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, July 28, 2003

Communing with the redwoods

I'll be gone all this week. Should be back at the computer on Saturday. In the meantime, I just added several good blogs to the top of the sidebar on my new TypePad site. And the old ones are great, too. There are also several interesting discussions going on over there, including a remarkably enlightening and civil -- keep it that way, okay? -- debate about Democrats and Greens.

Colonialist mentality watch

The natives are unbelievably shiftless, and lack initiative without our example to guide them.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

I just discovered a new factor in the California recall election. The recall won't be the only thing on the ballot. Ward Connerly's suspiciously financed , anti-affirmative action "racial privacy initiative" qualified last year to go on the ballot in the March 2004 primary. The initiative would stop state and local agencies from collecting racial statistics, except for medical research.

A poll taken a little over a year ago showed almost half of California voters supporting it. Eighteen percent were undecided. Tricky to fight, because it's superficially appealing -- who's against the concept of making race irrelevant? Especially in a minority majority state like California. But there are reasons for collecting such data:

I hate checking the box on government forms, but less out of concern for my privacy and more because of my desire for accuracy. As a Filipino American with a Spanish surname, I'm a demographer's nightmare. Asian? Hispanic? On the census, I mark "other" and write-in "Aspanic." But race information is more helpful than not. A short time ago, your humble columnist was stopped by a police officer for speeding. Principles of the free market do not extend to driving. After the standard ticketing process, the officer asked me about my race.

I was totally taken aback by the question -- angry, even (though perhaps I was more angered by the speeding ticket). Later, after successfully contesting the ticket in court (the officer hadn't used a calibrated radar gun), I learned that having law enforcement ask the racial question is the only way for the government to find out whether, over a period of time, the law stopped ethnic drivers more than whites. If we drive while color-blind, how will we know whether the CHP is protecting our rights or violating them?


That pretty much sums it up. A lot of bigotry shows up not in obvious incidents, but in patterns of discriminatory behavior. Without the data, you have no way of tracking it. Racism won't disappear, but fighting it will get harder.

Anyway, according to today's LA Times, the initiative has been kicked up to October, and will share the ballot with the recall.

Now that's interesting because turnout is crucial here. Talk radio is doing it's best to bring out the angry white guy vote. The "personalities" are appearing in paid ads. My question is, will the threat to affirmative action bring out progressives who won't rush to the polls only to support Davis?

Speaking of potential California gubernatorial candidates...

Max was right.

Anytime I say anything positive about Bush and Company, I end up eating my words later. But fools rush in...

The news that they're planning to triple the amount of aid to Afghanistan sure sounds like a good thing. The United States never had a better opportunity to contribute to the development of a democracy in an Islamic country than it had in Afghanistan, and we simply threw it away. I don't know if it's too late now to make up the difference, but it's certainly worth trying.

Now, the things that make me wary:
  • The money "is designed to fund projects that can be completed within a year to have maximum impact on the lives of the Afghan people before scheduled elections in October 2004."

    Coincidentally, we happen to have elections scheduled a month later. A few shiny new Afghan schools and training programs for women would show the president's enormous compassion. Will anyone notice if security is so lacking that no one can make any use of those schools or programs a few months later?

  • The money is "to be shifted from existing foreign and military aid accounts so as not to increase the deficit."

    I wouldn't blink at that if this administration didn't make a habit of shifting money around between aid programs in tricky ways. Promising money for AIDS relief in Africa, while simultaneously cutting food aid to the continent. Getting part of the money needed to rebuild Iraq by cutting our contribution to the World Food Program. The new money always makes headlines. The cuts go unnoticed.

  • "The administration hopes to hold another donors conference as part of the September meeting of the World Trade Organization in Cancun, Mexico, with the expectation that the new $1 billion aid package will inspire other countries to increase their contributions as well, one senior administration official said."

    Sounds good. Except the last time Bush challenged Europe to live up to our example when it comes to foreign aid, he used the occasion as an excuse to bash Europeans for denying starving Africans the benefits of genetically modified food. I hate to be this cynical, but I will not be the least bit surprised if Bush and Company suddenly discover hunger in Afghanistan, and insist they have the perfect solution. By the way, Iraq's "agriculture reconstruction efforts" will be led by Dan Amstutz, an expert at destroying agriculture in developing countries, and a former executive of the Cargill Corporation, which is a leading promoter of GM food.

  • And then there's just the fact that blatant lies set off my radar. Compare:

    In a speech in October, President Bush noted that the United States and 60 other countries had pledged $4.5 billion in aid to Afghanistan over five years at a donors conference in Tokyo and said "America is delivering on our pledge; we're writing our checks. We're currently implementing more than $300 million worth of reconstruction and recovery projects."


    And contrast:

    Although Congress authorized $3.3 billion in financial and military assistance to Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, a relatively small part of that amount has been spent. Testifying in June before the House International Relations Committee, Barnett R. Rubin, former special adviser to the United Nations on Afghanistan, said that $200 million in construction projects have been completed.


    I might have more faith in this new money for Afghanistan is the president was just a tad more honest about the old money. If you pledge 3 billion and end up spending 200 million, somebody's forgetting to sign some checks.

I have mixed feelings about the prospect of Arianna Huffington running for governor. Maybe my discomfort is just a matter of her style -- too slick, too celebrity-wanna-be. Maybe it's because I first got to know her as the conservative wife of my conservative congressman (who, by the way, is also running.), and I'm wary of political converts. Sometimes they're trustworthy; sometimes they're people with no core beliefs, always looking for something new. I don't know which kind of convert Arianna is. And while she's great with one-liners, that doesn't necessarily mean she has the skills to govern a state.

Then there's her love of vouchers. We don't need a governor who wants to take money away from public schools.

And then, I wonder if she has a chance. I wonder if her presence on the ballot would make people more likely to vote for the recall (which I think is a lousy way to run a government, however much I dislike Davis), and thereby hand the election to the Republicans. I wonder if anyone who snuck in with a small percentage of the vote, no party support in the assembly and senate, and inheriting our magnificent budget could do anything other than make speeches and flounder. I wonder if anybody can deal with this state's problems.

I wonder if anyone knows what they're talking about when they make predictions about this election, which is certainly weirder than any election I ever voted in.

But even though I definitely plan to vote no on the recall, and hope it fails (although I can't see very many people showing up at a special election, with nothing else on the ballot, for the sole purpose of saving Gray Davis's job), it would be nice to have someone to vote for on part 2 of that ballot, and on most issues Huffington is good. She obviously has much higher name recognition and more money than Peter Camejo, the Green Party candidate, who, in any case, seems willing to support Huffington if she decides to run, and apparently they're working together on a progressive response to this mess.

It's intriguing. Not surprisingly, people who are a lot less wary than I am have already set up a website to support her candidacy.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

George Soros has been reading Billmon. He will be running full page ads in the New York Times the St. Louis Dispatch, and the Houston Chronicle tomorrow with a list of a dozen Bush administration lies about the war. You can download a copy of the ad -- headlined WHEN THE NATION GOES TO WAR, THE PEOPLE DESERVE THE TRUTH -- here.

