Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Silence of Saddam's

The whole time Saddam Hussein was in custody or in court, he was kept away from any situation which could record his side of the story. No journalists, no stenographers, no questions, no paper, no pen. 60 Minutes was pretty much off the table. Now, I wonder why that would be...?

No doubt Saddam was one bad hombre. But he was
our bad hombre. The United States raised him up, and the United States tore him down. Now his silence is guaranteed, and a thousand secrets will be buried with him. He can't blab any nonsense about his CIA training.

Saddam was, in fact, a C
IA-paid assassin by 1959. He may have surfaced due to the repute of his uncle's operations against the Nazis in WWII, and his uncle had raised him. In 1959 he was 22 years old, a tough kid fond of dive bars, and he was made part of a team tasked with killing Iraqi Prime Minister Qasim. The Prime Minister, who had deposed the monarchy in a CIA-supported coup a few years earlier, had started embracing the communists, buying weapons from Russia and panicking Agency Director Allen Dulles into calling Iraq "the most dangerous spot on earth." Saddam was given a luxury apartment right across the street from the PM's offices in Baghdad. In what was a generally bungled team assassination effort, Saddam seems to have established his reputation by being the bright spot of his squad--managing to wound Qasim in the shoulder and arm and to kill his driver. One of his own team-mates accidentally shot Saddam in the calf, and he was evacuated by his handler to Tikrit, then to Syria, then to Beirut for CIA training, then to Cairo for a lengthy stay. He was attached to Egyptian Intelligence there, but made many visits to the US embassy and is said to have become well acquainted with Station Chief Jim Eichelberger.

Eichelberger must've been impressed, because after Qasim was killed in a CIA-financed coup in 1963, Saddam soon showed up in positions of great authority despite no known experience. There is no history of any part he might've played in that operation, but thousands of suspected communists were summarily executed at some place called "The "Palace of The End." Saddam disappeared for a few years afterwards (it's said he was in prison), yet when he re-emerged in 1967 he was made head of the Baath Party's secret police. Seems like he must've had a track record and powerful benefactors who thought he could be relied upon for dirty work. At the age of 31, he was made Deputy President of Iraq, and eventually took full power by simply scaring or killing everyone else off.

Paradoxically, for an unsophisticated thug, Saddam had a surprisingly benign and progressive vision of Iraq as a nation, one in tune with Baath Party policies. It became a relatively good country to live in, by and large, so long as one acquiesced to what Saddam or his relatives wanted. Some of the economic policies implemented under his rule (this section sourced from Start The Revolution, backed up by Saddam's entry in Wikipedia):
  • Free education to very high levels including a "War on Illiteracy" which saw Iraq's adult literacy rate soar to one of the highest levels in the world.
  • Re-nationalisation of Iraq's oil to ensure that the nation and its people received all of the benefits of its major resource rather than the international oil companies that had control of the oil fields up to that time.
  • Free health care via a public health system that was so good it even garnered him an award from the UN!
  • Massive farming subsidy programs were instigated giving Iraq an agricultural base that was unrivalled throughout the region.
He instigated programs to create an industrialised infrastructure for the country including a state-of-the-art road system, the promotion of mining as well as the development of many other industries in an attempt to make Iraq less dependent on foreign money for its oil and, perhaps his finest achievement, he oversaw the provision of electricity to nearly every city in Iraq as well as many other areas.
In the mid to late 70's Saddam was busy giving massive swathes of land to peasant farmers as well as helping them to mechandise their farming practices and thus increase output and prosperity. People were becoming wealthier across the board and poverty was, in a nation that had been two-thirds peasantry, almost totally eradicated. The economy became so strong that during the 70's over 2 million people came from other Arab nations to Iraq to help fill the massive employment needs of a nation that had more jobs than people!
So, yes, Saddam really was like Hitler in some ways and moreso, being a strong-arm, a murderer, and a desperado--and he was also an ardent nationalist, a capable administrator who engineered an economic miracle in his country. He was a servant of US foreign interests for almost 30 years, and it is rumored his attack on Iran was requested by the Saudi royal family. He was repeatedly given direct aid and military intervention by the US and its allies throughout that conflict, which was the bloodiest since World War Two. Every Iranian and every Kurd who was gassed by Saddam's forces, every last one of them choked, twitched, or died from US-licensed chemical weapons which Saddam was given and strongly encouraged to use. The Ronald Reagan White House approved 771 different export licenses of weapons technology to Iraq, and the US military is said to have directly observed the effects of chemical weapons in action; that and more ugly facts like it are beyond dispute. But not beyond silencing. Most bad things said about Hussein are probably true, but the press is like an anechoic chamber when it comes to these other truths.

When Iraqi forces attacked Kuwait in 1990 over its side-drilling into Iraqi oil fields, Saddam was still in the good graces of the US, and was known as a lion for having attacked and contained Iran's Islamic Revolution. Nonetheless, he was careful to get clearance for his retaliatory invasion from the US. He got it. This fact has been disputed by some people I respect and who have far more authority than I do, except that their arguments amount to saying a US ambassador named April Glaspie wouldn't have misled Saddam because, well, she just wouldn't have. Yet a friend and I predicted Iraq would be betrayed and attacked two years before it happened. Because it made geopolitical sense, because Baghdad was the next best theatre for continuing the Cold War Opera, because it was vulnerable and rich, and because no one misses a scarred-up old pit bull.

The old pit bull's sentencing and secretive execution had the distinctive rushed, hushed qualities one associates with the show trials that went on under Stalin, whom he admired so much. Someone who was probably a sociopath unfit to walk amongst us is no more, but it would be good to remember we once warmly called him "friend" and "ally," and while he may have never been a good lap-dog and wasn't fit for the children, he was one lethally game fighter and we were happy to keep him in steaks. I suspect Saddam, had he been un-muzzled as he should've been in front of an international tribunal rather than some camel court, would've had much to say about Bad Masters.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Saddam Hussein's Execution: A Fox News Exclusive

At the time of this writing, Saddam Hussein's execution is scheduled to take place in about 20 minutes. Initially, I had thought his appeal would drag out and hewouldn't be executed for years, if at all. Executing him at this time, and and filming it for the world to see, is a bad idea from almost every conceivable angle. Still, it's really hard to underestimate the Bush family, or its hack, err, "model" government in Iraq. According to Iraqi law, executions are illegal on religious holidays, so it's especially fitting that a four-day Islamic religious holiday just started. A minor little holiday called The Hajj. Why not spray him with some pig's blood, while we're at it? And making a martyr out of a mass murderer is probably something they haven't considered in much detail, since, hey, "He tried to murder my dad." But sometimes vengeance isn't sweet for long. Or even real in the first place.

Saddam's death will signal Iraq's Sunnis that it's time to get serious about their survival plans, probably resulting in increased flow of foreign aid, weapons, and volunteers; whereas it will probably signal Iraq's Shiites the US has sided with them, and the Sunnis are fair game. Amping up the escalation like this dovetails nicely with a surge mentality, since the Sunnis are first on the purge list.

In the end, Saddam's execution may be a sign of Bush Administration insecurity. Maybe they want to hasten his death before they lose power over it.

Update: US-funded TV station Al Hurra was first to report that Saddam Hussein was hanged. It's widely expected that US news stations will broadcast the execution, which was filmed.

US Military Recruiting Foreigners

The article says the military "considers" recruiting foreigners in exchange for US citizenship. What do they mean, "considers?" They're already doing it. Caskets have been sent back to Fiji, Guam, Mexico, and the Phillipines from Iraq. The Roman Empire recruited from its provinces, but their soldiers not only got citizenship after service, they got draft animals and a farm. Well, I suppose this Empire's recruits will get Social Security <snortle>.

