eds today, it might also have mentioned that the same sort of suit that was brought against Unocal over its conduct in Burma, was also brought against ExxonMobil for human rights violations in Aceh. Bush and Company stepped in to protect the abusers in that case as well.

(More later on Burma and Aceh)

The Los Angeles Times picks up on a topic I mentioned on Saturday: the destruction of both public and private sectors in Iraq, which creates a world beneficial for foreign businesses, not for Iraqis.

Some experts express concern that free-market capitalism, while efficient at channeling money to its most productive use, may be too much, too soon for a country struggling to emerge from decades of failed central planning.

Nearly 500,000 Iraqis are losing government paychecks as the coalition dismisses Hussein's military forces, dissolves his Information Ministry and removes Baath Party loyalists from other agencies. Thousands more may join them as inefficient state-operated industries fall by the wayside.

Iraq's emaciated private sector will suffer casualties too. Some experts predict that home-grown merchants, traders, builders and service providers will be squeezed out by foreigners with more experience, deeper pockets and closer ties to the United States and its allies.

One industrious Iraqi, who tried to install a cellular telephone network and launch a commercial airline, was told by the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance that such activities were "subject to high-level approval, and remain off limits to upstarts for now." That sounds a lot like the Pentagon choosing who gets to compete. For the time being, at least, no Iraqis need apply.

But the news for hard-working and ambitious Iraqis is not all bad. The LAT reports that there's plenty of money to be made hustling Pepsi.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Hesiod found a really inspiring story: Abdel Mohsen Hammouda is an Egyptian political activist who's been suing the Egyptian repeatedly for decades, over various human rights issues. With each small victory, he expands the rights available in an extremely repressive country.

UPDATE: Jonathan Edelstein sees Abdel Mohsen Hammouda as part of an encouraging trend:

I noticed the article about the Egyptian civil rights lawyer a few days ago, and linked to it as part of a larger post about judicial reform in Egypt.  There's definitely something happening there - the ruling party has agreed to abolish the state security courts, and the Court of Cassation (constitutional court) has handed down several landmark civil rights and electoral rulings.  The most recently appointed CC judge, Tahani el-Gebali, is not only Egypt's first woman judge but a vocal member of the opposition who has made a career out of suing the government.  (No, I can't imagine Bush appointing someone like that either.)

I've followed Egyptian politics with a sometimes-morbid fascination for several years, and there's a great deal more to Egyptian civil society and rule of law than most people realize.  The lower courts are subject to a great deal of governmental interference, but the appellate courts -- particularly the Court of Cassation -- are famously independent.  In this, the CC sometimes reminds me of the Israeli Supreme Court - both live up to their own ideals more nearly than any other governmental institution in their respective countries.  Egypt is still a repressive society, but the signs these days are pointing in the right direction.

Someone explain the ethics of this to me: The Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center was left unguarded for several days, and was looted. There are two concerns growing out of that little catastrophe. One is the fear that terrorists could have gotten their hands on radioactive materials to produce dirty bombs. The second is concern about the health and safety of people in the surrounding area, who are showing symptoms of radiation poisoning.

Both, in my view, are pretty damn important.

It took awhile, but finally the Bushies have let inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency back into Iraq to inspect the damage. But under restrictions imposed by the British and American authorities, they won't be allowed to survey levels of contamination in surrounding villages.

Other than petulance or contempt for the health of Iraqis, is there an explanation for that restriction?

Leah, subbing at Eschaton, looks at the opening the war has created for privatizing Iraq's water supply.

In addition to all of Leah's interesting links on water privatization, you might want to look at this article on Bechtel -- which currently has the contract to repair Iraq's utilities -- and its history of "water woes."

The soft bigotry of low expectations
Maybe my expectations of my country are too high. No surprise there. I have high standards. God knows, my kids would surely tell you that I expect far too much from them (although most of the time they rise to the occasion).

But I refuse to apologize for the fact that I expect hard work, a sense of responsibility, decent conduct, honesty, kindness, and fairness from my brilliant and wonderful children. They deserve not to be sold short. And, with the same kind of love, I expect my brilliant and wonderful country to uphold democratic values, and, yes, to be responsible, honest, kind, decent, and fair. I wouldn't accept, "Hey, at least I'm not in jail," from my children, and I won't accept "Hey, at least America's better than the Baathists" from my country. My kids are capable of more than that, and so is my country.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Ha! I wish I had written this.

And this, too: Sex Tips From Donald Rumsfeld

Here's a pleasantly surprising stereotype buster: religious pluralism in Syria.

UPDATE: Jonathan Edelstein notes that Syria's "religious pluralism" doesn't extend to Jews.