UPDATE: Oh, Jeez, I was kidding about Billmon, but check out the fine print.

I find it very hard to make sense of what Bush is doing in Liberia.

From today's New York Times:

President Bush gave orders today for a naval amphibious force that includes 2,300 marines to sail from the Mediterranean and nearby waters to a position off the coast of Liberia, but left vague what its specific mission would be.


So, we're sending more than 2,000 marines to somewhere in the vicinity of Liberia, but we don't know what they're going to do when they get there, or if we do know, we aren't telling anybody?

That's what I like about this gang -- straight-shooters who always know exactly what they're doing, the whole lot.

Okay, I really don't want to be snide or partisan about this, because the situation in Liberia is not one anyone should be playing politics with (although, God knows there are even worse crises that seem to have fallen completely off the world's radar), but it does look distinctly like Bush is attempting to have it both ways -- to get credit for intervening to save desperate people, while at the same time not actually doing anything. In typical Bush fashion, he seems to be grabbing credit for good-hearted rhetoric, while immunizing himself against criticism of the mission. Hard to criticize when you can't figure out what it is.

The Washington Post quotes an interesting display of Bushspeak in explaining the mission:

"We're deeply concerned that the condition of the Liberian people is getting worse and worse and worse," Bush said during a Rose Garden appearance with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. "Aid can't get to people. We're worried about the outbreak of disease. And so our commitment is to enable [the Economic Community of West African States] to go in."


We're deeply concerned about people in Liberia, and we plan to watch as Nigerians try to save them.

I admit, that's a bit harsh. The Pentagon, according to the NYT is talking about "providing logistical, intelligence and communications support" but what that means is that right now there don't seem to be any plans to get the marines off the ships. And Nigeria, to put it mildly, doesn't have the military capacity of the United States. Worse, history doesn't bode well here. ECOMOG (the West African peacekeeping force and military arm of ECOWAS) was formed in 1990, specifically to deal with the civil war in Liberia, but quickly began to take sides in the conflict. It doesn't have a stellar reputation for respecting human rights law.

If there's any good news in this, it's simply that the marines are there -- or will be in a week or so -- and will be able to do something if anyone in the administration figures out something for them to do. But it doesn't look like the Pentagon is exactly putting its best minds to work day and night trying to figure out a solution.

Not much has been offered, and Liberians know it. And so do the aid workers who are trying to help them:

For aid workers, there have been too many dashed hopes. "I'm not impressed," said Sam Nagbe of Oxfam. "The US is the world superpower. They have all the logistical and financial might. We expected them to be playing a leading role, not just sending a ship off the coast."


Since this is a blog post, not a book, I won't go into what a meaningful intervention would entail, but International Crisis Group has made a number of recommendations. Here is a whittled down version.

The key though, is that solving the problems in Liberia isn't just a matter of keeping warriors away from civilians for a few months. It would mean a long term commitment to dealing with the social and economic problems of the entire region, and it is hard to imagine Bush taking any real interest in that.

I find it very hard to make sense of what Bush is doing in Liberia.

From today's New York Times:
President Bush gave orders today for a naval amphibious force that includes 2,300 marines to sail from the Mediterranean and nearby waters to a position off the coast of Liberia, but left vague what its specific mission would be.


So, we're sending more than 2,000 marines to somewhere in the vicinity of Liberia, but we don't know what they're going to do when they get there, or if we do know, we aren't telling anybody?

That's what I like about this gang -- straight-shooters who always know exactly what they're doing, the whole lot.

Okay, I really don't want to be snide or partisan about this, because the situation in Liberia is not one anyone should be playing politics with (although, God knows there are even worse crises that seem to have fallen completely off the world's radar), but it does look distinctly like Bush is attempting to have it both ways -- to get credit for intervening to save desperate people, while at the same time not actually doing anything. In typical Bush fashion, he seems to be grabbing credit for good-hearted rhetoric, while immunizing himself against criticism of the mission. Hard to criticize when you can't figure out what it is.

The Washington Post quotes an interesting display of Bushspeak in explaining the mission:

"We're deeply concerned that the condition of the Liberian people is getting worse and worse and worse," Bush said during a Rose Garden appearance with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. "Aid can't get to people. We're worried about the outbreak of disease. And so our commitment is to enable [the Economic Community of West African States] to go in."


We're deeply concerned about people in Liberia, and we plan to watch as Nigerians try to save them.

I admit, that's a bit harsh. The Pentagon, according to the NYT is talking about "providing logistical, intelligence and communications support" but what that means is that right now there don't seem to be any plans to get the marines off the ships. And Nigeria, to put it mildly, doesn't have the military capacity of the United States. Worse, history doesn't bode well here. ECOMOG (the West African peacekeeping force and military arm of ECOWAS) was formed in 1990, specifically to deal with the civil war in Liberia, but quickly began to take sides in the conflict. It doesn't have a stellar reputation for respecting human rights law.

If there's any good news in this, it's simply that the marines are there -- or will be in a week or so -- and will be able to do something if anyone in the administration figures out something for them to do. But it doesn't look like the Pentagon is exactly putting its best minds to work day and night trying to figure out a solution.

Not much has been offered, and Liberians know it. And so do the aid workers who are trying to help them:

For aid workers, there have been too many dashed hopes. "I'm not impressed," said Sam Nagbe of Oxfam. "The US is the world superpower. They have all the logistical and financial might. We expected them to be playing a leading role, not just sending a ship off the coast."


Since this is a blog post, not a book, I won't go into what a meaningful intervention would entail, but International Crisis Group has made a number of recommendations. Here is a whittled down version.

The key though, is that solving the problems in Liberia isn't just a matter of keeping warriors away from civilians for a few months. It would mean a long term commitment to dealing with the social and economic problems of the entire region, and it is hard to imagine Bush taking any real interest in that.

Miracle of miracles! What do you know? Gray Davis is running as -- of all things -- a Democrat, and a progressive one at that:

Davis, who has sought in recent days to portray himself in a more liberal light, moving away from a carefully calculated image as a centrist, made his only public appearance with his wife, Sharon, at a battered-women's shelter in East Los Angeles. Surrounding himself with Latinas and speaking broken Spanish, Davis criticized a proposal by Assembly Republicans to cut money for such shelters to help pare down the state's $38-billion budget shortfall, painting himself as a defender of progressive social programs.

"Women need to know someone is on the other end of the phone when they call for help," the governor told counselors at the center, which established the first bilingual abuse hotline in California 27 years ago with aid from the state. "This race is really about changing directions, not changing governors," he added, suggesting again that the recall election amounted to a coup attempt by conservatives.

Signaling the governor's support from left-leaning organizations, a leading abortion rights group launched a nationwide e-mail campaign Friday condemning the recall, while environmental groups including the Sierra Club announced a Monday event to criticize the election as a threat to California's air and water.


There seems to be a plan here, although I'm not politically astute enough to judge whether it's a good one or not. But I must say I'm feeling like a crazy fundamentalist at a Republican convention. It is so nice to be pandered to.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Apparently the blues have passed (see the post below) and I feel like I have something I have to say -- albeit something brief.

