Saturday, July 31, 2004


Quote of the Day - Henry Wallace on Fascism - 4

If we define an American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States. There are probably several hundred thousand if we narrow the definition to include only those who in their search for money and power are ruthless and deceitful. Most American fascists are enthusiastically supporting the war effort. They are doing this even in those cases where they hope to have profitable connections with German chemical firms after the war ends. They are patriotic in time of war because it is to their interest to be so, but in time of peace they follow power and the dollar wherever they may lead. —Henry A. Wallace, Vice President to Franklin Roosevelt (1944)

Related posts:
Quote of the Day - Henry Wallace on Fascism - 1
Quote of the Day - Henry Wallace on Fascism - 5

Friday, July 30, 2004


And now for a little good news . . .

"Religious right said to be losing sway in Georgia"

"Saddam ... killed in secret. Allawi kills in public"

I titled this post after a quote from a victim of the Iraqi police. But as for Saddam, it's not quite accurate. At first he killed in public; then, after having established his image, he killed in secret. Allawi seems to be following his mentor Saddam.

But this is not about the Australian press allegation that Allawi shot six prisoners in front of witnesses right after taking office. It is in fact about the new Iraqi police.

The Intelligence Service has its own secret prison. Criminals wear uniforms and collect police salaries. Senior security officials hand out jobs to family members. Investigators charged with being watchdogs over the police say they have little or no power. They report to the interior minister rather than to justice itself. The police arrest the innocent, beat them, and imprison them without charge; and in at least one case, police shot dead an innocent bystander.

Less than a month after the interim Iraqi government took power, Iraqi and American officials are struggling to prevent Iraq's new security forces from adopting many of the characteristics of Saddam's feared secret police, say American and Iraqi officials and some civilians who have suffered at their hands. As Allawi faces the dual challenges of a crime wave and an ongoing insurgency — and answering a clamoring desire among most Iraqis for security and stability — officials fear that human rights and honesty in the security forces are being suffocated at birth by a culture of authoritarianism and corruption. It is in part a hangover from the Saddam years and part a response to Iraq's current instability.

"What is right for Iraq? To a certain degree we have tried to instill our values in the country," said Dan Waddington, a senior American adviser to the Iraqi police. "If the people of Iraq believe that type of force is justified to get control of the problems of the country, are we the ones to say no, do it by our standards?"

These are our standards, sir.

The main examples of Allawi's authoritarian style so far have been two large raids on Baghdad neighborhoods. While apparently popular, witnesses said the raids were violent events that swept up many people regardless of evidence.

For two months, the nascent Intelligence Service of the Interior Ministry scouted out the neighborhood of Betaween, a scruffy area of downtown Baghdad well known for its drug pushers, drunks, prostitutes and well-organized criminals.

Well-organized criminals? How about "petty criminals"? If they were all that well-organized they wouldn't be in a scruffy neighborhood. The "nascent Intelligence Service" is in fact a vice squad.

A senior Iraqi intelligence official, who said he spent 15 years in Saddam's Intelligence Service — known, as now, as the Mukhabarat — showed Newsday surveillance photographs of the suspects in the raid.

"We wanted to stop them and give them a hard kick," said the intelligence official, who requested anonymity.

Teach them a lesson, so to speak.

They're following the American model just fine. Don't go after the violent criminals because you could get hurt that way, and don't go after the corrupt businessmen and politicians because they're rich, powerful and protected. No, head downtown to the redlight district and pull a raid.

On June 28, the day the new government took over, about 150 officers from the Intelligence Service, Internal Affairs, Special Response Teams and the police flooded the streets of one section of the neighborhood.

Shock and Awe. Sort of like arresting a pot-smoker here in America. It usually requires the local police, the DEA, and the FBI. If there are to be cameras, they bring in the Swat Team, which looks really cool on the nightly news.

The primitive nature of Iraqi society is revealed by the lack of reporters at the event. Here at home, the media sometimes arrive before the police, which is an annoyance for everyone.

One of the 147 people arrested that day was Faris al-Taher, a soft-spoken 28-year-old immigrant from Sudan who had been in Iraq for only one month, looking for a long-lost brother and a job. He was in a friend's store when the police came, he said last week. They dragged him into the street and herded him with about 15 others to another street. There, he said, they handcuffed him — he still has the scars on his left wrist — and beat him with sticks.

