Saturday, November 27, 2004
The death of the Left?
Jacques focuses on the historical incongruity of right-winger Tony Blair as head of the Labour Party.
"Think the unthinkable" was the message - though it never amounted to more than entertaining what previously would have been regarded as too rightwing. Neoliberalism became the new commonsense, privatisation was embraced with ardour, the notion of equality banished from the lexicon. This is all familiar territory. Yet we need to be reminded of it because, by any pre-97 yardstick, it is extraordinary. Apart from a very limited attachment to the state, this prime minister, by that old yardstick, does not belong to the left; he lies to the right of every Tory prime minister since the war bar, of course, his political lodestar, Mrs Thatcher.
And the reason?
The reason for the collapse of the left could not be clearer - or more fundamental. Its parameters, its confidence, its mode of organisation, its narrative, its very being, depended on the existence of the labour movement. And it is the latter that has effectively disappeared. The trade unions are a shrunken and wizened version of what they were, pushed to the perimeters of political life, while the party itself has, in its New Labour guise, been reconstituted, such that in style, funding and apparat, it looks much like what a modernised Tory party might be. Labour has been shorn of its roots and meaning.
And the consequences?
The left may have been marginalised - but the imperatives that gave rise to it and which it sought to address are now more glaring and insistent than at any time since the second world war. Inequality, at both a global and national level, has been steadily increasing, an integral product of the neoliberal model of globalisation that has dominated the world order over the last quarter-century. And the consequences of this inequality have played a crucial role in helping to shape the present phase of global politics, namely Arab Muslim grievance, terrorism and American unilateralism.
And then there is the other imperative — imperialism. It is ironic that a term, a concept, nay a phenomenon, so deeply associated with the left, should have returned with such a vengeance — in its most naked form since the collapse of the European empires — so soon after the demise of the left and when so many New Labour-style witchdoctors were declaring the old to be dead and history to be bunk. Welcome to empire and colonialism: history is back in town
The left, as history knew it, will not be reborn. But one can be sure that its concerns will find expression in new forms, albeit in a world where Europe counts for far less and ethnicity for far more.... If the left is dead, the concerns that gave rise to it are as powerful and urgent as ever.
Perhaps I'm not so convinced of the trend as is Jacques. Certainly Western capitalists would like to convince not only the citizens of the West but also the governments and peoples of non-Western lands that capitalism has once and for all proven its superiority over socialism and communism. But they have had to buy the mainstream media in order to get the message out.1
And if corporatism and consumerism are ascendant, their very excesses may be the cause of their downfall. If the labor movement provided a stable and powerful community of interest to oppose capitalism, the small-d democrats2 of today, aided by the organizational opportunities afforded by the internet, may well arise as an even greater and more powerful community of interest for tomorrow.
1The internet has suddenly reared its democratic socialist head like four and twenty blackbirds popping up in the king's pie, and the capitalists are beside themselves trying to figure out how to own it—along with water and air.
The first and foremost effort of the Left, with respect to media, should not be to re-establish the Fairness Doctrine nor even to prevent further monopolization. The hope for media does not lie here but in the internet. And the protection and democratization of the internet should be uppermost in everyone's mind. Unfortunately that is not always the case. [back]
.... Far from the free market and democracy enjoying the kind of harmonious relationship beloved of western propaganda, democracy grew in fact as a constraint on the market, holding it at bay and enabling a pluralism of values and imperatives....But then he's not very optimistic about the future of democracy either. [back]
Halliburton losing its ass—Oh sorry, that was our ass
John Solomon of the AP reports,
A third or more of the government property Halliburton Co. was paid to manage for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq could not be located by auditors, investigative reports to Congress show.
... [A]n audit earlier this summer found KBR had lost track of more than $18 million worth of equipment in Iraq. Investigators could not track down 52 of 164 randomly selected items in an inventory of more than 20,000 items overseen by KBR, including two electric generators worth nearly $1 million, 18 trucks or SUVs and six laptop computers.