I hate Green bashing. Democrats need to stop blaming Greens for everything and reach out to them. If you can't find a whole lot to agree with Greens on, you're so far outside the history of what the Democratic Party has always stood for that you shouldn't even call yourself a Democrat.

Dennis Kucinich has set the standard. Who's going to follow?

Blogger Blues

I gathered together a bunch of things I wanted to write about, looked at them all, and suddenly felt...well...dumb -- in both sense of the word. Speechless and stupid. I don't know if it's me or the news, but I suspect the former. I know ignorance isn't supposed to stop anyone from blogging, but awareness of my own ignorance seems to have cut off the supply of ideas and opinions to my brain, or at least the ability of those ideas and opinions to clasp hands and form a complete circle.

Fragments:

  • Back in May, Bush signed an executive order giving American oil companies operating in Iraq immunity from "any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment, or other judicial process" related to "all Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein." Which I guess makes the oil companies more powerful than the U.S. government, because, as an interesting article from Financial Times points out, the U.S. is constrained by a body of "occupation law" that was designed to discourage aggression by making the occupying power completely responsible for meeting the needs of the civilian population. Under international law, Iraqi civilians can bring civil and criminal actions against the occupying powers if they're needs aren't met. As long as the complaint isn't agaist the oil companies.

  • Richard Lugar says that before the war he asked people in the administration about the cost of reconstruction, but he always got the same answer, ''No problem -- oil, oil, oil.''

  • This is just a coincidence, right? Philip Carroll, a former chief executive of the American division of Royal Dutch Shell, heads the team that runs the Iraqi oil industry, and

    ....BP and Shell were among the first foreign companies to benefit from resumption of Iraqi oil exports when the country signed its first long-term supply contracts yesterday since the war was declared over....The Iraqi contracts indicate that the oil ministry believes that looting and sabotage at Iraqi oil facilities will not prevent it from honouring export contracts.....The news will also be seen as evidence that conditions in the country are becoming more stable.


    I guess it depends on how you define stability.

    It's tempting just to laugh at Bush and Company when they laud "Iraq successes" that most of us, thinking more in terms of how people are coping, don't see as terribly successful, but I guess it's all a matter of what you view as important.

  • On the other hand, some oil companies seem to think Bush, Inc. is so incompetent it can't even make the world safe for profit.

  • Did anyone read Seymour Hersh's latest in The New Yorker about how the Pentagon threw away useful sources of information on Al Qaeda because invading Iraq was a lot more important to them? Remind me again who we're supposed to be fighting.

  • Well, there's always fear and patriotism.

  • Idi Amin is feeling much better, thank you, although he does have a minor problem. I don't know why I found that interesting, except that with everybody celebrating the death of evil in Iraq, it seemed ironic to me that evil made a miraculous recovery in Saudi Arabia (in more ways than one). Evil makes a habit of doing that. As Elvis (the other one) once said, "That's what you get if you go chasing after vengeance."

  • And think vengeance is better than law.

  • There are alternatives.

Anyway, in case you've forgotten, tomorrow is the Blogathon and if you're not already sponsoring someone, please consider putting in a few dollars for Elayne, Eszter, Dustin, or MB, all of whom are giving up a lot of their time this weekend for some great causes. Good luck, guys.

Me, I'll be back when I think I have something worth saying, or re-acquire the audacity to say nothing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Consider how the Eli Lillies grow
Interesting revelation in the fight to allow Americans to import prescription drugs. With even Republicans supporting it, the drug companies are running scared, but they have one ally -- Christians. Or some group of people going by that name anyway.

The Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) portrays its campaign as a moral fight for the "sanctity of life." Documents provided to The Washington Post, however, show that drug lobbyists played a key role in crafting its argument and in disseminating the information to lawmakers. Pharmaceutical companies oppose the legislation -- which would legalize the reimportation of U.S.-made prescription drugs that sell for less in Canada than in the United States -- not over abortion but because it would erode their profits.

The bill, likely to be voted on this week, is popular with many lawmakers seeking to reduce the cost of medicine for older Americans without relying on government subsidies. Opponents say it would open the door to unsafe and less regulated drugs and drain profits that companies use, in part, to research and develop new medicines.

A recent TVC letter sent to Congress was signed by the coalition's executive director, Andrea Sheldon Lafferty. It was originally drafted, however, by Tony Rudy, a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies and a former top aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), computer records show. Lafferty also circulated a memo -- linking the legislation to RU-486's availability -- that was drafted by Bruce Kuhlik, a senior vice president at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a trade group funded by the nation's biggest pharmaceutical firms.


Interesting revelation in the fight to allow Americans to import prescription drugs. With even Republicans supporting it, the drug companies are running scared, but they have one ally -- Christians. Or some group of people going by that name anyway.

The Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) portrays its campaign as a moral fight for the "sanctity of life." Documents provided to The Washington Post, however, show that drug lobbyists played a key role in crafting its argument and in disseminating the information to lawmakers. Pharmaceutical companies oppose the legislation -- which would legalize the reimportation of U.S.-made prescription drugs that sell for less in Canada than in the United States -- not over abortion but because it would erode their profits.

The bill, likely to be voted on this week, is popular with many lawmakers seeking to reduce the cost of medicine for older Americans without relying on government subsidies. Opponents say it would open the door to unsafe and less regulated drugs and drain profits that companies use, in part, to research and develop new medicines.

A recent TVC letter sent to Congress was signed by the coalition's executive director, Andrea Sheldon Lafferty. It was originally drafted, however, by Tony Rudy, a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies and a former top aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), computer records show. Lafferty also circulated a memo -- linking the legislation to RU-486's availability -- that was drafted by Bruce Kuhlik, a senior vice president at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a trade group funded by the nation's biggest pharmaceutical firms.


Getting to the bottom of Yellowcakegate

The janitor did it.

Let's Do The Time Warp Again
I know I'm way behind on this story -- You don't really expect me to keep up on all the twists in turns in the yellowcake saga, do you? I mean, I do have a life, you know, and this administration turns out fiction faster than Joyce Carol Oates -- but the most recent version I've heard is that Stephen Hadley, a deputy to Condoleeza Rice, says it's all his fault. In October, he received memos from the CIA on the agency's doubts about the intelligence, and even discussed the matter with George Tenet, but when the garbage leaked into the SOTU address -- oops! It just slipped his mind completely. This is a guy known for his "fanatical attention to detail."

Is anyone surprised that his other career accomplishments include serving as counsel to the Tower Commission, and writing much of the report that exonerated Ronald Reagan and George I in the Iran-Contra scandal?

Career Planning 101: Providing Excuses for the Boss.

Conversation with a Republican friend responding to the bumper sticker on my car

Him: So you're for Dean?

Me: Sort of. We need a fighter. If a better one comes along, the bumper sticker's gone. Dean's really pretty far to my right?

Him: To your right?

Me: He's not a leftist, although the media spins it that way. He's pro-death penalty, anti-gun control...

Him: Sounds like my kind of guy.

Me: In some ways, more yours than mine. The only reason anyone has him pegged as a liberal is that he's been stronger on civil liberties and the war than anybody except Kucinich, and Kucinich isn't really....