Good thing he wasn't a demonstrator.

All of the men arrested were taken to a big cell in the Interior Ministry, al-Taher said. For three days, they were given food and water only once.

Three days after his arrest he was released, he said, without charge, explanation or apology.

Well, at least they let him live. What's the problem?

When asked why the police and intelligence officers had arrested so many innocent people, a Betaween-based intelligence official said: "If the criminal was in a room with four persons, we arrested those persons to obtain information about why they were in a room with the criminal."

Don't you love the guilt-by-association concept? We've elevated it to new heights here at home.

The official denied that any violence had been used in the raid, except when suspects resisted with force.

Ah, yes. The old resisting-arrest ploy. I've seen many a jail cell filled that way. Not to mention some really excellent head-banging.

Who's doing the training?

By now you're probably wondering how the Iraqi police were brought up to American standards so quickly. And well you should, because the corporation hired to train them is none other than Dyncorp out of Texas.

According to the help-wanted notice on DynCorp’s Web site, the company will pay as much as $153,600 for senior people in Iraq for one year. On top of that, they get all their living expenses, and most of their salary is tax-free — a package that will cost taxpayers as much as $400,000 to put each trainer in Iraq.
.... A U.S. official acknowledged that $153,000 is the top pay bracket, adding that most trainers will make about $100,000.
The initial contract was approved quietly and quickly, with only one other company invited to bid. The administration tells Congress the final cost will be $800 million more over the next two years.

So are the DynCorp employees worth their big salaries? The work is high-risk. Three weeks ago, three DynCorp security men guarding embassy employees in Israel were killed by a bomb in the Gaza Strip.

It's so high risk that they're actually going to be doing it in—Jordan.

But what's in it for the Iraqi police? Dinero, darling.

According to Newsday,

There are so many corrupt, violent and useless police officers in the new Iraqi police force that, according to a senior American adviser to the Iraqi police, the U.S. government is about to pay off 30,000 police officers at a cost of $60 million to the American taxpayer.

This is a very odd sentence. Are they being "paid off" as a reward for being "corrupt, violent and useless"? In any case, I'm sure they're a bargain at any price.

Related post: Mud-wrestling: Dyncorp vs. Aegis (Updated)


Quote of the Day - Henry Wallace on Fascism - 3

The obvious types of American fascists are dealt with on the air and in the press. These demagogues and stooges are fronts for others. Dangerous as these people may be, they are not so significant as thousands of other people who have never been mentioned. The really dangerous American fascists are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power. —Henry A. Wallace, Vice President to Franklin Roosevelt (1944)

Related posts:
Quote of the Day - Henry Wallace on Fascism - 1
Quote of the Day - Henry Wallace on Fascism - 4


Pakistan's HVT announcement timed for the Democratic Convention

Loyal readers will remember "Buying an HVT for the Democratic Convention" in which I wrote about Bush demands on Pakistan to produce a "high-value target" (HVT) to grab the media focus from the Democratic Convention.

Pakistan has delivered, and on time—the day of Kerry's acceptance speech. The HVT is Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, also known as "Foopie," "Fupi" and "Ahmed the Tanzanian." The U.S. had offered a $25 million prize for his capture.

Foopie has been wanted in the U.S. since his indictment in 1998 for alleged involvement in the bombing of the American embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Paul Haven of the AP reports,

Hayyat [the Pakistani Interior Minister] announced the arrest after midnight in Pakistan..., an unusually late hour considering the arrests were made Sunday and authorities had known but not revealed the man's identity for some days.

Pakistani leaders have rejected allegations they time the announcements of major terror arrests for maximum impact, though several other arrests have come on the eve of important Pakistan-U.S. summits. Al-Qaida suspect Ramzi Binalshibh was nabbed in Karachi on Sept. 11, 2002, the one year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

So where's Osama? If the Pakistanis know, they're saving him for their "October surprise."

Related post: Buying an HVT for the Democratic Convention

Thursday, July 29, 2004


Dancing like Michael Jackson: Torture as sport

A three-day High Court hearing began yesterday in London to review a decision by the Blair government not to hold a special investigation into the deaths of Iraqis in the hands of British troops. Two judges are conducting the inquiry. At issue is whether the British Human Rights Act may be applied in these cases.

