Saturday, July 02, 2005

 

Hmmh and Hmmh!

Bill Berkowitz writes in the conclusion of his column on Ralph Reed—
Marshall Wittmann, who worked with Reed at the Christian Coalition but now works for the Democratic Leadership Council, told the Associated Press that he thinks Reed wants to be president.
 

Quote of the Day

The powerful in the United States, the elite, speak to themselves. They rely upon the most base electoral tactics, not to mention billions of dollars, to get themselves re-elected. That succeeds, but it doesn't persuade.
—George Galloway in an interview by Lizette Alvarez for the NY Times
 
 

Maggie Thatcher's pension nightmare

In 1988 the British Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher installed a scheme similar to the Republican Social Security plan to divert future pensioners' money into private accounts. British pensioners who opted out of the government's pension system are now rueing the day. David Prosser explains
When dodgy timeshare salesmen offer cheap and nasty free gifts to lure holidaymakers into overpriced rip-offs that last for years, consumer watchdogs rightly get mad. But the only difference between the cowboy end of timeshare and what has happened in the murky world of state pensions is that the latter has been a government-sanctioned con.

Bad enough that, in 1988, the then Conservative government began offering a few measly quid to persuade millions of savers to opt out of the state second pension scheme, then known as Serps. Even worse, it also decided to throw money at financial advisers and insurers to help them persuade us that opting out was a good idea.

For those with short memories, by the end of the Eighties, the Tories were desperate to cut the social security budget. So they came up with a cunning plan to get people off the state pension books. Savers were advised to contract out of Serps – which became the state second pension (S2P) in 2004 – into a private pension.

To persuade them, savers were offered a rebate of National Insurance contributions plus, in some cases, a bonus top-up to their plans. Insurers and advisers were encouraged to sell the idea with generous sales commissions and plan charges. The government and the pensions industry said the rebates, once invested in a well-run private plan, would grow to be worth much more than people could expect to get from the state.

Unfortunately, the contracting-out affair has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. A combination of poor stock market returns and falling National Insurance rebates has hampered savers. As a result, the majority of the 6 million who opted out of Serps are likely to get a smaller income from their private pensions than the State would have paid. Which?, the consumer organisation, says many people will get 60 per cent less.
....

The Pensions Advisory Service wants the government to require advisers to help savers review their options. But that plea is, sadly, likely to fall on deaf ears. So far, the government has maintained an ominous silence on the whole issue. Given that it created the mess in the first place, don't expect that to change.

Related post
George Bush: Cheerleader-in-Chief of Social Security "reform" (2/14/05)

 

But can Blair do better this time?

The UK assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union yesterday, and Andrew Grice and Stephen Castle of the Independent recall the Labor Party's performance during their first turn at the bat—
Elected by landslide in 1997, New Labour assumed it could teach the EU a thing or two. But even before the presidency began the UK had caused a diplomatic incident with, of all things, its choice of logo. Pictures drawn by children represented each member state and Italy was a pizza and a slice of salami. Rome formally complained.
 

Powell's cynical genocide declaration

Anne Penketh of the Independent writes in a piece headlined "White House described Darfur as 'genocide' to please Christian right,"
The Bush administration described the Darfur atrocities as genocide in order to please the Christian right ahead of the American presidential elections, according to a senior US official.

America's former ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth, made the admission in an interview in which he confirmed that the Bush administration's stance was dictated by domestic considerations.

The Bush administration aligned its position last year with that of the US Congress, which urged President Bush in a vote in July to call the mass killings and ethnic cleansing in western Sudan "by their rightful name: genocide".
....

Mr Danforth was asked by the BBC's Panorama programme whether the characterisation of genocide by President Bush and the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, had hindered a resolution to the Darfur conflict because of the loaded nature of the word.

"I didn't think it had much of an effect one way or another. I just thought that this was something that was said for internal consumption within the US. I did not think it would have very much effect within Sudan," Mr Danforth said. Asked whether "internal consumption" referred to the kind of language that would have appealed to the Christian right, he replied: "Right."

Mr. Danforth is being honest, but not completely honest. Here we have an egregious instance of the interviewee giving the interviewer what he or she wanted to hear and was predisposed to believe.

It's true that the genocide declaration was made for internal consumption and that the Christo-Republicans were among the intended consumers. But they were not the most important consumers. The most important consumers were the media, whose editors wiped most of the stories on Iraq that were in the pipeline and replaced them with the guff about Powell's genocide declaration. It was Karl Rove at his best.

Powell made his genocide statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a Thursday and by Friday this was the Washington Post's page-one news—U.S. Calls Killings In Sudan Genocide: Khartoum and Arab Militias Are Responsible, Powell Says.

That Sunday this story slipped out—

Surge of Baghdad violence leaves 59 dead

Insurgents hammered central Baghdad on Sunday with one of their most intense mortar and rocket barrages ever in the heart of the capital, heralding a day of violence that killed nearly 60 people nationwide as security appeared to spiral out of control.
....