Evil Is Goin' On--Howlin' Wolf

Late in his life, Howlin' Wolf left the hospital bed that would be his deathbed to sing at nightclubs in Chicago. While he had cancer, as long as he could, his manager would take him out to sing. And here's what The Wolf had to say a few months before his last time out:
'Well, I'll tell you 'bout this, the conditions what make things like it is today. Conditions. Conditions. You know? When you don't have no money n' no job, no place to stay and no place to sleep, you go to workin' and you go to thinkin' evil, you go thinkin' uhh, mmm, ahh, wrong things, you go to thinkin' evil, just like them people stuck up the bank and shot the po-lice the other day. Them folks say, they din't have no money. See? They tightenin' down on every thing. Well, these folk got to eat. Lawd ya'll see that woman there with the hollow back? Well how she good lookin' and got that powerful thing? "Well, you better bring me somethin' in here, else this cat gonna go out and stick up somebody," you know what I mean? So conditions make these things happen today.'
Rare is the economist today who has as much sense of what makes the world go round.

Correction: My apologies, I was wrong about the timing of this video. It's at the 1815 Club on Chicago's west side around 1970, not 1975. So the Wolf was sick, and receiving kidney dialysis at the time, but it was several years before his death. Not a few months as I claimed above. Hubert is on guitar, Dave Myers on bass, Fred Below on drums, and Sunnyland Slim on piano.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Lewis Black On Travel

Lewis Black may be my favorite comedian, and here he's talking about travel. I originally went YouTubing looking for a Lewis Black monologue on the Holiday Season. I found a few, but I didn't want to send anyone over the edge, this time of year can be touchy. Not as touchy as having three kids running around a center fireplace, screaming and chasing a shell-shocked Jack Russell terrier and trying to take her temperature with a rectal thermometer (yes, that was the Christmas nativity scene at Casa Lord), but touchy nonetheless. And Lewis Black is for people who like their Not just dark or a little off-color, but lovingly charred with a flamethrower, stuck on a spit and marinated in lighter fluid, then thrown into a magnesium barbecue and transmogrified into sooty carbon vapors.

So no holiday commentary from Mr. Black. But travel! Ah, travel. Me sooo trunky. I bought Lord Wife some 2007 calendars of Island Paradises, so she can put them up on her wall and long for them while slaving away on her keyboard editing documents like a washwoman over other people's torn, soiled, and hopelessly ugly clothing. The closest she's going to get to the Caribbean this winter is her corkboard, and hopefully we can set another all-time record for rainfall along about February. Like we just did in November. Me, I'd like to get to Italy. I long for Toscana and the topless beaches of La Spezia, the marble palaces cut out of the hill quarries of Enraux. "Fat chance, you imbecile," and some muttering under his breath was all I could get out of Santa when I brought up the subject. But Lewis Black, now, he made it to Italy:
"I got to Italy, I'd never been there, it's extraordinary. If you've not gone: unbelievable. I didn't know this--but Jesus Christ, he's, like...hoo-hoo, he's big there! Everywhere I turn there's Jesus! There's Jesus! There's Jesus! There's Jesus! He is like the Coca-Cola of Italy! And I'm Jewish, and I have to say, after three weeks there--I started to think he might be the Real Thing."
The inspiration for this blog, other than the need to go on the record about how messed up things are before I keel over and die like a canary huffing gas fumes while caged in a mineshaft, was how difficult air travel has become. (Our last family trip was during this summer's past Extreme Terrorist Scare.) I've lived in a bunch of places I remember with fondness, and like to talk about, and more that I don't but lived through ok, but you can say this about going Other Places: if the scales don't fall off your eyes pretty quick, you are one dumb and lost S.O.B.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

United Arab Emirates Announces Dollar Reserve Reduction

Geez. As if on cue, after I wrote the What Your Wallet Is Up Against post right before this, Matthew Brown at Bloomberg reported from Dubai that today the U.A.E. announced it will be reducing its dollar exposure by 8%. I'm just going to cut and paste his article in full:
Dec. 27 (Bloomberg) -- The United Arab Emirates will convert 8 percent of its foreign-exchange reserves to euros from dollars before September after the U.S. currency slumped this year, the country's central bank governor said.

The U.A.E. has started ``in a limited way'' to sell part of its dollar reserves, Sultan Bin Nasser al-Suwaidi said in an interview in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 24. ``We will accumulate euros each time the market appears to dip,'' as part of a plan to expand the country's holding of euros to 10 percent of the total from 2 percent today, he said.

The Gulf state is among oil producers including Iran, Venezuela and Indonesia, looking to shift their currency reserves into euros or sell their oil, which is currently priced in dollars, in the 12-nation currency. The total value of the U.A.E.'s current reserves is $24.9 billion, 98 percent in dollars and 2 percent in euros, al-Suwaidi said.

Gulf Arab energy producers will earn as much as $500 billion from oil sales this year, the International Monetary Fund forecasts. The region's central banks reserves represent a fraction of the currency holdings of state-owned investment firms such as Abu Dhabi Investment Authority which is estimated to have over half-a-trillion dollars under management.

The U.S. currency dropped to $1.3166 versus the euro from $1.3157 after al-Suwaidi's comments were published. It traded at 1.3160 at 12:05 p.m. in London.

``It is a recognition of the vulnerability of the dollar over the coming year,'' Simon Williams, economist with HSBC Holdings Plc in a telephone interview from Dubai, U.A.E. today.

Dollar `Vulnerability'

``This is not confined to the U.A.E. There's a general awareness across the Gulf of the benefits of diversifying currency holdings,'' Williams said.

The U.S. current account deficit widened to $225.6 billion in the third quarter, while oil producers in the Middle East and central Asia will run a surplus of $322 billion for all of 2006, according to the IMF. Total foreign holdings of Treasuries increased to a record $2.16 trillion in September, just under 50 percent of the $4.34 trillion outstanding.

China, the second-largest holder of U.S. debt, reduced purchases of U.S. treasuries by 1.7 percent in the first 10 months of the year, according to Treasury Department data.

The conversion of 8 percent of the reserves into euros will happen ``within 6 or 9 months,'' he said in his office at the central bank in the U.A.E. capital.

The share of foreign-exchange deposits held in dollars by OPEC oil producers, including Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., fell to a two-year low of 65 percent during the second quarter, from 67 percent during the first quarter, Bank of International Settlements figures released earlier this month show.

Obviously the amount is only a small percentage from one place, but it denotes the tips of many icebergs. The last thing you're going to do as a foreign reserve banker is tell the market exactly what you're going to do. Sell high, buy low. Further, the percentage Treasuries held by foreign money is quite understated. It's impossible to know by how much, since that data isn't published anymore, but many hedge funds listed as US entities have a majority of their investment from overseas. Over the past few years, such loosely regulated funds are thought to have picked up the slack in the appetites of foreign central banks for US bond sales. Bottom line, there is plenty of unfulfilled demand for a Euro-based Oil Bourse in Iran.

What Your Wallet Is Up Against, And Why

How do you kill a mountain
how do you make it fall?
Well you chip away, every day
and soon the clay fades away.
And the hole you've dug
and the dream you hug
will be like a bug in your ear.
Can't you hear?
Bobby Darin, Live at the Troubador, 1969

A lot of people, myself included, have been all over the cases of Dick and the Cheneyettes, BushCo, et al, for their invading the Mid-East. Most people in the world, if they hadn't before, have come to accept Iraq was invaded for its oil. Yet I've never, ever seen any news story, heard any interview, or read any English-language attempt to explain why, or otherwise utter a word about it. So here's a question: if all the United States had to do was print up more dollars to buy more Iraqi oil, why bother invading Iraq to seize its fields?

Saddam truly did pose a threat to the US empire. But the threat wasn't posed by Weapons of Metaphorical Destruction (he tried to get rid of any he might've had), neither by non-existent nuclear ambitions, nor by nascent schemes to fly balsa model airplanes soaked in anthrax aquavit across the oceans to Manhattan. Saddam's threat was to the Almighty Dollar. Given what the main stream media spouts, this claim probably seems further-fetched than Saddam dropping barrels of VX into the Great Salt Lake. Nonetheless, it's true, it's old news, and it explains what the hell our country's armies are doing in the Mid-East now. It explains why BushCo can't leave, and can't win.