Yesterday's testimony centered on the death of Baha Mousa, a receptionist at a hotel who was arrested along with a number of other hotel workers near Basra. Basra is in southern Iraq and was under the control of the British.

After Mousa's death, the British government offered the family $5,000, but the family rejected the offer. Mousa's father, a colonel in the Basra police force, said,

The crime was horrendous and his two sons, aged three and five, have been left fatherless. We were promised an investigation but we have not been told that anyone has been arrested or convicted of any crime.

The most horrendous allegations were presented by the lawyer of Kifah Taha al-Mutari, another hotel worker swept up by the British.

Mutari alleged that he and his fellow detainees were beaten on the neck, chest and genital areas, and that "Baha appeared to have much worse ill-treatment than the others". He said all the detainees were hooded, not once but twice, and "given water by it being poured over the hood so that we had to lick the droplets that seeped through the hood". "Soldiers took turns in abusing us," he added. "At night the number of soldiers increased, sometimes to eight at a time."

He also described a sadistic "names game" played by the soldiers. "Soldiers would mention some English names of stars or (football) players and request us to remember them, or we would be beaten severely," he alleged. "One terrible game the soldiers played involved kickboxing," Mutari added. "The soldiers would surround us and compete as to who could kickbox one of us the furthest. The idea was to try and make us crash into the wall." In yet another instance, he said, he and his fellow detainees were ordered by a British soldier "to dance like Michael Jackson", the American pop superstar.1

Owen Bowcott reports in the Guardian that

An independent medical report [of witness Mutari's treatment] by a British consultant, due to be presented to the court, says: "Evidence of bruising, acute renal failure and very high [enzyme] levels make it almost certain that the report history of deliberate injury was, indeed, correct."

If medical treatment had not subsequently been given, "I would have expected him to have died within a period of a few days."

According to the BBC's Jon Silverman, if the court finds that the Human Rights Act applies to the behavior of the occupation troops,

... the short-term consequence would be an obligation on the government to set up an independent inquiry to establish what happened and who was responsible.
It is likely that there would be a successful claim for monetary compensation.

And there could also be criminal prosecutions of any soldiers against whom there was sufficient evidence to place before a court.

The British Ministry of Defence is arguing that it has complied with the Geneva Conventions by conducting an investigation of five deaths, and that it was not in any case, under law, in charge.

Human rights lawyers do not regard those investigations as meeting the requirement for independence as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

There is another possibility, admittedly an unlikely one, that would be even more embarrassing for Britain.

If the attorney general decided not to press criminal charges, an application could be made for war crimes indictments to be issued by the International Criminal Court.

International lawyer, Khawar Qureshi, said: "With the advent of the tribunals for Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone and now the ICC, the threat of criminal punishment is acquiring increasing importance in preventing possible breaches of the Geneva Conventions as well as punishing them. This should not be underestimated."

The BBC predicts the case will ultimately end up in the House of Lords, which is the British equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court.

And what was it that the Queen's Lancashire Regiment wanted to learn from the hotel workers? The whereabouts of the hotel's owner.


1 In a bit of irony, heading the chain of command of the British army is none other than chief of general staff General Sir Michael Jackson. Will he be made to dance? [back]


Quote of the Day - Henry Wallace on Fascism - 2

The perfect type of fascist throughout recent centuries has been the Prussian Junker, who developed such hatred for other races and such allegiance to a military clique as to make him willing at all times to engage in any degree of deceit and violence necessary to place his culture and race astride the world. In every big nation of the world are at least a few people who have the fascist temperament. Every Jew-baiter, every Catholic hater, is a fascist at heart. The hoodlums who have been desecrating churches, cathedrals and synagogues in some of our larger cities are ripe material for fascist leadership. —Henry A. Wallace, Vice President to Franklin Roosevelt (1944)

Related posts:
Quote of the Day - Henry Wallace on Fascism - 1
Quote of the Day - Henry Wallace on Fascism - 3

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Quote of the Day - Henry Wallace on Fascism - 1

Buzzflash today linked to a Thom Hartmann article of July 19, "The Ghost of Vice President Wallace Warns: "It Can Happen Here." Hartmann's piece is certainly worth reading, but the underlying document, an article written in 1944 by Roosevelt's Vice President Henry A. Wallace for the NY Times, does not really need explication.