At least 37 people were killed in Baghdad alone. Many of them died when a U.S. helicopter fired on a disabled U.S. Bradley fighting vehicle as Iraqis swarmed around it, cheering, throwing stones and waving the black and yellow sunburst banner of Iraq's most-feared terror organization.

The dead from the helicopter strike included Arab television reporter Mazen al-Tumeizi, who screamed, 'I'm dying! I'm dying!' as a cameraman recorded the chaotic scene. An Iraqi cameraman working for the Reuters news agency and an Iraqi freelance photographer for Getty Images were wounded.

Maimed and lifeless bodies of young men and boys lay in the street as the stricken U.S. vehicle was engulfed in flames and thick black smoke.

But by Monday the problem was fixed.

Previous posts
The magic word: Genocide (9/13/04)
Powell's follow-up on Sudanese genocide (9/15/04)

Friday, July 01, 2005

 

The cost of sexual hypocrisy

The Roman Catholic Church is again paying through the nose for trying to maintain the fiction that its priests are somehow distinguishable from satyrs. The spate of lawsuits that originated in the U.S. is continuing abroad. An Englishman, now schizophrenic and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, has just been awarded £635,684 ($1.1 million). According to the Scotsman, this is thought to be the biggest award of its kind ever in the U.K.

Meanwhile, I missed a tale from Austria back in September. William Kole reported,

Austrians are leaving the Catholic Church in droves in disgust at two high-profile sex scandals involving child pornography and allegations of the molestation of young boys, Church leaders said yesterday.

More than 10,000 people have left the Vienna archdiocese in the last few months, with thousands more leaving parishes across the country.

No surprise there. But this is what caught my eye—

In overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Austria, people are automatically registered as Church members when baptised as infants. They must apply to the government to leave the Church under guidelines established by Adolf Hitler during the country’s Second World War Nazi occupation.

Never let it be said that Hitler did not have the interests of the Church at heart.

If this ugly European trend continues, the only place left where the clergy can feel free to have sex without fear of reprisal will be the Vatican.

Related posts
New Pope explains priestly sex scandal (4/20/05)
In ecclesia Romae nolite quaerere, nolite dicere (4/23/05)

 

The G8 summit: Europeans are waking up

The G8 summit, where a group of capitalist countries gather to argue how best to divvy up the spoils, will begin this weekend in Scotland. And each year the level of protest only grows.

The Scotsman reports,

The biggest security and logistical operation in Scotland's recent history swung into action yesterday as the clock counted down to the G8 summit.

Court cases have been put off, police leave cancelled and streets cleared of debris to prevent violent protesters using it as missiles.

Businesses said they are resigned to losing out as shoppers and diners stay away from Edinburgh and Glasgow city centres over the weekend.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to pour into Scotland this weekend for a series of planned demonstrations to demand action to end world poverty.

Travel companies reported that trains, planes and buses will be running full.

The city of Craigmillar was planning to charge campers, but has given up on the idea. As a spokesman for the group G8 Alternatives said, "None of the G8 leaders are having to pay for their luxury accommodation at Gleneagles - Tony Blair won't be given a bill, so why should anyone else?"

Four Socialist Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) have been banned from the Parliament for a month and penalized a month's salary and staff maintenance for acting up. British Chancellor Gordon Brown is joining the protest. And the largest protest march ever held in Scotland is expected; the current estimate is 120,000.

Can we create a similar level of activism in the U.S.?

Related posts
The best place in the world to do business (edited) (11/08/04)
France votes "No" on EU Constitution (5/29/05)
CAFTA will proceed; the workers be damned (6/30/05)

 

Terrible news—O'Connor has retired

She wasn't one of my favorites Justices, but there are plenty worse waiting to take her place.
My Inbox has been receiving some sort of appeal for help about every three minutes.
 

Kenny Richey and the Ohio system of injustice

I cannot begin to keep up with all the injustice done in the U.S. That is in part because the media do not do their job of keeping us posted. That cannot be said of the Scotsman in the case of Kenny Richey. They have published no less than 5 articles in the past week alone. Richey, who is Scottish-American, is truly a cause célèbre in Scotland, and his cause has been joined by the British Parliament and Amnesty International. Even Tony Blair pledged to look into the matter last year.

After 18 years on Ohio's death row, Kenny Richey has been granted a retrial by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals for incompetent representation by counsel. Richey has always maintained his innocence of setting a fire that caused the death of a 2-year-old and rejected a plea bargain before going to trial that would have seen his release from prison by now.

There's one thing you can say about U.S. prosecutors: They are relentless, at least if you aren't a law enforcement officer. The State of Ohio will retry the case.

Egg-in-the-face syndrome

One of the worst features of our system is the formidable hurdles placed in the path of proving innocence after a conviction. Prosecutors have been known to argue against the release of prisoners who were exonerated by DNA evidence—"Well, that doesn't prove that they weren't at the scene"—even when at trial only one person was alleged to have been at the scene.