As I wrote back in August, Saddam Hussein attacked the US currency basis when he began selling Iraq's oil in exchange for Euros in 2000 (Iraq: Baghdad Moves to Euro, November 1st, 2000). Saddam decided to make a direct assault on the carefully crafted and well-enforced UN sanctions, his aim was very good, and it provoked a response escalated far beyond what he expected. For reasons I'll explain below, BushCo and the Cheneyettes are super-sensitized to what he did, and they invaded Iraq to defend the value of the Empire's currency. They're marshalling all the forces they can against Iran for the same reason.

Iran's threat as a nuclear power is a metaphor, or better, a useful myth which simplifies its true Persian Restoration aims into a bite-sized morsel suitable for repeating in short sound bites. In the messier realms of reality, Iran has been planning to open the Iranian International Oil Bourse for some time, and they bought the building for it on Kish Island in June. The exchange in that building is wired and ready to go now. The idea is to get OPEC countries to start selling their oil for Euros, and to make the Euro a second reserve currency, an alternative to the dollar. As soon as that happens, regardless of the scale of trading, the dollar will head right down the drain. Because the end will be in sight, and future value can be reasonably foretold. Given that the dollar lost 5% of its value against the world currency basket in the second week of December, the expectation of the dollar losing its current status as the sole reserve currency is gaining strength:
“But if one day the world's largest oil producers allowed, or worse demanded, euros for their barrels, ‘it would be the financial equivalent of a nuclear strike,’ said A.G. Edwards commodities analyst Bill O'Grady.

‘If OPEC decided they didn't want dollars anymore,’ he added, ‘it would signal an end of American hegemony by signaling an end to the dollar as the sole reserve currency status.’

So, in plain language, if Iran succeeds in opening the oil exchange on Kish Island, the US wouldn't be able to afford its Mid-East occupations, operations thus far entirely financed by the sale of bonds. Bonds paid for in electronic funny money which doesn't even bother to roll off printing presses anymore. Little more than IOUs. The new oil exchange poses a much greater threat than Saddam's currency adventure ever did (accounting for the UN Oil for Food program didn't entirely decouple his oil sales from the dollar), and Iran is a hair's from getting nuked over ending US dollar supremacy. Lest you doubt this, see neocon pit bull Jerome Corsi's May, 2006 subtly-titled article on the subject, "Iran Signs its Own Death Warrant."

So viewed from this perspective, by invading the Mid-East and directly securing the source of its currency's value, the Bush Administration is simply defending the status quo of an Empire established more than 50 years earlier (at Bretton Woods), and strengthened after the costs of the Vietnam War burned through the gold reserves built up during WWII. Bankrupted, the US defaulted on its gold payments to foreign governments who sought repayments of debt in gold on August 15th, 1971.

I'll skip over the financial ulcers which led the US to further leverage its currency by progressively weakening its linkage to gold in the 20th century, but suffice it to say that every currency in world history not backed by precious metals has lapsed into hyperinflation within a few generations. In 1971, the Nixon Administration simply declared that it would henceforth repay its debts in dollars, completely decoupling the dollar from gold and making it a "fiat" currency; no one could stop them, but the Nixonites recognized they needed something else besides gold to hold over the heads of other governments, and to give them a compelling reason to keep building up dollars, in essence being forced to pay taxes to the US. They would sell their goods and take dollars in return, dollars they knew would be worth less and less. So what was the incentive?

Henry Kissinger had the bright, actually diabolical, idea of using oil to back dollars. In 1972 the House of Saud agreed to convince OPEC to exclusively take dollars as payment for oil. In exchange, the Saudi royal family would have the US fighting forces at its beck and call, and would effectively rule the Mid-East, which it did until September 11th, 2001.

The United States has no good military options against Iran. The best it can do is threaten Iran with overwhelming force (nuclear attack) while it tries to figure out more certain ways of forestalling a world shift away from the dollar as reserve currency. The most certain way is "regime change" in Iran, and the installation of a friendly dictator. The next most certain way is via a secretly negotiated treaty with binding terms and conditions. A stop-gap would be using any external means to keep Iran's Oil Bourse from opening for business, an avenue probably being pursued now through deals with the UN, Russia, and China. None of these methods will succeed in forestalling the inevitable for long, because even if Iran is mollified or otherwise kept from its Euro ambitions, the oil producers of South America are too far gone off the farm to ever bring back. The Euro will be a second reserve currency to a world looking to diversify, i.e., to reduce its dollar holdings before they go out worthless.

If you hear an Iranian Oil Bourse has opened, is trading in Euros, and Iran has not been attacked, that day will mark the symbolic and real end of the American Empire. You would do well to start thinking like a foreign central bank, and move whatever wealth you have into something of value, that is to say, into most anything other than dollars.
Ku Klux Karma

Pakistani secret police beat up a New York Times reporter and seized her laptop and notes. Carlotta Gall was planning on interviewing sources in Western Pakistan near the Afghan border, i.e., places the Taliban control. Here are some of the responses on the ABC news blotter chastising the reporter for her nosiness:

Liberalism is a mental disorder. The New York Times and the Anti-American culture they've developed within their shameful organization is proof. They are NOT on our side. I believe they are traitors hiding behind our sacred Constitution.

Posted by: B. Smith | Dec 26, 2006 2:53:17 PM

This reporter got what was comming to her, and she can whine and cry all she wants, but there is no ACLU to save her over there, the Pakastani government does not engage in liberal politically correct games.

Posted by: james bell | Dec 26, 2006 3:00:27 PM

Trying to muster some sympathy here..
Uhhhgh...nope can't do it. Couldn't have happened to a nicer 'news' source. Lucky you still have your stupid head.

Posted by: Toddam Baad | Dec 26, 2006 3:05:47 PM

Well, dust off the red arm bands and call me Herr Gauleiter. Umm, a little recap here: Western Pakistan is where 9/11 was hatched. On the Paki side of the border. I'll look up a few old sources and follow up.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Reading

My best present was a book I bought, started reading, and then never wrapped. Wrapping would've interrupted it. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, is a fine work of literature; it's about growing up in an intolerant society with open religious and ethnic frictions; these lead to betrayals and cruelties, and to the author/narrator fleeing from and later returning to his country. Hosseini wrote the novel, I think, because he struggled over how to try for redemption on personal and political levels, and writing was for him a way to work some of those struggles out. In the process, he wrote a beautiful meditation on goodness and its opposites, on truth and its cousins.

Tolerance and national healing are good themes for sermons and holidays, and while I haven't had time in the blessed rush of presents, family, friends, and food to write a post, I've been thinking a lot about Christmas, as in, Christ's Mass. I have been thinking about Jesus. There have been new efforts to prove he never existed, that there is no historical evidence of him, and there's even a blasphemy contest going on around the internet; a
theism can be as intolerant and as closed-minded as the religious zealotry it seeks to antidote. Mostly, arguing over whether Jesus was ahistorical on the one hand or was the Son of God on the other misses the point.

Jesus does not need a church, and never asked for one. Whether believer, un-believer, or blasphemy contestant, the point about Jesus was his philosophy. It held that striving to kindness, forgiveness, and spirituality is all part of the same thing: becoming a better human being.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Country We Carry In Our Hearts

It is through the truthful exercising of the best of human qualities - respect for others, honesty about ourselves, faith in our ideals - that we come to life in God's eyes. It is how our soul, as a nation and as individuals, is revealed. Our American government has strayed too far from American values. It is time to move forward. The country we carry in our hearts is waiting.

Bruce Springsteen, Chords for Change, New York Times, 08/05/04

Testing, Testing, One-Two...Is This Thing On?

I'm trying something a little different. Different because it involved picking up some minimal HTML tricks; since I don't have any and never aspired to, this is a very dicey proposition. However, sometimes stuff out there deserves or absolutely needs passing on, and this is one of those times. Here goes. Hope a.k.a. SwimDeep over at Deep Confusion, one of the first blogs I linked to, inspired me to finally learn a new trick or two. She has been following Amy Goodman's Democracy Now for the past few days like a blood-hound on the hottest trail in the county, which it probably is. Turns out Sy Hersh and Scott Ritter got together in a safe house in New York for a little public chat. This is kinda like Doktor Van Helsing interviewing Jonathon Harker after he makes it back from Transylvania; Ritter has, as usual, some very honest and hair-raising things to say about what's going to happen. I highly recommend listening to the interview and reading the transcript, it's meta-intelligence, the kind you don't get by blowing $100 billion a year on a bunch of spooks. I would also recommend regular visits to Hope's blog. She packs big whallops into tight spaces, her ethics are tip-top, and she's smart as hell. Her loved one is also in harm's way.