Him: And, well, you know, the gay thing...

Me: Howard Dean is gay?

Him: I don't think so. But he's in favor of gays.

Me: In favor? You mean, like they should be allowed to exist? That doesn't make him liberal, that makes him human.

Him: It doesn't win elections.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

In June, 1972, I was sitting on the ground at an anti-war rally in People's Park, in Berkeley, when someone came to the podium to announce that George Wallace had just been shot. I'm not sure how many people reading this are old enough to remember Wallace as anything other than a black and white photo in a history book, or are able to summon up the visceral hatred his name evoked in anyone who cared about justice, and if you're not old enough to remember that, you also probably aren't old enough to remember the "oh, shit, not again" feeling that ran through Americans hearing about one more political shooting, after a damn decade of them.

You'll have to take my word for it that "complicated" doesn't come close to describing the web of feelings.

Everyone in the park was silent. Music came out of an apartment across the street, music that had been drowned out seconds before. I hate to admit it, but I can dredge the colors and sounds of that moment up out of my memory, the same way I remember hearing about the Kennedys and Dr. King.

I remember exactly where I was the moment I heard about the shooting of George Wallace.

I'd rather I didn't.

I suspect I wouldn't remember if it hadn't been for what happened a few minutes later. Someone just to my right, a blond, shirtless someone, began to applaud. And then a few others joined him. Not many, but enough to make me wonder what kind of peace movement applauded someone -- anyone, even George Wallace -- getting shot.

All I can say is that when you're nineteen, maybe it's good to learn that not everyone on your side is necessarily nice. But it seemed to me that the violence of the decade we'd all just lived through had twisted some people into depressing shapes. The applause seemed to say something very bad about the times and what they had made us.

I don't know. That old memory came to mind today.

The National Library of Iraq.

Yesterday I was complaining about Bush's confusing and indecisive policy on Liberia. The "ambivalence continues, even after a day in which the death toll in Monrovia may have gone over 600, and humanitarian workers warned of a "doomsday scenario."

Today Liberal Oasis has a clear-eyed post -- with lots of worthwhile links -- on how Bush's confusion has made the situation in Liberia more dangerous. In sum, "Mr. Moral Clarity half-assed it."

In an editorial today, the Washington Post concurs:

Put on the spot on the eve of his tour of Africa, President Bush promised that the United States would help but didn't offer specifics; instead, he dispatched a team to study the situation. His pledge, which was greeted with joy and hope in Liberia, now looks empty. Several weeks have passed, the presidential tour has come and gone, and there has been no real movement toward sending a mission. Perceiving the administration's lack of seriousness, Liberian rebels have launched another bloody offensive in the streets of Monrovia, and embattled President Charles Taylor has again reneged on promises to give up power. Yesterday shells fell on the U.S. Embassy compound and scores of innocent civilians were killed and wounded in fighting around the city. It was carnage that might have been prevented had President Bush responded to the international appeals with real leadership instead of dilatory rhetoric.


A sentiment one young Monrovian, carrying a sign reading G. Bush Killer Liberia would probably endorse.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times deals with the ways in which Bush's indecisiveness have made things more dangerous not only for Liberians, but for any troops that try to go in now.

Is there anyone left who thinks this administration knows what it's doing when it comes to foreign policy?

Monday, July 21, 2003

Mortar fire hit the U.S. Embassy in Liberia today.

It surprises me how little I've read in blogs about the situation in Liberia, despite the fact that we seem to be edging into a war there. Maybe it's too complicated, and doesn't lend itself to partisanship. Maybe. Howard Dean has called for 2,000 American troops to be sent to Liberia (and Rush Limbaugh excoriated him as a hypocrite for doing so -- but you'll have to take my word for it, because Rush wants $50 before he'll let you soil his archives with your nasty liberal eyes). The New York Times has called for "up to" 800 American troops to lead a multinational force. Peter Beinart wrote the most interesting (but, to me, not persuasive) case for American involvement in The New Republic. And there's been some conservative opposition. But I don't have the feeling there are neat ideological divisions on this issue. I suspect the reason I haven't seen much written about Liberia is that most people are pretty much where I am on the subject.

I don't know wtf to do.

I don't think George Bush knows wtf to do either. We're sending troops. We're not sending troops until Charles Taylor leaves. Taylor agrees to leave, but vows to return after a brief "cooling-off period." We won't send American troops until a "sufficient" force of troops from neighboring West African countries is deployed. Nigerian troops are on their way? Great. We'll send 41 Marines to guard our embassy. But only after we've gotten immunity from prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

Jeez. Everybody's having problems getting immunity these days.

Bush's plan for Liberia: Once all the problems are solved, we'll send troops. If we have any to spare.

Liberia offers Bush a promising distraction from current events in Iraq. Initially, at least, American troops would be greeted with cheers. The problem, as with Iraq, is that he'd have to deal with day two.

Tom Quinn, a Doctors Without Borders nurse working in Monrovia has been keeping a diary posted at the BBC:

There are so many spent bullet cartridges on the road that you have the sensation of driving over marbles, and in the northern suburbs the streets are absolutely empty save for wired-looking kids with guns.

And rotting bodies. It's eerie.

Back in the camps we're greeted with the same dancing and singing as always but the people are losing hope.

They live in constant fear and at the mercy of armed gangs that sweep through their shelters, stealing what little they have and raping their women.

The only end they can see to this living hell is if the international community decides to send troops to halt the bloodshed.


I find that a lot more persuasive than Beinart's neo-colonialist argument that we have a peculiar responsibility for Liberia, just as Britain did in Sierra Leone, and France in Côte d'Ivoire. Our Africans. Their Africans. That whole way of looking at it disturbs me deeply.

I'm still stuck: WTF can we do?

With enough troops, stabilize the situation in Monrovia, maybe. Protect the refugees (about one-third of the country is now living in the capital -- in conditions like this) and the humanitarian workers who are struggling to meet their needs.

And then what?

Is anyone going to celebrate the departure of Charles Taylor if the alternative is LURD?

Beinart cites the success of intervention in Sierra Leone as reason for hope in Liberia, but that relative success requires a long commitment and co-operation with the U.N.

Bush? Forget it.




Sunday, July 20, 2003

Do you know how bad the intelligence about uranium from Niger was?

Via CalPundit, and the LA Times, I just learned that it's source was an Italian journalist named Elisabetta Burba, who works for the weekly Panorama. But Panorama -- which, by the way, is owned by Silvio Berlusconi (yes, that Silvio Berlusconi), and which is not exactly a news source with high standards -- didn't print the story because it seemed fake. Nevertheless, after "discussions" at the magazine -- did I mention its owner was Silvio Berlusconi? -- Burba brought the Niger documents to the U.S. Embassy.

I'm not sure which is worse -- that our standards for intelligence are below those of Sussuri e Gossip, or that the information was passed on by someone working for the King of Denial.

Note to reporters: Berlusconi happens to be here, and there are some questions that need to be asked. These aren't the questions.

Comments?

