Thursday, May 31, 2007

Counter-rotating Tax Spin

FactCheck(dot)org publishes another report, this time illustrating how everyone wants to spin the tax bottle to point where ever they want to plant a kiss. Both sides of the aisle know how to play the game and they do it so well...

The Democrats’ proposed 2008 budget is being spun by both sides. Democrats claim it will not raise taxes by even a penny, while Republicans say it will impose the largest or second-largest tax increase in history.

Obviously, the budget can’t be the largest tax increase in history and zero tax increase simultaneously. So which is it? The answer depends on a couple of questions: What constitutes an increase? And an increase compared with what?

The budget does not propose a new tax hike, compared with current law. It would, however, allow many of President Bush’s tax cuts to expire, meaning some Americans will pay more compared with what they pay now. We suspect that those affected will see that as a tax increase, contrary to the Democratic spin. But the Republican claim that it would be “the largest in history” is off base, too. Measured by the yardstick most economists favor, it's not even in the top 10.

The spin surrounding the Democrats’ proposed budget brought to mind a classic optical illusion in which the same picture could be seen as either a duck or a rabbit. One side of the aisle saw an aggressive tax-increasing duck; the other saw a benevolent budget-balancing bunny.

Go to the link and see how this works. I'm not going to waste any more blog space on a variety of ways to spin horse shit into Egyptian cotton. This is why there are so many skeptics among the electorate.


No time this morning to do productive writing and research. Work is calling. But before I report to work I need to get a few things off my chest. This morning's news has several unrelated items that taken together strike me with a deep sense of helpless frustration.

The Maghreb is being recognized as a hotbed of growing and better organized terrorism. Al Qaeda is mentioned as well as other wannabe groups inspired by the AQ models. The ostensible target is, of course, Europe. Nothing new here, except when one considers the crude manner that Europe has been mishandled diplomatically since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq this threat from several countries in North Africa has a running head start. Thank you very much, Mr. With-us-or-agin'-us. Tony Blair is going down in flames politically and the UK police are having a hard time doing their jobs because the real and present threat of home-grown terrorism in Great Britain is thought by many to be "exaggerated." Real counter-terrorism requires a bond of trust between citizens and police and one of the most conspicuous results of the GWOT is a strained and spreading mistrust of police, not only in Iraq, but practically everywhere US foreign policy has poked it's fingers. Great Britain is now joining the list.

At home a xenophobic fear of foreigners, accelerated by the above mentioned GWOT takes the form of a backlash against immigrants. Today we learn that the University System of Georgia directs that any illegal aliens attending college must now pay out-of-state fees in addition to regular tuition. There is no problem with illegality, understand, as long as the money is there, but since they have no legal status as state residents they will be expected to pay out-of-state fees. What hypocrisy!

This anti-immigration populist tide reminds me of the segregation mind-set of the Sixties. The black population was essential to the economy and social fabric of the South, not only forming the infrastructure of low wages upon which an agricultural and service economy rested, but making life better for successful products of that economy as cooks, maids, yardmen, drivers and nannies. When we moved to Georgia in the fifties it was common to see ordinary white men driving ordinary cars around with a black woman in the back seat. She would be a domestic worker with no transportation being lifted to or from his home. My own family, with only the income of an auto mechanic, was able to have a "maid" from time to time.

When the Civil Rights movement finally got started there were cries of rage and frustration from those who saw only a bunch of "outside agitators" coming in and stirring up our Negroes. They were happy, don't you know. As long as they "kept their place" everything would be alright.

Today immigrants are the new Negroes. We want their cheap labor and are happy to have them at the lower edge of the economy. But the complaint that they "don't want to learn the language" is one of the first justifications we hear complaining about them. And yet when second-generation examples of pristine American values starts to show, the result is a slap in the face on the part of government in order to appeal to the basest of popular ignorance.

"Rule of Law! Rule of Law!" they cry. And all I hear in my mind is "States' rights! States' rights!" That was the cry of segregationists who wanted to "reserve the right to serve whoever we want." Which was code, of course, for NOT serving black people in public places. The same rule of law was used then as now to preserve and protect a mean-spirited and ugly aspect of our society that is badly in need of change.

This is disjointed and lacks links. But it feels better to have it off my chest. I could go on for a couple more hours, but this will have to do for now. I doubt if I will revisit this post. I may even delete it when I read it over later. But for today, at least, I said what I needed to say.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dubai photos from 1975-1980

By now everyone knows about the bling-encrusted Dubai with its in-your-face exhibition of wealth. Here is a set of historic black-and-white photos of Dubai from thirty years ago. The link is via a contributor at UAE Community Blog. Take a few minutes to peruse. (They show better when [F-11] hides the toolbars.)
I have sent a message asking permission to print one of these lovely pictures and am waiting for a reply from The Netherlands.

Resignation of Cindy Sheehan

America's most visible anti-war mom has decided to leave the movement and put together what is left of her life. She has paid a dear price for her principles and her life will never be the same. Her Memorial Day post at Kos yesterday is a sad document. And even as she makes her decision public she is targeted with phrases such as the one she made the title of her post: "Good Riddance Attention Whore"

I have come to some heartbreaking conclusions this Memorial Day Morning. These are not spur of the moment reflections, but things I have been meditating on for about a year now. The conclusions that I have slowly and very reluctantly come to are very heartbreaking to me.

The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a "tool" of the Democratic Party. This label was to marginalize me and my message. How could a woman have an original thought, or be working outside of our "two-party" system?

However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the "left" started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of "right or left", but "right and wrong."
I have also reached the conclusion that if I am doing what I am doing because I am an "attention whore" then I really need to be committed. I have invested everything I have into trying to bring peace with justice to a country that wants neither. If an individual wants both, then normally he/she is not willing to do more than walk in a protest march or sit behind his/her computer criticizing others. I have spent every available cent I got from the money a "grateful" country gave me when they killed my son and every penny that I have received in speaking or book fees since then. I have sacrificed a 29 year marriage and have traveled for extended periods of time
away from Casey’s brother and sisters and my health has suffered and my hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) are in collection because I have used all my energy trying to stop this country from slaughtering innocent human beings. I have been called every despicable name that small minds can think of and have had my life threatened many times.

I am going to take whatever I have left and go home. I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost. I will try to maintain and nurture some very positive relationships that I have found in the journey that I was forced into when Casey died and try to repair some of the ones that have fallen apart since I began this single-minded crusade to try and change a paradigm that is now, I am afraid, carved in immovable, unbendable and rigidly mendacious marble.

Thanks, Deborah White for noticing. Her comments and links are worth reading.

Like Cindy Sheehan I gave up arguing deeply held principles years ago. Having said that, I will add that I have only the deepest respect for anyone who sacrifices as much as she has lost because of her deep commitment to what she believes. When the history of this war is written, her name and the cause for which she fought will carry more respect than those who now malign her with foul language and contempt.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day, 2007

The Library of Congress Veterans History Project was featured on an NPR clip yesterday. As I listened to interviews, comments and observations, I couldn't help thinking how public broadcasting is vilified by an ignorant segment of the population whose information sources know more about spinning news stories than is dreamt of in the world of NPR. This story dropped in my lap just in time for Memorial Day weekend. I cannot supply a link because the program was Bob Edwards' Sunday, a two-hour program from XM Radio aired on public radio. I have just recently become aware of this program and it is some of the finest radio journalism being produced today.
(I am considering becoming an XM Radio subscriber because of this program. I got hooked by Showtime years ago by John Houseman's The Paper Chase which I dearly miss. The series was gone after a couple of seasons while the rest of Showtime's unfiltered detrius continued. A subscription to XM Radio for me would be like buying a whole banana split just to get a cherry.)

Among the "staff favorites" of this project is a first-person record of Edward J. Bayon whose solemn civilian duty after the First World War included transporting the remains of 952 casualties from the places where they died to a Belgian port where they could be shipped home to their final resting places. Rather than read a synopsis of the story, I was able to go to the primary document from which it came, a hand written account of the man telling in detail what happened.