With that in mind, I'm going to "serialize" Wallace's article as the Quote of the Day.

A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends. The supreme god of a fascist, to which his ends are directed, may be money or power; may be a race or a class; may be a military, clique or an economic group; or may be a culture, religion, or a political party.

Related post: Quote of the Day - Henry Wallace on Fascism - 2


Teresa Heinz Kerry faces Shields and Brooks

Last night's speeches at the Dem Convention were, of course, poked, prodded, dissected and analyzed by the talking heads of radio and television. I suppose I should have been watching on C-Span, where you get to bypass all that nonsense, but I happened to have the TV tuned to PBS, so I stayed with it. And in fairness, if I were involved as a campaign planner, I'm sure I would listen to the "heads"—not for advice, but to learn what kind of shit the public was being spoon-fed that day.

Obama's speech was good, though it didn't make me drop my spatula and rush to the TV room so I could hang on every word. About 40% of the delegates are from minority groups, which made his speech especially meaningful to the Convention crowd, and they rewarded him accordingly. But aside from Obama's poster-boy role at the Convention, I can't imagine him affecting this election one way or the other.

It was Teresa Heinz Kerry who interested me, because she's going to be sound-bit to death between now and the election. And I was impressed—by her learning, her manner and the specific topics she chose to emphasize.

My right to speak my mind, to have a voice, to be what some have called opinionated is a right I deeply and profoundly cherish, and my only hope is that one day soon women who have all earned their right to their opinions, instead of being called opinionated, will be called smart and well informed, just like men! 1

This conveyed simultaneously two very important points—that she is not going to be shut up and that she is going to be a very strong voice for women's rights—to which she added, after speaking of her mother,

I want to acknowledge and honor the women of this world, whose wise voices for much too long have been excluded and discounted. It is time for the world to hear women's voices, in full and at last.

Of energy and oil, she said,

[John] believes we can, and we will, invent the technologies, new materials, and conservation methods of the future. He believes that alternative fuels will guarantee that not only will no American boy or girl go to war because of our dependence on foreign oil, but also that our economy will forever become independent of this need.

Then this, which speaks to the destruction of the American image abroad,

To me, one of the best faces America has ever projected is the face of a Peace Corps volunteer. That face symbolizes this country: young, curious, brimming with idealism and hope — and a real, honest compassion. Those young people convey an idea of America that is all about — heart and creativity, generosity and confidence, a practical, can-do sense and a big, big smile.

Can't fail to evoke John Kennedy.

So what were the PBS assholes up to?

Well, after Obama's speech they practically elected him President. They didn't say which year.

But after Teresa's speech, Jim Lehrer first asked David Brooks of the NY Times what he thought. Brooks, the "moderate" right-winger was not pleased. Her speech was too "wonkish," he said. He was disappointed. He wanted more intimate details about Kerry—details that only a wife would know—why Kerry was the Man, and all that. I was positively blushing before my TV.

Then Lehrer turned for the "liberal" opinion of Mark Shields. You have to watch a lot of "Shields and Brooks" on the NewsHour to catch Mark Shields2 having an opinion different from David Brooks', and tonight was not one of them. He agreed—too "wonkish."

When the media couldn't find a sex scandal to raise their ratings, this was always their fall-back position on Bill Clinton—he was too wonkish.

They were wrong then—and they're wrong now.


1 Interestingly, this remark was not in the pre-speech text that was released to the media. [back]

2 Last October I got so annoyed that I had to fire off this letter to the NewsHour.

I was reading Michelangelo Signorile's description of being bumped from an NPR affiliate in Boston ("Like mother, like son") when I came on these lines:
Last week, I experienced first hand how some of them keep liberal voices off the airwaves by manipulating weak-kneed producers. I also got further insight into what complete cowards and wimps a lot of conservative pundits are, and why the liberal pundits who are up against them on the talk shows are usually so bland. The bland types are the only ones the conservatives will appear with, a la Fox’s Hannity & Colmes. [emphasis mine]

I have felt this frustration from my first viewing of Mark Shields on the NewsHour. He appears to be a nice guy (I've never read one of his columns), but he is a nebbish and a frump. And what is worse, he is inarticulate!