Fire In The Hole

Amy Goodman is on fire this week. I don't generally (ever?) link to any single site 3 times in one week but the level of discussion, discernment and insightful truth being spoken through Democracy Now! has been exemplary. This is the best synopsis of the dynamics-created-for-war discussion I have heard.

Today Amy Goodman hosts the discussion
between Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector, and Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist for The New Yorker magazine. They spoke before an audience at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on the topic of "White House Plans for Regime Change in the Middle East". Compelling. If you have wanted a consise, easy to understand, spin-free lesson on neo-con political ideology but were afraid to ask, this is your chance. A+

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Quick, Hide The Backyard Smelting Furnace

I was wondering when they were going to outlaw this, and they just did. The US mint has had trouble keeping ahead of inflation, and has been unable to lower the metal content of nickels and pennies fast enough to keep from losing money. Typically, when it punches up new nickels and pennies, the value of the metal in each is greater than the currency value of the coinage, sometimes by as much as 50%. So if you amassed a few tons of pennies in your back yard, built yourself a stone furnace and stoked it up good, you could make a fortune taking currency off the market. Fortunately, for our protection, the government has stepped in to put a stop to it. Oh, and sorry, you can't flee the country with more than $5 of either coin in your possession--the rest will be confiscated. Don't worry, the penalty is only a maximum of five years in prison or $10,000. A license to print money, really.

Sure glad I'm not a worry-wart, or I might try to make sense of why our government is saying a penny can only be worth a penny, even when it's worth more than a penny. Anyhoo, I've got a fire to tend, and if any of you know where to get a good 19th-century leg-operated forge bellows, let me know in the comments section.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Iran's Short, Iterative History

Ah, Najaf. How fitting it was set free to fend for itself today. Naturally, Najaf brings Iran to mind, since it was where Ayatollah Khomeini lived for 12 years when he was exiled by the Shah. So where did Iran come from, anyway, and why is it so bitchy all the time? In the spirit of "know thy enemy," I'll try to write down what I know, which is admittedly not much and certainly flawed, but it'll at least be fun for me. And who knows, something might come of it.

Iran is basically modern Persia, which has been a thorny but influential outlier for about an eon, and is arguably the oldest continuous civilization on earth. It was conquered by Islam in the 7th century and then a enjoyed a kind of Renaissance, amassing wealth and wisdom until repeatedly destroyed by waves of Mongols starting in the 13th century. Much earlier, it was the birthplace of monotheism and holy writ, when the Prophet Zoroaster received his revelations of heaven, hell, Satan, and morality directly from god 8,000 years ago.

As "Iran," it's a relatively new and quite genuine nation, having undergone a series of democratic revolts starting in the early 1900s. These were eventually successful in abolishing a corrupt old regime (one whose name escapes me, but which had become bankrupt and signed away its largest oil field to Britain to clear its debts); the revolutionaries managed to adopt a Constitution and establish a parliament by or before 1925, retaining the monarchy as figurehead. Thereafter, Iran continued to be batted between the intrigues of British and Russian imperial ambitions in the region, as it still is to this day.

Unlike all its neighbors, however, Iran was never colonized, although some would say corporations succeeded in achieving the same effect for a time starting in the mid-19th century, culminating with the ascendancy of British Petroleum. After its consititutional reformation in around 1920, Iran's monarchists struggled to regain their former powers by bargaining with outside powers, while religious figures for and against constitutionalism sought to either impede or aid the monarchists, and at times vice-versa. A leader in the constitutional revolution, Reza Khan, became Shah and was skilled at playing realpolitik amongst the powers, but he played too closely with the Nazis and was deposed in a coup in 1941. His son, the popular, handsome international playboy Reza Pahlevi, was installed in his place and was widely seen as a puppet-king of England. Out of this bubbling, jumbled political lobscouse soon rose the two populist figures who would most define Iran's future:
Mohammed Mossadegh and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Mohammed Mossadegh was a beloved elder statesman who was elected the first Prime Minister in a landslide and founded a fully democratic government in 1951. A steadfast anti-communist, Mossadegh was also a nationalist with little love for the British; known for his sense of humor and common touch, he studied political science in Paris and received a doctorate in law. Working on a legal basis, parliament quickly legislated to re-possess the oil fields worked by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (or BP), seizing its equipment and revoking its leases. British warships responded by threatening to blow up any oil tankers which left Iran, leaving it with no way to bring its oil to market. Despite the economic consequences, Mossadegh remained enormously popular. BP spurned all offers to negotiate a settlement, demanding not only restitution of previous fields but full control over all Iran's oil. Britain, still suffering from WWII, couldn't bring Mossadegh down and couldn't keep up its oil embargo comfortably, so it turned to the US for help.

Seeing the request as a way to contain Russia, Eisenhower approved enthusiastic CIA plans for a military coup (an outgoing Truman had rejected the idea). The operation was called Ajax, after the popular detergent brand. Kim (Kermit Jr.) Roosevelt, grandson of Teddy, was sent to Tehran in 1953 to run the op under his cover name, Jim Lockridge. The first coup was a farce, with the Shah deposed and sent packing into exile; less collegial expedients were next employed.

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Military Governor of Iran from 1942 until he was sent to help run Germany in the late '40s, was sent to fix the situation. He directed a colonel to roll a few tanks up to the Prime Minister's residence and shell it with high explosives. Mossadegh surrendured, was tried for treason, and imprisoned. The Shah returned to rule as figurehead. In reality, Schwarzkopf Sr. (father of the General who commanded Gulf War One) continued to run the country as Military Governor with the help of the SAVAK, the secret police he had founded to eradicate communist sympathizers in Iran during WWII. The SAVAK, notorious for their complete lack of charm, were turned onto the constitutionalists.

This was less than popular, and resistance retreated to brew in the mosques. Then Ayatollah Khomeini, a seyyed (holy man descended from the Prophet) admired for his grandfather's resistance to the British, the martyrdom of his father, and for his reform-oriented writings on Islamic doctrines having political relevancy, was designated to be the voice of resistance against the government when the Shah attempted a series of liberal reforms in the early 1960s. He denounced the Shah, was arrested, jailed, and then exiled to Iraq. To Najaf, where he stayed until Saddam Hussein threw him out for his subversive writings on the Islamic Revolution, and where today in public the leader of the local secret police bit the beating heart out of a rabbit with his teeth. My, how things hop around in the Mid-east.

The Shah's Islamic Revolution succeeded when an estimated 10 million people took to the streets of Iran one day in early 1979 to stop work and demonstrate against the Shah. Coincidentally, the US had just licensed technology for nuclear power and had started building a plant a year or so prior, and Mitsui (a Japanese conglomerate) had nearly completed its gigantic $3.5 billion oil refinery. The Revolution was deemed very inconvenient, and there were calls to fix it, all of which were either unrealistic and rejected by the Carter Administration, or unsuccessful. In the Fall, Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Iran to seize its oil fields, but they were unexpectedly well-defended and, years later, were rolled back deep into Iraq. In November of 1979, the US Embassy in Tehran was denounced as a den of spies, was stormed, and its staffers were taken hostage. Iran announced an oil embargo, and oil prices skyrocketed by 150%. Sometime over the next year ex-CIA Director George H.W. Bush, James Baker III, and Bush's former mascot at CIA, Robert Gates, went behind the curtains to delay the release of the hostages on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, a stunt which would come to be known as the October Surprise. The hostages were freed on Reagan's first day in office. The deal was said to have been consummated for 40 million dollars and some vague promises of future advanced weapons sales.

So there's the backgrounder on Iran's bitchiness, on the whole mess. I'll skip over the continuing wars in 80s and 90s and the millions of combat and civilian casualties. By further coincidence, Robert Gates is the new Secretary of Defense, and is making his first visit to Iraq today in that capacity. Welcome back, Bob. Care for a rabbit?

