Saturday, December 10, 2005


Lie of the Day

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz suggested that US forces might not have invaded Iraq if Washington had known then that the regime of Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.AFP account of Wolfowitz' talk at the National Press Club


What's with the American Left and Cindy Sheehan?

Yesterday I wrote about Cindy Sheehan's trip to Britain and also mentioned in an earlier post that her trip was coming up. From Technorati it appears that the only other blog on the Left that has mentioned her trip was (ADS), at least that you might have heard of. ADS reposted a press release from the Parliament Square Peace Campaign. Meanwhile, there are literally hundreds of blog entries critical of Sheehan and her visit to Britain posted by the Right.

Sheehan's visit to the Isles has been covered by the BBC, the Guardian, the Scotsman and at least 13 other media outlets. The AP ran a story on today's international peace conference in London that included a mention of her. It was run by Newsday and the Houston Chronicle, among others.

The lack of American media coverage is no surprise, but why is there no interest from the antiwar movement? Why have none of the three Lefty linkers that I show in the sidebar linked to any of the stories?

The War Movement has been globalized. Isn't it about time the Antiwar Movement began to think along those lines?

Previous posts
The distorting lens (12/1/05)
Tony Blair in deep doo-doo (12/6/05)
Cindy Sheehan in Britain (12/9/05)


Recovery of the Day

Fridriksson, Ryalls and other colleagues published a scientific paper just last month involving a South Carolina man who began speaking with an accent after a stroke. The man, in his 40s, had no other disabilities and a year after his stroke completely regained his Southern accent. —Steve Paul writing in "Stroke victims' accent changes baffling experts"


Quote of the Day

Let's not talk about the past; let's talk about the future. You were the future once. —David Cameron, newly elected head of Britain's Conservative Party addressing Tony Blair during the PM's question time

Friday, December 09, 2005


Cindy Sheehan in Britain

Cindy Sheehan arrived in Britain Wednesday where officialdom has taken some notice. The Mayor of London Ken Livingstone threw a party (a "bash," if the American Spectator is to be believed) where he was generous in his support for the antiwar movement and evil-tongued in his descriptions of the Bush administration. Just the way I like it.

David Swanson writes,

Ken Livingstone ... denounced the Bush Administration as "a gang of thugs." He praised the work of those present from the US and the UK who have worked to end the war, including offering high praise for Cindy Sheehan, who also spoke.

"You are the majority of Londoners," Livingstone said, referring to those who want the war ended and who view the behavior of the Bush Administration as criminal. In reference to reports that Bush wanted to bomb the headquarters of Al Jazeera, Livingstone said "Anywhere else we call that Murder Incorporated."

Before Livingstone introduced Cindy, he mentioned that the media sometimes calls him "anti-American." He said: "I'm not anti-American. I love America. I love Americans' competence, their lack of deference, their belief that they can achieve their best. I hope some day we can get a government as good as the American people, a government with the morality of Cindy."

Sheehan didn't let them forget Tony Blair—

"The Mayor did call them gangsters," Cindy said of the Bush Administration, "and that's right. But, " she told the crowd, "your prime minister is an accomplice."

"We need an investigation! We are fighting for impeachment of these criminals!"

That line got huge applause.

The Mayor closed by quoting a remark that William Jennings Bryan made in response to Carnegie claiming he loved America: "We're glad you love America. When you're done with it, can we have it back?"

Yesterday Sheehan was in Scotland where she's been joined by Rose Gentle, a Scottish mother and antiwar campaigner whose son was also killed in Iraq. The Socialist members of the Scottish Parliament demanded that the First Minister Jack McConnell meet with her, but unsurprisingly he refused. After all, he had supported the war.

Today Sheehan and a group of British war moms are to meet with some union leaders. And tomorrow there's a sold out conference followed in the evening with the debut of a play by Dario Fo—Peace Mom.

Neither Bush nor Blair can stop Cindy Sheehan from making the headlines, and that alone is a strong antiwar message.