First it was "Shields and Gigot," then "Shields and Brooks," now "Shields and Safire." (Does this guy have tenure?) The Right Wingers show up looking their nattiest, and poor ol' Mark shows up looking desperate for a session on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

As for the content of his commentary, it was wonderfully illustrated a few weeks ago. Jim Lehrer asked him for an opinion, and he replied "I don't know." Lehrer was visibly taken aback. Safire liked it so much that he used it the following week, quoting Mark.

If the public thinks the Left has nothing to say, Mark Shields is one of the reasons.


Abu Ghraib MPs quietly coming home

The 372nd Military Police Company has been moved to Kuwait to await their homecoming. So far, seven members of the unit have been charged with prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Linda Comer, wife of one of the MPs and "family readiness coordinator" for the company, has been told by the military that "the Army plans a quieter homecoming for the 372nd than most returning soldiers get."

If quoted correctly, Ms. Comer seems rather clueless.

"This is what the soldiers want, I think. They want to be anonymous, I think. Why, I don't know. They didn't do anything wrong. They just want to come home," said Comer....

If photos of the atrocities were being passed about on CD and through email, it's a bit difficult to imagine that most of the company didn't know what was going on.


Have you been trickled on yet?

The figures for executive pay in 2003 are out, and as Frank Sinatra would have crooned, "It was a very good year."

Median pay went up 15% for your average CEO, but for the top echelon--CEOs of large corporations--pay rose 22% to reach an average $9.2 million.

The survey ... showed increases in almost every category of executive compensation, including base salary, annual bonus, total annual compensation, restricted stock, long-term incentive payouts and the value realized from the exercise of stock options. The only category to decline from 2002 to 2003 was the value of stock option grants.

Despite calls for more restraint in CEO pay, it was a better year for the executives than 2002, when total compensation rose by a median of 9.5 percent.

As I've noted before, when Bush uses the word "economy," it's code for "my buddies" or "my class" or "the elite." While workers were losing more jobs than were lost during any administration since Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), corporations continued to do well, and CEO salaries continued to rise.

You can expect to be trickled on any day now.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


Bush's vacation -- thrills and spills

The Associated Press has just published a thrilling account of Bush's activities while on vacation. I have edited it for length.
CRAWFORD, Texas -- President Bush charged up ... and down ... landing flat on his back.

While the Democrats were at their convention, working ..., Bush was indulging his new hobby ... [w]ith an Associated Press reporter riding ... him.

Bush ... rides with abandon.

He takes on ... veterans.... He keeps a cramp-inducing pace..., panting hard, emitting low "hrrr, hrrr, hrrr" grunts with each stroke..., his shoulders bobbing up and down.

....[H]is heart rate reaches 168 beats per minute. That's nearly four times his resting rate and in the same range as Lance Armstrong's when the six-time Tour de France winner is ... hard.

"At my age, you're more concerned about the cardiovascular" benefits..., the 58-year-old president said.

His ... is one of the best: a ... rear suspension that soaks up big bumps.... "... really a painful experience for me now."

Crashes are routine....

On May 22, he lost traction ..., scraping his chin, upper lip, nose, right hand and both knees.

Bush approaches ... warily.
"I'm gonna show you a hill that would choke a mule," he says.

He ... is steadily advancing when ... [h]is foot gets stuck in a strap .....

In the blink of an eye, his rear ... is in the air....

He lies motionless for a few moments. The reporter hoists ... him just as his medics arrive to attend to him.

Bush straightens out..., throws a leg ... and keeps rolling.

Bush loves showing off ..., and he takes his guests -- and the Secret Service agents who ride ... him, pistols bulging through their shirts -- to far-flung areas.

.... He slips at first, saying he will practice....

In one meadow, cattle stare ... at him as he rides ... littered with cow dung.

.... Bush is fiddling with his ... rod when a fellow rider pulls up, and ... says he's just finished....

.... Bush swats away ... his ad man, Mark McKinnon....

When the reporter points..., Bush says, "Who?"

What a man!


In case you're worried about November . . . (revisited)

I guess this is my day to play catch-up. I've been meaning to write about this ever since the article appeared, but with the Democratic Convention in the news, there can't be a better time.

A month ago I wrote about how the Bushies might throw the election and boiled it down to four tactics:

But I warned that I couldn't "match wits with the Rove-Cheney-Rumsfeld alliance for pure deviousness." And sure enough, Peter M. Shane, an Ohio law professor, has revealed a fifth possibility, which I'll christen the "Tom Delay ploy."