Note: Most of the above is off the top of my head, boned up on while a former library rat two decades ago. While the substance is reliable, I could have some dates wrong. Some is speculative, for example I don't know for a fact Bob Gates was part of the hostage negotations, only that he was later convicted over Iran-Contra involvement. I don't know George HW Bush was either, but did read published and credible accounts of his presence on a US aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf at the height of the crisis. As for Jim Baker, as Bush consiglieri, it only makes sense he was involved, but I've seen no evidence of it whatsoever. Finally I suspect Russia invaded Afghanistan to capitalize on the Shah's weakness and had designs on Iran's oil, and that Zbigniew Brezinski as Carter's SecState saw the opportunity to thwart Russia and trap it, and so began funneling arms into Afghanistan early on as a response. But that's just pure speculation in the absence of scholarship. What is not speculation is that the Democrats, not the Republicans, first started sending arms to the mujahedin in Afghanistan.

Update: I just looked up SAVAK on Wikipedia. It incorrectly states it was founded in 1957. Rather, it was founded as an anti-communist secret police by H. Norman Schwarzkopf, probably in 1943 or so, and simply changed names in 1957. I'm not sure Schwarzkopf's organization had a formal name, but the security apparatus and staff remained largely intact. The Wikipedia article claims some staff remain from pre-Revolutionary Iran.

Star Trek: The Lost Iraqi Security Episode

Seems US forces are doing the victory monkey thing in Najaf today, handing over the city's security to indigenous police and army units. Here's an Associated Press account of the ceremonies:
About 1,500 police officers and soldiers paraded on a soccer field, and other officers drove shiny new patrol cars and motorcycles around a dusty track ringing the field.

At one point, a small group of elite Iraqi special forces officers wearing dark green T-shirts stepped forward with a live rabbit and ripped it apart with their teeth.

The leader chomped out the animal's heart with a yell, then passed around the blood-soaked carcass to his comrades, each of whom took a bite. The group also bit the heads off frogs.

Tearing a live rabbit apart with your teeth. That's class. No school like the Old School. The frogs seem a little show-offy, though. Oh, well, when in Rome; anyhow, the Iraqi chapter of PETA is probably keeping a low profile until things settle down a little. It must've been a tough act for the master of PR ceremonies to follow: "Right, then, commander, now if you would take the frog's head out of your mouth and be so kind as to say a few words on this fateful day, we'd be pleased to translate from your native Klingon."

That Buck-Stopping Thing

That picture on the left? It's a dead deer. Been there three days now. On Dick Cheney's lawn. His office declined comment, but tersely recommended to direct inquiries to the city.

It's just a dead deer, I suppose. And yet...when you're sliding down the slippery slope of strangehood, it's hard to sense the point past which you can't stop anymore, to know when strange claimed its own momentum and moved into the category of Strange-alanche. It starts with a creak, and then you feel a little short slip or two. Then a few tremors impart a feeling of unease, but only the sensitive types start to head for the nearest tree or rocky outcropping. Then it makes its decisive break, carrying everything in its downhill wake, the potential energy of chaos turned crazily kinetic, and next thing you know you're just going with the cadaver-cavorting flow, dancing tarantellas in the square.

Few made much fuss when we had an election decided by a Supreme Court, for example. Anybody who piped up was shushed as an unseemly boat-rocker. And I recall no death threats issuing from the KKK when a black woman named Condoleezza was made head of national security. Pretty soon we had planes hitting buildings, next we're hunting for rich Saudi ex-friends in caves, invading the countries of former henchmen, having Israeli spies head up investigation committees, passing out Freedom Medals to degenerates, rousting retirees back into desert camo fatigues and sending them to our era's versions of Fort Apache. Lest you think things are still normal, I ask you this: if Laura Bush starts keeping a pony in the White House, would anyone just come out and say she's off her rocker? Seriously, would anyone try to stop her? Who would bother? At this point, it would just be a harmless indulgence of a housewife trying to keep it together.

I don't know where that deer came from, whether Cheney shot it, if someone dumped it there, if a car hit it, if the Secret Service tazered it into submission, or if the Dickster strangled it with his bare hands. There are a lot of deer there. Personally I think it was dropped there by a god with an exquisite sense of semiotic irony. But now...let's just say you had a dead deer on your lawn, for whatever reason. And let's say you were Vice President of the United States, and twenty or thirty thousand people drove past your front lawn every day. Wouldn't you have the decency to get rid of it?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Having been disconnected from the 'net for some of the past week, more than usually beset with work and otherwise preoccupied, my blogging suffered considerably. Much was going on in the world, there were so many things to post about and so little time to do it in. Thanks to you who kept showing up here anyway.

My withdrawal symptoms were severe enough that I tried to put my finger on a descriptive term for them. Then one popped up: I was feeling very
discomblogulated. I slapped my knee and said, "Dammit, Lord, you're a genius! You'll be the first person to coin the term. Publish it before it occurs to somebody else, and you'll be famous throughout the greater Blogosphere!" So then I used The Google to search for it. 236 hits. There are two blogs already named in the present and past tenses of the word. Sigh. Enduring fame, fifteen minutes' worth of it, so far away.

Anyhow it's nice getting back to a steady routine of snide and snarkiness, although my iffy grammar skills seem to have given up entirely after enduring a flood, wind storm, power outage, and four days with Lord Baby issuing his blood-curdling Indian war whoops and gleefully launching sneak attacks on me like Kato did on Inspector Clouseau. (Lord Wife wisely fled town as the storm hit, saying, "Good luck, hon, I promise not to have a good time on St. Bart's.") Good to be back, and I trust the twitching will stop as soon as the Christmas parachute opens. Now off to do some shopping!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Mythbusting, Pt. VI: The Urge To Surge

Whom the Gods would destroy
They first make mad.
Euripides, ca. 440 BC

The White House is desperate enough to employ ignorant, pie-in-the-sky think tank pukes to go around the Pentagon in order to seek politically palatable options, and it is once again violating the very fundamentals of sound military operational planning by advocating a "surge" in occupation troop levels.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff apparently resent having their advice ignored, and are publicly NOT on board with the think-tankers' hare-brained scheme to pacify Baghdad. The Chiefs of Staff have stated the obvious points, i.e., the insurgents will simply go make trouble elsewhere, because that's what insurgents do, and that sending in another 30,000 combat personnel will definitively break the army. They didn't mention that the plan to disarm and disband the Mahdi Army (the 50,000-strong militia in Sadr City) might hit a few snags, such as heavy casualties in house-to-house fighting, a general uprising in Baghdad, a truce of co-belligerent convenience between the Sunni insurgency and the Shia Iraqi defense forces currently waging a civil war, and probably a direct assault on the Green Zone.

The Troop Surge Plan will make even more Coalition troops more vulnerable. It's downright crazy. Above left is the map of the US military bases along the Iraqi road networks as of 3-4 months ago. The 7 major supply depots are circled in black. Look at the base in the southeast just over the Kuwaiti border and the next depot just south of Baghdad. That's a long way between major bases, over 200 kilometers, and there are only two major routes connecting Baghdad to Kuwait. Most supplies are trucked in not by the military, but by private military contractors. Any significant action against Al Sadr's forces in Baghdad will result in those supply lines being cut, re-opened, and re-cut, and the battle will quickly devolve from "disarming terrorists to secure Baghdad" to a desperate fight to preserve the US army's carotid artories carrying its life's blood into the heart of Iraq. Oh, and disarming the Shia militias puts the permanent kibosh on the Death Squad Option (translation: attaching US advisors to Shia units which then seize and murder suspected Sunni insurgents) currently being followed as the path to Iraqi sovereignty.

