Saturday, August 21, 2004
Jesus' Body made of wheat, not rice
When Haley went to make her First Communion, her mother asked the parish priest to substitute a rice wafer because of Haley's condition. He refused, but a priest at another parish made the substitution, and Haley had her First Communion—or so she thought.
Last month, the diocese told the priest that the church would not validate Haley’s sacrament because of the substitute wafer.
“I struggled with telling her that the sacrament did not happen,” said Pelly-Waldman [her mother]. “She lives in a world of rules. She says ‘Mommy, do we want to break a rule? Are we breaking a rule?”’
Haley's mother is appealing to the Pope through Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I would have advised her to try another route.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is a name change for what was once called the Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition. It is still Cardinal Ratzinger's duty to stamp out heresy wherever he may find it. And need I add that Cardinal Ratzinger is very, very conservative?
The Body of Jesus made of rice! Do they think He was Chinese or something?
Another Republican hypocrite outed
I'd say "more power to him" if he were just an honest gay Representative looking for a date. But he's not. He's a gay-bashing, right-wing conservative who scored 92% on the Christian Coalition's scorecard.
He represents the second Congressional District of Virginia, which includes the Navy installations at Norfolk and Pat Robertson's university.
If you're from his district, Blogactive.com provides a convenient way of sending him a note. If you're not from his district, check 'em out anyway.
The Constitutional right to silence
"They agreed with us that the West Side Highway would be a perfect place," Mr. Bloomberg said. "There's a nice breeze off the water, you can set up sound systems there, nobody is going to really be bothered, they'll be able to express themselves without taking away anybody else's rights." Those rights, Mr. Bloomberg has said numerous times, included silence. [emphasis added]
Furled link: For Mayor, Antiwar Protest Makes a Pro-Stadium Case
Friday, August 20, 2004
We are experiencing technical difficulties . . .
No foul in S.C. state terrorism of high-school students
Despite the lack of arrests, the raid was an important lesson in civics for the students. They now have an inkling that "civil rights" is a phrase used solely for propaganda purposes internally and abroad. And the intimidation they experienced will undoubtedly keep many of them silent in the face of the government for the rest of their lives.
Penis-pump judge retires
I have greatly enjoyed my public service and offer my gratitude for the public trust reposed in me during the terms I served.
... and something about wanting more time to pursue his hobbies. (Just kidding!)
The horse race
Meanwhile, in Colorado, Amendment 36, which would replace the winner-take-all system of apportioning electors by a proportional system, achieved enough signatures to make it onto the November ballot. If the amendment passes, Colorado will be the first state to have a completely proportional distribution of its Electoral College votes. Nebraska and Maine have a semi-proportional system.
Related post: Where the electoral college votes stand today
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Olympic Committee bans web speech for athletes
I must confess that I am less than enchanted by the Olympics. I don't mean the athletes, of course. But the politics, the corruption, the drug-testing and the corporate sleaze make the Olympics look like college football played behind barbed wire.
I would wring my hands and say, "Something must be done." But short of the Second Coming, I don't see any nation or group having sufficient motive to change the situation.
If there were such a group, it would be the athletes themselves. But most of them are very young, many of them are politically unsophisticated, and the rigors of training leave little time for battling Goliath. And besides—as in college football—it's the athletes themselves who are ultimately corrupted.
So today the AP reports yet another story of the ways of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)—this time in the matter of free speech and a free press.
The International Olympic Committee is barring competitors, as well as coaches, support personnel and other officials, from writing firsthand accounts for news and other Web sites.
An exception is if an athlete has a personal Web site that they did not set up specifically for the Games.
The IOC's rationale for the restrictions is that athletes and their coaches should not serve as journalists - and that the interests of broadcast rightsholders and accredited media come first.
Pretty clear where athletics fits into all of this, isn't it?
If I understand this correctly—if I already have a blog before arriving at the Olympics, I may continue to blog. But if I don't already have a blog, it's too late to start one now—I may only speak in the service of the corporate media.
Participants in the games may respond to written questions from reporters or participate in online chat sessions - akin to a face-to-face or telephone interview - but they may not post journals or online diaries, blogs in Internet parlance, until the Games end Aug. 29.
To protect lucrative broadcast contracts, athletes and other participants are also prohibited from posting any video, audio or still photos they take themselves, even after the games, unless they get permission ahead of time. (Photos taken by accredited journalists are allowed on the personal sites.)
Duke University's Duke Magazine for alumni was planning to post two athlete diaries on their site. Robert Bliwise, the editor, is quoted as saying,
This is unfathomable to me. I don't understand what the International Olympic Committee might be concerned about. It's a way to engage a wide audience with reporting from the field and therefore generate excitement and interest in the games.
