Saturday, July 16, 2005


The truly foreign press

From the CS Monitor I've just learned of the website Watching America. The site offers translations of stories and views on the United States that appear in the foreign press but are generally not available to English speakers. It is performing a most valuable service.

Susan Leach writes

While the Internet has made access to foreign media only a click away, what makes especially powerful is its translations of foreign-language news into English....

The distinction may seem subtle. But news organizations such as Al Jazeera put out different material for an English-speaking audience than for an Arabic-speaking audience. With this website, "you're getting to see what, in some cases, your enemies are saying to each other in their own languages about you," Koerner says. "That gives you insights which you cannot get from what they offer in English."

One caution: Leach mentions MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) as another organization offering translations of foreign media. MEMRI is in fact a well-funded neocon organization. Juan Cole wrote of it,

MEMRI was founded by a retired Israeli colonel from military intelligence, and co-run by Meyrav Wurmser, wife of David Wurmser. David Wurmser is close to the Likud Party in Israel and served in Douglas Feith's "Office of Special Plans" in the Pentagon, where he helped manufacture the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was linked to al-Qaeda. David Wurmser, who wants to get up American wars against both Iran and Syria, then moved over to Vice President Dick Cheney's rump national security team.

MEMRI is funded to the tune of $60 million a year by someone, and is a sophisticated anti-Arab propaganda machine. The organization cleverly cherry-picks the vast Arabic press, which serves 300 million people, for the most extreme and objectionable articles and editorials. It carefully does not translate the moderate articles. I have looked at newspapers that ran both tolerant and extremist opinion pieces on the same day, and checked MEMRI, to find that only the extremist one showed up. It would sort of be as though al-Jazeera published translations of Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Jerry Falwell on Islam and the Middle East, but never published opinion pieces on the subject by William Beeman or Dick Bulliet.


Update on "The Iraqi 'ghost army'"

Friday, July 15, 2005


The Iraqi "ghost army"

Patrick Cockburn of the Independent shines a little light on the Iraqification of the military coalition—
A tidal wave of corruption may ensure the Iraqi army and police will be too few and too poorly armed to replace American and British forces fighting anti-government insurgents. That could frustrate plans in Washington and London to reduce their forces in Iraq.1

The Iraqi armed forces are full of "ghost battalions" in which officers pocket the pay of soldiers who never existed or have gone home. "I know of at least one unit which was meant to be 2,200 but the real figure was only 300 men," said a veteran Iraqi politician and member of parliament, Mahmoud Othman. "The US talks about 150,000 Iraqis in the security forces but I doubt if there are more than 40,000."

But for the soldiers actually on duty, weapons are hard to come by—

The army and police are poorly armed despite heavy expenditure. "The interim government spent $5.2bn (£2.6bn) on the ministry of defence and ministry of the interior during six months but there is little to show for it," said a senior Iraqi official who did not want his name published.

The corruption started under the US-run Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 when Iraqis, often with little experience, were appointed to senior positions in ministries. The Iraqis did not act alone. "The Americans were the partners of the Iraqis in all this corruption," says Dr Othman. The results of the failure to buy effective arms are visible at every Iraqi police or army checkpoint. The weapons on display are often ageing Kalashnikovs. The supposedly elite police commandos drive about in elderly pick-ups with no armour. The ministry of the interior was recently unable to provide a presidential guard with 50 pistols.

But here's the kicker—

The Iraqi government hoped it would be able to obtain weapons free from the US but that has turned out to be a frustrating process. An official said: "The Americans don't trust our soldiers or policemen. They say the arms might fall into the hands of insurgents. But I tell them the insurgents already have these kind of weapons so why should they want some more?"

So the U.S. wants the Iraqis to take over patrol duties but doesn't want to arm them? Splendid.