God, no. You can't have Greg Boyle. We need him.

Just asking...
Is Lying About The Reason For War An Impeachable Offense?

"In the three decades since Watergate, this is the first potential scandal I have seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison. If the Bush Administration intentionally manipulated or misrepresented intelligence to get Congress to authorize, and the public to support, military action to take control of Iraq, then that would be a monstrous misdeed. " -- John Dean

Ex-Official: Evidence Distorted for War

The Bush administration distorted intelligence and presented conjecture as evidence to justify a U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to a retired intelligence official who served during the months before the war.

"What disturbs me deeply is what I think are the disingenuous statements made from the very top about what the intelligence did say," said Greg Thielmann, who retired last September. "The area of distortion was greatest in the nuclear field."

Thielmann was director of the strategic, proliferation and military issues office in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. His office was privy to classified intelligence gathered by the CIA and other agencies about Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear programs.

In Thielmann's view, Iraq could have presented an immediate threat to U.S. security in two areas: Either it was about to make a nuclear weapon, or it was forming close operational ties with al-Qaida terrorists.

Evidence was lacking for both, despite claims by President Bush and others, Thielmann said in an interview this week. Suspicions were presented as fact, contrary arguments ignored, he said.

Intelligence Historian Says CIA 'Buckled' on Iraq

The CIA bowed to Bush administration pressure to hype the threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs ahead of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, a leading national security historian concluded in a detailed study of the spy agency's public pronouncements.

"What is clear from intelligence reporting is that until about 1998 the CIA was fairly comfortable with its assessments on Iraq," John Prados wrote in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

"But from that time on the agency gradually buckled under the weight of pressure to adopt alarmist views," he said. "After mid-2001, the rush to judgment on Iraq became a stampede."

Bush Certainty On Iraq Arms Went Beyond Analysts' Views

During the weeks last fall before critical votes in Congress and the United Nations on going to war in Iraq, senior administration officials, including President Bush, expressed certainty in public that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, even though U.S. intelligence agencies were reporting they had no direct evidence that such weapons existed.

In an example of the tenor of the administration's statements at the time, the president said in the Rose Garden on Sept. 26 that "the Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons. The Iraqi regime is building the facilities necessary to make more biological and chemical weapons."

But a Defense Intelligence Agency report on chemical weapons, widely distributed to administration policymakers around the time of the president's speech, stated there was "no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing or stockpiling chemical weapons or whether Iraq has or will establish its chemical agent production facilities."

The disparities between the conviction with which administration officials portrayed the threat posed by Iraq in their public statements and documents, and the more qualified reporting on the issue by intelligence agencies in classified reports, are at the heart of a burgeoning controversy in Congress and within the intelligence community over the U.S. rationale for going to war. The failure of the United States to uncover any proscribed weapons eight weeks after the end of the war is fueling sentiment among some Democrats on Capitol Hill and some intelligence analysts that the administration may have exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq.

Some Iraq Analysts Felt Pressure From Cheney Visits

Vice President Cheney and his most senior aide made multiple trips to the CIA over the past year to question analysts studying Iraq's weapons programs and alleged links to al Qaeda, creating an environment in which some analysts felt they were being pressured to make their assessments fit with the Bush administration's policy objectives, according to senior intelligence officials.

With Cheney taking the lead in the administration last August in advocating military action against Iraq by claiming it had weapons of mass destruction, the visits by the vice president and his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, "sent signals, intended or otherwise, that a certain output was desired from here," one senior agency official said yesterday.

Amazing. Has all the bashing Judith Miller got for shoddy reporting from Iraq actually had an effect? Today she manages to say pretty definitively that the evidence that the two trailers found in Iraq were "mobile labs" is fanciful:

American and British intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence are disputing claims that the mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making deadly germs. In interviews over the last week, they said the mobile units were more likely intended for other purposes and charged that the evaluation process had been damaged by a rush to judgment.

"Everyone has wanted to find the 'smoking gun' so much that they may have wanted to have reached this conclusion," said one intelligence expert who has seen the trailers and, like some others, spoke on condition that he not be identified. He added, "I am very upset with the process."

The Bush administration has said the two trailers, which allied forces found in Iraq in April and May, are evidence that Saddam Hussein was hiding a program for biological warfare. In a white paper last week, it publicly detailed its case, even while conceding discrepancies in the evidence and a lack of hard proof.

Now, intelligence analysts stationed in the Middle East, as well as in the United States and Britain, are disclosing serious doubts about the administration's conclusions in what appears to be a bitter debate within the intelligence community.

Skeptics said their initial judgments of a weapon application for the trailers had faltered as new evidence came to light.