You may remember Delay's unheard-of tactic of getting the Texas state legislature to reapportion the voting districts after a Federal court had already conducted a post-census reapportionment. And the Supreme Court upheld it.

Well, Professor Shane may have provided him with fresh fodder. Here's how it goes.

The premise is based on the Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore.

Under that decision, there is no guarantee that the electors who are decisive in choosing the next president of the United States will themselves be selected by the people of the United States. That's because the justices ruled in that case that state legislatures have unlimited authority to determine whether citizens in their respective states shall be allowed to vote for president at all.

"The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States," the court said, "unless and until the state legislature chooses a statewide election as the means to implement its power to appoint members of the Electoral College."

Professor Shane notes that in states where one party or the other controls the legislature and governorship, there is nothing to prevent the state legislature from commandeering the state's electors and directing them to vote for the candidate of that party, regardless of the popular vote.

One-party rule exists in 19 states, including four of the 10 states that the independent and well-respected political analyst Charlie Cook rates as "dead even." Republican state governments in Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio, and Democrats in New Mexico, could spare us all some electoral suspense and simply decide their respective states' electoral votes on their own. Such a move would give Democrats five of these contested votes and Republicans 51.

What's to prevent it from happening? Professor Shane seems unable to propose any legal obstacles but instead offers "hope"--hope that state legislatures will be deterred by the "outrage factor" and by "common sense."

It ought to be unthinkable that a state legislature is authorized to usurp the people's role in choosing presidential electors. But unless the Supreme Court repudiates its dictum in Bush v. Gore, there is an entirely serious prospect that a capricious state government, Republican or Democratic, might seek to decide the presidential election by removing the choice from the voters. And there is probably not much that can be done to remedy this situation before the 2004 elections.

One hopes, of course, that for the time being, the outrage factor and common sense will still any move in state governments toward such hyper-partisanship. What's disquieting is the number of recent occasions on which neither common sense nor the prospect of citizen outrage was sufficient to elicit responsible leadership from those who govern us.

Have a nice day.

Related post: In case you're worried about the November election . . .


Overheard last night at the Pink Snapper . . .

I don't believe in discrimination. Why hate somebody based on a generalization? Get to know them--then you'll really hate them.

Masterbuate? What does it all mean?

Over three weeks ago I did a light-hearted post on Judge Donald Thompson and his penis pump ("What's that whooshing sound?"). In the course of writing it, I had to transcribe portions of a legal complaint from a .gif image over at the Smoking Gun, and I mistyped the word "masturbate," rendering it as "masterbuate."

I would probably never have noticed except for one strange fact: People continue to reach this site by googling on "masterbuate." As it turns out, Google currently has 21 links to this odd spelling, and Simply Appalling is #2 in rank.

Maybe I should correct it, but I hate to lose the readership.

Monday, July 26, 2004


Quote of the Day

He [Bush] could also make you feel extremely uncomfortable. He was very good at all the tools for survival that people developed in prep school -- sarcasm, and the giving of nicknames. He was extremely skilled at controlling people and outcomes in that way. Little bits of perfectly placed humiliation. -- Garry Trudeau, giving his recollection of Bush at Yale to Rolling Stone

Will kidnappings alter the Iraqi employment situation? (updated)

Finding work for Iraqis, especially those who were released from the Iraqi military, has long been said to be part of the solution to the "security situation." But as on so many fronts, American corruption speaks louder than words. Back in March, Anne Barnard and Stephen J. Glain wrote in the Boston Globe,
If coalition efforts to win Iraqi hearts and minds hinge on the integrity of the rebuilding process, the Americans have already lost ground, say Iraqi contractors. Frustration over the country's high unemployment and the slow pace of reconstruction has intensified, they say, because of the perception that foreign companies and a cabal of Iraqi exiles are snatching the best deals. So exasperated are many Iraqis with the contract awards process that many compare it unfavorably with the abusive business practices that flourished under Saddam Hussein's regime. At least back then, Iraqis say, it was clear whom to bribe.

Iraqi kidnapping of foreigners and the killing of Iraqis working for foreign companies may be changing all that. NPR reports [audio] this morning that two Pakistanis and an Iraqi contract driver are being held hostage, while two cleaning women working for a foreign firm were killed in a drive-by shooting. The kidnapped contract driver now brings the total of contract drivers held hostage to seven.