7/16/05  10:00 am

As for the Iraqi arms-procurement scandal, Hannah Allam of Knight Ridder has a more detailed view—

The Iraqi Defense Ministry has squandered more than $300 million buying faulty and outdated military equipment in what appears to be a massive web of corruption that flourished under American-appointed supervisors for a year or longer, U.S. and Iraqi military officials said this week.

Vendors are suspected of vastly overcharging for substandard equipment, including helicopters, machine guns and armored vehicles, and kicking back money to Iraqi Defense Ministry buyers.

The defective equipment has jeopardized the lives of Iraq's embattled security forces and exposed a startling lack of oversight for one of the country's most crucial rebuilding projects.

Officials of Iraq's recently elected government have fired the main suspects in the scandal, and several former defense overseers are under investigation for possible criminal charges, Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Duleimi said in an interview this week.

Al-Duleimi said investigators are looking at more than 40 questionable contracts that allegedly sent a huge chunk of the ministry's annual budget into the pockets of senior Iraqi defense officials and their foreign business partners.

Other Iraqis familiar with the cases said there may be more fraudulent contracts involving many more millions of dollars.

Investigators are looking at purchases dating back to the June 28, 2004, transfer of sovereignty from American administrator L. Paul Bremer III to the caretaker government of U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Many Iraqi administrators hired under Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority kept their jobs after the handover of the ministry, but after that the U.S. military no longer had the final say in awarding contracts.

However, Americans still ran the show behind the scenes, said several Iraqi bureaucrats involved with the ministry at the time. It's implausible to them that U.S. officials, who held daily briefings with Iraqi defense chiefs, didn't catch wind of the alleged wrongdoing.

"It seems hard to understand to an outsider that this stuff could go on under our noses and Americans wouldn't know anything about it. But, clearly, we didn't know everything," said a U.S. military official familiar with the events. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss an open investigation.

Of course we must keep some perspective on this. In March the Pentagon was attempting to hide an audit of Halliburton that found $108 million in overcharges, which came atop a previous determination of $61 million in overcharges. And as Suzanne Goldberg wrote for the Guardian, "Critics of Halliburton are convinced this represents just a fraction of the overcharges." Whatever the true number, the figure we know of Halliburton overcharges is already well over half of what the Iraqis are being accused of mispending on weapons.

Why would anyone think the Pentagon had a hand in this?

Of course the ultimate oversight responsibility falls upon the Republican Congress. But they're going to be too busy conducting the day-to-day affairs of the Palestinian Authority to be of much use.

Related post
Halliburton losing its ass—Oh sorry, that was our ass (11/27/04)
U.S. Congress to run Palestinian Authority (6/13/05)


1 Not in the case of the British, and probably not for the Americans. More on that later. [back]


NY Times rediscovers Fallujah

Yesterday Editor & Publisher was startled by a report on Fallujah to appear in today's NY Times
In a startling report for the Friday edition of The New York Times, based at least partly on an unnamed Iraqi employee, reporter Edward Wong describes a Falluja where "the insurgency is rising from the rubble.... eight months after the American military killed as many as 1,500 Iraqis in a costly invasion."

Much of the city is still in ruins, even with the return of 140,000 former residents, but at least four suicide bombs have exploded in recent weeks, one of them killing six American troops. Two of five new police forts have been firebombed. Three members of the city council have suddenly quit. "Just as disturbing, even Falluja residents who favored purging the streets of insurgents last November are beginning to chafe under the occupation," Wong writes.

He quotes Abdul Jabbar Kadhim al-Alwani, 40, the owner of an automotive repair shop, as expressing a widely held sentiment: "Some preferred the city quiet, purified of the gunmen and any militant aspect. But after the unfairness and injustice with which the city's residents have been treated by the American and Iraqi forces, they now prefer the resistance, just so they won't be humiliated."

Falluja, thus, is approaching a turning point, American officials acknowledge, "precariously balanced between rebuilding or degenerating into the urban battlefield it once was," Wong relates.