I attribute this largely to egg-in-the-face syndrome. The notion that a prosecutor or judge should be proved to have committed such an egregious act of injustice—even when it was not originally intended—is simply unbearable to these minions of the law. Can you say "petty vindicativeness," boys and girls?

This appears to be what Richey is up against. According to the Official Kenny Richey Website,

During the months preceding 21 March 1997, evidence was presented to the Ohio Court of Common Pleas, conclusively establishing the innocence of Kenny Richey.

This compelling evidence was submitted to support a bid for a hearing to allow Kenny's defence team to show that the case was a tragic miscarriage of justice.

The state prosecution did not dispute the accuracy of the new evidence.

Prosecution Dan Gershutz said, "Even though this new evidence may establish Mr Richey's innocence, the Ohio and United States constitution nonetheless allow him to be executed because the prosecution did not know that the scientific testimony offered at the trial was false and unreliable."

Without setting any reasons, Judge Michael Corrigan agreed, (Judge Corrigan was the foreman of a panel of three judges who convicted Kenny then sentenced him to die by electrocution). He refused the defences request for an evidentiary hearing and dismissed Kenny's appeal. Thus Kenny was denied the right to prove his innocence of the crime for which was convicted.

And speaking of vindicativeness, last week the State refused to move Richey from the penitentiary to the county jail, which would be the normal procedure for one awaiting trial.

What can I say? The great Red State of Ohio is ass over elbow in the scandal of Coingate and is run by crooks and thieves (read "Republicans"). If they were to have the temerity to erect a statue to the Goddess of Justice, they would have to portray her peaking from under her blindfold to see where the coins had gone. Besides, they don't like foreigners.

Of course, in comparison with the federal system, I'll have to admit that Ohio is fairly benign. At least we know the prisoner's name and where he's being held.

Related posts
Infinite jeopardy (12/16/04)
If a tree falls in the forest and only one person is there.... (updated) (1/17/05)
"It ought to be impossible": A monstrous injustice (4/27/05)
No more "Meet, greet and plead" in Florida's Broward County (6/6/05)

Thursday, June 30, 2005

 

Spain becomes third country to legalize gay marriage

While the headlines Wednesday were bursting with the news that Canada had become the third country to legalize gay marriage nationwide, they were premature—and wrong. Spain may now claim that honor.

The Canadian House of Commons approved the legislation. But it still has to pass the Senate, which is expected, and will not become law until July.

Meanwhile, the Spanish breezed on by. Mar Roman of the AP reports,

The measure passed the 350-seat Congress of Deputies by a vote of 187-147. The bill, part of the ruling Socialists' aggressive agenda for social reform, also lets gay couples adopt children and inherit each others' property.

The bill is now law. The Senate, where conservatives hold the largest number of seats, rejected the bill last week. But it is an advisory body and final say on legislation rests with the Congress of Deputies.

Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero was eloquent—

"We were not the first, but I am sure we will not be the last. After us will come many other countries, driven, ladies and gentlemen, by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality," he told the chamber.

Zapatero said the reform of Spanish legal code simply adds one dry paragraph of legalese but means much more.

He called it "a small change in wording that means an immense change in the lives of thousands of citizens. We are not legislating, ladies and gentlemen, for remote unknown people. We are expanding opportunities for the happiness of our neighbors, our work colleagues, our friends, our relatives."

Zapatero has been giving the Roman Catholic church fits—

The gay marriage bill was the boldest and most divisive initiative of the liberal social agenda Zapatero has embarked on since taking office in April 2004. Parliament overhauled Spain's 25-year-old divorce law Wednesday by letting couples end their marriage without a mandatory separation or having to state a reason, as required under the old law.

He has also pushed through legislation allowing stem-cell research and wants to loosen Spain's restrictive abortion law.

The Church greatly misses its old fascist ally Generalissimo Francisco Franco—

The Roman Catholic Church, which held much sway over the government just a generation ago when Gen. Francisco Franco was in power, had adamantly opposed gay marriage. In its first display of anti-government activism in 20 years, it endorsed a June 18 rally in which hundreds of thousands marched through Madrid in opposition to the bill. Some 20 bishops took part in the June 18 rally.

Notice that the bishops did from little to nothing in preventing the previous right-wing Prime Minister from joining the coalition to invade Iraq.

But the people of Spain are not so duped by the Church as are their counterparts in the U.S.—

Despite the street protests in Madrid and elsewhere and the petition drive, polls suggest Spaniards supported gay marriage.

A survey released in May by pollster Instituto Opina said 62 percent of Spaniards support the government's action on this issue, and 30 percent oppose it. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points. But surveys show Spaniards about evenly split over whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt children.

Good on Spain!

Related posts
New Pope explains priestly sex scandal (4/20/05)
In ecclesia Romae nolite quaerere, nolite dicere (4/23/05)

 

CAFTA will proceed; the workers be damned

Let me say before uttering another foul word about CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, that it is not a big deal for the U.S. as a whole. Big Sugar is the primary industry squealing like a pig, and I have doubts that even they will be as greatly affected as they fear if the deal goes through (which it almost certainly will).