Halliburton and KBR, the army's main suppliers, do not have significant facilities in Turkey; their supplies come by sea into Kuwait, and are carried north from there. Neither private companies nor the Army are ready to conduct supply from the opposite direction. Recently an entire convoy was lost when "men wearing Iraqi Defence Forces uniforms" put up a roadblock on the road northwest of Kuwait and seized drivers and trucks. It was that simple. If the Shia majority determines to get rid of US forces in Iraq, they have the ability to do so, and so far they have stopped short of active resistance, preferring to use our troops as tools to settle old grievances with the Sunnis. Far from securing anything, the urge to surge will precipitate a multi-level disaster and put an end to Shia cooperation. To put it mildly, control over the Southeast Shia rump of Iraq would be lost in short order. We'll see how incoming Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, an old Washington hand, referees this debate, or if he can bring some measure of sanity to the rats running this shit-house. Right now no one seems capable of dealing with a raging, delusional Rat King; at stake is the choice between a stinging defeat in Iraq and a decisive defeat in the world. Good luck, Bob.

Commanda Obama

One rainy night I drove to the store, and heard someone giving a speech on the radio. His voice was straight from America's heartland, and he was holding a live crowd spellbound, making them laugh, sigh, and cry. I thought, "Man, this guy is great. He's making policy sense like I've never heard. Must be a writer or a professor, gotta find out who. Too bad politicians can't talk like this."

Arriving at the store, I stayed in the car, turned up the volume knob, and waited to learn the speaker's name. His name was Barak Hussein Obama; amongst other gifts, as a politician he holds the qualities of control, elegance, and command which comes along but once in a century , and never comes the same way twice. Obama sticks out from the field of Presidential aspirants because he's not electro-plated tin like the rest, but made of solid precious metal; it's like seeing an actual human being navigating through a field of flesh-eating zombies. He talks his own talk, writes his own books, and he thinks so well on his feet that he could talk the panties right off...panties off...what the heck, the panties right off of Hillary Clinton. His father was from Kenya, his mother was from Kansas. Wichita, Kansas. He is a faithful member of the United Church of Christ, and early in his career worked with churches to organize job programs on Chicago's South Side. He then went to Harvard Law School on smarts, where he was elected President of the Harvard Law Review. He returned to the South Side to work at a civil rights law firm and teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago until he was elected an Illinois Senator in 2004, winning 70% of the vote in a year of heavy Republican gains.

There's not a better candidate for President in these United States. He kicks ass, is squeaky clean, is more spiritually and constitutionally fluent than anyone else on or close to the trail, and no one can beat him straight-up. He poses major problems for both the Republican and Democrat wings of the Property Party (establishment elites) Here's a snippet from one of his speeches in June, 2006:
"We can talk to the press, and we can discuss the religious call to address poverty and environmental stewardship all we want, but it won't have an impact unless we tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America.

I want to give you an example that I think illustrates this fact. As some of you know, during the 2004 U.S. Senate General Election I ran against a gentleman named Alan Keyes. Mr. Keyes is well-versed in the Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson style of rhetoric that often labels progressives as both immoral and godless.

Indeed, Mr. Keyes announced towards the end of the campaign that, "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has behaved in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved."

Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama.

Now, I was urged by some of my liberal supporters not to take this statement seriously, to essentially ignore it. To them, Mr. Keyes was an extremist, and his arguments not worth entertaining. And since at the time, I was up 40 points in the polls, it probably wasn't a bad piece of strategic advice.

But what they didn't understand, however, was that I had to take Mr. Keyes seriously, for he claimed to speak for my religion, and my God. He claimed knowledge of certain truths.

'Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, he was saying, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination.

Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, but supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life.'

And so what would my supporters have me say? How should I respond? Should I say that a literalist reading of the Bible was folly? Should I say that Mr. Keyes, who is a Roman Catholic, should ignore the teachings of the Pope?

Unwilling to go there, I answered with what has come to be the typically liberal response in such debates - namely, I said that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can't impose my own religious views on another, that I was running to be the U.S. Senator of Illinois and not the Minister of Illinois.

But Mr. Keyes's implicit accusation that I was not a true Christian nagged at me, and I was also aware that my answer did not adequately address the role my faith has in guiding my own values and my own beliefs.

Now, my dilemma was by no means unique. In a way, it reflected the broader debate we've been having in this country for the last thirty years over the role of religion in politics.

For some time now, there has been plenty of talk among pundits and pollsters that the political divide in this country has fallen sharply along religious lines. Indeed, the single biggest "gap" in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called Red States and those who reside in Blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don't.

Conservative leaders have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.

Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait. At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that - regardless of our personal beliefs - constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, there are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word "Christian" describes one's political opponents, not people of faith.

Now, such strategies of avoidance may work for progressives when our opponent is Alan Keyes. But over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives -- in the lives of the American people -- and I think it's time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.

And if we're going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.

This religious tendency is not simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that's deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause."
If you can find another politician currently holding national office who is capable of uttering those sentences above, off the cuff and in front of a crowd, please tell me who it is, and I will work in my small way to get them to run for President. Obama understands the times and the tides, can eloquently speak for us and to us, has come out and called Iraq a dumb war, can craft wise policies and can run rings around every other candidate. However, he suffers from not one, but three crippling problems for a prospective late-Empire President:

1) he's color blind;
2) he's a Commonist;
3) no one owns him.

The current Dimocrat plan is to get him to run as Veep to Hillary.
In the unlikely event she should she win, this would neatly alleviate the threat to Hill's presidential life, as a third of the country oils up its ought-sixes and dials in its scopes; the succession picture would then pose bleak prospects, and Obama would be a Bizarro-World Veep: a progressive-populist, highly competent mirror image of Dan Quayle. Triangulation without tribulation.

While he may not be immune to the Clintonista play, I think Obama is really holding out for the People and abhors the whoring Hillary's engaged in. (Get the Pepto Bismol and the Immodium AD ready for her quotes of John 3:13 and her long-observed Christian faith. Cuz you know it's coming, and you'll need them both. A-a-aagghh. Blerrrgghh. Rinse. Whoosh.) It's going to take a lot of conniving for the Clintons or BushCo to plant a metaphorical knife deeply enough into his back on the campaign trail to betray him, and he may well be too quick and hard to fix for them this election cycle.

The normal chinks in the politician's armor are noticeably lacking in Obama's, simply because his motivation is different. He is a child of Martin Luther King and the Chicago Democratic political machine, and he really could take the Democratic nomination; he will talk so much sense to the country, most people may look past the inconvenient fact that he's black. I'm not kidding. In which case, his life would truly be in peril while a candidate because of the hate-based prejudices and protectionism of 10-20% of US citizens, and because his threat to the corporate power structure which controls the country cannot be disguised. Corporations wouldn't try to co-opt him for long; as they already recognize, his whole life is on a low-intensity trajectory against them. Maybe he can hoodwink them into thinking he'll do their bidding, but I'd almost rather see B.H.O. drop out and come back stronger in 2010, when the country and its corporations are broken and ready to face their better selves. We may be at that point as early as next year, of course, but I'm hoping the party can get strung out a little longer before the landlords call the cops.

The full transcript of the speech quoted above is here, and the link to the recording is there as well. Download the .mp3 and listen to what may be the greatest speech by an American politician in over two generations.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

It Only Took 5 Years (Not 50)

Sometimes it takes 50 years for these kinds of truth to come out, sometimes 100. Or never.
"The Government's case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
A devastating attack on Mr Blair's justification for military action by Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the UN, has been kept under wraps until now because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.

Carne Ross:

I was First Secretary in the UK Mission to the United Nations in New York from December 1997 until June 2002. I was responsible for Iraq policy in the mission, including policy on sanctions, weapons inspections and liaison with UNSCOM and later UNMOVIC...
I read the available UK and US intelligence on Iraq every working day for the four and a half years of my posting...

During my posting, at no time did HMG assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests. On the contrary, it was the commonly-held view among the officials dealing with Iraq that any threat had been effectively contained. I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed). (At the same time, we would frequently argue, when the US raised the subject, that "regime change" was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos.)

Any assessment of threat has to include both capabilities and intent. Iraq's capabilities in WMD were moot: many of the UN's weapons inspectors (who, contrary to popular depiction, were impressive and professional) would tell me that they believed Iraq had no significant materiel. With the exception of some unaccounted-for Scud missiles, there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW, BW or nuclear material."
(via via, and via A Tiny Revolution)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

TEACHER: Harold, what do you call a person who keeps on talking when people are no longer interested?