I have not yet seen or heard commentary on this, but kidnappings of company employees pose a unique threat for U.S. reconstruction efforts and prestige. When kidnappers demand that a country's foreign troops be withdrawn, the U.S. can bring pressure on the country to "stay the course," though it was notably unsuccessful with the Phillipines. If a country decides, however, to remain, its soldiers have little choice but to accept the decision.

But in the case of a private company, while there are undoubtedly behind-the-scenes American efforts to prevent any appearance that the kidnappings are successful, there is really very little that can be done. A Kuwaiti company has just agreed to pull out of Iraq in return for some Indian hostages, and the U.S. has not uttered a peep.

The essential motivation is different for private enterprise. A company is there for the money, as are the workers. Prestige is of minimal consequence.

If the company stays in defiance of the hostage demands, what is it saying to its employees? Seeing a company sacrifice one of its workers is not exactly going to build company loyalty. The most likely result is that the company will leave, because if it accedes to the sacrifice of an employee, it isn't going to have any workers anyway. And you can bet that this is not a situation where management is going to step forward to fill the gap.

Of the $18 billion that Congress has appropriated for Iraqi reconstruction, only $450 million has been spent. In a Friday report ("Iraqi Employment Situation Troubles U.S. Congress" - audio), John Negroponte, our new strongman at the American embassy in Iraq, says he is "reviewing spending decisions."

It is undoubtedly troubling to the Bush administration that a larger part of American largesse is going to have to go to Iraqi firms instead of to Halliburton and other buddy companies, but I don't see any other options. The "security situation" is not going to get any better for foreign companies.

After posting today, I read James Glanz piece today in the NY Times. "Iraqi Insurgents Using Abduction as Prime Weapon" speaks of the international impact--
... [T]he taking of hostages has separated itself from the generalized violence in Iraq and become a prime weapon on its own. The method has the advantage, from the insurgency's point of view, of being cheap and almost entirely free of the risk run when American or Iraqi troops are confronted directly.

The personal nature of the tactic, usually involving video of the individual hostages with their captors and the threat of beheading, also ensures that each incident is given enormous exposure in the international media. As demonstrated by the pullout of the Philippine soldiers, which took place in the face of overwhelming public pressure in the Philippines to save Mr. dela Cruz, that exposure translates into a force that can move nations.

But the press continues to focus on symbol. The Philippine force consisted of fifty-one soldiers. Their presence was symbolic; their leaving was symbolic.

Then Glanz writes,

More specifically, the truckers who have been the focus of several recent incidents are part of an indispensable series of supply lines that bring materials in from surrounding countries. If those lines were to be disrupted, the entire American-backed effort to create stability and the conditions for a new government in Iraq could suffer.

And those supply lines are in the hands of foreign corporations. The real (as opposed to the symbolic) effect of the abductions is to be looked for here. Glanz came so close. All he has to do is connect the dots.

Sunday, July 25, 2004


A ceiling as well as a floor

The NY Times' Robert Pear revealed yesterday what the Bushies are up to in the world of healthcare and "tort reform"--fighting your right to sue drug and medical device manufacturers.
The Bush administration has been going to court to block lawsuits by consumers who say they have been injured by prescription drugs and medical devices.

The administration contends that consumers cannot recover damages for such injuries if the products have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

It's a funny thing, but all prescription and medical devices have to be approved by the FDA. So unless you're getting non-approved drugs from Canada, I guess you're shit-outta-luck.

Allowing consumers to sue manufacturers would "undermine public health" and interfere with federal regulation of drugs and devices, by encouraging "lay judges and juries to second-guess" experts at the F.D.A., the government said in siding with the maker of a heart pump sued by the widow of a Pennsylvania man. Moreover, it said, if such lawsuits succeed, some good products may be removed from the market, depriving patients of beneficial treatments.

The administration's participation in the cases is consistent with President Bush's position on "tort reform."

Yes, it is. But it's not consistent with Mr. Bush's position on experts, which is that we should ignore them and rely on "common sense."

Mr. Bush often attacks trial lawyers, saying their lawsuits impose a huge burden on the economy and drive up health costs.

This is code. Whenever Bush uses the word "economy," think "my buddies."