Naturally when we think of CAFTA we think of NAFTA, the agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada. But CAFTA is really in a different league—the little league to be exact. Some talking-head recently remarked that the combined economy of the six countries involved—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic—is approximately that of a mid-sized American city.

But proponents of CAFTA hope to use it as a model for a very large trade deal with South America, which would be devastating on a number of fronts. And of course these proponents, in order to make their case, have to lie and "disassemble" like a Bush.

Larry Margasak of the AP has just disclosed that the Bush administration has been hiding a report paid for by the Labor Department since the spring of 2004. The report "supported Democratic opponents of the Bush administration's new Central American trade deal." Surprise, surprise!

The studies, paid for by the department, concluded that several countries the administration wants to be granted free-trade status have poor working conditions and fail to protect workers' rights. The agency dismissed the conclusions as inaccurate and biased, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

"In practice, labor laws on the books in Central America are not sufficient to deter employers from violations, as actual sanctions for violations of the law are weak or nonexistent," the contractor, the International Labor Rights Fund, wrote in one of the reports.

The studies' conclusions contrast with the administration's arguments that Central American countries have made enough progress on such issues to warrant a free-trade deal with the United States.

But Tuesday a report was released in a very timely fashion by the World Bank, headed by Paul Wolfowitz. It concluded—surprise, surprise!—that CAFTA "will help more people in Central America and the Dominican Republic than it will hurt."

How will it do this? Prices, silly.

... the World Bank report found that 90 percent of households in Nicaragua, 84 percent in Guatemala and 68 percent in El Salvador would benefit from lower food prices.

Economists have apparently never been able to get their minds around a very simple truth—if a person has no money, price makes no difference. And that is exactly the state many current workers in Central America are going to find themselves in after the capitalist rape of their countries. Still, food-relief organizations should benefit.

Yesterday the Senate Finance Committee passed the pact and it may come up for a Senate floor vote as early as today. Anita Kumar of the St. Pete Times is reporting that Florida's newly minted Senator Mel Martinez doesn't know which way to whore—

With his top trade priority on the brink of failure, President Bush could not have been more clear with Sen. Mel Martinez at a recent White House meeting: He wants Martinez's vote.

But Martinez made no promises. The reason: sugar.

His biggest campaign contributor.
....

Martinez said last week that he doesn't know how he will vote and that he is studying the agreement and trying to work out a deal with sugar that would enable him to support CAFTA.

"I'm weighing it carefully, trying to find a compromise," he said.

What he's weighing carefully is how to retain all that moolah while voting against his biggest briber. Folks who pay to play expect a little quid pro quo when the chips are down.

Passage of the trade pact is also vital to George Bush's ego, so he's pushing it for all he's worth, which is of course very little. For George this requires making it a matter of national security—

Casting the issue in terms of national security, Bush argued that “strengthening our economic ties with our democratic neighbors is a vital issue of national importance,” and that CAFTA would promote stability and prosperity in the hemisphere, as well as reduce immigration from Central America.

Just as NAFTA has done for Mexico, right?

The Bush administration intends to exert maximum political pressure to produce a win because it fears if a high priority agenda item like CAFTA goes down, it will signal that the Lame Duck phase of Bush’s presidency has really begun. Also, the defect of CAFTA would dissipate the already flagging momentum behind the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), signifying that the President’s trade efforts (a huge chunk of his legislative “must list”) are dead in the water.

If there were no other reasons to oppose CAFTA, those two would be sufficient. But there are plenty more—

The opposition correctly argues that CAFTA will exploit Central American laborers, and at the expense of American workers. But media coverage of the measure has been disturbingly one-sided. Numerous high-flying analysts, exalting free trade as the savior of the world’s struggling economies (but not necessarily for free), are reluctant to delve below CAFTA’s glittering surface and scrutinize the baleful realities of similar arrangements in the past. More often than not, they turned out to be non win-win situations, with the winners and losers entirely predictable. In 1994, almost this country’s entire army of economic consultants and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce exuberantly insisted that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would create high-paying jobs for American workers and dramatically improve living standards in Mexico. However, a decade later, most Mexicans have seen little such prosperity, as almost one and a half million farmers have lost their land; NAFTA is also believed to have caused the loss of more than 900,000 jobs here because many U.S. businesses have moved south (and to China) in search of cheaper labor.
....

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has come out with the far fetched claim that CAFTA is necessary in order to “level the playing field” for U.S. workers and enterprises. However, under the present system of tariffs, a number of U.S. crops enjoy heavy subsidies, meaning that independent Central American farmers are simply unable to compete with well-endowed U.S. agribusinesses, the pact’s main beneficiaries.... Arguing that CAFTA will be able to balance intrinsic U.S. trade advantages is like matching a major league baseball team on steroids against Little Leaguers and heatedly insisting that, because the umpires use the same rulebook, somehow it is a fair match.

If you have a Senator or Congressman or -woman in your pocket, please give them a call.