Judith Miller: The weapons were there, but the plans for finding them were chaotic and the Pentagon was reluctant "to make the mission an urgent priority."

Send Ahmad home, dear. There are people you don't need in your life. Make yourself a nice cup of chamomile, and ask yourself: Might there be a reason the Pentagon didn't make finding weapons an urgent priority?

Reading, this week, about the House's decison to block UNFPA funding because of fear-mongering about the money being used to support China's one-child policy, which can lead to coercive abortions, one thing I didn't doubt is that China had an enforced one-child policy. But an article in today's NYT, on the sale of baby girls in one rural Chinese province, undercuts that assumption. For the most part, the law seems to be ignored:

What is distinctive about Guangxi and seems to have given rise to the spirited baby trade here is a strict enforcement of China's so-called one-child policy, which these days is only halfheartedly followed by officials in other places.

In neighboring Guangdong Province, for example, families with four or five children are common in many rural areas, and families who want more than their allotted quota simply ignore the limits without penalty or pay the government's modest fines.


If true, that means that we're robbing women in Afghanistan of maternity hospitals, women in Iraq of obstetric care supplies, victims of rape and brutality in Sierra Leone of counseling and medical care, all in response to a policy which seems to be fading away in any case.

The moral reasoning behind this escapes me.

Bush had no intelligence
Pity the poor New York Times, which has plenty of fine reporters, and uncovers stuff other papers miss, but is so committed to defending the actions of the powerful that it often doesn't know what to do with the stuff it gets.

Witness this article on the poor Bushies, "blinded" by the almost total lack of intelligence coming out of Iraq after 1998. Is is any wonder the poor dears were "left grasping for whatever slivers they could obtain, like unconfirmed reports of attempts to buy uranium, or fragmentary reports about the movements of suspected terrorists." They're only human, after all, and did the best that could be expected with the minimal information they had. Some of that information was a decade old.

Of course, in order to accept the NYT's interpretation, you'd have to believe that the soulution to a lack of information is to attack the country you don't know much about. A simpler answer would be that you need more information. The kind that, say, U.N. weapons inspectors might have supplied.

Ah, if only Saddam had allowed the inspectors in.

And if you weren't concerned with justifying the decisions of the powerful, you might ask why people without any new information were implying that they had loads of new information, better than anything the dumb, old U.N. had. Why were they faking it?

I don't know any powerful people. So I'm asking.

Dana Milbank is a jewel. Is any other professional reporter looking closely not only at the lies about uranium, but at the whole pattern of "exaggerated intelligence" (lacking any back-up from the CIA) that has been pouring out of the White House the past year?

More Milbanks, please.

UPDATE: It's not the news section, but the NYT has a good op-ed going after the other big lie: the alleged ties between Saddam and al-Qaeda.

Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon make the important point that discussing the lie is important not just because it reveals Bush's fanciful approach to facts, but because for our own safety, it's important not to blur the distinction between deterrable state-sponsored terrorism and that of religious fanatics.

Do I have this right?

One of the reasons the war in Iraq was so short (not counting the post-war war, of course) is that it actually started in mid-2002? Not just airstrikes to protect the no-fly zone, which everybody knew about, but attacks that "laid the foundation for the military campaign against the Baghdad government?"

According to the New York Times, the administration turned down a plan for a "major attack" shortly after it assumed power in early 2001, but the strategy changed toward the end of the year, and the military began building a plan to "weaken the Iraqi air defenses," which they began to carry out the middle of the following year.

And is this supposed to make us feel better?

Air war commanders were required to obtain the approval of Defense Secretary Donald L. Rumsfeld if any planned airstrike was thought likely to result in deaths of more than 30 civilians. More than 50 such strikes were proposed, and all of them were approved.


Up to thirty is okay?

Friday, July 18, 2003

Personally, I'm a native Catholic speaker, but I'm fluent in Baptist as well, and I'm working on my Buddhist. I wonder if John Kerry speaks Jewish.

A small victory for independent humanitarian aid groups working in Iraq, although it's amazing that this ever arose as an issue:

Bush and Company were trying to force NGOs in Iraq to get approval before they talked to reporters. According to the LA Times, "some aid workers said they saw the request as an attempt by the Bush administration to use its financial clout to make the groups serve U.S. foreign policy in Iraq." I'd say that's an understatement. They'd also like to see fewer stories like these:


Silence is golden. Especially if there are things you'd rather no one talked about.

We've been hearing a lot lately about the politicizing of intelligence. The politicizing of humanitarian aid by this administration has been an equal outrage. Trying to control what aid workers tell reporters ought to be a scandal. But there are too many other outrages for this to shock many people.

Anyway, the NGOs balked, and they worked out a compromise. If this were a different administration, I'd argue that asking NGOs to report media contacts after the event was also unreasonable. But under the circumstances, I'll celebrate the little crack in their control.

Quel scandale!

Bush administration officials have sought to limit the influence of other countries in the Iraq reconstruction, fearing that shared power could interfere with their effort to build a free-market, democratic state at the center of a new Middle East.


What a bizarre sentence! It must be really hard for journalists to translate Bush reasoning into comprehensible English. Am I supposed to take it that any countries that might be able to help secure and rebuild Iraq are against free markets and democracy? India isn't a democracy? France and Germany are anti-capitalist?

Maybe the fear of sharing power has something to do with how this administration defines free markets and democracy?

The LA Times fronts a long, detailed article on all the screw-ups in the occupation of Iraq -- late starts on planning, failure to anticipate some pretty obvious problems, the usual agency infighting and lack of co-ordination, too few boots on the ground, rosy scenarios. Basically, Bush and Company were Chalabied about what to expect after the war. It's long, but well worth reading. Because of the dreamy-eyed incompetence of this administration, people in Baghdad still lack electricity and clean water.

But focusing on the reasons for the "mistakes," I think, threatens to make us lose sight of a more important point. Bush and his friends are inept colonialists, and I suppose a competent colonialist would be an improvement. At least people would be safe. But isn't the main point that there's no such thing as a good occupation?

UPDATE: My eyes must have glazed over at the end of the article. I missed this:

Still, he and other Pentagon officials said, they are studying the lessons of Iraq closely — to ensure that the next U.S. takeover of a foreign country goes more smoothly.

"We're going to get better over time," promised Lawrence Di Rita, a special assistant to Rumsfeld. "We've always thought of post-hostilities as a phase" distinct from combat, he said. "The future of war is that these things are going to be much more of a continuum....

"This is the future for the world we're in at the moment," he said. "We'll get better as we do it more often."


Fortunately, Atrios has better eyes than I do.

Iraqi security
So basically the plan is rent-a-cops?

I'm getting a bit peeved with the press's use of the phrase "flawed intelligence" to describe the uranium story. You can make a case that Bill Clinton took military action on flawed intelligence, and that itself is contemptible. But there is a world of difference between the irresponsibility of acting without adequate proof, or having evidence that's open to varying interpretations, and choosing the wrong interpretation, and knowing something is a lie, spreading the lie despite what you know, and pressuring other people, who also know the truth, to back you up. In today's Salon, Ray McGovern, who worked as a CIA analyst under seven presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, suggests that the manipulation of intelligence in this case was worse than Tonkin.