It must have been really painful for Judith Miller, of all people, to call the president a liar.

UPDATE: Gabriel, A Berkeley Economist Against Empire, doesn't think Judith Miller deserves the credit for a change of heart that I gave her.

John Ashcroft must be the meanest and most clueless man in America.

Meanest: The Justice Department barred gay and lesbian DOJ employees from holding a ceremony to celebrate Gay Pride Month because of a new policy prohibiting events not recognized by White House proclamation. A White House spokesman said this administration "does not believe we should be politicizing people's sexual orientation" and the president, unlike his predecessor, has not recognized Gay Pride Month. He has, however, recognized National Prayer Day. Sexual orientation is a personal matter, but prayer, as every good Republican knows, is entirely political.

Most Clueless: How out of it do you have to be to believe that when you're dealing with suicidal terrorists, the best weapon you have is increasing the number of crimes subject to the death penalty? Yeah, the prospect of death -- that will deter them.

A week ago, the New York Times published an article I found fascinating on the current economy of Iraq. I didn't post it because, having no understanding whatsoever of economics and business, I had nothing remotely intelligent to say about it.

And yet something about the article bothered me. It focused on what a great time this was for any Iraqis with money, because the country is being flooded with consumer goods from all over the world that weren't available under Saddam Hussein. Televisions, refrigerators, air conditioners, and satellite phones were pouring in so fast that the prices were rapidly dropping. Hoping to get even more stuff coming in, and " improve business and investment in Iraq," American officials planned a six-month tariff moratorium on imports.

The problem is that Iraqi manufacturers can't begin to compete with the imports. Their equipment is outdated. In some cases, factories were destroyed during the war. The NYT doesn't mention it, but the fact that electricity is still sporadic can't help either.

The NYT presented this situation as a "challenge" for the occupying power: "American officials are desperate to get people back to work. That goal will be badly frustrated, though, if Iraq's manufacturing enterprises crumble in the face of new competition." But a little voice in the back of my head was wondering how much of a problem this administration saw in an Iraq unable to rebuild its own economy, unable even to feed itself, an Iraq dependent on foreign imports and investment.

Naomi Klein had the same thought, and takes it a lot farther:

As the Bush Administration becomes increasingly open about its plans to privatize Iraq's state industries and parts of the government, Bremer's de-Baathification takes on new meaning. Is he working only to get rid of Baath Party members, or is he also working to shrink the public sector as a whole so that hospitals, schools and even the army are primed for privatization by US firms? Just as reconstruction is the guise for privatization, de-Baathification looks a lot like disguised downsizing.

Similar questions arise from Bremer's chainsaw job on Iraqi companies, already pummeled by almost thirteen years of sanctions and two months of looting. Bremer didn't even wait to get the lights back on in Baghdad, for the dinar to stabilize or for the spare parts to arrive for Iraq's hobbled factories before he declared on May 26 that Iraq was "open for business." Duty-free imported TVs and packaged food flooded across the border, pushing many stressed Iraqi businesses, unable to compete, into bankruptcy. This is how Iraq joined the global "free market": in the dark.

Paul Bremer is, according to Bush, a "can-do" type of person. Indeed he is. In less than a month he has readied large swaths of state activity for corporate takeover, primed the Iraqi market for foreign importers to make a killing by eliminating much of the local competition and made sure there won't be any unpleasant Iraqi government interference -- in fact, he's made sure there will be no Iraqi government at all while key economic decisions are made. Bremer is Iraq's one-man IMF.

And Iraq is going to be Disneyland for the greedy.

Friday, June 06, 2003

"Beans for the obedient; bullets for the rest."  -- Efrain Rios Montt

Yesterday, while looking for some explanatory links for Donald Johnson's letter, I came across a snippet of somewhat old and not terribly important news that is, nevertheless, ironic and revealing. It cuts to the heart of what's been wrong with American foreign policy for a long, long time.

Donald mentioned Ronald Reagan's support for Jose Efrain Rios Montt, the Bible-thumping Guatemalan dictator (and School of the Americas graduate) whose "scorched earth" campaign in the early '80s tortured and killed political opponents and razed Mayan villages, forcing people to live in the jungle, where many died of starvation, disease and hypothermia. During the terms of Rios Montt (1982-83) and his predecessor, Romeo Lucas Garcia (1978-82), tens of thousands of indigenous people were murdered, and over one million were displaced. The paired dictators represented the brutal peak of a 36-year civil war that killed 200,000 civilians, with the assistance of the United States:

Often referred to as the "Silent Holocaust", the campaign left 200,000 civilians dead at the hands of the military death squads, and 440 Mayan villages wiped from the map. Extreme torture became commonplace as a method of coercion and intimidation. The union movement in the capital was crushed, and the literacy and rural health movements were destroyed as well. Repression against leaders of the Catholic Church was so intense that nuns and priests were finally evacuated from the Mayan highlands, their abandoned Churches used as barracks and often torture centers by the military. Thousands of catechistas were "disappeared". Hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans either fled the country or fled inwards into the jungles, forming the CPRs, or civilian resistance populations. Many others chose to pick up weapons and leave for the mountains to join the U.R.N.G. forces.