Related post
Lie of the Day (6/20/05)

Follow-up post
CAFTA passes in the night (7/28/05)

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

 

Judge delays trip to pokey for Miller and Cooper

Pete Yost of the AP reports that federal judge Thomas Hogan, who originally sentenced Judith Miller of the NY Times and Matthew Cooper of Time to jail for refusing to reveal the identity of their sources in the Valerie Plame affair, has granted a brief delay until next Wednesday.
The judge expressed skepticism that any new arguments would change his mind.

"It's curiouser and curiouser; I don't understand'' why the reporters are asking for more time, Hogan said.

Previous post
John Dean: Jail likely for Judith Miller unless she talks (5/2/05)

Related post
Leaker to plead guilty (5/4/050)

 

Rev. Ike gets a blow job, and I don't mean the pompadour

Rev. Ike Eikerenkoette has been harrassing an employee again. Jessica M. Walker of Daily Business News reports,
A young Cuban immigrant has accused Frederick "the Rev. Ike" Eikerenkoetter, a Christian evangelist nationally known for his fleet of multicolored Rolls-Royce autos, of sexually abusing him while he worked as the minister's personal assistant at his luxury Bal Harbour, Fla., condominium.

Augusto Medina's lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleges that the Rev. Ike, as he's commonly known, forced Medina to fondle him on several occasions and to perform oral sex on him. The allegations of the suit are similar to those in a 1995 sexual harassment suit against the Rev. Ike that was filed by his former personal assistant in New York.
....

Medina, who was in his mid-20s when he was hired by the Rev. Ike, came to Miami from Cuba on a raft about 10 years ago. According to attorney Jennifer Ator, ... the young man spent several months at the Krome Detention Center after his arrival, and later struggled to learn English and make a living.

The suit says Medina was hired by the Rev. Ike in 2001 as the minister's personal assistant. He was paid $10 an hour in cash. His duties included driving the evangelist, manicuring his nails, dressing him and giving him massages....

Initially, Medina was delighted with the job, Ator said. But in August 2002, after Medina had been working for the Rev. Ike for about a year, the minister began to pressure the assistant for oral sex, Ator said in an interview. Medina refused and was fired, only to be rehired in 2003, she said.

It was during his second stint as the Rev. Ike's assistant that the alleged sexual contact occurred. According to the lawsuit, Medina was giving the Rev. Ike a massage, when the minister lifted up his towel and placed Medina's hand on his penis. Medina alleges that that was the first of at least half a dozen instances of unwanted sexual contacts between himself and the evangelist.

"Rev. Ike told Medina that if he did not perform sexual acts on Rev. Ike that he would be fired," the complaint says. "Medina -- afraid that he would lose his job -- performed sex acts on Rev. Ike."

Rev. Ike couldn't wait for his heavenly reward—

Preaching prosperity through Jesus, the Rev. Ike rejected the idea of waiting for riches in heaven. Instead, the minister urged his followers to bask in material wealth in the here and now.

The pompadour-topped, flamboyantly dressed evangelist brought his sermons to the radio and TV evangelism circuit, rising to popularity in the 1970s. In addition to founding the Boston-based evangelistic association, he started the Palace Cathedral, an opulent New York City church, replete with antique Louis XV and XVI furniture and a seven-story-high organ.

That is a remarkable organ.
 

 

Why British troops weren't equipped for war

A report from the British Parliament has found that the troops went into Iraq "without a third of the equipment it had identified as urgently required for operations." And the Ministry of Defense (MoD) also was found to have wasted money hand over fist.

According to Gethin Chamberlain of the Scotsman,

In one instance, it [the report] revealed that before the Iraq war in 2003, the MoD had sold a number of all-terrain vehicles for £3,000 each, having deemed them surplus to requirements, then spent £17,000 apiece buying them back to be used by 16 Air Assault Brigade. Another £18,000 went on making them comply with health and safety regulations, including fitting seatbelts, by which time the war was over and they were sold again for £6,500 - a net loss of £25,500 per vehicle.

Excellent planning. But there was a reason, which we don't discover till the end of the article—

Delays in getting body armour, desert camouflage uniforms and boots have been blamed on the government's refusal to allow the MoD to gear up for war for fear of derailing delicate diplomatic moves.

Right. They couldn't maintain the pretense that no decision had been made to invade Iraq if the Ministry of Defense was knee deep in war procurements.

Think about it. This has the makings of a major scandal. If—as we all know from the Downing Street memos and from other sources—the decision to invade Iraq was made long before the actual invasion, Tony Blair not only lied to the public and to Parliament, he also sacrificed the safety of his own troops for the benefit of the deception!

This alone should be sufficient to force his resignation.

But what about Cheney and Rumsfeld? The story of improperly equipped American troops is now old news. But I have yet to see it suggested that the reason for this was deliberate in order to maintain the illusion that diplomatic negotiations were genuinely ongoing.

Even if the mainstream media think the Downing Street memos are "old news," this topic is fresh as a daisy. Could we have a little investigating, please?
 