I know I'm being picky. I know the important part of the linked LA Times story is the revelation that a senior White House aide haggled with the CIA over the language they could get away with and still get something everyone knew was a lie into the State of the Union speech (and I'm waiting for the press to ask who put Robert Joseph up to those negotiations). But phrases stay with people. And if this one takes hold, people are left with an image of poor George Bush, forced to make life and death decisions without all the information he needed. And that, like the uranium story, is garbage. And people are starting to realize it.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

A couple of months ago, Nicholas Kristoff wrote a powerful piece in the New York Times on obstetric fistulas, a horrible condition that destroys the health and lives of women in the developing world. As Kristoff noted, the primary sponsor of programs to prevent and treat fistulas is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

It does a lot more than that, supporting health care, family planning, and education for women in places where all of those things are lacking. As Colin Powell once said, "UNFPA does invaluable work through its programs in maternal and child health care, voluntary family planning, screening for reproductive tract cancers, breast-feeding promotion and HIV/AIDS prevention." It's one of the most worthwhile investments this country makes.

Sorry. Made.

A narrow majority of House members voted yesterday to block $50 million in international family planning funds, contending that the program bolsters China's coercive population control policy.


For a hint of the reasoning behind this, read Kathryn Jean Lopez in the National Review Online:

In a report issued earlier this year, the State Department found that forced abortion and sterilization policies exist in 32 countries where the UNFPA has operations. Questions are raised annual by the State Department and private groups about the extent of UNFPA involvement with some of those programs.


In fact, the State Department came to the conclusion that UNFPA programs worked to turn countries away from the strict targets that led to coercive abortions and sterilization. And as for those "private groups" -- well.

UPDATE: Don't miss Ampersand's decimation of Lopez's argument.

Comments?

I must admit, everything I know about Bill Pryor's Court of Appeals nomination I learned from Sam Heldman. It's one of those topics I really ought to know more about, but can't quite wrap my brain and my righteous indignation around. I just let Sam get indignant for me.

At least I don't need to tax my brain with legal intricacies to get mad about this:

GOP Attorneys General Asked For Corporate Contributions

Republican state attorneys general in at least six states telephoned corporations or trade groups subject to lawsuits or regulations by their state governments to solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions, according to internal fundraising documents obtained by The Washington Post.

One of the documents mentions potential state actions against health maintenance organizations and suggests the attorneys general should "start targeting the HMO's" for fundraising. It also cites a news article about consolidation and regulation of insurance firms and states that "this would be a natural area for us to focus on raising money."

The attorneys general were all members of the Washington-based Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). The companies they solicited included some of the nation's largest tobacco, pharmaceutical, computer, energy, banking, liquor, insurance and media concerns, many of which have been targeted in product liability lawsuits or regulations by state governments.

The documents describe direct calls the attorneys general made, for example, to representatives of Pfizer Inc., MasterCard Inc., Eli Lilly and Co., Anheuser-Busch Cos., Citigroup Inc., Amway Corp., U.S. Steel Corp., Nextel Communications Inc., General Motors Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Shell Oil Co., among other companies. They also make clear that RAGA assigned attorneys general to make calls to companies with business and legal interests in their own states.

One of those soliciting funds between 1999 and 2001, according to the documents, was Alabama Attorney General William Pryor Jr., a pending nominee by President Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Sources said that a former RAGA employee recently turned some of the fundraising documents over to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which could vote as early as today on his nomination. A source who asked not to be named provided the documents to The Post.

............edit............

All funds collected by RAGA were passed to the Republican National Committee -- without any public link to the attorneys general who made the solicitations -- and then disbursed to campaigns by the attorneys general and other candidates, the documents indicated. The group does not file public disclosure statements.

The documents state that in return for contributions, company officials would be entitled to meet with the attorneys general, participate in conference calls with them and socialize with them. As of Feb. 22, 2000, the group had collected $235,000 from 21 firms, received promises of $188,500 from 24 other firms, and was soliciting funds from an additional 114 firms, the documents state.

RAGA was founded by Pryor and the Republican National Committee with the explicit aim of soliciting funds from the firearms, tobacco and paint industries and other industries facing state lawsuits over cancer deaths, lead poisoning, gunshots and consumer complaints, according to statements by Pryor and other officials.

Pryor, who did not return a phone call to his Alabama office seeking comment yesterday, has told reporters that he does "not want corporations to be punished" by trial lawyers and favors a "market-oriented" approach to state law enforcement. He has also said that contributions do not influence legal decisions by RAGA members.

In the documents, Pryor is described as phoning Philip Morris Inc. and Brown & Williamson in 1999 to obtain $25,000 "Roundtable" memberships in RAGA from each company. He also is described as phoning Boeing Co., BP/Amoco, GTE Corp., AT&T Corp., MCI Communications Corp., SouthTrust Bank and other firms, including some in Alabama, and collecting an additional $75,000.

The two tobacco companies were parties to a $2.6 billion liability settlement reached in 1998 with 26 state attorneys general, including Pryor. In a written statement following his June 11 confirmation hearing, Pryor said he was unaware of any funds RAGA solicited or collected from companies in Alabama. He also told Congress he did not know whether any tobacco companies were RAGA members....(More)


Does the Republican Party have to make an effort to find these people, or do they have an infinite supply of the ethically challenged to draw on?

Comments?





Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Can we all agree that Ahmed Chalabi is one of the slimiest brown-nosers anyone has ever encountered? Check out this report from Salam Pax on the Iraqi governing council's first meeting:

They sat in that semi-circle, smiling nervously, with the exception of Mr Chalabi, who looked very relaxed. For some reason, at the end of the conference he went to the edge of the podium and took a bow in front of Paul Bremer, which was a bit strange as they were dodging questions about what powers they actually had in their hands and whether Bremer would have the right to veto any of their decisions.


What is that all about? Bowing before the emperor?

Chalabi is scary. But there's a good piece in today's Guardian on why it isn't reasonable to view the entire council as puppets.

Don't get me wrong. I think Bush and Company would be quite pleased to have a puppet government in there if they could manage. They don't want to keep American troops there forever. They want out. They just want out on their terms -- which I suspect has a lot less to do with a "democratic" Iraq (not that that wouldn't be nice, but I don't think it's high on the priority list), than with insuring that the right decisions are made about privatizing the oil industry, and that those decisions can't be undone. Getting that might just prove beyond them, though. My favorite comment on the topic so far comes from Leah, summering at Eschaton, who said, "It's just possible that the Iraqi people may save the Bush administration from the worst consequences of its own arrogance and incompetence."

Are you listening, God?

I don't know how likely it is, but it's possible, and right now that's what I'm praying for -- uppity Iraqis, preferably Iraqis who are not so divided among themselves that they waste all their energy on internal squabbles and have none left over to offer any real challenge to the occupation. (Anybody but me wonder whether the "diversity" on the council reflected an awareness that it's easier to control people who can't get along with one another? Just wondering.)