What the IOC is worried about, Robert, is money. And it's unfathomable to me that that is unfathomable to you.
[A]n IOC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said third-party sites like Duke's are covered by the restrictions.
And what if an athlete should get itchy fingers and begin to blog?
The Olympic guidelines threaten to yank credentials from athletes who are in violation as well as to impose other sanctions or take legal action for any monetary damages.
But the official said the IOC has yet to take any action against an athlete.
You can bet that if they do take any action, it will be after the games have ended. Less bad press that way.
Sen. Corzine says he won't run for governor of N.J.
Hoping to capitalize on the disarray, the Republicans are clamoring for McGreevey to step down immediately. There were some Democratic voices as well, but the reason given from the Democratic side was that Sen. Jon Corzine would come in and win a special election handily.
Corzine has cooled what seems to me to be a very bad idea.
"The governor made clear in our conversation his absolute intent to serve until Nov. 15, 2004. I accept that decision as final," Corzine said in a statement.
Corzine doesn't say, however, that he wouldn't run if McGreevey changes his mind and resigns earlier.
New Jersey is pretty solidly in the Kerry camp, and it seems unlikely that a special election could upset the status quo for Kerry. But I'm not sure how certain a Democratic replacement for Corzine's Senate seat might be, and besides, this is no time to let the Republicans get away with anything.
The imperial presidency
A week ago Tuesday, I posted a little note on the meaning of Kerry's "response" to George Bush's "challenge" as to whether, knowing what he knows now, he would still vote as he did. Michael C. Dorf over at Findlaw has now reached the same conclusion, but since he's a lawyer and a scholar, it takes him about 2300 words to say it.
In response to Bush's challenge, Kerry said "I believe it's the right authority for a president to have." What does that mean?
Kerry appears to have been referring to an argument that economic sanctions and ordinary diplomacy with respect to Saddam had run their course. In this view, the only way to coerce Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions was to make a credible threat of war. And the only way to do that was for Congress to give the president the authority to go to war: thus, in Kerry's argot, it--the authority to go to war--is the right authority for a president to have.
Kerry's answer to Bush at the Canyon's edge
Quote of the Day
—David Baldwin, "Sanctions Have Gotten a Bum Rap"
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Halliburton back on the gravy train
The Center for Public Integrity reported Wednesday that KBR generated more revenue from government contracts in 2003 than during the years 1998 through 2002.
In 2003, Halliburton reported record revenue of $16.3 billion. Contracts from the Defense Department accounted for $4.3 billion. From 1998 through 2002, the contracts awarded to the company by the military amounted to less than $2.5 billion, according to the center's analysis
Analysts rate the stock a "buy."
Dumb your child down the Republican way
There is an article of faith to which you are expected to subscribe if you attend the Church of the Right-Wing Lunatics—that any task performed by the government can be performed both more cheaply and more innovatively by the private sector. This dogma has led to the mercenary army to be run by Aegis in Iraq and the $100 laundry bag cleaned by Halliburton. It has also led to the rise of the charter school.
Charters are self-governing public schools, often run by private companies, which operate outside the authority of local school boards, and have greater flexibility than traditional public schools in areas of policy, hiring and teaching techniques.
Now think about this, boys and girls—if charter schools are run by private companies, the companies expect to make what? That's right—a profit.1 So in addition to the teachers' salaries, the physical plant, the textbooks, somebody is expecting to get some bucks significantly above the salaries of a principal or a superintendent of public schools. After all, next to God there's only the profit motive.
Where's the profit going to come from? From the vaunted private-sector enhancement of efficiency? How could that be achieved? More students per teacher is about the only "efficiency" I can imagine. Well, there's always "cost-cutting." But there's not much to cut, except teachers' salaries, maintenance of the physical plant, and expensive textbooks.
Since privatizing public school money is such a transparently bad idea, you will not be surprised to learn that George Bush thinks charter schools are just spiffy, and that they have been given a big role in his "No Child Left Behind" Act. Specifically, the law mandates that consistently underperforming schools are to be closed—or be converted into charter schools. (Are you beginning to get a whiff that the plan all along was to destroy the public school system?)
Now comes the first national study comparing 4th graders in charter schools with those in the conventional public schools. I say "now comes," but the study was actually released by the Department of Education (DoE) last November. They just forgot to mention it.
Some gadflies over at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) went online and came up with the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress, popularly labeled by the media as the "nation's report card." When the results were discovered,
Federal officials said they did not intend to hide the performance of charter schools, and denied any political motivation for failing to publicly disclose that the data were available. "I guess that was poor publicity on our part," said Robert Lerner, the federal commissioner for education statistics.
I guess it was, Bob.