 

Brits and Americans divided over Iraq pullout as Afghanistan slides toward civil war

After noting yesterday John Patrick Grace's exuberant editorial that "We may now be only weeks away from ... the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq," I decided to check if there was any related news. There is, but only in the Scotsman. This is amazing—that discussions of a British troop pullout from Iraq are being covered by one newspaper in the world. And only then—if it's as I suspect—because they are being force-fed the news by the British government.

Brian Brady in a piece headlined "Bush warns Blair he must boost UK forces" reports,

Britain is coming under sustained pressure from American military chiefs to keep thousands of troops in Iraq - while going ahead with plans to boost the front line against a return to "civil war" in Afghanistan.

Taken in conjunction with Bush's speech yesterday to the troops,1 the next paragraph is a killer—

Tony Blair was warned that war-torn Iraq remains on the brink of disaster - more than two years after the removal of Saddam Hussein - during his summit with President Bush in Washington earlier this month.

There is clearly a behind-the-scenes struggle going on between the Brits and Americans over a pullout from Iraq, as I've discussed in previous posts. But the struggle is intensifying. This might be due to a number of factors, but the most likely of them is that Blair is close to making an announcement.

Blair's excuse for the pullout is Afghanistan, and Afghanistan has been cooperating fully—

Scotland on Sunday revealed last month that Blair is preparing to rush thousands more British troops to Afghanistan in a bid to stop the country sliding towards civil war, amid warnings the coalition faces a "complete strategic failure" in the effort to rebuild the nation.

The grim prognosis was underlined last night by Afghanistan's defence minister, who warned that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network was regrouping and planned to bring Iraq-style bloodshed to the country.
....

Britain's military chief in Kabul last week confirmed that the 8,000-strong UK presence in Iraq would be scaled down to enable more troops to be diverted to the struggle against a resurgent Taliban.

Notice that the Brits have been announcing this since April, but only through military spokesmen in Kabul and the Scotsman. When Blair says it, even the NY Times and Washington Post will have to notice.

But despite fears that the security situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating, the Americans have now launched a determined rearguard action to ensure Iraq does not suffer from a switch in Britain's military focus.

"The Prime Minister was given a pretty depressing run-down of the prognosis for Iraq while he was in Washington," one senior Ministry of Defence source said last night. "The Americans are pushing for at least a maintenance of the troop numbers we have there now. Our latest intention is to reduce by at least half the number of our troops in Iraq within a year."

Well, if anything can change Blair's mind it's rearguard action, but I don't believe even that is going to work this time.

Air Marshal Glenn Torpy, head of military operations, last week confirmed that the presence in Iraq would decrease in "battalion chunks" after [Iraqi] elections expected at the end of this year.

The cost of the war

Meanwhile some British economists have been calculating the cost of the Iraq war and estimate that it will exceed 5 billion pounds, making it the most expensive British military excursion since World War II.

According to Severin Carrell of the Independent,

Professor Keith Hartley, one of Britain's leading defence economists, says the bill for military operations alone in Iraq is already £1bn more than the Government has stated because ministers have failed to count the full costs of the operation.

His estimates exclude the £390m spent on civil reconstruction and the undisclosed costs of spying.
....

He quoted the Treasury as telling him the Ministry of Defence had so far spent nearly £3.2bn in Iraq. However, Professor Hartley, director of the Centre for Defence Economics at the University of York, contests that figure.

The professor said the costs of the invasion and occupation had already reached £4.2bn because Whitehall had failed to take into account manpower and equipment, ignoring the £58m "value" of the 87 British soldiers killed and hundreds injured.

By March 2006, that bill was likely to rise to £5bn he said.

Blair can't handle much more news like this. And the Bush administration can't handle news of a troop withdrawal by its only real partner in the coalition. This is going to get mighty interesting. Care to bet when the newspapers will cover this story?

Follow-up post
Update on "Brits and Americans divided over Iraq pullout..." (7/5/05)

Previous posts
What's up in Britain? (9/23/04)
What's up in Afghanistan and why is Blair sending more troops? (4/5/05)
The secret that's not a secret: British troops to Afghanistan (5/23/05)
A further note on the Brits and Afghanistan (6/2/05)
What does this man know about the British? (6/28/05)

Footnotes

1"In the past year, we have made significant progress"
—"George Bush" as quoted in the Guardian [back]

 

Court okays Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem

A quick update on the Gay Pride parade that the mayor of Jerusalem had canceled. According to Laurie Copans of the AP, an Israeli judge has overruled the mayor, ordered the city to pay $13,000 to the organizers of the parade with $6500 coming from the mayor's own pocket.

The effort to halt the parade, scheduled for tomorrow, was one of those rare occasions when Orthodox Jews and Muslims could agree. It's nice to have a common enemy, isn't it?

Meanwhile, demonstrators protesting the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza blocked the main entrance to Jerusalem today and are likely to continue their efforts more or less indefinitely. It should be quite a time in the Holy City.