The Times report quoted by E&P mirrors what I wrote a month ago—

Transformed into a police state after last winter's siege, this should be the safest city in all of Iraq.

Thousands of American and Iraqi troops live in crumbling buildings here and patrol streets laced with concertina wire. Any Iraqi entering the city must show a badge and undergo a search at one of six checkpoints. There is a 10 p.m. curfew.

But the insurgency is rising from the rubble nevertheless, eight months after the American military killed as many as 1,500 Iraqis in a costly invasion that fanned anti-American passions across Iraq and the Arab world.

And to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, here they go again—

As the level of violence has increased, marines and Iraqi soldiers are stepping up patrols and house raids. That is further alienating residents. The problem is compounded by sectarian tensions between the Shiite soldiers and Sunni residents. Virtually all of the Iraqi soldiers here are from the south, because previous militias of local residents turned out to be disloyal or fell apart when confronted by insurgents.

American officials say the plan is to draw down the American and Iraqi troop presence in the city as a 1,200-man Iraqi police force is installed by December; one-third of its members are to come from Falluja.

"The Iraqi Army is not trained," Sheik Thaier Diyab al-Arsan, 30, a thin man wearing a red headdress, angrily told Colonel Miles at the meeting downtown. "They're killing people. They're shooting people in the head. You're not in the street. You don't see what's happening."

Previous post
Fallujah pacified? Not quite (updated) (6/18/05)


Statistic of the Day

The odds of dying in a terrorist attack are minuscule. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the odds are about 1 in 88,000. The odds of dying from falling off a ladder are 1 in 10,010. Even in 2001, automobile crashes killed 15 times more Americans than terrorism. Heart disease, cancer, and strokes are the leading causes of death in the United States—not terrorism.
—Benjamin Friedman writing in Foreign Policy

Quote of the Day

... we're living in a country in which there is no longer such a thing as nonpolitical truth. In particular, there are now few, if any, limits to what conservative politicians can get away with: the faithful will follow the twists and turns of the party line with a loyalty that would have pleased the Comintern.
—Paul Krugman in his column "Karl Rove's America"

Thursday, July 14, 2005


A word on conspiracies

Because I did a little post titled "How to drive conspiracy theorists mad" (because I knew its content would), Simply Appalling got a number of links that placed me firmly among the "conspiracy theorists." So perhaps it would be well to explain (again) my thinking on these matters.

At the moment there are conspiracy theories large and small, and there are probably some of which I'm not not even aware. Currently some of the most active surround 9/11, the London bombing, the previous election fraud, and the Valerie Plame affair. Then there are the perennials—the Kennedy assassination, the Iran-Contra affair,1 the Jewish capitalist cabal, Freemasonry, Opus Dei. And let us not forget UFOs and alien abduction.

I do not wish to conflate them, imply that they have equal validity or invalidity, or mock them and then dismiss them—which is the most commonly used technique for reassuring the public that everything we see and hear is on the up and up. On the other hand, I do not believe in any of them (with the exception of ... well, nevermind) with the sort of credulity that I accord to, say, the theories of evolution or relativity.

I'm open-minded to the evidence, but while I'm familiar with the broad outlines of most of them, I'm certainly no expert on any of them. And more importantly, I am not investing my time in their pursuit. There are any number of people who are—for which I'm glad, or better—appreciative.2

But the reason for not investing time in them is equally important: The largest conspiracy—to put in place an unbreakable lock on the power of the United States (and the world—or so these conspirators hope) is an ongoing enterprise occurring before my eyes and yours. Indeed, some of the aforementioned conspiracies (such as 9/11 and the London bombing and the election fraud) are merely tactical.

Personally I'm less interested in the tactics than in the strategy. The conspirators devote enormous amounts of energy and resources into framing what it is they're up to. How else can they hide in broad daylight? But if you dismiss the framing, the outline of their activities could not be plainer. And you do not need to believe that the WTC fell because of a controlled demolition to appreciate that.