Sheehan will be in Spain next week.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


On the collection of foreign news and other disgraces

I don't mean to wax sentimental about the good ol' days of journalism. The American press has never been as free or truthful as we mythologize. When the journalism profession gets into a flurry of moral outrage over someone like former NY Times reporter Jayson Blair, who simply stole or invented his material, it's great theater but only theater.

Neglecting to notice that you don't actually need to plagiarize or invent the news to give a false account, media mavens go on the talk shows or write columns. There corporate journalism is felt for lumps to see if a cancer is growing upon the profession. The subtext is that journalists are so honest that when a reporter such as Blair is discovered, an investigation must be launched to determine how the bad apple got into the barrel. And after the paroxysms of self-examination are exhausted the mainstream media return to their primary business of hoodwinking and distracting the public until the next bad apple comes along.

And so the most recent wormy apple has turned out to be Syrian reporter George Baghdadi,1 who has worked for both Time and USA Today. Baghdadi, according to Jay DeFoore in E&P, was fired by Cox News Service for stealing quotes from the St. Petersburg Times concerning ... yep, you guessed it—"the popularity of an Arab version of the classic Barbie doll." This vital but plagiarized story was passed from Cox onto the New York Times News Service whence it was distributed to all of suffering mankind. And naturally it has been the occasion for more media introspection.

One such piece was written the other day by David Paulin for E&P. It is more interesting than most because it actually informs how the foreign news makes it to the dinner table, and more honest than most by acknowledging that inventing the news is not all that difficult.

Paulin describes a member of the journalism hierarchy unknown to most poor sods: the "fixer."—

Generally, they're local hires who get their jobs through an informal word-of-mouth process -- not through the organized vetting process news organization use to hire editorial staff....

Baghdadi was probably like fixers I have known in another respect. He apparently played a major role in shaping stories, doing just about everything in the news gathering process except for writing the finished piece. Indeed, fixers may decide who to interview, set appointments, lead visiting reporters around by the hand, and provide translation services -- all things Baghdadi apparently did for Nelson, Cox's contract reporter. Fixers also may provide quotes and local color to staff foreign correspondents holed up elsewhere, perhaps across town in hotel rooms or in offices in another country -- also something Baghdadi did for Nelson, although in this case it was fabricated or plagiarized quotes.

Fixers may be local residents or expatriates, and their journalism experience may be extremely limited. Those who are proven journalists and do terrific work are in demand, although proven and busy freelance journalists, to be sure, are often reluctant to work as fixers.

Paulin asks,

How many fixers in Iraq and elsewhere, struggling to support families amid chaotic conditions, would be tempted to cut corners to ensure that a check arrives on time?

I can't count that high. But Paulin makes some suggestions—all right as far as they go—on how to fix the fixers.

In an age of layoffs and declining profits, freelance "contract" reporters such as Nelson and freelance fixers such as Baghdadi are here to stay. How can the system be made more honest?

One would be to require that fixers be trained journalists. Besides working as fixers, they should write for the papers which contract them. Editors should vet them as carefully as they do perspective staff reporters, and they should meet the same professional requirements as new staff members. A base salary would deter the temptation to cut corners, such as fabricating quotes, to help maintain a cash flow.

Finally, fixers who provide quotes should be credited in stories as having done so; it's something some papers don't do. In the case of Cox's Barbie doll story, for example, Nelson failed to credit Baghdadi with having provided quotes, which was described as contrary to Cox's sourcing policy.

This reflects a problem inherent in foreign reporting as practiced today. Media giants such as The New York Times and Hearst regularly publish articles by freelancers -- yet fail to note those reporters are in fact freelancers and not on staff. In the case of one Hearst paper for which I have written, I was amused to see under my byline that I was part of the paper's "foreign service."

Yes. You would think acknowledging credit and correctly describing the roles of the journalists would be the least the journalism profession might do.