Previous post
Oy! No gay pride parade for Jerusalem? (6/25/05)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

 

What does this man know about the British?

Buzzflash today linked an odd editorial by John Patrick Grace in the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, West Virginia. In it he writes,
We may now be only weeks away from a complete collapse of the Iraqi army and the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq in the face of overwhelming public pressure on Tony Blair.

What does he base this on?

That is a realistic projection based on the reports of two Washington Post reporters, whose dispatches from inside Iraqi Army units and U.S. units assigned to train and work with the Iraqi military have just been published.

Grace is undoubtedly referring to the front-page article of June 10 by Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru headlined "Building Iraq's Army: Mission Improbable." But the odd thing is that these reporters did not mention the British at all.

If you've been reading Simply Appalling, you know that the British have put out some strong hints that they want to get the hell out of Iraq. But not as strong as Mr. Grace has put it.

Grace is identified as a former "editor on the foreign desk of The Associated Press in New York and a correspondent in The AP Rome bureau," so you wouldn't suppose him to be spinning this out of whole cloth.

I'm hoping he knows something that the rest of us don't. A British withdrawal would certainly increase the pressure for an American withdrawal—and prove that it can be done without the world coming to an end.

Related posts
What's up in Afghanistan and why is Blair sending more troops? (4/5/05)
The secret that's not a secret: British troops to Afghanistan (5/23/05)
A further note on the Brits and Afghanistan (6/2/05)

 

Washington Post spins the Downing Street memos

To allay the suspicion that the editors of the Washington Post are the dupes and stooges that they are, the Post has placed Glenn Frankel's piece on the Downing Street memos on today's front page. As the headline suggests—"From Memos, Insights Into Ally's Doubts On Iraq War"—Frankel purports to offer us "insights"—not into the workings of the Bush administration but into the ways of the British government.

I confess that I am ignorant of many things, but the nature of an "insight" is not among them. When something lands on my plate calling itself an insight, but smells to high heaven and flops around on the plate, I know a red herring when I see one.

Here's how Frankel blithely sails past what he calls "a so-called smoking gun of evidence against the White House"—

Critics of the Bush administration contend the documents -- including the now-famous Downing Street Memo of July 23, 2002 -- constitute proof that Bush made the decision to go to war at least eight months before it began, and that the subsequent diplomatic campaign at the United Nations was a charade, designed to convince the public that war was necessary, rather than an attempt to resolve the crisis peacefully. They contend the documents have not received the attention they deserve.

What critics of the administration contend is that the President committed impeachable offenses and that his administration collectively is guilty of war crimes, which is why the documents have not received the attention they deserve.

Supporters of the administration contend, by contrast, that the memos add little or nothing to what is already publicly known about the run-up to the war and even help show that the British officials genuinely believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. They say that opponents of Bush and Blair are distorting the documents' meaning in order to attack both men politically.

"Supporters of the administration" would include, of course, the Washington Post. The issue for Americans does not rest upon what British officials did or did not believe. We can leave that matter to the British public for now.

But beyond the question of whether they constitute a so-called smoking gun of evidence against the White House, the memos offer an intriguing look at what the top officials of the United States' chief ally were thinking, doing and fearing in the months before the war.

Frankel is so coy. While speaking of a "smoking gun of evidence" he doesn't bother to tell us what the memos may be evidence of—such as impeachable offenses and war crimes. No, Frankel is not intrigued by this; he is intrigued by what the British were thinking—as should we all, n'est-ce pas?

Frankel, perhaps by accident, lets slip one back-handed condemnation of the Bush administration—

"Blair comes back from Crawford with a clear sense that the Americans are preparing for war," said Michael Clarke, director of the International Policy Institute at King's College, who met with policymakers at key points during the year. "But the British approach is slightly different -- that we are preparing for war as a means of forcing Iraq to comply so that we don't actually have to fight."

Put another way, the Bush administration intended to go to war no matter what.

I'm afraid that Frankel is short on insights and long on fish but is quite accurate in one respect—his descriptions of Tony Blair's groveling and fawning—1

Blair defended his approach, Cook reported, by saying Britain's national interest lay in staying closely allied with the United States. "I tell you that we must steer close to America," Blair said, according to Cook. "If we don't, we lose our influence to shape what they do."

These themes would be repeated regularly in the first six Downing Street memos, composed between the March 7 cabinet meeting and Blair's trip to Crawford a month later.
....

In a post-summit speech at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Tex., Blair offered a cryptic criticism of his own advisers. His commitment to democratic values, Blair said, "means that when America is fighting for those values, then, however tough, we fight with her -- no grandstanding, no offering implausible and impractical advice from the touchline."
....

When Blair sat down with Bush at Camp David on Sept. 7, 2002, the president told him he had decided to seek a Security Council resolution demanding Iraqi compliance. Blair looked greatly relieved, according to Bob Woodward's book, "Plan of Attack," which was published last year. But then Bush looked Blair in the eye and warned that dealing with the Iraqi threat would still likely entail war.

"I'm with you," Blair replied, according to Woodward's book.
....