This is a true story of three canal barges loaded with 952 American soldiers killed in battle on a voyage from Toul, France to Antwerp, Belgium on their way to the U.S.A.

In 1919, having married a French girl, I was mustered out of the army in France and obtained a job with the American Graves Registration Service which was just being organized in Paris. I worked in the field with Section #1, covering most of France and Belgium until 1921 when I was assigned to help establish a railhead at Toul, France under Captain Glandon. After three barges had been loaded with 952 caskets, I was selected as Chief Convoyer for the trip to Antwerp, Belgium.

The trip took three weeks, twenty-two days, to be exact, as three barges had to be maneuvered through a network of waterways to the next leg of the trip home. It's easy to forget in a time when airplanes move even the dead over great distances, often in a refrigerated environment, that moving human remains in 1921 was a slow and tedious duty. In this case the remains were being shipped about two years after they died.

Toward the end of the trip they experienced a moving display of gratitude on the part of the Belgian towns through which they passed.

April 22 we left Waulsort at 7:30 AM and reach Riviere at 1:30 PM. Up until now not much attention had been paid us but now things began to happen. We had passed unnoticed all through France, the French being inured to War and its terrible results but here the whole town had turned out to meet us with flags and flowers, the Mayor, the Conductor de Ponts et Chausees, school children dressed in their best & the village priest. The Mayor made a short address and flowers and wreaths were placed on the barges which were covered by huge tarpaulins. The word of our passing had gone on ahead and at every village where we had to pass through locks it was a repetition of Riviere. This slowed us down greatly. We reached Namur at 5:30 PM where a beautiful wreath was placed on the leading barge by the Federation National des Combattants de Namur and we tied up here for the night.

The next day April 24 we took on coal at Jemeppe and did not get away until 1:30 PM. We reached Avroy, which is near Liege, at 3:30 PM and here crowds were beginning to line the banks and a small motor boat met us to inquire if we would stop at Liege long enough for homage to be paid to the dead. On entering Liege a salute of cannons was fired and a cavalry regiment met us and escorted us on both sides of the canal into the city. Bugles sounded the Belgium taps as thousands of people lined the banks and bridges over the canal. At the last lock, before the center of town was reached, a Military band boarded the first barge and played dirges soft & low. Everyone was uncovered and many women were kneeling praying and weeping. It was very impressive. At the quai was the governor of Liege, the American Consul and his wife, the commander of the garrison of Liege and many other persons of distinction. The governor made a speech after which I was pushed up on a box to thank the people for theIr kind reception given our dead, in my poor French. The barges were then literally covered with beautiful wreaths and flowers. The band then played the American and Belgium anthems as we proceeded to the next lock with the cavalry still accompanying us. At this lock a repetition of the reception occurred with school children, boys dressed in blue and girls in white lined along the banks with flags.


On April 30 we left Vorssilaire at 7:00AM and, after going through that maize of waterways and canals that surround Antwerp, we finally pulled into our quai at 3:30 PM—22 days after we had started from Toule, France—where I turned over the three barges and papers into the care of the officer in charge. As long as I live I will never forget this trip and the kindness, courtesy and thoughtfulness of the Belgium people and the sympathy they exhibited to our American Dead.


As I read Mr. Bayon's account echoes of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying played in the background.

We live in a time and culture where death and dying have been separated from the hard, simple realities that death represents. Yesterday I watched with morbid curiosity as C-SPAN's Book TV showed Thomas Craughwell addressing a group of people in Springfield, Illinois, talking about his book, Stealing Lincoln's Body. Having delved into the historical accounts of the time, he was able to describe in detail how death and the handling of human remains in the nineteenth century differed from our own time.

My cyber-friend Jim Gilbert tells how he and his family have faced and accepted death (among other things) with a grace that only comes from deep spiritual roots.

And I also remembered the death and funeral arrangements for my own father, much more peaceful and carefully orchestrated in today's world than in the Nineteenth Century. My sister, mother and I were choosing a suitable casket for a man who worked as an auto mechanic and was rewarded with a retirement avocation finishing and creating furniture, shelves, clocks and other creations of fine wood. When we saw the casket used for Orthodox Jewish funerals we knew at once that we needed to look no further. The elegant simplicity and spiritual aesthetics made a perfect choice.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Helena Cobban: Administration's Plan B

There is an inverse relationship between votes and body counts. With an election bearing down next year, time is running out for casualties to start dropping. Even as last week's show of political force by The Decider was playing out, plans were taking shape to do exactly what public opinion wants but with as little political scar tissue as possible.

Helena Cobban, a tireless critic of this war, points out a New York Times article spelling out how "growing political pressure is forcing the White House to turn its attention to what happens after the current troop increase runs its course. ¶The concepts call for a reduction in forces that could lower troop levels by the midst of the 2008 presidential election to roughly 100,000, from about 146,000, the latest available figure, which the military reported on May 1."

Pretty slick, huh?

Do as public opinion dictates, but get as much political mileage as possible while at the same time painting critics of the war in the darkest possible tones.

Bottom line: The COIN campaign that Petraeus now finds himself leading in Iraq is already a lost cause. The events of Diyala and Mahmoudiyah, and the thick stream of body bags now bringing dead US soldiers back to their home-towns here in the US prove that.

However, the White House is still for some reason bullheadedly insisting that we need to wait until September, when Petraeus himself can come back to Washington to give his 'report card' on the surge, before any alternative can be decided on... I guess Bush doesn't want to be the one who said, "We tried but we failed." (Anyway, why would anyone give any credence to a strategic judgment uttered by that brief part-time naval aviator/strutter... Evidently "David"-- as Bush likes to refer to Gen. Petraeus-- is being carefully groomed and prepped to come back and be the one to give the nation the "bad news" that in fact, we all know about already.)

But it certainly is interesting that even in the immediate aftermath of the (brief and evanescent) political "victory" that Bush won when he stared down the congressional Dems on the withdrawal-deadline issue last week, he and some of his key advisors were already not just continuing to plan out their 'Plan B', but also starting a strategic leaking campaign around it.
[...] present conclusion-- based on the Sanger/Cloud piece, as well as on various other pieces of recent information-- is that the "majority party" inside the Bush administration now clearly seems to be preparing a policy of cut and blame, which is a version of "cut and run".

Blame Maliki, that is. Last week, we got other "leaked" information that administration insiders had decided to "leave Maliki in place", rather than continuing to mount various pressures against him. That fits in perfectly with a "cut and blame" policy. Because if the Bushites had maneuvered Maliki aside in some way-- whether with Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, or Iyad Allawi, or anyone else, then in a sense they would have been under more pressure to "own" the political outcome of that. With a weakened, ineffective, and quite possibly corrupt Maliki still in place, they don't have to "own" anything.

(In this regard, I have to say that I find the whole question of "benchmarks" for the Iraqi government, as discussed earnestly and fairly endlessly within certain Washington policy circles, to be either irrelevant or actually immoral. First of all, it is the height of imperial arrogance for US politicians to argue that the government of Iraq should be in any way accountable to them and their expectations. Secondly, it is another height of arrogance for these politicians to imagine that they know what is best for the Iraqi people... Yes, of course it would be wonderful if the Iraqi government could clean up the death squads that may well be operating within its ranks, and to find a way to include the Sunnis effectively in the governance system, and to divide the country's oil wealth in a transparent and fair manner... But why should any US politicians imagine that at this point it is appropriate to condition the reconstruction aid they give the Iraqis over the months ahead on the Iraqi government jumping through Washington-defined hoops on these issues, like a trained dog?)

"Imperial arrogance."
Wish I'd said that.
"Cut and blame." Not as poetic, but on the mark.
Both links are worth reading in full.

Memorial Day Weekend

Each Memorial Day for the last four years has become sadder than the one before as the numbers of dead and wounded young people returning from Iraq and Afghanistan continue to climb. Yesterday I heard statistics about the numbers lost in past wars...fifty thousand plus in Vietnam and Korea, four hundred thousand in WWII, over a hundred thousand in the First ("war to end all wars") World War...intended to somehow make today's numbers seem small by comparison.