The impetus for this post, aside from the points already mentioned, came from an odd little article that appeared in May in Scientific American by one Michael Shermer, who is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and director of the Skeptics Society. The purpose of his article was to bash 9/11 theories of which he writes,

The single best debunking of this conspiratorial codswallop is in the March issue of Popular Mechanics, which provides an exhaustive point-by-point analysis of the most prevalent claims.

That alone would be an extraordinary statement,3 but here's the breathtaker—

The mistaken belief that a handful of unexplained anomalies can undermine a well-established theory lies at the heart of all conspiratorial thinking (as well as creationism, Holocaust denial and the various crank theories of physics). All the "evidence" for a 9/11 conspiracy falls under the rubric of this fallacy. Such notions are easily refuted by noting that scientific theories are not built on single facts alone but on a convergence of evidence assembled from multiple lines of inquiry.

It was just such unexplained anomalies that led to the overthrow of Newtonian mechanics by that crank physicist Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity. Surely Mr. Shermer is familiar with the perturbation in the orbit of Mercury. What Mr. Shermer calls a "fallacy" is in fact the essence of the scientific method. We cannot prove (as in mathematics) hypotheses or theories; we can only disprove them through the detection of "anomalies." It is an anomaly in itself that this writing should appear in the pages of Scientific American.

Of course, to speak of the sum of the activities of the oligarchs as a "conspiracy" is to introduce another frame. This new hip word "framing" is just another way of speaking of a verbal structure through which we interpret events—less weighty perhaps than the previously hip word "paradigm." If we were to put it into the jargon of science, the frame usually falls somewhere between an hypothesis and a theory, which has been elaborated, tested and retested over time. But unlike its scientific kin, the "frame"—since it may be used as a technique of social control and manipulation—mostly goes unanalyzed.

In any case, like the hypothesis and theory, any such frame may be put into question by contrary evidence. So far that evidence—that it is not the intent of the oligarchs to seize power in as permanent a manner as they can devise—has not been forthcoming.

In the meanwhile, keep your sense of humor.

Related posts
Great American Myth #1 (6/19/04)
The death of the Left? (11/27/04)
Thinking about death? Vote Bush! (8/1/04)
Bad idea of the century (2/28/05)
The Second American Revolution goes nuclear (5/16/05)
A small point about a large conspiracy (5/25/05)
Superfluous beliefs (6/10/05)
In their last throes (updated) (6/11/05)
Christo-Republican cadres (6/22/05)
How to drive conspiracy theorists mad ... (7/7/05)


1The Iran-Contra affair is a publicly acknowledged conspiracy. Only the details remain hidden, such as whether George H.W. Bush was a participant. Whether Ronald Reagan was aware of it really doesn't matter, since he was no more in charge than is the current pResident. [back]

2I have absolutely no sympathy for the banning at DailyKos of certain "conspiracists." Please see "The Trouble with Normal" at Rigorous Intuition on this. [back]

3For responses to that article, try here or here. [back]

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Word of the Day

In a recent post I wrote that "The Christo-Republican cadres are here to found the new Reich, and they have the training, skills and discipline to do it."

This was quoted by a member of such with the lead-in—

... here is some lefty blogger's characterization of us PHCers [Patrick Henry College student] as communist cadres and Nazi Reich formers in relation to the [New Yorker] article in one smooth breath

I would never in my wildest moments characterize a PHCer as a "communist"—nor did I. Here is what cadre means in the context of my statement—


  1. A nucleus of trained personnel around which a larger organization can be built and trained: [example] a cadre of corporals who train recruits.
    1. A tightly knit group of zealots who are active in advancing the interests of a revolutionary party.
    2. A member of such a group.

One of the techniques of the Christo-Republican spin machine is to distort plain meaning à la 1984.