What the study found was that charter schools scored below conventional public schools in all areas, but significantly below in reading and math. The AFT found that these results held up when the data were compared with the data for inner-city schools and for poor children in inner-city schools. The lag was by as much as half a year.
The right-wing spin machine has been spinning ever since the fertilizer hit the spreader.
Chester Finn is former Assistant Secretary of Education, and now president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which concerns itself with such things as the "Stealth curriculum: Manipulating America's History Teachers."
He was interviewed on NPR and by the NY Times to give "balance." On NPR he said of the study,
It says that by and large charter schools are not doing any better than the regular public schools to which they are meant to be alternatives and under some circumstances they might be slightly worse at least for 4th graders, at least in reading and math....It merely gives you the opportunity to be different.
Breathtaking. But, Chester, there was never any evidence to support your ideas, and now there's evidence against them. Have you considered other lines of work?
Meanwhile, NPR reported yesterday that California has forced a shutdown of the largest operator of charter schools in the state, the California Charter Academy. The Academy runs 60 schools. They were closed for "financial and academic irregularities." ("California Closes Company's Charter Schools")
On a positive note—and so as not to hear that defeatist line "But what is the alternative?"—take a look at Bill Moyers' NOW from last week. The entire hour was given to a story on Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School, a New York City public school. It's an inspiring story of what can be done with true innovation—and social services. If you care about education, don't miss it.
1 George Bush's brother Neil realized there was money to be made in education. He founded an educational software company called Ignite! that uses "kindergarten methods to teach middle-school material to society's 'hunter-warrior types.'" Of course, where there's a Bush, there's a scandal sure to follow—and follow. [back]
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to church...
This is shaping up to be a day focussed on the theme of education.
I had a friend who attended a British public school (in American English, a private school) that was run by the Christian Brothers, a Roman Catholic order of monks. His tales of life at the school never failed to shock me—the beatings, the cruelty. I suppose these were "lessons in life" for the leader class.
Now comes a lawsuit alleging the same and worse treatment by the Sisters of St. Joseph at a Boston school for the deaf.
The alleged victims attended the school between 1936 and 1991. They allege that they were physically and sexually abused at ages ranging from 4 to 17.
"We want the nuns punished, and we want them to realize what they've done," said Nick Giancioppo, 72, who alleges he was repeatedly beaten in the face and head by school staff.
One of the alleged punishments was quite novel:
As a child at the Boston School for the Deaf from 1955 to 1967, Penny Braddock couldn't hear, but she could see.
When she was about 9 years old, she saw a nun follow a young girl into the bathroom and emerge with a metal bowl filled with urine, she said through a sign-language interpreter yesterday. She saw the nun pour it into a brown bottle. And later, the nun made all the girls line up and forced them to drink spoonfuls from the bottle, Braddock said.
"I went ahead, I held my breath, and I swallowed it down," she said. "There was nothing else I could do. It was disgusting. I would never do that to my children."
Boarding schools for children are almost always a bad idea. Not only are the children at risk for such treatment, but the schools can produce products such as the Bush family. George H.W., Barbara and George W. Bush all were boarded. It makes you wonder what they were forced to drink.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-b(3)
CIA: Secret Wars, Part III-b(3)
"One war begets another"
[The Clinton years - continued]
A bit of America’s history with bin-Laden, our policies that fuel the Islamic revolution, and the reasons for American fear of the Saudi royal family.
VOICEOVER: In 1995, the investigation into the attack on the World Trade Center led to the al-Quaeda organization and to Osama bin-Laden, a Saudi born in Riad. Nicknamed the “banker of the Holy War,” they estimated his fortune at two billion dollars. The Washington Post recalled the close links that always united the royal family of Saudi Arabia to bin-Laden and told how he was recruited, trained and armed by the CIA during the war in Afghanistan. During that period he benefitted from the total support of the Americans and of Saudi Arabia, which together had offered bin-Laden all the means for his ambitions.
ROBERT STEELE: For many long years the Americans absolutely did not realize that the royal family of Saudi Arabia financed terrorism in exchange for a certain internal stability.
JOSEPH TRENTO: But when Clinton left the Presidency, he knew that some money had been paid to bin-Laden by the royal family. He had proof of it.
ROBERT STEELE: The two parties, Democratic and Republican, decided to tolerate state terrorism financed by a state because the Saudis owned the oil.
ROBERT BAER: That’s the only reason that they shut their eyes, that they refuse to investigate Saudi Arabia and that they don’t ask them a single question about human rights. They still stone women accused of adultery. Have you heard anyone protest here?
JOSEPH TRENTO: What we set off, by applying that policy of support for an extremely repressive regime and by giving them all the money necessary to bleed the vital forces of Saudi Arabia dry, in reality only served to feed the Islamic revolution.