But after thinking about the implications of all this, I realized that the Pentagon has been missing a great opportunity to influence news on the home front. Why pay to plant stories? Why not pay the fixers? Or just plant the fixers? Or maybe they've already thought of that.


1The actual reporter on the story was Craig Nelson, who passed the blame on to Baghdadi, who in turn passed it on to an assistant "Hussein Ali," who has yet to be produced for an interview.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Sweden fixes its teeth

While 1 out of 6 people in the U.S. has no health insurance (as of 2003)—which includes 1 out of 10 children—those socialist-wannabe Swedes have nothing better to do than worry about their damned teeth.

According to The Local, the Minister of Healthcare Ylva Johansson is promising cheap visits to the dentist for everybody by 2007—

The reformed system will be generous, said Johansson, who refused to be drawn on the possible costs other than acknowledging that changes will be expensive.

The government's coalition partners, the Left Party and the Greens, back the changes, which are expected to make it as cheap to go for a dental check up as it is for a medical check up.

Swedes already have free dental care for all children up to the age of 19. It's the adults they're worried about—

[T]he government wants the older part of the population to be able to visit the dentist every 18 months at a cost similar to that of a trip to the doctor - a few hundred kronor [US$25-$35].

Actual treatment will be paid for by the patient, but the reform will also include a fixed ceiling on payments, which will be determined by Curt Malmborg's second report.

The principle behind the reforms is that nobody should refrain from having their teeth checked for economic reasons.

"It's very worrying that more and more people say they cannot afford to visit the dentist," said Ylva Johansson.

What a disgusting way for a political party to win votes! Thank God that in the U.S. we reserve our votes for the politicians who pray the loudest and lie the most.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Tony Blair in deep doo-doo

I wrote recently of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's efforts not to be left "twisting, slowly, slowly in the wind" by his comrade-in-arms George Bush. But Blair's fortunes if anything have only deteriorated since.

Airy-fairy Blair

Over 90% of British headlines for the past few days have been concerned with Blair's management (or failure to manage) the budget crisis of the European Union (EU). Blair is currently the EU President, and his six-month term is at an end. He was supposed to have shepherded in a budget for the years 2007 through 2013, and nothing has gone well. For his British constituency the worst has been his offer to give up a multibillion euro rebate from the EU that was negotiated by Maggie Thatcher in 1984—and this after swearing he wasn't going to do it.

Simon Jenkins gives a good summation of the consensus on Blair's EU efforts—

Blair cheerily told the BBC on Friday that he could not govern “according to the headlines”. The truth is he knows no other way. He has done rotten deals on Europe since coming to power. He has now wasted six months grandstanding and legacy hunting, desperate to be the leader who set the world to rights. The one foreign policy cause to which he should have devoted himself was EU budget reform. He has blown it.

The Jenkins article was headlined "Airy-fairy Blair lies in a French ditch looking at the stars."

If that weren't insult enough, Blair's machismo suffered another blow last Thursday when his promise to shut down militant mosques was opposed by British police chiefs who feared that such closures would just drive militants further underground.

But there are other issues percolating through that may more directly affect Americans.

Parliamentary investigation

First, the move in Parliament to launch an investigation into how Blair got Britain into a war has surprised the movement's leader with the speed of support. According to Tomos Livingstone,

A BID to set up a parliamentary investigation into how Prime Minister Tony Blair took the country to war in Iraq has gathered the support of 87 MPs in just a week.

The campaign, led by Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price, has grown from his earlier bid to have Mr Blair impeached over the invasion.

The 26-strong Campaign Group of left-wing Labour MPs are expected to sign the motion (several have already done so), with Mr Price hoping to reach the magic figure of 36 Labour rebels needed to defeat the Government.

Four Labour MPs outside the Campaign Group ... have signed up, together with a raft of senior politicians including Ken Clarke, recently defeated in the Tory leadership contest, and former Labour Minister Clare Short....