Related post
Christo-Republican cadres (6/22/05)


Late posting again

I'm sorry if I seem a little inattentive to what the bastards are doing, but I'm in the midst of a family medical crisis that is keeping me away from the keyboard. I hope to catch up somewhat this afternoon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


What is it with MoveOn?

I was recently appalled by the deceptive stance that MoveOn is taking on the war in Iraq. Now the Bionic Octopus has skewered them for their position on your money, which they are currently soliciting in order to keep "an extremist off the Supreme Court."

MoveOn says,

P.S. By the way, if we're unable to use your contribution for the purpose you specify, either because of oversubscription or for another unforeseen reason, it's our policy to use your contribution for other advertising, public relations, advocacy or organizing activities.

The American Red Cross tried something similar after 9/11. As a result of the outcry the policy was reversed.

BionOp, who says she's "so fucked off [she] can't speak," managed to be quite articulate despite herself—

For the love of christ, I beg you, do not give these hellish apparatchik sinkholes your money. Please.


Previous posts
What in the hell is a content-neutral movement? (3/22/05)
MoveOn conducts a push poll on Iraq and cons its supporters (6/23/05)


Messiah loses house to "vindicative woman syndrome"

Michael Anthony Wayne, now Sir Michael Anthony Wayne, is just your run-of-the-mill Messiah—a dealer in used computer equipment (the Laptop King) who had planned to preside "over the destruction of the world and the ascension of his followers to the role of world leadership." You know the type. They're a dime a dozen in the Red states and Republican down to their red-white-and-blue knickers. We all try to send them a little money once in a while—just in case.

But Nancy Clayton, police sergeant and major in the Marine Corps Reserves, lived in California. In that sheltered environment she may not have been familiar with this particular subspecies of humanity. She went to eBay trying to sell a laptop, and before you could say "apocalypse" Sir Michael had made her "Queen."

She did what any red-blooded Heavenly Queen would do. She quit her job with the police, retired from the Marine Corps, moved to Florida, cashed out her retirement, bought a four-bedroom, two-bath ranch house with pool, deeded the house to Sir Michael, and gave him an extra $490,000 because as "the Son of God ... [he] would decide how it would be spent."

Well, that's the way Ms. Nancy tells it. Sir Wayne the Messiah sees it differently. According to Dan Lynch of the Daily Business Review,

For his part, Wayne contends that Clayton "concocted" all the allegations in her lawsuit and suffers from "vindictive woman syndrome." He denies that he coerced her into signing the house over to him. "You cannot make that woman do anything she doesn't want to do," he said. "My ex-fiancee wanted to ruin me. She wanted to make it so no woman would have anything to do with me."

I know women like that. The judge apparently does too because he didn't know whom to believe—

The judge said he vacillated. He took into account that "you have a right to be foolish in this country, and you have to pay the consequences." He had a particularly hard time believing that the worldly Clayton could be so frightened of Wayne. "Am I supposed to sit here and believe that this ex-police officer, ex-Marine was so intimidated?"

Ultimately, the judge said, he decided to rule in Clayton's favor because of the testimony of a corroborating witness, Ryan Drinkhahn, who had lived in the house at the time and supported Clayton's version of events. Eades ruled that Clayton "as a grantor did not freely and voluntarily sign that deed. ... By this court's final judgment, the deed has no validity."

So Nancy will get back the house, maybe—Sir Michael will appeal the court's decision. But she has completely lost her cash donation. She wasn't great at record-keeping, and besides, she didn't have enough money for her attorney—

"We dropped the fraud because of documentation problems relating to the amounts and because my client was out of money," he said. "I focused on the house because, with appreciation, it was the best way for my client to get back some of her money."

There are lessons for us all—Messiahs and Queens alike—in this sad tale.

Monday, July 11, 2005


Late today

Now that the British government is leaking "secret" memos like a man exposing himself at a nudist camp, it's time for another comment on British (and American) troop withdrawal from Iraq. Unfortunately I must postpone that until later today. Check back.