ROBERT STEELE: I think that in this matter it is a geostrategic error of the first order. We can’t permit ourselves to leave all moral sense behind and grow stupid for oil.
ROBERT BAER: Because if you take the risk of provoking a revolution in Saudi Arabia, oil production drops by 25%, the barrel goes up to $150, and the United States collapses.
JOSEPH TRENTO: We’re gutless in the face of the royal family because we’re terrified by the idea that they can cut us off from the oil.
Who gets paid—and how—for looking the other way.
VOICEOVER: The officials in charge, the successive presidents, closed their eyes to that petromonarchy that applies the law of the Koran to the letter but that anted up for the United States the $55 million that the Gulf War cost. The powerful American oil-producing groups shared among themselves the royal favors and a cake of $150 billion a year. Several members of the board of directors of the Saudi Aramco Company are Americans.
JOSEPH TRENTO: And the majority of the people in charge of the foreign policy of the United States are financially dependent on the royal family.
ROBERT BAER: We just have to get used to the idea that their lot is linked to that of the American oil-producing companies, that they directly receive ready money or stocks. It’s impossible, for example, to challenge the position that Exxon occupies today in Saudi Arabia.
ROBERT STEELE: They buy the politicians then supply them with the news so that all decisions are taken in favor of the companies that are looting the country.
ROBERT BAER: The diplomats, when they quit their posts and take their retirement, leave to work for Saudi Arabia or another country of the Gulf.
ALEXANDER HAIG: And if at the end of their career they choose to join up with the oil-producing groups, they should be forbidden, in my opinion, to take a post in the Middle East.
ROBERT BAER: If you are a well-known politician and are obliging to Saudi Arabia, you can fly off to Riad and get a million dollars to do a conference.
JOSEPH TRENTO: When Clinton says something nice about Saudi Arabia, don’t forget that he’s paid to give conferences there.
ROBERT BAER: That’s the way it works. Those who leave the White House take off to work for the Saudi banks as advisors.
JOSEPH TRENTO: The weight of the companies’ money, of the oil money, on American foreign policy is enormous. That’s the heart of it all.
And which group is sucking the hardest on the Saudi teat?
ROBERT BAER: The oil lobbies, and I know that it’s difficult to admit, are a lot more powerful than the CIA. There’s a hierarchy here in Washington. If the oil is there (raising his hand to eye-level), the CIA is here (lowering his hand to hip-level), far below. Next you have the State Department then the corporate lobbyists and next the advisors, the oil, the White House and finally the Congress (raising his hand gradually upward).
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-b(4) (The Clinton years - continued)
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-a(1) (Beginning, the George H.W. Bush years)
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-b(1) (The Clinton years)
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-c (The George W. Bush years)
Words of wisdom and comfort from the Bushes
George Bush flew to Florida to see what he could see. It looked like a hurricane had been there. He forgot to stuff the sock in his mouth that his handlers like him to wear in public, so he had to put his foot in it instead.
Conjuring up his glory days in the National Guard and his triumphant landing on that flight deck, the President did his best to have a thought.
We choppered over and saw the devastation of this area. A lot of people's lives are turned upside down," the president said during a brief visit to some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods on the Gulf Coast. "We've got ice and water moving in. Trailers for people to live in are moving in. The state is providing security so that people can have peace of mind that their neighborhoods will be safe. There's a lot of compassion moving in the area; the Red Cross is here."
A lot of compassion moving in the area?
He gave it another try.
What I'm telling you is that there's a lot of help moving into this part of the world. It's going to take a while to rebuild it," he said. "But the government's job is to help people help rebuild their lives, and that's what's happening."
Coming from a person who had a mind, that last sentence could have caused a dip in the Dow, as Wall Street pondered the pillaging of their "nest eggs" by the thief of government largesse. Fortunately for the markets, everyone knew he didn't mean it. In fact, everyone knew he didn't know what he meant.
Meanwhile brother Jeb had to face the fact that the people of the area had voted heavily Republican. Hoping to ward off speculation that Hurricane Charley was God's punishment for having elected him governor, he peered into the inscrutable ways of the Almighty.
"God doesn't follow the linear projections of computer models," Bush said outside the emergency management center, whose roof caved in during the hurricane. "This is God's way of telling us that he's almighty and we're mortal."
Well, Jeb, if this is a message from God, are you sure we ought to fix it?
Monday, August 16, 2004
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-b(2)
Well, I’m behind in getting this section of CIA: Secret Wars posted, with all the excitement in Venezuela.