I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. All this talk about "supporting the troops" is nothing more than a manipulative effort to shame critics of the war in Iraq into silence. If the last election had no other coherent message it was that vast and growing numbers of Americans are tired of US involvement in Iraq and deeply want it to come to an end. You may count me in that number.

This column in the Washington Post frames the issue for this Memorial Day. The title says it all:

Andrew J. Bacevich teaches history and international relations at Boston University. His son died May 13 after a suicide bomb explosion in Salah al-Din province.

Parents who lose children, whether through accident or illness, inevitably wonder what they could have done to prevent their loss. When my son was killed in Iraq earlier this month at age 27, I found myself pondering my responsibility for his death.

Among the hundreds of messages that my wife and I have received, two bore directly on this question. Both held me personally culpable, insisting that my public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Each said that my son's death came as a direct result of my antiwar writings.

This may seem a vile accusation to lay against a grieving father. But in fact, it has become a staple of American political discourse, repeated endlessly by those keen to allow President Bush a free hand in waging his war. By encouraging "the terrorists," opponents of the Iraq conflict increase the risk to U.S. troops. Although the First Amendment protects antiwar critics from being tried for treason, it provides no protection for the hardly less serious charge of failing to support the troops -- today's civic equivalent of dereliction of duty.

What exactly is a father's duty when his son is sent into harm's way?

Among the many ways to answer that question, mine was this one: As my son was doing his utmost to be a good soldier, I strove to be a good citizen.

As a citizen, I have tried since Sept. 11, 2001, to promote a critical understanding of U.S. foreign policy. I know that even now, people of good will find much to admire in Bush's response to that awful day. They applaud his doctrine of preventive war. They endorse his crusade to spread democracy across the Muslim world and to eliminate tyranny from the face of the Earth. They insist not only that his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was correct but that the war there can still be won. Some -- the members of the "the-surge-is-already-working" school of thought -- even profess to see victory just over the horizon.

I believe that such notions are dead wrong and doomed to fail. In books, articles and op-ed pieces, in talks to audiences large and small, I have said as much. "The long war is an unwinnable one," I wrote in this section of The Washington Post in August 2005. "The United States needs to liquidate its presence in Iraq, placing the onus on Iraqis to decide their fate and creating the space for other regional powers to assist in brokering a political settlement. We've done all that we can do."

Not for a second did I expect my own efforts to make a difference. But I did nurse the hope that my voice might combine with those of others -- teachers, writers, activists and ordinary folks -- to educate the public about the folly of the course on which the nation has embarked. I hoped that those efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond.

This, I can now see, was an illusion.

The people have spoken, and nothing of substance has changed. The November 2006 midterm elections signified an unambiguous repudiation of the policies that landed us in our present predicament. But half a year later, the war continues, with no end in sight. Indeed, by sending more troops to Iraq (and by extending the tours of those, like my son, who were already there), Bush has signaled his complete disregard for what was once quaintly referred to as "the will of the people."

To be fair, responsibility for the war's continuation now rests no less with the Democrats who control Congress than with the president and his party. After my son's death, my state's senators, Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, telephoned to express their condolences. Stephen F. Lynch, our congressman, attended my son's wake. Kerry was present for the funeral Mass. My family and I greatly appreciated such gestures. But when I suggested to each of them the necessity of ending the war, I got the brushoff. More accurately, after ever so briefly pretending to listen, each treated me to a convoluted explanation that said in essence: Don't blame me.

To whom do Kennedy, Kerry and Lynch listen? We know the answer: to the same people who have the ear of George W. Bush and Karl Rove -- namely, wealthy individuals and institutions.
Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008. When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.

Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check. It's roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month.

Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics. It confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels. It preserves intact the cliches of 1933-45 about isolationism, appeasement and the nation's call to "global leadership." It inhibits any serious accounting of exactly how much our misadventure in Iraq is costing. It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech little more than a means of recording dissent.

This is not some great conspiracy. It's the way our system works.
In joining the Army, my son was following in his father's footsteps: Before he was born, I had served in Vietnam. As military officers, we shared an ironic kinship of sorts, each of us demonstrating a peculiar knack for picking the wrong war at the wrong time. Yet he was the better soldier -- brave and steadfast and irrepressible.

I know that my son did his best to serve our country. Through my own opposition to a profoundly misguided war, I thought I was doing the same. In fact, while he was giving his all, I was doing nothing. In this way, I failed him.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Opium in Iraq

When you think it can't get any worse...
From UK, The Independent:

Farmers in southern Iraq have started to grow opium poppies in their fields for the first time, sparking fears that Iraq might become a serious drugs producer along the lines of Afghanistan.
Rice farmers along the Euphrates, to the west of the city of Diwaniya, south of Baghdad, have stopped cultivating rice, for which the area is famous, and are instead planting poppies, Iraqi sources familiar with the area have told The Independent.

The shift to opium cultivation is still in its early stages but there is little the Iraqi government can do about it because rival Shia militias and their surrogates in the security forces control Diwaniya and its neighbourhood. There have been bloody clashes between militiamen, police, Iraqi army and US forces in the city over the past two months.

The shift to opium production is taking place in the well-irrigated land west and south of Diwaniya around the towns of Ash Shamiyah, al Ghammas and Ash Shinafiyah. The farmers are said to be having problems in growing the poppies because of the intense heat and high humidity. It is too dangerous for foreign journalists to visit Diwaniya but the start of opium poppy cultivation is attested by two students from there and a source in Basra familiar with the Iraqi drugs trade.

Drug smugglers have for long used Iraq as a transit point for heroin, produced from opium in laboratories in Afghanistan, being sent through Iran to rich markets in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Saddam Hussein's security apparatus in Basra was reportedly heavily involved in the illicit trade. Opium poppies have hitherto not been grown in Iraq and the fact that they are being planted is a measure of the violence in southern Iraq. It is unlikely that the farmers' decision was spontaneous and the gangs financing them are said to be "well-equipped with good vehicles and weapons and are well-organised".

There is no inherent reason why the opium poppy should not be grown in the hot and well-watered land in southern Iraq. It was cultivated in the area as early as 3,400BC and was known to the ancient Sumerians as Hul Gil, the "joy plant". Some of the earliest written references to the opium poppy come from clay tablets found in the ruins of the city of Nippur, just to the east of Diwaniya.

There has been an upsurge in violence not only in Diwaniya but in Basra, Nassariyah, Kut and other Shia cities of southern Iraq over the past 10 days. It receives limited attention outside Iraq because it has nothing to do with the fighting between the Sunni insurgents and US forces further north or the civil war between Shia and Sunni in Baghdad and central Iraq. The violence is also taking place in provinces that are too dangerous for journalists to visit. Aside from Basra, few foreign soldiers are killed.

Iraq Slogger noted this article.

Last year I made note of an increased flow of opium from Afghanistan in the wake of the US invasion. Michael Yon put together a compelling report that was missed by most of the media. He stated clearly the unintended consequences of the Afghan invasion.

Nothing in the stars says Afghanistan must remain a narcotics and terrorism factory. The land has excellent agricultural opportunities, yet Western aid programs often refuse to help Afghan farmers with crops that will compete with domestic producers. Perhaps this makes sense on one level, but the end result is that it makes heroin production an attractive option. And diversifying Afghanistan’s agricultural economy won’t happen without substantial investments that go beyond educating farmers.


The tragedy of all this is that after our military won stunning victory after stunning victory in the early war — crushing and vanquishing the Taliban — instead of setting in to seal the victory, we squandered it and ran off to Iraq, and the Taliban revived and returned. At the current rate, we, along with the Brits, Aussies, Canadians, French, Germans, Italians, and all the rest who are there, will lose the war in Afghanistan. We must change course with great haste.

The alternative crops will help, and there are other ideas for alternative economies not mentioned here. Yet we are not taking the opium threat seriously, and so we are subsidizing the enemy. Western money will flow into Afghanistan no matter what, and we’ve seen what happens when we ignore where it goes.

Part of the problem is that established "legitimate" drug interests are not for whatever reasons interested in diverting these crops into legal channels where they can be better controlled. And the illegality of opium is directly responsible for it's profitability.