But Halliburton would be hard-pressed to find a way to offend the Pentagon—
Bowen's report said the Pentagon agency that managed KBR in Iraq did not agree with all of the findings, and the agency declined to force KBR to change its inventory tracking system.
The Pentagon "stated that the contractor has put an accurate property control system in place that is effective, and an analysis of the system does not need to be performed at this time,'' Bowen's report said.
Bowen told lawmakers the Pentagon didn't provide any information to back its conclusions. However, he said the government did agree to "conduct a thorough review of CPA property and seek to recover the cost of missing equipment from the responsible party."
Of course, what the Pentagon would know about inventory-control systems is as much a mystery as the whereabouts of its own inventory.
Early leaks of the report came out in July, right after Paul Bremer of the CPA officially ended his reign. Back then HalliburtonWatch.org noted—
The disappearance of government property comes on the heels of a new report from Congress which says the war on terror needs an extra $12.3 billion over the amount provided by Congress last year. The Congressional Government Accountability Office said "anticipated costs will exceed the supplemental funding provided for the war by about $12.3 billion for the current fiscal year." The report cites Halliburton's LOGCAP contract with the Army as a primary reason why the military needs an extra $12.3 billion in funding. "LOGCAP costs have grown significantly as contractors replaced soldiers providing complex support functions," said the report.
Evelyn Pringle of Independent Media TV summarized the history and exploitation of the LOGCAP contracting program—
The LOGCAP program (Logistic Civil Augmentation Program), was created by Cheney in the early 1990s when the last Bush was in office. As defense secretary, Cheney hired Halliburton to conduct a classified study to determine whether private companies should handle the military's civil logistics.
The study concluded that military outsourcing would be cost effective. The plan that Halliburton developed covered all services to soldiers, to include the construction of military housing, transporting food and supplies, delivering mail, serving food at military cafeterias, janitorial duties, and just about anything else the military might need. When the military needs a service performed, it issues a task order (mini-contract), that outlines the job that the contractor is to perform.
LOGCAP contracts are often referred to as "cost plus" contracts. The contractor is paid a fee above the cost of the services performed, ranging from 1% to 9%, depending on its job performance.... Simply put, when a company’s profits are based on a percentage of the cost, the more the company spends, the more it makes.
On August 3, 1992, Cheney awarded the first LOGCAP contract to (who else but) Halliburton. The Washington Post noted at the time, "The Pentagon chose [KBR] to carry out the study and subsequently selected the company to implement its own plan." I've also heard it said that Cheney paid Halliburton to create its own market.
And of course the rest is history. Three years after Cheney gave Halliburton the multi-billion dollar contract, the company made him CEO. Over the next 5 years, Cheney reaped employment earnings and stock options worth more than $40 million. Who says it doesn't pay to make friends in high places?
Friday, November 26, 2004
Will the administration be going on "Orange alert"?
Neiwert posted the Conclusion of the series before the November 2 election. Considering the near future, he wrote—
What's still lacking, however, from the basic recipe for genuine fascism is the emergence of a genuine crisis of democracy. Unfortunately, because of the extreme volatility of the political environment, the potential for such a crisis erupting exists regardless of whatever among the likely scenarios plays out in Tuesday's election:
Neiwert proposes four scenarios centered about possible outcomes or events. The last of these is "a major terrorist attack during the election"—
As Richard Hasen pointed out in Slate, this is "the true nightmare scenario": An attack on a major city in a battleground state could prevent thousands, even millions of voters from making it to the polls, triggering a political and legal fight over how to handle the matter afterward. It's worth noting, of course, that not only are Oklahoma City-style domestic terrorists the potential perpetrators of such acts, they are, under the current charged milieu, those most likely. But if such an attack does occur, the presumptive suspects of course will be al Qaeda.
Neiwert searches such an event for its potential contribution to the rise of fascism—
Of course, terrorist attacks needn't occur only on Election Day to have a potentially profound impact on American society. Indeed, if they are severe or frequent enough, it is clear that they would clearly represent a continuing source of crisis for democracy. Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's vote, the power of terrorism to spark such a crisis remains profound.