Note: The unidentified speakers were identified in previous portions of the transcript. If you're coming upon this transcript for the first time, you might want to begin at the beginning, or at least here.
CIA: Secret Wars, Part III-b(2)
"One war begets another"
[The Clinton years - continued]
VOICEOVER: February 26, 1993, hardly a month after the arrival of Bill Clinton in the White House, the explosion of a boobytrapped truck parked in the parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York caused six deaths and around a thousand injured. For the first time in its history, the United States was attacked by terrorists on its own territory. The CIA and the FBI laid the responsibility on each other for the failures of the intelligence services. The FBI wasn’t involved if the operation was developed abroad, which is the preserve of the CIA. On its side, the CIA reminded that it was forbidden to investigate or operate on United States territory.
ALEXANDER HAIG:23 They should have taken that as a warning, that’s clear. Fifteen thousand Americans almost died in that first attack on one of the World Trade Center buildings. Only the poor placement of the explosive charge saved them.
ROBERT STEELE: That first attack was a real warning and they didn’t take it into account.
JOSEPH TRENTO: The war had begun some years ago but nobody wanted to admit it. The first attack on the World Trade Center was a call to vigilance, but nobody paid attention to it. The Muslim extremists had been recruiting in Washington since the Seventies.
WILLIAM COHEN:24 We were naive about the determination of these groups to attack us mortally. We should have proven ourselves a great deal more vigilant than we were.
ROBERT STEELE: After the first attack on the World Trade Center, they seized a whole collection of documents in Arabic concerning the attack, but they didn’t translate even one of those documents. There was only one person who spoke Arabic in the FBI office in New York. In any case, he didn’t want to do it and he didn’t have the money to get it done outside. He didn’t feel like wasting his time translating documents. He considered himself to be too important to do that. Secondly, he didn’t have the wherewithal to pay someone in the private sector to have it translated. Thirdly, he didn’t consider those document to be of much interest.
WILLIAM BLUM:25 The FBI has a tactic, the same for years. They love to conduct surveillance, follow suspects for a long period. Because the longer they observe them, the more they learn about them as to what they’re planning and the better the chance of arresting the greatest number of people. So they prefer to wait, to wait, to wait some more, and in the case of the attack on the World Trade Center in ’93, they undoubtedly waited too long.
ROBERT STEELE: Because the FBI doesn’t understand anything and considers the information not very credible from the very outset –which seems crazy to me, absolutely astonishing. But I don’t say that to clear the CIA, which completely failed in its attempts to infiltrate the worldwide terrorist network. But in the World Trade Center affair, the FBI tossed everything into the air for only one reason: these are bureaucrats. And because it’s a bureaucracy that’s naive and arrogant at the same time, they don’t take anything seriously.
The Ames Affair. As Robert Steele says, “Ames was an alcoholic working in an agency of alcoholics.”
VOICEOVER: But above all it was the Ames affair that was going to escalate the war that the CIA and FBI had engaged in for years. Aldridge Ames, director of the counterespionage service of the CIA, was suspected of having been a mole of the Soviet secret services since ’85. Ames would be responsible for the elimination of 130 agents working for the CIA and the deaths of 10 others executed by the KGB.
ROBERT BAER: Aldridge Ames was a failure. He should never have occupied that post nor should he have ever attained it. They should have stopped him earlier.
ROBERT STEELE: Aldridge Ames was known to be an agent of rare incompetence and an alcoholic who had exceeded all the accepted norms with regard to alcoholism. And the secret services toasted him. Ames was an alcoholic working in an agency of alcoholics. They had put him at the head of the Soviet counterespionage service. A failure, an incompetent and a drunk was responsible for Soviet counterespionage. Pointless after that to try to find the origins of the death of the secret services.
The FBI ferrets out Aldridge Ames and scores a major coup over the CIA
VOICEOVER: The CIA’s internal security conducted an initial investigation without success, and the matter was haphazardly classified as closed. The American government, for which the spy affair was the most serious in the history of the United States, then decided to entrust the investigation to the FBI, which took back the file and unmasked Aldridge Ames several months later. It was a rebuff for the CIA and a resounding victory for the FBI.
JAMES WOOLSEY: We couldn’t find anything and we weren’t really working in direct collaboration with the FBI.
WILLIAM WEBSTER: They managed to do absolutely nothing, examining the same old papers without ending up anywhere. They needed to have ordered an additional step in the investigation.
RICHARD HOLM: And the FBI, which is the only agency that has the right to investigate American citizens within the country, then took back the file. And they ended up nabbing him.
ROBERT BAER: And the FBI moved into the CIA, and that dirty counterespionage affair made all of us potential suspects.
ROBERT GATES: Certainly the relationship between the CIA and FBI had become dreadful, really horrible.