Puerto Rico votes to the throw the bastards out—at least half of them

Yesterday the U.S. colony of Puerto Rico held a referendum on its constitution to decide if the commonwealth should continue with a bicameral (Senate and House of Representatives) legislature or get rid of one or the other institutions. Many Puerto Ricans apparently didn't care, if turnout be the measure, since only 22% showed up. But those who did cared decisively: 84% voted for change.

According to Manuel Ernesto Rivera of the AP,

The results won't bring about immediate change: The referendum directs the legislature to hold another referendum in 2007 that would ask voters to amend the island's constitution and establish a one-house system by 2009.

At the state level only Nebraskans have opted for a unicameral legislature. They made the change in the "radical" 1930s of the Great Depression and have never looked back.

The Puerto Rico Herald commented,

Since that time, many Nebraskans hold up their model as less expensive, less partisan and more accountable to the electorate. The fear at first expressed — that a single legislative body accumulate too much power and would usurp the power of the Governor — has not occurred. Finally it is posited that Nebraska’s legislative process, when compared with other states, produces better law in a more efficient process.

The fact that no other state has made the change seems to indicate that Nebraska is alone in its admiration of a unicameral legislature.

It indicates to me that political leaders in other states do not desire a legislature that is "less expensive, less partisan and more accountable to the electorate." Lawyers need work too, you know.

In a recent "op-ed" in Caribbean Business, former PDP governor Rafael Hernández Colón expressed opposition to a unicameral system, although he understands why some Puerto Ricans want to see changes in the current arrangement. "The outlandish behavior of some members of our bicameral Legislature (has) deeply offended Puerto Rican public opinion. The lavish privileges they have vested upon themselves, their waste of time on ceremonial banalities, their insensitivity to the desire of the Puerto Rican people to have a serious, hard-working legislature focused on our real problems has exasperated the public to the extent that it wants to change the Constitution to put the house in order."

The Puerto Rican legislature has certainly taken to American-style democracy, hasn't it?


A woman with a future in Republican politics

Jamie Scher, a lawyer disbarred for her perjury conviction in 2002, sued the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) for $100 million in damages flowing from the conviction and disbarment. According to Anthony Lin of the New York Law Journal,
... Scher claimed that, in taking her sworn testimony in the presence of counsel, the NASD failed to warn her that lying in the interview could result in criminal perjury charges. They warned her only of "possible sanctions" like censure or fines. She argued that the failure to warn her of possible criminal charges violated her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination as well as her right to due process.

Criminal convictions are no impediment to a life of crime as a Republican politician, and a perjury conviction is better than a degree cum laude if you want to be a Bush administration toady. Add to that that Scher was working in the securities industry and you have as fine a candidate for employment as any I've seen.

And chutzpah too

In dismissing Scher's case, the judge noted that "When the apocryphal child murdered his parents and then sought mercy as an orphan, he set a standard for courtroom chutzpah that has not been rivaled until the filing of this lawsuit."

What a resumé! Jamie Scher has a bright future before her.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Quote of the Day

On the surface, though, thanks to the presence of thousands of U.S. troops there, Guantánamo is becoming like a little American town. A Starbucks had recently opened, and a McDonald’s and several other restaurants did a brisk business. The area was unpleasantly wet and hot when I was there, but also surprisingly beautiful—lush and green, framed by hills of tropical jungle and blue mountain peaks. During their free hours, the soldiers swim at the coral beaches and dive. There's even a golf course.
—Jane Mayer, journalist, as interviewed by Amy Davidson for The New Yorker

Statistic of the Day

In 1995, students attending the wealthiest 10% of colleges got subsidies averaging $22,800 apiece, while those in the bottom 10% got a break of just $1,800. Endowments and gifts provide most of the subsidies in private colleges, while taxpayer funds do so in public ones.
—Gordon Winston, economist, according to Business Week

I wonder how big the discrepancy is today.

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