He's certainly correct from that perspective. But the phrase "a major terrorist attack during the election" may also be understood from a perspective in which the election is still underway.
This is of course the case, legally speaking, so long as votes are being counted and certified and so long as the true electors of the Electoral College have not cast their ballots.
But it is also the case politically in the minds of many voters, who under normal government would have considered the election over on November 3. While we are not seeing street demonstrations (yet) à la Ukraine, the voters' rights organizations have been making real progress in forcing an examination of the popular vote.
It occurred to me that the possibility of a terrorist attack, staged or real—an event we all feared might occur just prior to or during the election (and which did occur in verbal fashion via the bin-Laden video)—has not ended so long as the election is perceived as not really over.
Regarding election irregularities and voters' rights initiatives, many bloggers have commented on the silence of the media. A few have commented on the silence of the Democrats. But no one seems to be wondering about the silence of the Republicans, and most particularly, the top of this administration.
Of course, I realize that it is in the Republicans' interest to be seen as self-assuredly going about their business. But I cannot for a moment believe that they are not following the progress of the voters' rights efforts with an avidity equal to or greater than yours or mine. And it would be equally out of character for them not to have a Rovian plan on the ready should matters begin to get out of hand.
And what could end those voters' rights efforts faster than a terrorist attack, or even its baby brother the "Orange alert"? An end to any further questioning of the election would receive the full support of the Democratic party, in the interest of "national unity" at such a "grave time."
So remember—the election is not over, and neither is the threat of "terrorism." The administration just hasn't felt the need to raise the alert level—yet.
Quote of the Day
—Frank Rich in "The Great Indecency Hoax"
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
There is a very odd story making its way through the media, having to do with British security "foiling" terrorist plots on Heathrow airport and the Canary Wharf. I say it is "odd" because of its origin. The story was broken by ITV, Britain's largest commercial television network and a part of the Rupert Murdoch media empire.
ITV News understands that the security services have thwarted four or five September 11-style attacks on targets including Canary Wharf and Heathrow Airport.
One plot is said to have involved pilots being trained to fly into target buildings, including London's famous financial centre and the world's busiest airport.
It is one of a number of attacks planned by al-Qaeda since 9/11 that have come to nothing after the authorities intervened.
How do you like that for precision?
The story concludes by noting—
The disclosure comes as the Government prepares to unveil a series of tough law-and-order Bills in this morning's Queen's Speech, setting out the legislative programme for what is expected to be the final session of the current Parliament.
So the story has been picked up by pretty much everyone, but the British government is remaining "mum."
Here's how Australia's The Age reported on the report—
The reports yesterday and today quoted unidentified sources. They did not say when or where the plots were uncovered, or how close they came to being carried out.
ITV News and the Daily Mail newspaper claimed the attacks on the two high-profile targets were among four or five strikes that had been planned by terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
As well as preventing the attacks, British authorities also disrupted training programs for suicide pilots, ITV said.
Officials at Britain's Home Office and Metropolitan Police in London refused to comment today.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "We never comment on security matters."
Right, Tony. But your government does leak to Murdoch-owned news outlets,
The Scotsman, which normally appears to strive for accuracy, had this for its lede [all emphasis added]—
AN AL-QAEDA terror plot involving aircraft being flown simultaneously into the towers of Canary Wharf and Heathrow Airport has been foiled by British security forces, it emerged last night.
Reporters Chris McAuley and Russell Jackson tried to get some column-inches out of it, so they interviewed a terrorism expert. Either their reporting, or the expert—I'm not sure which—becomes rather incoherent at this point.
On the basis of knowing absolutely nothing about the specifics, Dr. Magnus Ranstorp ventures forth with—
If this is the case [that Canary Wharf and Heathrow were targets], then of course there may have been different degrees of development and preparation for such attacks - it may not have been fully operational plans that were either days or hours away.