"No doubt from the British point of view Iraq has been a strategic blunder -- not just a mistake, but a mistake that we're still paying for," said Clarke, of King's College. "Still, while no one in government would ever say it, the rationale from the British point of view is that our strategic relationship with the U.S. is more important than any single campaign we fight on its behalf. The basic calculation was: Right or wrong, it is in our interest to stand with the United States."

It has yet to be revealed what benefit the British have gained—either then or now—by blindly following the American war criminals into battle. Could this be a clue?—

"In the end, only Blair and Bush know what they said to each other at Crawford and what they agreed to," said a senior British official. "They spent a long time together with no one else around, which was most unusual."

Say it isn't true, Tony!

Related post
A slight shudder and a pulling-away (5/16/05)
PBS NewsHour claims credit for Downinggate; may deserve some after last night (6/17/05)

Footnotes

1There's a fascinating and so far unremarked exchange between Bush and Blair that Ray McGovern described recently on the PBS NewsHour. McGovern attributes his knowledge of the conversation to the book by former British Ambassador Christopher Meyer, who was present.

Here's how McGovern repeated it—

The conversation went like this. President Bush: "Tony we're going to Afghanistan in a week or two, but that won't take long and we get out of there and go right into Iraq, are you with me Tony? Are you with me?"

And Christopher Meyer says my goodness, it was really, that Tony was sort of nonplused but he said "Yes sir, I'm with you, Mr. President."

I haven't read Meyer's book, but from a quote given in the Observer it is clear that Meyer has Bush addressing Blair as "Tony." In the McGovern account above, Blair responds with a "Mr. President."

Can this be true? That Bush was calling Blair "Tony," but Blair was responding with "Sir" and "Mr. President"?

If anyone has read the Meyer's book The Heart of the Matter, I'd be interested in knowing if McGovern has accurately narrated this conversation. [back]

Monday, June 27, 2005

 

The Ten Commandments rulings: An initial reaction

I haven't had a chance to read the decision yet, but the Supremes decided the McCreary case as I'd expected while letting the State of Texas keep its monument on the capitol grounds. Their decision is clearly not going to help the likes of former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who would have commandments popping up like a fungus.

Over all, it seems quite a favorable ruling for those trying to stem the tide of the new Dark Ages, and a lot less "split" in its impact than today's headlines are suggesting. On the other hand, while the Christo-Republicans will certainly try to make hay out of any grass the Court cuts down, they're not going to find much fodder here.

By far the more politically explosive decisions were those the Court released last week on the powers of government to take private property for the benefit of other private property holders. More on that later.

Previous post
Are the Ten Commandments coming to a wall near you? (6/13/05)

 

Blogging may be light today

I'm trying to understand some technical matters about Blogger (Blogspot), and like the Army, I'm working to make Simply Appalling "all that it can be."

Hoping to have some Simply Appalling results to show for the effort ... well, soon.

 

Psst!  Move over NY Times: The Whispering Campaign

I don't need to write about this. Chris Floyd, that most excellent columnist for the Moscow Times, has already explained it on his blog—
Winter Patriot has launched a brilliant new DIY activist effort: The Whispering Campaign. It's very simple. WP has set up a website with a selection of short, succinct, printer-friendly articles detailing some nugget of unexplored or underplayed truth about our times; all you have to do is print them out -- and leave them in some public place for passers-by to find and read. As WP puts it: "Ideal locations include book stores, copy shops, libraries, train stations, buses, taxis, laundromats, grocery stores, hair salons, barber shops, rest rooms, gas stations, coffee shops, truck stops... use your imagination!"
Oops! He left out bars and churches.
It's real grass-roots stuff -- in fact, it reaches all the way down to the individual blade, a personal form of activism either to supplement collective action or to let each person carve a particular path. It's also a good way of reaching people outside the seething blogosphere or the media/political world in general -- the vast majority of the population, in other words.

In short, it's a way to take information from the blogosphere and distribute it to the general public. But think of it another way, we may be creating the largest printing press on the planet. Only this time it's distributed printing. Gutenberg would be proud.

The Whispering Campaign website has prepared articles suitable for easy printing and easy reading (large type).

Of course if you handle the formatting, you can use any page from any website you like.

Which gives me another idea. What if we bloggers were to offer an option at the bottom of certain posts, such as "Click on Pssst for pamphlet format." Any thoughts?
 

 

Spirit of Justice bares boob once again

The Justice Department has removed the $8,000 drapes from the Spirit of Justice. Former Attorney General Ashcroft had them installed to cover her immodesty.

According to Mark Sherman of the AP, the statue was placed in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice building, along with her half-clothed consort the Majesty of the Law, in the 1930s, which just goes to show how times have changed.

Now that the DoJ is again letting it all hang out, we realize that the Spirit of Justice could do with a breast implant.
 

Sunday, June 26, 2005

 

Quote of the Day

It's not the earthquake that kills us but our possessions.
—unnamed Japanese "philosopher" as quoted on "Nature"
 

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