HAROLD: A teacher.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Scarcity of Representation, Surplus of Expression

Bruce over at the River Blog linked to a great exegesis by Inspector Lohmann on hiding in plain sight. I've no idea what he's talking about, but it sounds fun. As does "Building Invisible Comic Community Through Interdimensional Travel," and again, I have no idea what he's talking about. He may mean blogs are a communist plot. Or he may think that the cool thing about blogs is they're self-selecting. Or both. I don't even fully comprehend the quote the good inspector used from The Hacker Manifesto to kick off his essay. But it may be what I believe.
There can be no one book, no master thinker for these times. What is called for is a practice of combining heterogeneous modes of perception, thought and feeling, different styles of researching and writing, different kinds of connection to different readers, proliferation of information across different media, all practiced within a gift economy, expressing and elaborating differences, rather than broad-casting a dogma, a slogan, a critique or line.
⋅ ⋅ ⋅
This expressive politics does not seek to overthrow the state, or to reform its larger structures, or to preserve its structure so as to maintain an existing coalition of interests. It seeks to permeate existing states with a new state of existence. It spreads the seeds of an alternate practice of everyday life.
⋅ ⋅ ⋅
Everywhere that desire throws off the heavy armor of lack and expresses its own joyful plenitude, it quickly finds itself captured as an image and offered back to itself as representation. Thus the strategy for any desire that would arm itself with its own self-unfolding is to create for itself a vector outside of commodification, as a first step toward accelerating the surplus of expression, rather than the scarcity of representation.
—McKenzie Wark. A Hacker Manifesto

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mental Vacation

Sheets of rain ride 40-mile per hour gusts of wind in Ecotopia, it's 42 degrees outside and won't have the common courtesy to snow, and I just wrote about a bunch of bad things that are bound to happen. Lord Baby is jumping up and down in tireless rage at the injustices of sleep. And don't get me started on large corporations and universities with massive, outdated entitlement complexes. YouTube to the rescue, and go Jim Dandy. Go, Jim Dandy. Actually, it's Jimmy Buffet. Virtual Vacation. Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes. Click it for a different perspective, unless you happen to be with a bunch of rich bleepa-bleepas on a schooner-sailing cruise in the Caribbean:
I took off for a weekend last month
just to try and recall the whole year.
All of the faces and all of the places,
wonderin' where they all disappeared.

I didn't ponder the question too long;
I was hungry and went out for a bite.
Ran into a chum with a bottle of rum,
and we wound up drinkin' all night.

It's those changes in latitudes,
changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same.
With all of our running and all of our cunning,
if we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane.

These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes,
nothing remains quite the same.
Through all of the islands and all of the highlands,
if we couldn't laugh we would all go insane!

Reading departure signs in some big airport
reminds me of the places I've been.
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
make me want to go back again.

If it suddenly ended tomorrow,
I could somehow adjust to the fall.
Good times and riches and son of a bitches,
I've seen more than I can recall.


I think about Paris when high on red wine,
I wish I could jump on a plane.
And so many nights I just dream of the ocean,
god, I wish I was sailin' again.

Oh, many yesterdays are over my shoulder,
so I just can't look back for too long.
There's too much to see waiting in front of me,
and I know that I just can't go wrong;
with these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes,
nothing remains quite the same.
Through all of the islands and all of the highlands,
if we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane.

Wargame: Consequences Of Bombing Iran, Pt. I

Al C. wrote to remark on my last post, Iraq and How to Win The Mid-East, that he would rather hear about what might really happen than what could ideally under leaders with a lick of sense. Realistically, the Bush Administration has worked itself out of face-saving options in Iraq, and is running out of time before its humiliation is complete. They are entering into a period in which the logic for attacking Iran goes like this: "If not now, never."

This is the same logic the German High Command labored under in the years prior to declaring war in 1914, and as uttered by Helmuth von Moltke. The longer Germany waited, the thinking went, the stronger its enemies and the weaker its position, particularly relative to Russia, worsening with time until there was no prospect of a German victory. Ironically Germany knocked all its adversaries in the East out of the war, but lost in the West, which was not its preferred battleground. Next time, in WWII, the German High Command tried to knock the West out first, before turning to what it still saw as the true evolving threat in the East. However, they felt compelled to attack eastward before they had completed a defeat of England, once again out of fear Russia was too rapidly gaining in relative strength. (It was.) Faced with a Catch-22 they found unacceptable, the German wargamers decided to free themselves from a key constraint, believing a course of aggressive action to be their lowest risk. They were wrong, very wrong. Twice.

This fear of impending failure and associated desperate logic are well known in military affairs and labeled under the "Flucht nach Vorne" (flee forward) conundrum, and it'd be strange if the Bush Administration, the Pentagon, and especially Israel weren't feeling the teeth in this tendency gnaw on their brains day and night. I don't mean to compare the group individually or collectively to the German High Command, they do such a fine job themselves, but to spotlight a powerful planning dilemma. If Iran develops nuclear weapons capability, it at best means the end of American oligarchy in the region, via a Persian balance of power with Israel. Both Israel and Iran are widely seen as willing to use nuclear weapons against each other, so there is the Catch-22. (I don't agree with it, but there it is. I think it's more plausible that Israel finds the prospect of military parity unacceptable, and that BushCo finds the prospect of ceding energy control to market forces unacceptable.) The West's logic is that an Iran led by mullahs must either be stopped from developing any nuclear capacity at all or undergo regime change, and that if neither outcome can be achieved it must be struck first. Reality: there's not going to be a regime change, because Iran is expanding is influence, is not under immediate threat of domestic unrest, and is in an excellent defensive position militarily and politically. They're not going to stop enriching uranium for nuclear energy, at least not at an acceptable price, because it is their right to enrich uranium for nuclear energy as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

I believe the odds of a first strike on Iran during 2007 are greater than 50%. There are many consequences which can be easily projected from such an act, many of them far-reaching and some very dark. Let's for the sake of comfort assume a response would be escalated gradually and not careen immediately out of control into a global nuclear war. I'm fairly optimistic on this point because Russia, Iran, and China all would have a common tormenter conveniently within reach: the US troops, mercenaries, bureaucrats, and facilities in Iraq. Think the Iran Hostage Crisis, magnified a thousand times.

Our high-level planners have little idea how vulnerable Coalition ground forces are in Iraq. In the aftermath of an air assault on Iranian nuclear facilities, ground supply lines in the Shia rump of Iraq would be crimped shut, and the 400-mile supply line running from Kuwait would be immediately cut in numerous places, with columns attacked and plundered. All unarmored vehicles would require heavy escorts, and these would shoot anything which moved. Then bridges would be blown by guerillas, effectively limiting the armored columns to very limited local operation only. Obtaining fuel for vehicles would quickly become a major challenge. After one week, many garrisons would be unable to mount offensive operations, and most would desperately need re-supply even in the absence of any attack. They would need to obtain food from the local populace, another challenge it is hard to imagine would proceed without significant resistance.

Re-supply by air would commence fitfully, with helicopters eventually dispatched to remote bases. Iran can be expected to speedily supply the latest Russian-made MANPAD (shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles) weapons systems to Shia militias. There are already indications sophisticated portable air defense systems are in Sunni hands, as 1 F-16 and four helicopters went down in the Anbar Province during the week of November 27th. The presence of these SAMs in any numbers at all would make re-supply by helicopter no longer be feasible because of unacceptably high loss rates at low altitudes. Within two weeks' time this would force unit consolidation into the largest bases, particularly those bases with air strips allowing more efficient re-supply and with very long lines of sight for defensibility. Few other locations in the country would be safely tenable for long.