No. It may have been some doodles in a schoolboy's notebook for all we know.
This didn't prevent Dr. Ranstorp from praising the security services—
It is a great credit to the law enforcement and security services who are carrying out one of the more advanced counter-terrorism operations in Europe.
The article goes on with the obligatory mention of the upcoming proposals for changes to Britain's legal system—
News of the plots against British targets came ahead of a Queen’s Speech, which is expected to be dominated by the issue of security. Numerous bills tackling terrorism, organised crime and anti-social behaviour have been trailed.
Home Secretary David Blunkett’s more controversial proposals, such as the use in court of evidence acquired by wire taps, will be shelved until after the General Election expected in May.
However, the government’s programme will set the scene for a poll [election] campaign Tony Blair is said to want to fight on security. Opponents have accused the Home Secretary of deliberately creating a climate of fear.
One of the government's proposals not mentioned here is the ending of the right to trial by jury. While the media seem disinclined to mention it, one of the consequences of this would be to make the holding of secret trials much more convenient.
Canary Wharf is a financial center, so any plans for attack mirror the Orange Alert to which Wall Street was subjected shortly before the election. You did notice, didn't you, that the threat level there was lowered just after November 2? Apparently, in the wake of George Bush's electoral triumph, al-Qaeda just gave it up as a bad job and went home. Perhaps they will be similarly flummoxed by Blair's re-election. But that is unlikely to stop the advancement of the Patriot Act in the U.S. or of Home Secretary David Blunkett's proposals to strip what few rights remain from British citizens.
But I would never wish to imply that Tony Blair could be so crass as to use terrorism in the service of his re-election. No, in this case he may be using it to fend off that nasty group in Parliament that is expected to table a motion for his impeachment today.
I really wanted to share the account given by Murdoch's other organ, the New York Post, so that we may all appreciate "spin" in its purer manifestations—
Chilling plans for a 9/11-style terror onslaught — complete with hijacked planes — targeted London's Heathrow Airport and famed financial district Canary Wharf, it was reported yesterday.
The ghoulish copycat plot was thwarted by British intelligence sometime after the U.S. terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — and before the would-be suicide pilots could finish training for their fiendish mission — sources told Britain's ITV News.
The ominous plan was one of up to five targeting the country and concocted by al Qaeda, which was behind 9/11, a senior administrative source in Britain said.
Monday, November 22, 2004
Spooks or Troops? The White House can't decide
What can this mean? It's hard to imagine that Porter Goss, CIA chief, would object to anything the President wants. There's something here that doesn't meet the eye.
Is there more resistance in the CIA to Bush despite the recent top-level resignations—or to the 9/11 Committee recommendations—than is making it into the press? Or could Daddy Bush, an old CIA hand himself, be speaking up for the ol' Alma Mater? I don't know. Just asking.
Before Goss came in and McLaughlin went out, the CIA and the Pentagon were waltzing arm in arm, though the CIA was a bit put out with the 9/11 report—
This summer, McLaughlin said he wouldn't accept the Sept. 11 commission's recommendation. He has since been replaced by CIA Director Porter Goss.A marriage made in Heaven.
"I think we have a perfect marriage now of CIA and military capabilities. CIA brings to the mix agility and speed. Military brings lethality," McLaughlin said. [emphasis added]
Perhaps somebody, somewhere doesn't like the way the CIA has been distributing the moolah—
Some nibbling away at the CIA's domain is already under way. Recent legislation would give the U.S. Special Operations Command up to $25 million to support "foreign forces, irregular forces, groups or individuals" that help U.S. efforts against terrorists and other enemies. Such aid - which could mean cash, weapons or other assistance to often shadowy groups or figures - has traditionally been handled by the CIA.
Bush signed the measure into law last month.
Or maybe it's just a dispute about who gets to do the fun stuff—
Paramilitary operations can include a host of activities, including training rebel forces; destabilizing governments and organizations through violence; and directly attacking enemy targets and individuals. The operations can be handled by CIA paramilitary teams or units out of the Pentagon, such as the Green Berets or Delta Force.