ROBERT BAER: They took the Ames affair as a pretext and declared that there were hundreds of Russian moles inside the CIA and that they were going to drive them all out. And they besieged the CIA.
MILTON BEARDEN: The CIA suffered seriously from it, seriously suffered irreversible damage.
ROBERT BAER: I think the arrest of Ames sounded the deathknell, the death of the CIA, of the CIA as I had known it.
MILTON BEARDEN: At a time when people were saying: “But who still needs the CIA?”, it was 1994, the Cold War had ended and nobody had ever heard of bin-Laden.
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-a(1) (Beginning, the George H.W. Bush years)
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-a(2) (The George H.W. Bush years - continued)
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-b(1) (The Clinton years)
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-b(3) (The Clinton years - continued)
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-c (The George W. Bush years)
Carter and OAS expected to accept Venezuelan election result
Finally a rumor—and since the rumor is being reported by the opposition to Chavez, I'll give it some credence. In a bitter statement Descifrado reports [Spanish],
In the next few hours the OAS and the Carter Center will make an announcement that they recognize the win of the "No" (vote), which is to say they will endorse the results put out this morning by the NEC. [my translation]
Prices on the oil futures market dropped slightly after the results of the election were announced. The oil producers primarily want stability, and they don't particularly care where it comes from.
Where's the ice cream truck?
Over the past month the insurgents have brought civilian trucking into central Iraq to a virtual standstill. Three months ago, for example, 1,500 Jordanian trucks plied Highway 10 between Amman and Baghdad every day. Now only 30 a day make the perilous trip. Abdul Majid Habashneh, head of the Truckers Association of Jordan, calls the situation "a disaster." He says 30 Jordanian drivers have been killed in the past year, and 300 trucks have been either stolen or lost. Only 4 percent of Jordan's fleet of independent trucks (which once totaled 11,500) are now operating. "It's never been this bad, even during the [beginning] of the war," says Habashneh.
The shutdown of the Jordanian drivers follows upon the withdrawal of Turkish drivers.
U.S. officials and Iraqi puppets are of course denying that the actions of the insurgents are having any effect.
"Critical supplies such as food, fuel, spare parts and ammunition will continue to be delivered on time and where needed," says Maj. Richard Spiegel , a spokesman for the Coalition's convoy operations. True, military convoys aren't being attacked for the most part. But many less vital Coalition supplies come in civilian trucks. Muhammed Suleiman Saley, a Jordanian, was carrying ice cream and meat to U.S. bases in Tikrit a month ago when he and his truck disappeared without a trace.
Iraq's Interior minister, Falah al-Nakib, claims the truck attacks "haven't affected the economy of the country yet." But Iraq is heavily dependent on imports of everything from wheat to consumer products, and nearly all goods come in by road. Tanker trucks even bring in most of the oil-rich country's gasoline, and lines have been steadily growing at the pumps.
The sabotage campaign, combined with unrest in southern areas, has cut oil exports from the Basra terminal from an average of 1.9 million barrels a day to 840,000. That's one of the major factors that sent worldwide oil prices above $45 per barrel last week for the first time in decades. "We will be able to pick up these gangsters in a very short time, and we are working on it," vows al-Nakib. That may be wishful thinking. A U.S. contractor says there isn't enough manpower to significantly upgrade highway security. The supply effort is too big and, ominously, the insurgents are getting more aggressive, not less.
All journalists ordered to leave Najaf (updated)
Police ordered all journalists out of the city on 15 August, supposedly for their own safety, and warned that those who refused to leave risked arrest.
"This blackout on news from the city is completely unacceptable and is unprecedented in Iraq," said the worldwide press freedom organisation's secretary-general, Robert Ménard. "The presence of journalists in Najaf is vital since the worst atrocities are always committed in the absence of independent witnesses. Reporters must be allowed to decide for themselves whether they wish to leave for their own safety."
Najaf's police chief announced on the morning of 15 August that the interior ministry had ordered all journalists, Iraqi or foreign, to leave the city within two hours. He said people were planning to attack the media.
A senior police officer went to a city hotel where journalists were staying, ordered them to leave at once or face arrest and said the city was now "closed." Several then decided to leave. If all of them were to, the new attack would only be covered by journalists "embedded" with US military units.
Iraqi journalist Mohammad Kazem, who works for the Iranian Arab-language TV station Al-Alam, was arrested when he made a live broadcast from a rooftop in Najaf, according to press reports from Teheran.
So far I see no reports of this in the American media. Perhaps all their reporters are embedded with the military.
The British Independent has published a much more detailed account, and it's not flattering.
Journalists working in Iraq have long lived with the danger of being targeted by insurgents fighting US-led forces and their Iraqi allies.