The United States role throughout this time period was hardly illustrious. Despite the extreme and obvious repression, the U.S. continued to send massive military aid throughout most of the war. Even when such aid was temporarily suspended, arms and equipment supplies continued. The School of the Americas continued to train and graduate Guatemalan officers who became notorious for their human rights violations. Training manuals used clearly indicate practices which would violate human rights. Meanwhile, CIA officials worked closely with Guatemalan intelligence officers linked to death squad activities. Many such officers were on CIA payroll as "assets" or paid informants, despite their well known record for serious human right violations. The CIA, moreover, knowingly paid "assets" for information obtained through the use of kidnapping, torture and extrajudicial execution. Worse yet, it was not unusual for North Americans to enter areas where prisoners were being secretly detained and tortured, ask some questions, then leave the victims to their fates. The Red Cross, United Nations, police and family members were never notified.

Think of it as an "American Rwanda."

In 1999, Guatemala's UN-backed Truth Commission issued a report stating that 83% of identifiable victims of massacres and serious human rights violations during the civil war were Mayans and that the atrocities were a deliberate policy of the Guatemalan government. Only 3% of human rights violations were attributable to guerillas. Ninety-three percent were carried out by the state. It's very clear: General Efrain Rios Montt was responsible for genocide.

The Truth Commission also found that the United States knowingly gave Guatemala aid that supported the genocide.

That's the old news. Times have changed -- although far less so than one might wish. Two weeks ago, Guatemala's ruling party chose Rios Montt as its candidate in the November presidential elections. But this time, the U.S. is not pleased. Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman said that if Rios Montt were returned to the presidency, "Realistically, in light of Mr. Rios Montt's background, it would be difficult to have the kinds of relationship that we would prefer." Well, golly, why should there be a problem? Ronald Reagan praised Rios Montt as "a man of great personal integrity" who was "totally dedicated to democracy." Ronald Reagan's endorsement is not good enough for the Bush administration?

I would love not to be cynical here, and simply accept the good news that the current president does not support the same Christian terrorist some of his predecessors did. The problem is that in order for that to be a real step forward something hypocrisy-shattering would have to happen. We'd need to acknowledge our own complicity in the Guatemalan genocide and take steps to bring those responsible to justice, no matter how embarrassing to us that was. As Andrew Reding pointed out at the time of the Truth Commission report:

[The] embarrassing American connection is one reason the butchers of Guatemala remain untouchable while U.N.-supervised genocide trials are underway for similar atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia. None of the officials who made the policies and gave the orders has yet been tried and convicted for the genocide in Guatemala.

On the contrary, it is their accusers who remain at risk.

Bill Clinton "damn near" apologized for America's role in the atrocities, although he had to pretend that it was all in the past and should be forgotten. At least he gave the necessary historical records to the truth commission. George W. Bush has added records of that period to the long list of things he's covering up.

In order to move forward, George Bush, or someone speaking for him, would have to say, "You know what -- Reagan was wrong. Horribly wrong. But we are not going to continue doing what he did." To suggest, as Richard Boucher did, that we just couldn't bring ourselves to deal with a criminal like Rios Montt, that somehow we are far too noble to do so, without acknowledging that we did in fact have genocidal relations with that man, is morally obtuse. It's an attempt to claim credit for high human rights standards without admitting past sins and resolving to abstain from committing the same sins in the future.

But we can't do that, because the truth is, we keep committing the same sin. Contrition is noticeably absent. All that has happened with Rios Montt is that he has become far less useful than he was in the '80s. We're casting aside an embarrassing "friend" who can no longer help us. It takes astonishing gall to try to pass that off as virtue. Worse, the hypocrisy, the attempt to claim moral credit without contrition, insures that nothing will change.

And that brings me back to something Donald said yesterday: "We should never apologize for our democratic values.  We should apologize for being hypocritical about them and for invoking them as a kind of shield against legitimate criticism of our actual behavior." When we don't, the consequences come back to haunt us. The past doesn't go away just because you refuse to face it. The horrors continue. And victims don't forget.