Mr Price hopes so many MPs will sign that either the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives will use their allotted parliamentary time to hold a debate and a vote on the issue - probably in the New Year.

The Conservative Party (Tories) have finally managed to elect a new leader, David Cameron.

The position taken by the new leader of the Conservative Party ... could be crucial to the success or otherwise of the enterprise.

"One of the first decisions he will have to make is whether the party will support us officially," said Mr Price.

In the unlikely event this investigation gets underway, Bush may have to bomb Parliament.

Cindy Sheehan on the prowl

Cindy Sheehan is to arrive in Britain tomorrow. According to Barry Wigmore and Vincent Moss, Sheehan has threatened "to chain herself to the gates of Downing Street to protest against Tony Blair's stance on Iraq." They write,

Now Cindy is determined to torpedo Mr Blair's popularity just as she did with Mr Bush.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Mirror, she said: "I aim to be a major thorn in Mr Blair's side. He's lied from the outset about all this. I'm prepared to do anything I can - chain myself to railings, march on the House of Commons, shout from the rooftops - to call attention to this unnecessary war and end it."

Cindy is due to meet London Mayor Ken Livingstone and pay flying visits to Scotland and Ireland.

She is also expected to receive an award at the International Peace Conference, in London next Saturday, and anti-war MPs may invite her to the House of Commons.

"Bush lied about Iraq and so did Tony Blair. I believe they are complicit in this."

A government drowning in leaks

Martin Bright has just reported that Blair's government is in a panic from all the leaks that are making it into the news. How does he know? Well, somebody leaked him some emails about the leaks. Bright reports,

Early in September a flurry of confidential e-mails started to fly around Whitehall between civil servants desperate to identify the sources of a series of high-level leaks that had appeared under my name. On 28 August, I had reported that Michael Jay, the top civil servant at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, had warned the government as early as May 2004 that the issue of Iraq was fuelling Muslim extremism in Britain, contradicting repeated denials from Downing Street that the war had made the UK a target for terrorists. A week later, two further leaks revealed that MI6 was planning to infiltrate Muslim extremist websites posing as Islamic radicals and that Foreign Office officials had recommended approving the visa application of the controversial Qatar-based cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi to avoid a Muslim backlash in Britain.

Andrew Noble, head of the FCO's security strategy unit, and Chris Wright, the Cabinet Office's director of security intelligence, were deeply irritated that such sensitive documents had found their way into the public domain. They launched a leak inquiry immediately. They even considered putting pressure on my editor at the time, the Observer's Roger Alton, to stop me running the stories. They agreed that "stopping any further leaks should be our priority".

How do I know this? Because their e-mail exchanges have - in the sweetest of ironies - now been leaked to me at the New Statesman. These missives demonstrate a growing panic at the heart of Whitehall over the increasingly porous nature of the civil service.

I am beginning to lose count of the number of leaks the government has had to contend with since it began its ill-fated adventure in Iraq. The charges against Keogh and O'Connor recall the earlier prosecution of the GCHQ whistle-blower Katharine Gun, who revealed details of US plans to spy on UN Security Council members in the run-up to war in 2003....

Between the disclosures that tragically contributed to the death of the UN weapons inspector David Kelly in July 2003 and the revelations at the heart of the latest secrecy trial, there has been a regular alternative supply of information to counter the official narrative of the government.

Political patronage challenged

In the U.S. party stalwarts are rewarded with ambassadorships, but the British have another carrot to dangle—elevation of commoners to the peerage, a powerful attractant for the nouveaux riches. This year, however, Blair's list of new peers—which was leaked—has been rejected by the House of Lords Appointment Commission.

Marie Woolf reports that—

In a major snub to the Prime Minister, the ... Appointments Commission has expressed its unwillingness to approve the honours list.... The list includes some high-profile Labour donors and several millionaire businessmen who supported the party's city academy schools.

The move, which amounts to a direct challenge to the Prime Minister's authority and his power of patronage, comes after an investigation into the financial and tax status of a number of peers and follows a leak of Mr Blair's list to The Independent on Sunday.