UPDATE: Tacitus is also impressed by Leah's post. I'm impressed that Tacitus is impressed.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Okay, here's a bit of information that came as a surprise to me -- Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the SCIRI leader who expressed some fiery opposition to the occupation, and whose cooperation with the governing council was supposed to be hard-won, "has close ties with the other U.S.-backed groups that opposed Saddam, including the Kurds and Chalabi's INC." Honestly, I had him pegged as the anti-Chalabi, although scary in his own way. Anyone know any more about this?

ONE MORE UPDATE: Curioser and curioser. Juan Cole noted last week that there was a message on al-Hakim's web page that he was backing down from his earlier opposition to serving on the council, and that he "was apparently convinced to join Bremer's appointed governmental council by Ahmad Chalabi." (Via Karmalized)

The 36 Lies That Launched A War
I haven't counted the words, but I know it's more than sixteen, and no matter how you twist things, you can't blame Tenet for all of them.

Meanwhile, Joe Conason has either caught Bush in a senior moment, or another lie.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Maybe I spoke too soon.

Awhile back I expressed some admiration for Bill Gates' philanthropic work, which attracted plenty of controversy. The main objection was that Gates' actions were simply ameliorative -- that he made a fortune in a lousy system and then made himself look good by giving away a piece of it, without doing anything to change the lousy system. The reason I didn't buy that argument was, first, that his form of amelioration is pretty damn important, and second, that while Gates may be ruthless, and his way of doing business may hurt his competitors, I didn't see it contributing to what he was so showily attempting to fix. I'm all too aware of companies that make enormous contributions toward increasing the misery in the world and then court good p.r. by making small contributions toward decreasing the same misery. May they rot in Hell. In gilded cloaks with lead lining. I just didn't see Microsoft, or Gates, fitting into that pattern.

Live and learn.

Greg Palast is a lot less impressed by Gates' philanthropy than I was. And his anti-Gates argument is the only one I've found convincing: Gates' business contributes to the very diseases his foundation fights.

Nothing stands in the way of fighting AIDS, and other diseases in the developing world, as much as patent protection. I have lots of reasons for not trusting George Bush's trumpeted program for fighting AIDS in Africa, but one of the main ones is his commitment to protecting drug company patents at the expense of people's lives. Eliminating those protections would free up an awful lot of money. But that would mean saying no to friends.

Palast, responding to a New York Times puff piece on Gates, argues that Gates is part of the same deal. TRIPS keeps people in Africa from getting generic AIDS medicines. TRIPS makes Bill Gates rich. And there's a strong case to be made, I think, that Gates could make a bigger contribution to fighting AIDS by speaking out against the very "intellectual property" rights that enrich him than by giving away even a substantial portion of his money.

(Thanks to Tim for the link.)

"American interests": A desultory philippic (which sounds so much nicer than "a rant")

What does the phrase "American interests" mean?

That question's been bugging me for years, since the first time I heard a college Republican kid argue that anti-sweatshop protesters hated America and American interests. That made no sense whatsoever to me, until it hit me that to the speaker, "American interests" meant anything that contributes to the profits of US-based businesses. That was the only way criticizing Nike or the Gap could be called -- as it was -- un-American. That's obviously George Bush's definition of "American interests" as well (although his phrasemakers would never allow him to put it quite as crudely as the young Bush wannabe did), and events have -- God help us -- given him the opportunity to put plenty of weapons at the service of that vision.

I probably don't need to say that it's not my vision. I don't see how my interests are served by insuring that it's American businesses -- not French or German ones -- who get to exploit people in the developing world (not to mention the difficulty of defining what is an American company nowadays). Am I just supposed to be thrilled that Occidental and Bechtel are on the same team I am? Sort of like high school -- we all sit in the bleachers and yell rah rah, our side's winning?

Sorry. I seem to have misplaced my pom poms.

The thing is, that isn't all that's involved in "American interests." A few days ago, I was reading this essay in Time, and the phrase came up in a different, but no less disturbing way.

Notwithstanding the role the U.S. played in establishing the country, if you think what happens in Liberia is of the slightest importance to American interests, conventionally defined, you've spent too long away with the fairies.



Tinkerbell and I beg to differ. The conservative argument against peacekeeping missions -- exemplified by this Heritage Foundation piece opposing American intervention in Liberia -- has always been that we can't solve other people's problems and shouldn't try. It's none of our business. It's not in our interest.

That's an enticing point of view. It has the undeniable advantage -- if held to consistently, and obviously conservatives have not been consistent -- of keeping us out of unnecessary wars. Yet there has always seemed to me to be less modesty in that philosophy than failure of empathy. Yes, given a choice between the George Bush who ran in 2000 as a candidate opposed to American intervention even in a case like Rwanda, and the reckless president who intervenes for....for what? The casus belli has shifted so many times in recent months, I suspect the reason for war my third-grader will be reading in her history books when she gets to high school will be something I can't even imagine now. But given a choice between the two Bushes, I'd take the old, non-interventionist one, of course. Still, I'd be very suspicious of his reasons for turning away from suffering.

See, I do think that alleviating suffering is not just a moral duty, but it's in American interests as well. "American interests," in this case, defined as mine and yours and our children's, not necessarily Bechtel's and Unocal's. And it seems to me extremely important to reiterate that American interests, the interests of ordinary Americans, that is, often diverge from those of American businesses. My favorite nun has said several times that Americans are stunned at how much anger people feel toward us, stunned because we think they look at American and see us -- nice people, most of us, if you just overlook John Ashcroft, and a few others -- but when a lot of people around the world think of America, they think of its local face: Nike. (Nike is her personal dragon -- fill in your own least favorite corporation, if you wish.) Nike's practices anger people, and unfortunately that anger gets directed not just at Nike, but at all of us. Because we're on the same team, right? It's an over-simplification (I warned you I was going to rant), but poverty and pain and corruption and oppression and social breakdown and "failed states" all make us less safe. It's in "American interest" to do something about that. Not to mention that there would be a great darkness shrouding the soul of a country that could easily watch people suffer and turn away.

That doesn't mean we have to send the American military in everywhere. Believing all that doesn't even mean I believe we ought to intervene in Liberia. That's another post, and I hope not a ranting and raving one like this one. The point is simply that it drives me mad when people say that what goes on in other countries is none of our business.

Which brings me around to a current concern about "our interests" which came up yesterday in the comments on this post. What are our "interests" in Iraq? Tacitus argues in the comments that while the interests of occupier and occupied "won't be in 100% accord," they are fundamentally the same: "a secular, democratic, peaceful Iraq."

I'm not so sure. What I would like to see in Iraq is a government the majority of Iraqis are happy with, that still respects the rights of minorities. It's hard for me to imagine a system that isn't secular and democratic that would offer that, but I'm not arrogant enough to believe what I can imagine is the measure of all things. What I wish for Iraqis, what I wish for everyone, is the space to figure out what works for them. And I'm very much afraid that "our interests" may get in the way of that. Because I'm afraid our current administration sees "our interests" as identical with those of American corporations. I don't think we went to war for oil or for Bechtel's bottom line, but I do think that now that we're there it's going to be very tempting to believe that everything that's best for "our team" is also best for Iraqis, and best in some abstract theory of a "secular, democratic" Iraq.