I am reposting here what I found last year. I now link to the Senlis Council, a European (French, already -- shudder...) think tank with some suggestions how Afghanistan's Opium production might be more constructively integrated into the world's need for pain-killers instead of illegal drug use. Without looking I can already predict that this is a notion that will be opposed by drug companies whose global empire of transnational economic influence considers think tank suggestions about as inviting as a puff of second-hand smoke.

Afghanistan faces a reconstruction crisis of an unprecedented scale.
The illegal opium economy lies at the nexus of an extreme level of poverty and escalating violence, particularly in the southern part of the country. The US-led International Community has failed to unlock Afghanistan reconstruction crisis with an over-emphasis on aggressive counter narcotics strategies such as poppy crop eradication. The country’s share of opium production remains unchanged at 87 per cent of the world total, with 85 per cent of heroin consumed in Europe originating from Afghanistan. At the same time, however, opium poppy is the traditional crop and the raw material for essential medicines such as morphine and codeine.

(More at the link.)

Compared with Afghanistan I imagine Iraq's opium production is a drop in the bucket. nevertheless, it is yet another unintended consequence of this war.

"Why do the Iranian people not revolt against the regime?"

From an Iranian blog...

There are people in the west who still say: "Why do the Iranian people not revolt against the regime?" I want to ask these people: When will western oil companies stop buying oil from the Ayatollahs and when will your governments stop making deals under the table with the Islamic regime? Islamic republic of Iran is the most advanced dictatorship in history. The Ayatollahs have taken their lessons from Niccolo Machiavelli, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and made violent governance into a science. There are multiple layer security apparatus and intelligence gathering organizations keeping taps on Iranians all across the world by assassination, execution, disappearance, torture, rape, intimidation and use of death squads inside and outside of Iran . Execution and torture is widely used in prison facilities in every corner of the country, many facilities built during Khatami's rein have capacities of 70,000 and more prisoners each, it has been witnessed that the prisons are similar to slaughter houses with corridors wide enough only for one person to pass at a time to and from cells. Now in Iran there are thousands of cameras, monitoring the movement of people in most important cities. I want to ask the people of the west what has happened to moral imperative?

H/T Serendip

The challenge is more complicated than the writer implies. Oil is a global commodity. The price is set by demand. China is not constrained by any "moral imperatives." Western oil purchases are seen by many as a means of limiting China's access to the same.

I wish I could propose a way to starve oppressive regimes into better human rights concerns, but the tactic often makes matters worse, as we have seen in Cuba, Iraq, and other less well-known dictatorships.

At this point I am interested in spreading the message that the leadership of Iran is not to be confused with the people of Iran.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Royal de Luxe, French Street Theatre -- Giant Girl Puppet

I linked this story a year and a half ago, but forgot about it until 3Quarks posted an extensive commentary about the company and its work. Now, thanks to the magic of You Tube, seeing their work is much easier. The best word I can come up with is enchanting. Enjoy the video, then go to the link to read all about it. And get ready to find out what they have in mind for the next event, scheduled to appear in Iceland in May.

Royal de Luxe is both renowned and secretive. Based in Nantes, it has no Web site, doesn’t go in for ordinary PR, and if for artistic reasons the whole company needs to move to Cameroon or to China for many months at a time, then it does so, appearing there as in the West with permission but without fanfare. Gathering outdoors to make the small marionettes that have been their acting partners since long before the Giants, the actors casually attract local interest, which can at first be skeptical. By the time of leave-taking, however, the village is ensorcelled, the months-long interlude most often likened by everyone to dream.

Except in the United States, the fame of Royal de Luxe now outpaces its stealth. So precautions are taken that, despite high anticipation of an appearance, an audience remains in a condition to be startled by it. Jean-Luc Courcoult is far too much the man of the theatre ever to lose the advantage of surprise.

When Royal de Luxe next appears, at the Reykjavik Arts Festival later this spring, no one there but the functionaries who must know them shall have all the details in advance. The venue is simply the streets and open spaces of the city -- by the lake, by the harbor and in the city center. Admission is not only free, but accidental, since the show may begin anywhere, even in two places at once, and will overtake its audience bit by bit, for they shall not have known where to assemble and wait for
it. Once it begins, it will keep moving, and people will follow it or even try to run a little ahead of it en route to the next corner it seems bound for, where others shall have started to hear things and look up. No member of that audience, not even the most avid, will see the show in its entirety – like the London event, it will be structured to make that impossible. Courcoult has said only that a special story for Icelanders will be enacted, by Little Girl Giant and other familiar figures, that, on the morning of May 10, “something unexpected will happen in Rekjavik.”

Update May 12, 2007

The Little Girl Giant appeared yesterday at the arts festival in Rekjavik, Iceland. You Tube already has this video. It's not as impressive as the other one, but I'm adding it to keep up to date. Every time I watch one of these clips I have a fantasy that one day the group will appear close enough that I can go see them in person.

One of the comments is from someone in Iceland who took this picture.

Updated, May 23

What happened in Iceland is described in another new article by Elatia Harris at 3Quarks.

There is no way I can snip anything here that will do justice to the epic description and numerous pictures you will find there.

Jost go. Later, if you're pressed for time, becuase it will engage you longer than you planned to spend. Or go now, if time permits...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ezra Klein on Immigration: "...the choice looks to me like this bill or nothing."

Lots of meat in four paragraphs.

Not to be too crude about this, but if the Republican base thinks this immigration bill is a bad idea, that seems like a fairly serious argument in its favor.

Check it out.
Cernig noticed, adding...
The Republican Base has been consistently wrong so doing the opposite is not a bad short-cut.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Iran is Simmering

Civil society in Iran is beginning to boil. Most of my traffic is from searches and I get search inquiries from all over the world. Iran is among the places I see among the referrals from time to time. For some reason a post I put together last year linking to a political joke, a conversation with God by the leaders of France, the US and Iran. Nothing remarkable. Just a garden variety political cartoon in verbal form. It has attracted a couple of obscene comments, partly in Farsi or Arabic, that appear to be full of rage toward (I think) the religious police in Iran. I'm not sure what to make of them, but drilling into several links I came to this well-done piece lifted from the New Republic, April 26. The title says it all:

America's Best Weapon is the Iranian People.

Thinking of the dominant views among American policymakers on Iran, I am reminded of the great Persian poet Jalaledin Rumi's story about a group of people trying to describe an elephant exhibited in a dark room. One felt the elephant's back and claimed that it resembled a great throne. Another, touching its ear, declared it was in fact a huge fan. A third felt its leg and concluded it must be a large pillar.

The Islamic Republic has been with us for almost three decades, yet still it manages to amaze and confuse the experts. In the 1990s, Mohammed Khatami inspired the majority of Western commentators to believe that Iran was on the verge of upheaval. But, while Khatami may have distinguished himself from his predecessors by ushering in a milder version of the Islamic Republic, he was, and remains, very much a part of that system. Today, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has persuaded us that the same system is an imminent menace and must, therefore, be overthrown. Yet, while Ahmadinejad may be more repressive and violent than previous presidents, his reactionary tendencies are fundamentally a sign of the Iranian system's weakness--not its strength.

The problem is that Western pundits are only feeling part of the elephant--the political one--and ignoring the most important part: the Iranian people themselves. If you take the long view of Iranian history and focus on the country's people rather than its rulers, a very different picture emerges: that of an Iranian order in crisis.

Evidence for this proposition is everywhere. A cursory look at Iran's publications and blogs shows that, although some Iranians--for a variety of reasons--support their regime's nuclear ambitions, most are far more interested in trying to redress day-to-day problems like corruption, the struggling economy, rising unemployment, political and social repression, and a general lack of freedom. Few are well-informed about the nuclear program, and most are embarrassed and disturbed by the image of their country in the world. Indeed, Iran's new international isolation and pariah status is deeply unpopular at home, and the fact that the government is emptying its coffers to foment revolution abroad rather than to support the welfare of the Iranian people has turned many of Ahmadinejad's supporters against him. Workers' protests have lately escalated in at least ten cities. Angry union leaders have held the president responsible for the weakening of the economy. In the recent city council elections in Tehran, only two of 13 winners were supporters of Ahmadinejad.