But in Najaf the roles have been abruptly reversed. Now the Iraqi police threaten journalists, and the insurgents welcome them.
The authoritarian stance towards the press seems redolent of the days of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi government has closed the offices of al-Jazeera, the most important Arab satellite station, accusing it of inciting the insurgents.
In Najaf journalists were summoned yesterday morning by the city's police chief, Ghalab al-Jazeera. It was said that he wanted to parade some captured members of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, who have launched their second uprising in four months.
Instead the police chief delivered a blunt warning: journalists had two hours to leave Najaf or face arrest. Mr Jazeera's official explanation for the decision was that police guarding the hotel had found 550 lbof dynamite in a car nearby. That seems unlikely.
Shortly after the deadline expired, the first bullets struck the building. But the sniper was almost certainly an Iraqi policeman, given that the Mahdi army fighters were more than two miles away.
Then armed police raided the hotel and tried to arrest the journalists, before imposing a new two-hour deadline to leave the city.
A deputation of journalists was denied an audience with Najaf's governor, Adnan al-Zurufi. The policeman outside his office was brusque. "If you do not leave by the deadline we will shoot you," he said.
That was enough for all but a handful of British and American journalists who hunkered down in the hotel as the deadline expired.
It was not hard to see why Iraq's interim government might prefer journalists out of the city.
On Saturday, negotiations with Mahdi army militants holed up in the Imam Ali shrine broke down and a ceasefire was called off.
The options facing the US marines and their Iraqi allies are grim. An offensive on the shrine, burial place of Imam Ali, cousin of the prophet Mohammed and inspiration for Shia Islam, is likely to push moderate Shias over to Sadr's side.
America would prefer the fledgling Iraqi security services to carry out the attack, but they are poorly equipped and trained and unlikely to succeed.
Preliminary result—Chavez Survives Recall
The president of the National Election Council has just announced a preliminary count of "No" (Chavez) 58%, "Yes" (anti-Chavez) 42%. Two members of the 5-person council, anti-Chavez supporters, have refused to back the result, saying that certain "procedural checks had not been carried out on the results as required."
After the first extension, the polls had been kept open an additional 4 hours to close at midnight, Caracas time.
La hora de la chucurrucuticas
At 12:45 Francisco Toro, a former freelance journalist and an opposition Ph.D. economics student was writing in his blog "Caracas Chronicles,"
Past midnight, and the mood in the opposition is exhultant. The real question now is how the government will deal with the staggering defeat they're being dealt. Will they grin and bear it, or are there more tricks to come?
UnionRadio reports that President Carter has just left Opposition headquarters at the Tamanaco Hotel headed towards the National Electoral Council. This is crunch time, la hora de la chucurrucuticas. The next few hours are critical.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, when all is said and done, we'll have to choose a major Caracas street to rename Avenida Presidente Carter...
The question is, how is he going to deal with a "staggering defeat"? Toro seems an honest, if disingenuous, sort. In his post on Friday he wrote,
Today, I have serious doubts that the Batequebrao Squad is really up to running the country. But looking at the image's of yesterday's march, I can see that the country has changed, decisively, over the last 6 years. If the "Si" wins and the regime changes, the conductors will not be able to break free of the leaders, because the leaders will be only too aware that it is them (i.e. US!) who put them in power. The era of closed-doors elite decisionmaking is over - the leaders have realized that the conductors work for them, not the other way around. [my emphasis]
Do I have a bridge to sell this guy, or what?
So if you're following this election, as I am, into the wee morning hours and are waiting for the next tidbit of news, you might while away the time by reading James Petras' "Venezuela's Referendum: The Truth About Jimmy Carter".
On the importance of this election:
On August 14, 2004, Venezuelan voters will decide on a referendum, which has the utmost world historic and strategic significance. What is at stake is nothing less than the future of the energy world, the relations between the US and Latin America (particularly Cuba), and the political and socio-economic fate of millions of Venezuela's urban and rural poor.
On the consequences of an opposition takeover:
If Chavez is defeated and if the Right takes power, it will privatize the state petroleum and gas company, selling it to US multinationals, withdraw from OPEC, raise its production and exports to the US, thus lowering Venezuelan revenues by half or more. Internally the popular health programs in the urban "ranchos" will end along with the literary campaign and public housing for the poor. The agrarian reform will be reversed and about 500,000 land reform recipients (100,000 families) will be turned off the land. This will be accomplished through extensive and intensive state bloodletting, jailing and extrajudicial assassination, and intense repression of pro-Chavez neighborhoods, trade unions and social movements. The apparently "democratic" referendum will have profoundly authoritarian, colonial and socially regressive results if the opposition wins.