Or could it be that Bush, by asking for the Pentagon and CIA to work it out, is avoiding the unpleasantness of imposing a solution on either Rumsfeld or Goss, the heads of the two agencies that he most needs to carry out his nefarious plans?
I really don't know. But I do wish some reporter would ask, don't you?
What if the French had really done this?
Republican election victories worry France
Paris fears that the right-wing party's recent gains in America's electoral contests will boost George Bush's chances of regaining the presidency
PARIS, France - As right-wing leaders make gains across America, an old French adversary has set off alarm bells in Paris: George Bush's Republicans.
"People have begun to lose their fear of the Republicans," said a popular Republican mayor.
Not so in Paris. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week dispatched one of its top North American specialists, Daniel Fisque, to Washington to meet with Democratic leaders and emphasize Paris's concern that they could help Bush win in 2004 if they don't settle their differences and reunite.
A week earlier, French Minister of Defense Michèle Alliot-Marie visited in a show of French support for embattled Democratic candidate John Kerry. Alliot-Marie also urged American officials to destroy hundreds of 1980s-era surface-to-air missiles that French officials fear could fall into the hands of terrorists.
The developments come after a string of victories by Republicans.
Liberal Americans fear Bush would take the country in the more radical direction of Vice President Dick Cheney and maverick Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
French officials believe the key to containing Bush is persuading leaders of America's Democratic party, or DNC, to drop their fierce allegiance to former President Bill Clinton, who still wields extraordinary power over the party.
"It's hard to understand the tremendous loyalty [the DNC leaders] have for [Clinton]," said the French Ambassador, who has played host to meetings trying to get the left wing to put aside its differences.
France accused of meddling
"The [Republican] government should be looking out for the weakest rather than ripping off the country for their own benefit," said Fisque.
Several DNC leaders publicly chafed at Fisque's stern message last week, while the Republicans accused the French of again meddling in American affairs.
In Paris, too, critics of the Chirac administration warned that its intervention could backfire if it is seen as too heavy-handed.
French officials say they are only trying to "facilitate" dialogue among what they call America's "democratic forces."
Some American liberals were hoping the Bushista victories in previous elections would scare the left into coming together. But the immediate reaction to Fisque's visit was not all that encouraging.
Many DNC leaders owe their positions to Clinton. Others believe he has leverage because he knows who was involved in his government's corrupt practices. Others point to his resilient popularity among many Americans.
"This isn't a crisis," said a DNC legislator and Clinton loyalist who accused Republicans of dangling Clinton like "a golden egg" in negotiations. "Clinton continues to carry weight on the political scene, and whoever our candidate is, he will need [Clinton's support]."
School of the Americas protest had its biggest day
According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer—
At least 20 people were arrested Sunday while protesting a U.S.-run military school for Latin Americans, some of whose graduates they claim later committed civil rights abuses including murder.
Those arrested were among about a record 16,000 people who demonstrated outside the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, calling for the school to be shut down.
Susan Sarandon and Martin Sheen showed up to speak.
A clarification on the Berkeley study of the Florida vote
Keith Olbermann has a clarification on what those two numbers mean—
This has led to the assumption in many quarters that Cal Tech [sic] has suggested as many as 260,000 Florida votes could swing from Bush to Kerry (enough to overturn the state). In fact - and the academics got a little too academic in summarizing their report and thus, this kind of got lost - the two numbers already consider the prospect of a swing:
a) There may have been 130,000 votes simply added to the Bush total. If proved and excised, they would reduce the President’s Florida margin from approximately 350,000 votes to approximately 220,000;
b) There may have been 130,000 votes switched from Kerry to Bush. If proved and corrected, they would reduce (by double the 130,000 figure - namely 260,000) the President’s Florida margin from approximately 350,000 votes to approximately 90,000.