A good deal more at the link.
Recommended reading for sure.

Let's hope somebody at the State Department gets hold of it. From what I see, not too many people in high places of the current administration do much reading. If they do, they sure don't have much influence among those who don't. That old fer us or agin' us mentality hasn't been expressed lately in explicit terms, but all the evidence is that it remains a core value of the culture.

Civil War Question

Why is the prospect of more violence in Gaza being referred to as "civil war" but the term has been deliberately avoided in Iraq?

Just asking...

This comment from Betty the Crow News is bitterly delightful.

Let no one say that the Bush administration’s Middle East policy, such as it is, has been an unqualified failure. Sure, Iran and Osama bin Laden may be the primary beneficiaries of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Yes, the unqualified US support for Israel’s disastrous assault on Lebanon helped precipitate yet another political crisis in the region’s only multi-ethnic and pan-religious democracy, simultaneously sending Hezbullah stock skyrocketing in certain key quarters. And it’s true that Saudi Arabian leaders, including the once reliable Bandar Bush, have taken to flipping off high-ranking US officials with boring regularity.

But Condoleezza Rice and company have achieved at least one of their goals: they set out last year to encourage a civil war between Hamas and Fatah in Palestine, and in relatively short order, with relatively little effort and at relatively little expense, they’ve succeeded. Of course they couldn’t have done it absent cooperation from the Israelis, the Egyptians and factions within both Palestinian parties, and the outcome likely won’t meet the administration’s ideal, but for now the situation can be counted an unqualified success if for no other reason than that it takes diplomacy, at which the administration really, really sucks, off the table.

More at the link, if you're up to it.

(Part of the answer to my question might be that the ROI for crude is much better than for halal/pareve vegetables and fruits. Pipelines deliver their product without the need for refrigeration.)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Glimpse Behind the Autism Curtain

Amanda Baggs, the remarkable young woman who's blog I have been reading ever since I discovered it, talks at length about the challenges facing herself and other autistic individuals. Those of us who are (I love this term) neurotypical have no clue how hard it is for others to communicate.
Go have your senses worked on. Read this post carefully from beginning to end.
Then read the comments.

...Treating a person equally is not the same as treating them identically. If you have to pretend my brain works just like yours in order to see me as a person, you have a problem. And you are creating a problem for me: people who do this will almost invariably be incapable of seeing the extreme inequality they are perpetuating between us. Making wheelchair users climb stairs is not “equality,” and neither is pretending my brain works like yours if it doesn’t. To do this sort of thing to someone is not a compliment, it’s a form of erasure, you’re ignoring who they are and you’re putting barriers in their path that don’t have to be there.

But that's not all...

This autism business is a vast unknown universe for those of us who have never known anyone autistic. We hear the word in conversation or catch a glimpse of a different world on television. But we live in ignorance of the everyday realities that autistic people face.

Here is another illustration from the UK...

Teenager Rory Hoy has won three awards for his film about what it's like to live with autism. The work rings so true because it's told from personal experience. Sheena Hastings reports.

IMAGINE not knowing that when someone calls your name you should probably turn around, wave or shout back. Imagine being overwhelmed and maybe panic-stricken by crowds and loud noises, whether they're in a school corridor or a shopping mall.

Imagine waking in the morning and having no idea of what happens next, and with bodily sensations that might be hunger or the need to go to the loo – you're not sure which. And, when someone uses an everyday expression like, "It's raining cats and dogs", you look to the sky in terror, in case a spaniel lands in your lap.

It's a lengthy piece. Highly recommended. Read the whole thing, with this near the end.
"Whether it's because he's autistic or not, we don't know, but he sees things from a different angle to the rest of us, and his angle is a highly-imaginative one."

Rory and his parents are often asked to meet other families with a young autistic child, so that those at the beginning of the journey can see what progress is possible with enough attention, love, good teachers and co-operation between family and school.

"One of the many positives about Rory is that he lives very much in the moment, and doesn't see obstacles," says Geraldine. "That makes him optimistic, and usually very cheerful. We've learned so much from him, and it's been a privilege that we've been able to enter his world, and bring him into ours."

Thanks to Autism Diva for the links.

Her blog is a rich wellspring of information about autism. If you are new to the subject, I advise take your time. Do a lot of reading and reflecting. This is not a simple topic with quick and easily understood questions and answers. There is a spirited debate within the autism community that non-autistic people need very much to know about. Even more, there is within that community what can be thought of as a "counterculture," a growing critical mass of articulate individuals whose advocacy on behalf of autistic people has recently become more in-your-face, mainly because they represent the voices of autistic individuals themselves.

The message I am hearing from autistic people is not the same as what I find from non-autistic educators, therapists, researchers, and other well as family members, neighbors and other lay people whose concern with autism derives from observation, not personal experience as someone who is autistic. A growing number of non-autistic advocates are organizing and speaking out.

Discussion threads make reference to acronyms and buzzwords that strike the newcomer like another language. ABA means Applied Behavior Analysis. RSI stands for Reciprocal Social Interaction. They are not the same, and in fact represent two very different approaches to interacting with autistic children and adults. And like all such shorthand references, each carries with it philosophical and cognitive implications not understood by newcomers to the conversation.

It's an exciting time to watch and learn. I'm still in the learning stage. And what I am finding is that in the same way that society denied the contributions of women, racial minorities and other populations because of embedded prejudice, there is a creative and important source of energy that will take human social development to yet another level.

U.S. Embassy in Baghdad...Your Tax Dollars at Work

I heard about this last year.
All this talk about "pulling out" sounds somewhat hollow when I read this.

The new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will be the world's largest and most expensive foreign mission, though it may not be large enough or secure enough to cope with the chaos in Iraq. The Bush administration designed the 104-acre compound - set to open in September in what today is a war zone - to be an ultra-secure enclave. Yet it also hoped that downtown Baghdad would cease being a battleground when diplomats moved in.

Over the long term, depending on which way the seesaw of sectarian division and grinding warfare teeters, the massive city-within-a-city could prove too enormous for the job of managing diminished U.S. interests in Iraq.

The $592 million embassy occupies a chunk of prime real estate two-thirds the size of Washington's National Mall, with desk space for about 1,000 people behind high, blast-resistant walls. The compound is a symbol both of how much the United States has invested in Iraq and how the circumstances of its involvement are changing.

The embassy is one of the few major projects the administration has undertaken in Iraq that is on schedule and within budget. Still, not all has gone according to plan.

The 21-building complex on the Tigris River was envisioned three years ago partly as a headquarters for the democratic expansion in the Middle East that President Bush identified as the organizing principle for foreign policy in his second term.

The complex quickly could become a white elephant if the U.S. scales back its presence and ambitions in Iraq. Although the U.S. probably will have forces in Iraq for years to come, it is not clear how much of the traditional work of diplomacy can proceed amid the violence and what the future holds for Iraq's government.

"What you have is a situation in which they are building an embassy without really thinking about what its functions are," said Edward Peck, a former top U.S. diplomat in Iraq.

"What kind of embassy is it when everybody lives inside and it's blast-proof, and people are running around with helmets and crouching behind sandbags?"

The compound will have secure apartments for about 615 people. The comfortable but not opulent one-bedrooms have offered hope for State Department staff now doubled up in tinny trailers.

Morale is at an ebb among the embassy staff, most of whom rarely leave the heavily fortified Green Zone during their one-year tours in Iraq. The barricaded zone houses both the current, makeshift U.S. Embassy and the new compound about a mile away. A recent string of mortar attacks has meant further restrictions.

"Morale is at an ebb."
I bet.
"...on schedule and within budget."
Excuse me?
Which schedule?
And who's budget?

CFR on US Politics and Iraq

The Council on Foreign Relations provides a link-filled, timely summary with their customary excellence.