And that's not in the interest of Iraqis. And when you cut to the heart of it, it's not in the interest of most Americans either.

You have something to say?

Monday, July 14, 2003

USA Today has an interesting article about George Tenet, and the conflict in the administration over the benefit of getting rid of someone who was skeptical about convenient intelligence versus the danger of having an angry ex-C.I.A. director running loose.

Between a sick child and company yesterday, I've been a little out of the loop when it comes to news, including this story. I didn't even read the Sunday papers until late last night. Like everyone else, I'm frustrated that not only did Tenet absurdly take the blame, but apparently the White House is also writing the New York Times' headlines (not that my beloved local paper did any better). The papers seem to be stuffing the latest bits and pieces -- although today's NY Times had a headline that guarantees a Monday morning laugh: Bush Aides Now Say Claim on Uranium Was Accurate.

They really don't know when to give up, do they?

Time, by the way, has pretty decent cover story on the article this week, and that cover, with the headline UNTRUTH & CONSEQUENCES running over Bush's picture is an encouraging one to see on the newstands this week.

It's just one word, but...
The word is "occupation," and apparently it has very different connotations to different people.

Tacitus has a thought-provoking post up about the Iraqi governing council that was appointed this weekend. He sees plenty of cause for hope.

I don't think it's unreasonable to see some rays of light there. Getting the SCIRI on board is no small accomplishment, and although I'm somewhat amused by the irony, I'm not really concerned that the leader of the SCIRI says he agreed to participate only "to free Iraq and to get rid of the invader." The "invader" is clearly looking for a way out anyway -- at least a way out of paying the costs, in both lives and money, of occupation.

As long as it doesn't involve a way out of the financial benefits.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world is being strangely pig-headed about dying for Bechtel and Halliburton.

But back to the O-word. I think it's way too early to tell whether this is the beginning of a transition to democracy, or just an unrepresentative and contentious cover for the lack of it. The fact that Bremer had to back down and "cede more power to the group than first envisioned" is a good sign. That they see setting up the group as a means of placing "Iraqis at the receiving end of some of the popular discontent that has been directed at the occupation administration" is certainly not. Giving people no real power (Bremer retains veto power over any decisions the council makes), while trying to set them up to take the blame for everything that goes wrong is not a formula for success. But try explaining that to an administration that just can't seem to understand why other countries don't want to come in and pay the cost of the occupation while we collect the spoils. You'd expect them to understand that Iraqis might grow weary of taking the fall without having any power to do anything?

The lack of support from most Iraqis is unsurprising, but that could change with signs that the council is accomplishing something.

Is that going to happen? While the council is dominated by exiles, there are people on it who would not be there if they didn't see at least a possibility of the council developing some independence. The irony, of course, is that any real exertion of that independence would be at the expense of the occupying forces.

I keep wandering away from the O-word, don't I? Force of habit. I'm a nice Catholic girl. I try to avoid obscenities. But I'll try.

Occupation.

In his otherwise reasonable post, Tacitus gets a little huffy about people on the left who are suspicious of (in some cases, downright hostile to) the "good news" about the formation of the council, because, he argues, "general goodwill, human decency and..patriotic feeling" should make us all want to see a "successful occupation."

And that's where he loses me. I don't want to see a "successful occupation." I'd love to see a real democracy develop in Iraq, although I think the odds of it are poor (not impossible). But it seems to me that once you start looking for a "successful occupation," the way you define success reflects the interests of the occupier, not the occupied. It would be nice, and would make things easier, if those interests were identical, but they're not. And there can't be any "success" for Iraqis if we don't recognize that.

Comments?

Friday, July 11, 2003

Everything I put up today is also posted at my TypePad site, where there's a comments section, in case anyone feels the urge to comment.

And speaking of TypePad, apparently two people on my blogroll -- Al-Mujahaba and Randy Paul -- are also trying it out.

I have to warn you before you read this: My daughter has spent the day throwing up on the carpet, and I've spent the day cleaning up, making straciatella, playing Parcheesi, and reading Harry Potter aloud. I won't vouch for the quality of my thought processes at the moment.

If the recall against Gray Davis goes through (and it looks like it will), no high profile Democrats are planning to run, leaving everything open to the Republicans. The governorship could be seized by some right-wing nut with fifteen or twenty percent of the vote.

Rich and crooked.

Rich and clueless.

Dumb and dumber.

Take your pick.

You'd almost think somebody was deliberately trying to wreck the state..

This is what I'm wondering, and haven't heard anything about: Will the Green Party be running anyone? Anyone who had a chance of collecting a few more votes than a car thief or an addled old movie star, that is.

(A conversation I had with my son yesterday:

Me: Come on. Who would vote for Arnold Schwartzenegger? He's completely inarticulate. No one can understand what he's saying.

Son: Mom? Bush?

Me: Oh, Jeez, I forgot. We're doomed.)


Okay, back to the Greens. Are they going to run anyone? In the current LA Weekly, Marc Cooper suggests that the recall offers a great opportunity for a progressive populist, someone as off-the-wall as Arianna Huffington, to run. I keep thinking there must be something wrong with that idea, but, God help me, I can't figure out what it is.

But what about the Greens? Any high profile Greens who'd consider it? Hey, it's not the presidency, but the governorship of the largest state is nothing to sniff at. And if Republicans are trying to sneak in with a small percentage of the vote, what's wrong with progressives trying to do the same thing?

If nothing else, I just love the idea of Darrell Issa unwittingly spending his millions in order to win the governorship for Arianna Huffington or Ralph Nader. Or maybe, now that he's given up his run for Senate in Pennsylvania, Jim Capozzola could move to California and fix our budget. I got a spare room.

Cojones I don't know about, but Democrats do seem to have acquired vocal chords lately -- and not just when it comes to Iraq. On one of the most important issues for me, Democrats are calling Bush's bluff on the alleged $15 billion for AIDS relief in Africa (the money isn't there, but Bush is getting some nice photo ops out of it.)

A word of advice to Democrats: If you want to know what's happening with the AIDS money, listen to the locals, and start yelling about the crassness of choosing the former chief executive of Eli Lilly to head the program.

One of the things that has concerned me most about this war -- as well as the war in Afghanistan -- is the way humanitarian and military work have been mixed. The most dangerous part is the attempt to make relief workers operate under Defense Department jurisdiction, right down to wearing military i.d. tags. In a hostile environment -- and I don't think there's much doubt anymore that there is plenty of hostility to the American occupation of Iraq -- that makes relief workers less effective because people don't trust them. It also puts their lives at risk.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, that's exactly what is happening: Relief workers report that they're being shot at, and their trucks and warehouses are being looted. Tellingly, aid workers have found that the more clear they make it that they are not connected to the American military, the more support they get.

Fascinating article in today's Christian Science Monitor on partnerships between NGOs and businesses to make capitalism work without crushing human rights and destroying the environment.

There are real opportunities here, but also a danger that NGOs that have become effective watchdogs could end up serving as cover for abuses. It's certainly an interesting development to keep an eye on, though.