Some features of this election—getting the poor out to vote; having a meaningful distinction in the choices that the vote represents—make it one of the most dramatic and inspiring elections any of us have seen for a while. Now, why do I keep thinking of Chile? What was it about Chile?
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Somebody's doing their job ...
I don't, by the way, intend to say that comparable compilations don't exist here somewhere—that would be "to prove a negative." But I will say that I haven't seen one.
Venezuela election update
...exit polls showed him to be trailing the opposition by almost a million votes.
The mid-morning results showed that the opposition, already boasting an enormous 1,758,000 votes to Chavez's 798,000, is well on its way to reaching the target of 3.76 million votes it needs to oust the authoritarian, left-wing President.
No point of view in that press report, was there?
Meanwhile, the head of the National Election Council (NEC) has authorized the abandonment, if necessary, of the fingerprinting machines in order to reduce the wait to vote. He has also assured that everyone will have the opportunity to vote, even if the polling must be extended.
Jimmy Carter says,
The Carter Center has participated in more than 50 elections worldwide, and this is the biggest number of voters I have ever seen.
Venezuela election update
In a foretaste of the newly invented impediments to voting that many voters may experience here in November,
Opposition leader Pompeyo Marquez said in a televised press conference in Caracas that long lines of voters were caused by fingerprint scanning machines not functioning. The machines, which were installed to prevent fraud, were malfunctioning, he said.
Chavez told reporters that he even had troubles having his fingerprint scanned after voting in the 23 de Enero voting center.
After the Venezuelans get past the fingerprint scanner, they have to face an untested touchscreen voting machine made by Smartmatic, an unheard-of voting machine vendor out of Boca Raton, Florida. Now there's a confidence-builder if there ever was one.
But credit where credit is due—the Smartmatic machines are supposed to produce a paper ballot that the voter then drops into a ballot box, in case an audit is called for. The American way is so much more efficient—all you have to do is just touch the screen, then lie back and trust the authorities. Those Venezuelans must be crooks.
The opposition leader Marquez says,
"Some people have been waiting up to eight hours to vote[.]"... "We're going to be in the 'Guinness Book of World Records.'"I say that if the Venezuelans make it into Guinness, they'd better enjoy their fame while it lasts. After all, we have an election coming in November, and we don't like to come in second.
Democracy in action—pressing issue of the day #1
In a 2500-word article titled "Chicken What?" I learned three things:
- that according to one of Daschle's aides, Thune's campaign manager told the aide that his boss was a "chickenshit"—not once, but twice.
that according to Daschle, this kind of langugage is beyond the pale of the acceptable in South Dakota and that an apology is expected.
that according to Thune, no apology is necessary. It is rather Daschle who should apologize for not having scheduled all the debates that Thune wants besides the debate they're about to have in five days.
Since I'm not from South Dakota, I think I can clear this up in a way that will be fair to both sides and perhaps leave the Rapid City Journal free to pursue other interests at the same time.
Tom Daschle is a chickenshit, and John Thune's campaign manager is a foul-mouthed son-of-a-bitch.
Now I wonder if there was anything else troubling them.
Venezuelans ready and eager to vote
The recall election today in Venezuela looks to me very much like a preview of the American election in November. Venezuela is South America's oldest continuing democracy, and the voters can hardly wait to get to the polls. At issue, on a Yes-No vote, is the recall of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. This is the first presidential recall vote in Venezuela's history.
According to Reuters,
Even before polls opened just after 6 a.m. (1000 GMT), long lines of hundreds of voters formed outside ballot centers, which were guarded by troops. Some brought chairs to sit on, sipped coffee from thermos flasks or read newspapers.
Reuters says the "stakes are high,"
At stake is the survival of Chavez's self-styled revolution, a populist government that has spent millions of dollars of Venezuela's oil wealth on subsidized health, education and other social programs for the poor.
For his opponents, the referendum is the last opportunity before December 2006 elections to vote out a leader they see as a bullying dictator squandering Venezuela's oil resources to promote a dangerous, self-serving revolutionary project.
Imagine spending oil money on health, education and welfare! It's a scandal is what it is.
The poor would be much better served if all that money were to go to the rich. The poor have absolutely no patience. They don't understand that they must wait until the rich decide to trickle, as we do in America. It's not that Americans don't believe in income redistribution, it's just that it's supposed to come in a trickle, not a gush.
It's also supposed to arrive late. Otherwise, the poor won't have to struggle, which George Bush's own life has shown to be such an edifying experience. He's had to struggle to attend National Guard meetings. He's had to struggle to stay sober. He's had to struggle to speak English. Now look where it's brought him.
Early results are expected by midnight tonight. Stay posted.