On the surface, the presidential candidates’ rhetoric on Iraq seems to be a natural extension of the partisan dispute that has buffeted a war-funding bill in Congress this year. The four senator-candidates in the Democratic Party even voted for a recent measure aimed at cutting off funding for the war by next March, although it was doomed for failure (ConnPost). On the Republican side, frontrunners Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney used the start of their last debate to reinforce support for the military campaign in Iraq as essential to U.S. security.

But a closer look at the Iraq debate shows the prospect for fissures within both parties, as this new Backgrounder explains. For example, on the May 16 vote in the Senate to halt war funding, Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) mixed signals about whether or not she would actually support cutting off funding highlighted the sensitivity of the issue for a prospective Democratic commander-in-chief: Get out or support the troops? (AP)

Much more at the link, ending with a line by Max Boot that will make nearly everyone want to choke:

If we’re going to be successful in Iraq, we’re going to have to make a long-term commitment.

I hate to say it, but he's correct. I don't agree with anyone popular about HOW that commitment will be made, but I am certain that a continuing US influence will be necessary for anything we want to label "success." The fact is that we already "won" Iraq but no one wants to see that victory. The sacrifices of many thousands of American lives, both military and civilian, together with the horrible carnage among Iraqis themselves have resulted in a blood drenched land where seeds have been planted. Like imported plants and animals which overtake a new ecosystem, the seeds of representative government introduced to that part of the world have forever been planted in their midst. No extermination efforts on the part of any group will ever kill those seeds. It's too late. Oh, there will be setbacks and intervals of slow movement, but in the end, like the growth of a tree, the seeds of representative government will come to maturity and reproduce. The process, like the birth of a baby, cannot be stopped. We may not see the results in our lifetime, but we can go to the next world confident that we did what was necessary to lead a large population from darkness to political light. Unfortunately, like the gardener who drowns his crop with too much water or burns it up under too much fertilizer, we long ago crossed the line where "helping" is no longer helping...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Reactions to the Immigration Bill

'Scuse me....
H'umph... [clears throat]
H/T Greg Djerejian

Darfur Reminder

I ran this video in December but forgot about it.
Digging back through the archives collecting YouTube embeds all in one place, I came across it and knew it was time to run it again.

Recent comment, one month ago...

As sad as these images are, it still doesn't touch the suface of the horror that is going on in Darfur. You've done a great job though, anything that helps people become more aware of a world outside of their own bubble is a good thing. Well done.
...three months ago...
these videos are not to put people on guilt trips, its to show the real pain that is going on. I have been to Darfur, i returned a month ago, and these images hardly pale in comparisson to what it is like there. Bodies lying dead on the side of the road, driving by people being killed that you cant help. It is trully sad to know that people can be so cruel.

Here is a link to the Save Darfur blog.

DIVESTMENT: The movement for divestment is gaining strength every day. Last week, Florida became the latest American state to enact legislation directing its pension funds to end investments in funds or companies whose activity in or related to Sudan generates funds that support Khartoum’s pursuit of genocide in Darfur. Ford announced that it will end the sale of Land Rovers in Sudan – Land Rovers have been used by the Sudanese government in its operations in Darfur. Recently, Rolls-Royce announced it would end all operations in Sudan due to the Darfur genocide. Pressure is growing on Fidelity Funds to end Sudan-related investments. And while a shareholder motion to force the giant investment fund Berkshire Hathaway to use its investments in Petrochina to leverage more Chinese pressure on Khartoum failed last week, the issue was debated at BH’s annual meeting, and the campaign generated extensive press scrutiny of BH’s and Petrochina’s roles in supporting the genocide.

This movement is spreading both in the United States and internationally. It has the potential to shake up both Khartoum and Beijing while mobilizing new activists worldwide. For further information on the US campaign, please visit the website Divest for Darfur; for more on the international campaign, visit Darfur Divestment Worldwide. Bookmark these sites and return to them often; this effort is just starting to gain momentum and your opportunities to join it will expand quickly. LINK

Bill Frist, a Nashville surgeon, is a former Senate Majority Leader from Tennessee. Each year he travels to Africa to serve as a medical missionary. This past February, Senator Frist retuned to Sudan to see first hand the unfolding humanitarian crisis. We have reposted some snippets from his blog; you can read the entire posts here and here. You can view photos from his visit in his photo gallery. LINK

This is part of a lengthy post by Senator Frist dated March 7, 2007:

The most significant new and somewhat unexpected thing we learned on this trip to Darfur was that the humanitarian situation remains on the brink of crisis. The position of the NGO workers in Darfur is becoming untenable. The fundamental new change is the targeting of humanitarian workers with violence.

We were told that morale against humanitarian workers is at an all time low. Humanitarian workers are becoming the objects of attack, both from the rebel factions and the government. Unless things improve and the Government becomes proactive in supporting the humanitarian operations, NGOs will have no choice but to withdraw. The humanitarian crisis would then rapidly escalate.

Newt's Running

Okay, then.

How many people in America are named Newt?

Right. You got it. I don't even have to write his last name and already one of toughest challenges of any politician is already whipped: name recognition.

One blog to watch has an archives that started last August and has been ticking along with about a dozen posts a month, replete with video links, book promotions and a little blogroll. The hitcounter lists 3500 hits and the TTLB rank is in the forty thousand range, but gotta start somewhere. Think how much money is not being pissed away all this time.

And the latest post, yesterday, links to a bunch of places telling what Newt thinks about immigration. Don't go looking for any surprises.

So how do you go about finding a blog like that?
Chance. Pure and simple.

I've been watching my downward spiral in the TTLB ranks ever since NZ started tweaking the ecosystem. I'm still not sure of the metrics, but one fact is clear: links are the currency that buys a good place toward the top. Google searches don't count. Traffic is of no consequence. Content is not judged. And there seems to be a heavy tilt favoring the political right.

Having slid from the ten thousands to the fifteen thousands in the ranking system I once again picked a random site from among the nose-bleed reaches of the ecosystem and came upon Fix 4 RSO (# 1139) with a breathtaking 465 inbound links. I guess it's a milblog, but what impressed me most was the sidebar, a Who's Who of links from the political right, organized in groups that run from opposing immigration to getting rid of the Senior Senator from Pensylvania.

[Aside: Checking Wikipedia to verify what state Murtha was from because I didn't remember, I see someone has taken advantage of the open nature of wiki sites to write ugly remarks into the article.

Murtha loves faggot dick, he thinks it's the best shit ever.
He was known for smoking a mean pole, with determination and dedication through out his gay porn career.
He had an odd love for the taste of faggot shit, seriously, he did, i would know. :X
He loved to smoke faggot pole more than anything in the world, because he loves dick because he is gay.

I'm sure the moderators will get it cleaned up pretty soon, but I copy it here to show the nature of the opposition the man has drawn by his outspoken views. These are the voices that so often complain about the moral emptiness and other hateful qualities of the political left. But I digress. Please excuse...]

Fix 4 RSO doesn't get a lot of traffic.

I have been trying to test when my overall traffic would fall off based on inactivity on my part. I noticed that no matter how hard I worked on my posts, I kept a steady state of 12-18 hits per day. That’s OK, but I was losing a ton of sleep - and with a new job that requires travel, well, blogging was getting tough for the return.

Scanning the sidebar trying to figure out how anyone who doesn't keep up his blog, who only gets a few dozen hits a day, is able to attract hundreds of incoming links, I noticed the Newt blog. Since he was once my Congressman I have kinda kept up with him ever since. I know he's a really smart man and very savvy. He also gets away with saying stuff that other conservatives won't say out loud.

I sometimes think it's because he's smarter than most conservatives but doesn't want to let on. He's like Neal Boortz in that way. Smarter than he acts. For years I have felt there's something about being stupid that appeals to conservatives. It's a Southern thing, you know, but in recent years that's been politically fashionable. Ever since LBJ being a Southern redneck has carried a lot of political glamor. Democrats had the knack for years, but in recent times Republicans have caught on. It's no accident that the Republican party still hammers away at a "Southern strategy."

Friday, May 18, 2007

Le Monde on Wolfowitz -- Updated 5/18, 19

(This post first appeared April 15)

A peek behind the curtain reveals how the the president of the World Bank went too far, provoking 22 of the 24 administrators to defy him to his face.