In the Pennsylvania ruling, issued Tuesday, the appeals court threw out a lawsuit filed by Barbara E. Horn, who said her husband had died because of defects in the design and manufacture of his heart pump. The Bush administration argued that federal law barred such claims because the device had been produced according to federal specifications. In its briefs, the administration conceded that "the views stated here differ from the views that the government advanced in 1997," in the United States Supreme Court.

At that time, the government said that F.D.A. approval of a medical device set the minimum standard, and that states could provide "additional protection to consumers." Now the Bush administration argues that the agency's approval of a device "sets a ceiling as well as a floor."

What it means is that the FDA has the only and final say on what is good for you. Are Conservatives buying this? Are there any Conservatives left?

The administration said its position, holding that individual consumers have no right to sue, actually benefited consumers.

The threat of lawsuits, it said, "can harm the public health" by encouraging manufacturers to withdraw products from the market or to issue new warnings that overemphasize the risks and lead to "underutilization of beneficial treatments."

Who would have thought that Bush could introduce fascism to healthcare in so short a time, and with such Orwellian newsspeak? You, as an individual, have no say in this at all. The interests of the State take precedence.

Allison M. Zieve, a lawyer at the Public Citizen Litigation Group who represented the plaintiff in the Pennsylvania case, said, "The government has done an about-face on this issue." If courts accept the administration's position, Ms. Zieve said, it would amount to a backdoor type of "tort reform" that would shield manufacturers from damage suits.

Bush administration officials said their goal was not to shield drug companies, but to vindicate the federal government's authority to regulate drug products.

"Vindicate the government's authority to regulate drug products"? Is the government's authority under challenge? By whom? Some libertarian group in Idaho? Well, I guess this settles the matter once and for all.

Mr. Hinchey [Dem. Representative from New York] said that F.D.A. lawyers, led by the agency's chief counsel, Daniel E. Troy, had "repeatedly interceded in civil suits on behalf of drug and medical device manufacturers."

... Mr. Troy [chief legal counsel for the FDA] had a potential conflict of interest because Pfizer was one of his clients when he was a lawyer in private practice.

Mr. Troy refused to discuss the agency's legal arguments or the criticism of his role. Dr. Lester M. Crawford, the acting commissioner of food and drugs, said Mr. Troy had "complied with the ethical requirement to recuse himself from any matter involving a past client for a year" after he joined the government in August 2001.

The government certainly doesn't impose a very burdensome ethical standard on its employees, does it? But then what would be the use of corporations inserting their hirelings into government if they were not allowed to act once they got there.

In a Tennessee case involving a cardiac pacemaker, the Bush administration told a state trial court, "It is inappropriate for a jury to second-guess F.D.A.'s scientific judgment on a matter that is within F.D.A.'s particular expertise."

If juries in different states reach different conclusions about the risks and benefits of a medical device, they will cause "chaos for the regulated industry and F.D.A.," the administration said.

If there is one thing that fascists hate, it is chaos. Funny how they always manage to produce so much of it.

The administration has also joined Pfizer in opposing a lawsuit filed by Flora Motus, a California woman who said her husband had committed suicide after taking Zoloft. Mrs. Motus argued that Pfizer had not adequately warned doctors and patients that the drug could increase the risk of suicide.

But the Bush administration said that when federal officials approved Zoloft, they saw no need for such a warning, and that a false or unnecessary warning could "deprive patients of beneficial, possibly life-saving treatment." Susan B. Bro, a spokeswoman for Pfizer, said this week, "There is no scientific evidence of a causal relationship between Zoloft and suicide."

Here they're attempting to prove the negative. Fill in the blank: "There was no scientific evidence of a causal relationship between--" (1) cigarettes and lung cancer, (2) petroleum consumption and global warming, (3) Agent Orange and veterans' health problems, (4) Zoloft and suicide. Which did you choose?

Likewise, the administration intervened in a California case to help GlaxoSmithKline fend off consumer demands for restrictions on the advertising of Paxil. The government said the restrictions "would overly deter use of a life-improving medication."

Patients had persuaded a federal district judge to order a halt to television advertisements that declared, "Paxil is non-habit forming." The administration joined the manufacturer in challenging that order. The judge, Mariana R. Pfaelzer, lifted the injunction in 2002 for other reasons, but said the administration's arguments were unpersuasive and contrary to the public interest.

Those damned activist judges!

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