How the Republicans handle a disputed election
While the Democrats are trying to figure out if they can be "saved" in time for the next election, the Republicans continue to forge ahead aggressively on all fronts, including contesting vote counting in any election where they might lose.
That is exactly the situation in the State of Washington where the Republican candidate for governor Dino Rossi has a 261 vote lead over Democrat Christine Gregoire. The Repugs asked Federal judge Marsha Pechman to halt hand recounts in King County (Seattle), which the judge has happily refused to do.
In a sudden rush of concern for equal protection of all voters, the Repugs claim a hand recount here would be unfair to voters in other counties where a hand recount is not possible.
GOP Chairman Chris Vance downplayed Pechman's decision, saying it dealt with only one aspect of the lawsuit and was based on King County's assurance that all ballots in question were being kept separate from the others so they can be reviewed if any mistakes are made.
"We don't believe King County," Vance said. "Our observers have watched. Ballots are being altered. And we don't believe they are being set aside."
Note that Republicans have no problem in calling into question the honesty of local election officials when it suits them. If the Democrats want to take a page from the Republican playbook, they might start here.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Exit polls: The liar's problem
Thou hast committed—
Fornication: but that was in another country,
And besides, the wench is dead.
Yes, I toyed with the wench of statistics in my youth. But it was long ago and far away, and the wench might as well be dead. And thus have I avoided the exit-poll controversy.
But there is an interesting critique by Mark Blumenthal of the now-famous paper [a link to the PDF may be found here] by Stephen Freeman of M.I.T. The conclusion that has generated the most heat is "that the odds against unusual 'anomalies' in just three states -- Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio -- 'are 250 million to one.'
Blumenthal properly finds fault with some of Freeman's assumptions, which Freeman acknowledges in a comment. [Read down for Freeman's response.] But while the probability estimate is agreed to be erroneous, the anomaly by no means goes away. Blumenthal writes,
... the observed discrepancies from the actual count in Freeman's data still appear to be statistically significant using the Merkle & Edelman margins of error in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. If NEP were to provide the actual "p-values" (probability of an error) for all three states, and we multiplied them as Freeman did, the real odds that this happened by chance alone are still probably at least 1,000,000 to 1.
Assuming the correctness of that calculation requires—politically speaking—some kind of explanation.
Statistical explanation appears in the form of an "hypothesis," which is then accepted or rejected, based on some set of data, with a probability assigned that the rejection of the hypothesis is correct. One such hypothesis might be that the occurrence of the anomalous data is not due to fraud in the vote count. But there are other hypotheses being floated about, and it is not my point to write about any of these.
I will say, however, that Blumenthal's conclusion that
to continue to see evidence of vote fraud in the "unexplained exit poll discrepancy" is more than wishful. It borders on delusional.
borders on the delusional itself.
The simple truth is that the factors accounting for the discrepancies between the exit polls and the reported vote are not known (at least to the general public or to academics). An open mind is what is required here.
There is a more fundamental problem, however. There are essentially two groups of researchers—(1) those who assume that the vote count is accurate and then study the exit polling data to determine what systematic errors were made in the polling and (2) those who assume that the exit polls are correct and then search for the cause of the systematic errors in the vote count.
The possibilities are these—
- The polls are correct, within their margins of error, and the anomalies reside in the vote count.
- The vote count is correct, within certain narrow limits, and the anomalies reside in the sampling methods and/or statistical assumptions that are made to correct the raw data.
- Neither the vote count nor the exit polls are correct, within reasonable limits.
If you have no way of deciding among these possibilities, the first thing you do not do is come to a conclusion. You must realize that you don't know.
There is one conclusion, however, that is safe to draw. If the vote count is accurate, the inferences drawn from the exit polls are sufficiently imprecise to be useless for predictive purposes, and you have to wonder why the networks are shelling out so much money to create them. For a lot less money they could pay me to appear, appropriately clad in mystic garb, with my tea leaves. The public would be equally well misinformed, and more to the point—I would leave the studio a great deal richer and happier.