The fur may yet fly

And finally, no discussion of Tony Blair would be complete without mention of his wife Cherie. On Sunday she was accused of wearing what the government will not confirm was rabbit. This would be all right except that the Blair government banned fur farming in 2003. The speculation is that the coat may have been made from Chinese rabbits. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wants her to give the coat to charity.

She should keep it. Her husband is experiencing a notable chill.

Related posts
Cherie Blair: Nancy Reagan Redux (9/28/05)
The bamboozling of Tony Blair (11/26/05)

Monday, December 05, 2005


What was the work of BKSH & Associates?

The Lincoln Group (LG), that nebulous entity that the U.S. military hired to plant stories in the Iraqi media, apparently doesn't even have the necessary talent on their staff. According to a story in Editor & Publisher, LG subcontracted the work to BKSH & Associates, "one part of the giant communications company, Burson-Marsteller's."

No surprise there. The game of subcontracting dilutes the liability and hides where the money went. In fact, the LG website actually proclaims its expertise in this area—

Lincoln Group formed to pursue private sector opportunities in Iraq. Lincoln Group brings a unique combination of expertise in collecting and exploiting information; structuring transactions; and mitigating risks through due diligence, legal strategies and security. Lincoln Group has developed subsidiaries and private equity investments in Iraq spanning commercial real estate, manufacturing, metals, transportation, and communications.

But what caught my eye was this, as reported by a public relations trade publication—

BKSH has experience on the Iraqi front earned from work for Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress.

Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC) were funded by hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S.

By using the phrase "the Iraqi front" the reader is given the impression that BKSH was doing work for Chalabi and his anti-Saddam efforts in Iraq, but that is not necessarily the proper interpretation. Most of the work of Chalabi and the INC in their latter years was to provide the Bush administration with fake intelligence to justify the war.

Was the work of BKSH, in serving Chalabi and the INC, in fact directed toward the American media, and hence the American public, to bolster the cause of Chalabi and the INC? If the U.S. government was funding such an operation, it would have been illegal.

Any chance of an investigation?

Sunday, December 04, 2005


So who's running the country?

Insight on the News is an online weekly run by the same Moonie corporation as the Washington Times. Their "insights" may be counted on to reflect the latest in right-wing spin, and their top item of "breaking news" this week is an unsigned article titled "Bush takes Cheney out of the loop on national security."

I can't let another minute pass without sharing this one—

Over the last two months Mr. Cheney has been granted decreasing access to the Oval Office, the sources said on the condition of anonymity. The two men still meet, but the close staff work between the president and vice president has ended.

"Cheney's influence has waned not only because of bad chemistry, but because the White House no longer formulates policy," another source said.

"There's nothing to input into. Cheney is smart and knowledgeable, but he as well as Bush are ducking all the time to avoid the bullets."

The "policy" referred to here is surely foreign policy, since the administration's only domestic policy is to favor the wealthy at every turn and to reassert the Divine Right of Kings.

Anyone paying attention knows that Georgie Boy has as little to do with formulating policy as the grown-ups can contrive. So if it be true that power has slipped from Cheney's hands (a questionable assertion), inquiring minds would like to know just who the hell is running the country. If making the policy decisions of the United States hasn't been contracted out to a private entity such as the Club for Growth, the implication can only be that policy is now under the control of either the State Department or the Pentagon.

The article goes on to say,

The sources said Mr. Bush has privately blamed Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the U.S.-led war in Iraq. They said the president has told his senior aides that the vice president and defense secretary provided misleading assessments on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, as well as the capabilities of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

If you believe this crap, you'd have to conclude that Condi Rice and Karen Hughes are in charge of foreign policy. Don't bet on it.

Related posts
George Bush: Cheerleader-in-Chief of Social Security "reform" (2/14/05)
The Duumvirate (9/3/05)
My tea leaves were wrong (9/22/05)

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