Even in the absence of any Iranian "freedom fighter" formations, which would probably be marched in from Iran as a response to a US or Israeli attack on its facilities,
the problem for most of the coalition troops would be balancing the likelihood of prolonged supply interruption with the feasibility of breaking out by pulling a "Thunder Road" over to a larger fortified base. In many cases it would be against orders or infeasible, so some bases could be worn down by simple lack of supply and lack of access. In order to conserve supplies and defensive capacity, smaller garrisons would fortify their positions and cease patrols. For those which obeyed orders and didn't quickly break out, you would begin to see company-level guerilla actions against them. The smaller garrisons would be the first to be cut off, like those of the Danes, Poles, and Brits. Typical evacuation scenarios would probably be columns of humvees and trucks driving into unexpectedly heavy RPG ambushes, or helicopters being shot down while trying to land or take off from a base, with prolonged firefights as air assets are used to secure the area, and then having the process repeat. There are only so many helicopters available, and they are not easily replaced, so the threat of SAMs would result in widespread caution regardless of their actual presence. Many garrisons and columns between them would likely be captured. I can't see how there wouldn't be thousands of captured troops, and indeed that outcome would probably be the primary objective of Iraqi militia and Iranian political activity.

If an overall militia battle plan were decently timed and coordinated, there wouldn't be enough air cover to go around and bases could be directly assaulted and overwhelmed in force, probably at night. Atrocities could well be expected if significant numbers of Iranian civilians had been victims of US or Israeli air attacks, said to be a virtual certainty because of the urban locations of many of their hardened bunkers. However, captured troops are the best protection from retaliatory air attacks, and as hostages would provide very damaging ongoing political effects and a very strong negotiating position. Many Americans, unfortunately, would feel the effects of the Bush Administration's disavowals to honor Article Three of the Geneva Conventions (those pertaining to humane treatment of prisoners and non-combatants) and this would likely pose an immediate and significant threat of rapid escalation on the part of the United States.

In terms of effectiveness, the Iraqis have had a long time to observe coalition tactics, compare response levels and timing, and must be understood to have gained a working sense of how to exploit declining operational capabilities. Fortunately, the Shia militias who would form the backbone of an Iranian response are not as practiced as the Sunnis. Their level of preparation is unknown, but there is significant risk that it is much higher than expected, and levels of unit command and control discipline may be surprisingly high because of their now-routine civil war operations and the widespread Shia penetration of Iraqi Security and Police Forces. These forces were armed and trained by the United States. There is also ample evidence of highly sophisticated tactical thinking in the Iran-Hezbollah cooperation in constructing effective defensive positions in Lebanon; it is unknown if any similar cooperation, in terms of doctrine or tangible aid, has leeched over into Shia Iraq, but the possibility must be allowed for as not being remote. If any of these provisions are true, the above speculations on the speed, severity, and style of a Shia response on coalition forces may tend to be underestimated.

Given what we've seen from the US command structure, it seems likely garrisons would be ordered to remain in place and wait for re-supply, and also likely no Generals in the chain of command would disobey White House orders quickly enough to avoid serious losses and re-deploy vulnerable garrisons into protected and easily supplied positions. Depending on lack of responsiveness, 15-25% of coalition forces and mercenaries in Iraq could easily be lost, primarily through isolation, transportation vulnerability, and capture. This estimate depends far more on the level of preparation in Shia militias, than it does on US or Coalition responses, because of the overwhelming vulnerability of their largely unsecured supply network. Obviously it is my opinion that Iraqi Shia militia preparations and cooperation with Iran have been or will be fairly significant. Only intended as a "Part One," this section focuses solely on military conditions in Iraq following an attack on Iran, and as such ignores possible external effects of local oil facility attacks, military attacks on US Naval ships in the Persian Gulf, and wider escalation such as the closure of oil transportation infrastucture and the Straits of Hormuz, destruction of oil production facilities, and the activation of terrorist cells.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Iraq, And How To Win The Mid-East

There are two ways to get the US out of its jam in Iraq:

1) Leave
2) Stay

Brilliant, ey? Doesn't get any simpler than that. The irony is intended, but there are military solutions to Iraq, real, workable solutions represented by those two most basic approaches. Lest you think it arrogant of me to propose such, I claim my right to do so by the manifest, criminal and repeated failures of the pros and the "experts." Bear with me, because each approach can work, both would marshal largely untapped resources, and neither excludes the other.

Obviously, a gradual draw-down won't help, being merely the catastrophic status quo writ small. The warning phrase the Bushies are so fond of invoking, "make no mistake," applies: the US has been defeated in Iraq. It's a fact. Base and unit-level perimeters have already shrunk dramatically in response to worsening conditions, only Rumsfeld and his cowed careerists never bothered to mention it. The number of bases has shrunk from 110 to 53. This is because the US Command in Iraq is struggling to just keep its supply lines open. Shrinking perimeters during an occupation, although tactically prudent, is ultimately about as effective as Napoleon shrinking Le Grand Armee's perimeter in Russia, and nearly as ominous. A gradual draw-down will allow the insurgents near-complete mastery of the ground, and will probably result in much higher losses on all sides while it occurs.

What if the US had 500,000 combat troops to send? It doesn't. McCain and his new Neocon buddies are suggesting 20-3o,ooo more combat troops will solve the problem. The depths of delusion and depravity which gave vent to that notion deserve public pillory, and it's a measure of our nation's troubles that these nonsense-spewing monsters walk unmolested and unchallenged. Their suggestion is so insultingly ridiculous as to be genuinely sadistic. Listen: even if the US were to institute the draft and sent a million troops in, it would simply aggravate resistance levels because it has by now richly earned either the distrust or hatred of every Iraqi alive, and collectively they'd rather die than live under us. They gave up on polite hints long ago. The US has lost ability to impose its will on Iraq at any force level, and is being ground down through a now rapidly devolving stalemate. Sending more US troops is a waste of lives and economy.

Left to its current trajectory, most of Iraq will become a client state of Iran, with the Sunnis turning to Taliban-like Shariah-preaching warlords to stave off genocide, and the Kurds provoking a war with Turkey, Iran, or both. Can anything work? Yes. Knowledge of political gravity. Judo. Altering Iraq's trajectory in ways which suit US interests can be effected by completely and utterly withdrawing troop presence, or by massive international reinforcement. Neither are sure things, are without question dangerous and hinge on tricky implementation, but they both have a good chance of working. Contrast them with guaranteed failure, and they'll both start looking more attractive. Even to Boosh himself. It'll probably take about a year before the Washington jeniuses are ready, and chances are high Iran will be bombed before then as the compensation for impotence, and as yet an excuse to fiddle with new weapons and air power theories. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Solution One: Leave (And Make It Arabia's Problem)
Shia dominance can be used against it. If we completely pull out of the country, it will create a power vacuum, and power vacuums fill themselves with whatever is available. This one has an ancient religious rivalry surrounding it, and if it is not filled, Sunnis in Iraq face genocide and poverty. The US absence will suck in support from the Saudis and other very rich Sunni nations. This support will rapidly mean heavy weapons and volunteers flowing into and fortifying the Sunni Triangle, and it will mean the re-formation and financing of an outnumbered but technically superior, well-organized army capable of defending itself handily. It will mean humanitarian aid. It will be bloody, but a lot less so than "stayin' the curse" will be, and balance will be achieved. This will work because Iraqi Shias fundamentally don't want to be vassals of Iran. With balance, an oil revenue-sharing sharing deal can eventually be brokered, as recommended by one of the Iraq Study Group points. (If it worked for Alaska, it can work anywhere.)

Solution Two: Stay (And Make It Europe's Problem)
Iraqi oil flows to Europe, as does Iran's. There is another option, and it amounts to widening the conflict in a smart way. In effect, Iraq's future oil production can be used to entice massive reinforcements from Europe, and as window dressing, from the UN. By massive, I mean an international force of close to a million men, with 600,000 troops in-country at all times. French troops. German troops. NATO troops. Maybe even UN troops. Most important is that US troops and flags are not much seen in Iraq for a long time, and that Europe and the World are allowed into Iraq to provide security and humanitarian aid. This will work because it's what the Iraqis actually want. All that's required is to give up the Neocon Dream of direct and sole US control over the world's oil patches; it's abundantly clear now that plan was not a realistic objective, and bringing Old Europe in as a full partner would share the load and salvage an energy destiny for the West.

Neither of these solutions are going to occur soon, if at all. Too much humble pie to choke down. (Funny, you'd think their mouths would be big enough.) Every day which passes decreases the odds of Iraq being recoverable to any solution. Just wanted to go on the record. Even with average leadership, Iraq could still be won.