Violating bank rules, Wolfowitz has ordered the Human Resources Director to write a contract giving Ms. Riza a $60,000 raise and a guaranteed slot for her return to the bank. Afterwards, she is to be given big promotions every five years until her retirement. This type of treatment is unheard of at the bank. The Board publishes the findings:

Paul Wolfowitz had summoned three henchmen from the White House and the Department of Defense engaged via nebulous and presumably generous contracts. He made Robin Cleveland No. 2 at the bank through a position created especially for her: Adviser to the President. Cleveland is despised by the bank's staff, to whom she is known as The Dragon. The job of Kevin Kellems is apparently official censor. Suzanne Rich Folsom runs the internal police, The Integrity Department, like the Spanish Inquisition. Wolfowitz has also appointed Juan José Daboub of El Salvador as Director-General, someone who is very close to Opus Dei (as are Bush's Supreme Court picks).

Barricaded in his office behind his 4-headed dog demon (and emulating his boss, George W. Bush), Wolfowitz issues fiats left and right, including instructions to staff to report "traitors" to the law firm of Williams & Connoly. He also metes out punishment. For example, Christiaan Poortman is fired as head of the Middle East Department because he advised against opening a World Bank office in Baghdad. Indeed, Wolfowitz wields the anti-corruption club depending on who is in Bush's good book, cutting off funds of those on the White House's enemies.

Fed up, 22 of his 24 administrators tell Wolfowitz to his face in January that they are dissatisfied in his leadership.

Thanks again to Nur for the translation. Her take on the whole affair:

These people have no moral clarity or respect for what the United States has traditionally stood for. They live by the medieval Mafia code and fealty to the gang leader, their overlord.

I'm still thinking about the comment The Fat Lady left at Friday's post about Imus. In my mind that affair and this share a level of brassy arrogance that takes my breath away. The comment was about talk-show hosts, but it applies to some of the highest offices in government as well.

I once heard Rush Limbaugh interviewed by Phil Donohue and Vladimir Posner. They asked him if he really believed the swill he was ladling out. Limbaugh said no – not necessarily. He told them he had created a character – and as long as that character continued to make him money, he saw no need to change formats. Now THAT speaks to the relative emptiness of his soul. In my opinion – all the rest of his contemporaries posses that same lack of moral fiber.

This is not old-fashioned Elmer Gantry-type hypocrisy. That kind of hormone driven corruption is endemic to the population, reaching across the whole political spectrum. Clinton and Kennedy immediately come to mind.

The mistress angle may have triggered his undoing, but this is not the same. What we are witnessing is a control-seeking, take-no-prisoners management style that derives from an autocratic, even dictatorial approach to wielding power. Persuasion is not part of the formula. It's all about the power.

It's the difference between seduction and rape. Talk-show hosts may be guilty of seduction, but the gang for whom they are cheerleaders sometimes employ rapists. Entertainers depend upon ratings in the same way that politicians depend on votes. But political appointees don't depend on anyone other than a hanful of well-placed bosses.

Addendum Monday, April 16

I thought I was done here, but this popped up as I was drilling into my referrals. Somebody did a search for "suzanne rich folsom" so I did, too.
This from Australia via The Dude's Blog. Note: this was back in December...

The only other chief to sweep aside as many senior managers was Mr Wolfowitz's predecessor, James Wolfensohn, said Devesh Kapur, a former economist at the lender. The difference was that Mr Wolfowitz's appointees were short on expertise and long on political connections.

New faces include counsellor to the president Robin Cleveland, who as associate director of the White House Office of Management and Budget helped secure congressional funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kevin Kellems, a former spokesman for Vice-President Dick Cheney, was named director of external strategy. Suzanne Rich Folsom, who joined in 2003 and is the bank's chief corruption fighter, is married to George Folsom, who was principal deputy director of the Iraq

Reconstruction Management Office and president of the International Republican Institute.Mr Wolfowitz, 62, "has placed considerably more trust in a small group of outsiders from the Republican Party than in the seasoned experts in the bank", said Alison Cave, head of the World Bank staff association.

I don't think I need to say anything more.

Final update, May 18

He resigned.

I am pleased that after reviewing all the evidence the Executive Directors of the World Bank Group have accepted my assurance that I acted ethically and in good faith in what I believed were the best interests of the institution, including protecting the rights of a valued staff member.

The poorest people of the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa deserve the very best that we can deliver. Now it is necessary to find a way to move forward.

To do that, I have concluded that it is in the best interests of those whom this institution serves for that mission to be carried forward under new leadership. Therefore, I am announcing today that I will resign as President of the World BankGroup effective at the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2007).

This fascinating document is a study in spinning, underscoring in words that defy description how leaders often have the capacity to compartmentalize principles like eggs in a carton or tools in a box, bringing them out as needed to serve whatever purpose in most expedient to reach an end. Classic ends justifies the means thinking.

I am reminded of instances where large financial settlements are reached to end legal troubles arising from fraud, deception or other malfeasance on the part of individuals or companies...
How many times have we read "...admits no wrongdoing" while simultaneously paying off the visctims of said non-wrongdoing?

The story is all over the news but I got the link at FP. Go there to read a list of possible replacements.

After reading what I wrote earlier I like it even better...

This is not old-fashioned Elmer Gantry-type hypocrisy. That kind of hormone driven corruption is endemic to the population, reaching across the whole political spectrum. Clinton and Kennedy immediately come to mind.

The mistress angle may have triggered his undoing, but this is not the same. What we are witnessing is a control-seeking, take-no-prisoners management style that derives from an autocratic, even dictatorial approach to wielding power. Persuasion is not part of the formula. It's all about the power.

It's the difference between seduction and rape. Talk-show hosts may be guilty of seduction, but the gang for whom they are cheerleaders sometimes employ rapists. Entertainers depend upon ratings in the same way that politicians depend on votes. But political appointees don't depend on anyone other than a hanful of well-placed bosses.

In the aftermath of rape the perpetrator's most common defense is that it was consensual, ergo not rape.
Seduction, maybe? But not rape.
Surely not.

Addendum May 19

Leon Hadar posted an interesting retrospective of Wolfowitz, looking back at a couple of observations he made two years ago as his star was rising.

...I had chosen Wolfowitz as my Man of the Year for 2005 just after he was selected by Bush as the President of the World Bank.
...The reason I've chosen him is not because of Iraq but because of his selection as the new chief of the World Bank where he is going to spend the coming years traveling around the globe and wining and dining with the rich and the mighty (paid for by the American taxpayer)as a reward for getting us into the mess in Iraq....In a way, Wolfowitz is leading the way for them, telling the rest of us: We'll always be here. Get used to that! [Well, I was wrong about this. I hope].
Renowned American historian and diplomat George F. Kennan died [in 2005] at the age of 101, a day after U.S. President George W. Bush announced that he was nominating Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz to head the World Bank.
So it was not surprising that I ended up going over the obituaries for the leading strategist of the Cold War on the same day that I was reading the bios on the main architect of the invasion of Iraq.

He continues with a comparson of the two statesmen, one from the cold war, the other from its aftermath.
I'm afraid Mr. Wolfowitz suffers a little under the microscope...
Whereas Mr. Kennan, spending the last 50 years as an intellectual recluse at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, did his best in avoiding the public and media limelight, Mr. Wolfowitz, the consummate Washington operator, has never encountered a television camera to which he wouldn't grant an interview.
...but he still has three or four decades to recover if he survives to Dr. Kennan's ripe old age.

Dr. Hadar's remarks are very much worth a look.

Yet another link to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Wolfowitz’s departure won’t necessarily end the World Bank’s woes. First there is the issue of picking a successor. Washington currently bears responsibility for this process, though European leaders say they are keen to change this dynamic (FT). Any candidate too close to President Bush could be a political non-starter. Der
Spiegel suggests
three possible candidates: Paul Volcker, the former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman; Tony Blair, Britain’s outgoing prime minister; and Stanley Fischer, the governor of the Bank of Israel. The Wall Street Journal cautions that the selection process could be contentious and argues a highly publicized dogfight could further weaken the Bank’s standing in the world.

Lots more at the link.


Sunday, May 20

And the beat goes on...
The cherry on top of the banana split is a $400,000 "performance bonus" for Wolfowitz!

The departure of Wolfowitz, who insisted throughout a six-week battle that he had done nothing wrong, came after the Bush administration dropped its efforts to try to keep him in the job and began trying to negotiate a deal for his departure. Senior US officials said they worried that the drawn-out affair was beginning to raise questions about the bank's future effectiveness.

Wolfowitz will be able to collect a $400,000 performance bonus due him on June 1, according to two senior bank officials. US officials asked him to stay on as a caretaker until the end of June to allow time for the naming of a successor.

In the end, the 24-member bank board, in a statement that all but exonerated Wolfowitz, said, "He assured us that he acted ethically and in good faith in what he believed were the best interests of the institution, and we accept that. We also accept that others involved acted ethically and in good faith."

Thanks, Lindsay.

I got into the wrong line of work.

Today's New Word...Myrmecophile

I left a comment over at 3 Quarks and got this delightful reply.

Since I am a diehard myrmecophile, your story was fascinating.

I never heard of one either...
Wonderful world we live in!

Look at Wikipedia's article.

A myrmecophile is an organism that lives in association with ants. Myrmecophily literally means ant-loving and refers to the habits of species that have mutualistic associations with ants.Such associations are best known in the butterflies of the family Lycaenidae but many non-insect species are also considered myrmecophilous or semi-myrmecophilous.

The myrmecophile's role varies; many consume the ants' leftover food, dead ants or
larvae, or types of fungi growing in the nest. The first major work in cataloguing British myrmecophiles was done by Horace Donisthorpe in his 1927 book The Guests of British Ants.

Myrmecophilous associations are also seen in various other insects such as aphids, hoppers and also in some arachnids such as mites. These associations can be either obligate or facultative depending on whether the association is necessary for survival or merely of additional benefit.


Ant-butterfly interactions are particularly well studied. The association is believed to reduce the parasitization of the butterfly caterpillars. These associations involve nectar production by specialized organs on the caterpillars and communication through sound and vibrations.

TPM tv -- Populism Gone Wild

Thanks to technology the next presidential election will be like none other in our lifetime.
The internet has made everyone with a camera a watchdog.

Josh Marshall is one of the sharpest knives in the drawer.
Let's just say he goes about his business politely but he don't put up with no crap.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Salvador Dali on What's My Line?

Found by Jane Galt.
This is historic. I hope it doesn't get pulled.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

...the Army medic and an Iraqi doctor quickly chatted over his prognosis, deciding that his wound would be easily repaired.

This is a repost from January 20, 2005.
Here we are two years later and I wonder what became of the principals.
The links are still active last time I checked.
The image of the little girl is too heartbreaking for me to post. I can't look at it more than a moment. The bitterly understated "appears unhappy" and "seems upset" and "I'm sure she will get over it..." sum up the situation well.
I want to believe this kind of "mistake" is rare. But for an orphaned child, whether or not the loss of parents is mathematically "rare" has no meaning.
No meaning at all.
In the words of Radley Balko...

This little girl had no reason to hate the United States. Now she has two. So does everyone who knows her, and everyone who has anything in common with her.


On the evening of Jan. 18, as we made our way up a broad boulevard, in the distance I could see car making its way toward us. As a defense against potential car-bombs, it is now standard practice for foot patrols to stop oncoming vehicles, particularly after dark.

"We have a car coming," someone called out as we entered an intersection. We could see the car about a 100 meters away. The car continued coming; I couldn't see it anymore from my perch but could hear its engine now, a high whine that sounded more like acceleration than slowing down. It was maybe 50 yards away now.

"Stop that car!" someone shouted out, seemingly simultaneously with someone firing what sounded like warning shots -- a staccato, measured burst. The car continued coming. And then, perhaps less than a second later, a cacophony of fire, shots rattling off in a chaotic, overlapping din. The car entered the intersection on its momentum and still shots were penetrating it and slicing it. Finally, the shooting stopped, the car drifted listlessly, clearly no longer being steered, and came to a rest on a curb. Soldiers began to approach it warily.

The sound of children crying came from the car. I walked up to the car and a teenaged girl with her head covered emerged from the back, wailing and gesturing wildly. After her came a boy, tumbling onto the ground from the seat, already leaving a pool of blood.

"Civilians!" someone shouted, and soldiers ran up. More children -- it ended up being six all told -- started emerging, crying, their faces mottled with blood in long streaks. The troops carried them all off to a nearby sidewalk.

It was by now almost completely dark. There, working only by lights mounted on ends of their rifles, an Army medic began assessing the children's injuries, running his hands up and down their bodies, looking for wounds. Incredibly, the only injuries were a girl with a cut hand and a boy with a superficial gash in the small of his back that was bleeding heavily but wasn't life-threatening. The medic immediately began to bind it, while the boy crouched against a wall.

From the sidewalk I could see into the bullet-mottled windshield more clearly. The driver of the car, a man, was penetrated by so many bullets that his skull had collapsed, leaving his body grotesquely disfigured. A woman also lay dead in the front, still covered in her Muslim clothing and harder to see.

Meanwhile, the children continued to wail and scream, huddled against a wall, sandwiched between soldiers either binding their wounds or trying to comfort them. The Army's translator later told me that this was a Turkoman family and that the teenaged girl kept shouting, "Why did they shoot us? We have no weapons! We were just going home!"
There was a small delay in getting the armored vehicles lined up and ready, and soon the convoy moved to the main Tal Afar hospital. It was fairly large and surprisingly well outfitted, with sober-looking doctors in white coats ambling about its sea-green halls. The young children were carried in by soldiers and by their teenaged sister. Only the boy with the gash on his back needed any further medical attention, and the Army medic and an Iraqi doctor quickly chatted over his prognosis, deciding that his wound would be easily repaired.

Link. Photos.
I don't know how to write any comment.
Thanks to Mark

Doc Searls comments:

Ever since the election, when a majority of my fellow voters gave President Bush another four years, I've kept quiet about this war.

But sometimes the heart will not be silent. This is one of those times.

I know pictures like this serve as propaganda for the enemy, which has no remorse about routinely doing worse than what these American soldiers will regret terribly for the rest of their lives.

We can debate strategy for the duration. Meanwhile, we have this, and countless other tragedies like it. Blame who you will; it won't make this little girl one bit happier. It won't bring back her parents, who lost their lives for... what?

I don't have an answer. If you do, tell it to that girl.

All I can do is share what this picture means to me: That war at its best is a lesser evil; and that it is no less important to face the evils we commit as it is to fight the evils we oppose.

"It is no less important
to face the evils we commit
as it is to fight
the evils we oppose."
* * * * *
Later (Sunday, Jan 23)...
Josh Claybourn linked to Radley Balko's comments about this incident and the little girl's picture.
Let's look at this in purely self-interested terms. What do you suppose is going to become of this little girl? Think she'll dismiss her dead parents in light of the larger picture, this grand scheme to remap the Middle East? What do you suppose the prospects are, now, that we'll win her over to our cause? What about her sister, who was also wounded? What about their extended family? Friends? Neighbors? What about moderate Arabs/Muslims who see this image on TV?....
This little girl had no reason to hate the United States. Now she has two. So does everyone who knows her, and everyone who has anything in common with her.
Doc's words keep playing in my head. It is [as] important to face the evils we commit as it is to fight the evils we oppose. Without meaning to he has constructed a dark echo of the Golden Rule. It recalls Hillel's insruction to the heathen..."What is hateful to you, do not do unto others."
One must be careful not to mention the Golden Rule in time of war, particularly if there is any danger it may be coupled with treatment of an official enemy. Even when the matter of "collateral damage" is under review, it is more agreeable to dismiss evil as a byproduct of "fog". Somehow that is supposed to soften the impact.
And in case it is not clear, this is a discussion of policy, not troops.