Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Kyoto Daze Part II: Car & Driver

Welcome to Part II in my amateur series on Kyoto & climate change. Before I get started, I should preface my comments with a disclaimer: I don't even have a driver's license. I've never had to make a tough decision about purchasing a car (even if I had a license, I know I couldn't afford a car right now). Well, taking my comments with a giant-can of salt: what about the cost of cars these days? What can our policymakers do to encourage environmentally-wise choices?

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You might recall some discussion of the 'feebate' option. This fee-for-guzzlers/ rebate-to-high-efficiencies seemed like it was going to gain traction, back in February...but then it was referred to committee, where it was effectively scrapped. I didn't know that it was scrapped until I saw a piece on last night's Canada Now on CBC. [the "Kyoto cars" segment-video is featured on the Canada Now website, for the time being]. In the piece, a well-intentioned Winnipeg'r weighs the purchase of a Toyota Prius against its relatively high cost. She can't quite afford it and can't wait for the long-term fuel-savings to make it affordable for her. You see, the Prius rings-in at nearly $31 000, vs. ~$23 000 for a non-hybrid car of similar size. The Canada Now correspondent tells us that Americans get a $2 000 tax incentive for purchasing such cars.

Right now, there may be some provincial incentives available to you, but they depend on where you live. For e.g., in Ontario, there is a "Tax Credit for Fuel Conservation / Tax for Fuel Conservation" but it isn't very much money. Even a highly efficient car, like a gas/electric hybrid, only guarantees a credit of $186. That said, the taxes owed for driving a highly INefficient SUV can be as high as $3200. That's seems like quite a solid disincentive. Here's the govt. website for calculating your particular vehicle's fuel consumption and and here's where you can go to figure out which incentives/rebates are available in your neck-of-the-woods (car, home, etc.). Want to see how cars stack up? Here is EnerGuide's 2005 list of the most fuel-efficient cars. Note: they're not all hybrid models!

I'm sure most of you have heard about "biodiesel." Biodiesel is a fuel derived from plants like canola and soy, i.e. completely renewable and it burns much cleaner than gas and 'normal' diesel. Now, it seems like Canada could really make a go of this, with all of our canola fields. So what's holding us back? Well, here's one problem:
Most of Canada's exportable canola supplies are purchased by Japan. The remainder of the crop is crushed for domestic consumption or export, primarily to the United States. Biodiesel production in Canada would require displacement from higher priced food uses.
But Europe's managed to expand its use of biodiesel. Even the US is forging ahead, using biodiesel in an increasing number of city bus fleets. This, despite the awesome lobbying power of its petroleum industry! And no, in case you're wondering, your car wouldn't necessarily smell of french-fries :) That would drive me nuts. [Kind of like that time our family's dog got a bit of turkey-drippings on his head (he was hovering too close to my mother while she was transplanting the turkey from the roaster to the serving-dish). As much as we tried to wash the grease off of his fur, he was tormented by phantom turkey smells for days!]

I just learned the difference between "biodiesel" and using "straight vegetable oil" today:
SVO is just that - nothing but pure vegetable oil. The term "biodiesel" usually refers to alkyl ester (usually methyl ester). These esters are derived from vegetable oil. The sticky glycerine (glycerol) component of the original triglyceride (vegetable oil) is replaced with another alcohol component via the process known as transesterification. [the alcohol component is either methanol or ethanol] [...] Biodiesel making requires these chemicals, their mixture, to make a catalyst, safe heat sources, a mixer/processor of some sort, and finding some way to use the glycerol (approx. 15% glycerol is obtained from each batch). [...] SVO use, by contrast to biodiesel, requires a heated fuel system, and most often a second fuel tank and filter, to be able to start the engine, move the SVO from tank, through fuel lines, filter, injection pump and injectors, as well as to accomplish the best atomization within the engine (lowest emissions, and least likely to cause harm to the engine).
One problem for non-truck drivers is finding a diesel-capable car. From what I can gather, only Volkswagen & Mercedes manufacture passenger cars that can be modified for SVO or biodiesel. Still, can you imagine how much better it would be to have our city buses and trucks running on biodiesel? Downtown T.O. would smell a whole lot sweeter. Have you heard of any plans to re-fit buses in your city? I'd love to hear about it, so please leave a comment and I'll list them in a future post. Next up: Kyoto Daze Part III: A Mighty Wind.

Read on, MacDuff!

Kyoto Daze Part I: Canadian Policy & Politics

Welcome to my hamfisted (but multi-part!) series on climate change. This "Kyoto Daze" series was inspired by two current-events: The United Nations Climate Change Conference (28 Nov- 9 Dec, in beautiful Montréal), and the looming Federal election. In Part I, I'll make a quick survey of Canada's current level of environmental stewardship. As with the rest of my 'series,' this summary will be incomplete; I welcome any & all additions, admonitions, and feedback.

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As you're no doubt aware, Federal Environment Minister Stéphane Dion is presiding over the Montréal UN Climate Change Conference. For all the Liberal party's faults in this portfolio (and I'll definitely get to those!), Dion has been an incredibly active and Min. Environment: pushing-back against American proposals to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and, now, trying to bring the behemoth-to-the-south into some kind of agreement on climate change. From today's TorStar:
On Monday, Dion called climate change "the single most important environmental issue facing the world." Agreement is crucial, he said. "At the end of the conference we'll see the outcome. I don't underestimate the differences of view." And he described himself as a bridge-builder who could bring the opposing sides together. [...] Observers said U.S. delegates were using procedural moves to stall the talks. Making matters worse, other countries — including Italy, Portugal and Finland — that also oppose mandatory targets are hiding behind the United States, letting it take the heat but making prospects for a deal more bleak, said Bill Hare, climate policy director with Greenpeace International. [...] Dion has suggested here, in careful diplomatic language, that the solution might be a two-track system. [...] There is lots of good will but still a lot of work to be accomplished, an aide to Dion said in the midst of his long day of talks yesterday.
Dion is indeed gaining an international reputation as grand-mediator. From the Nov 27 New York Times:
Mr. Dion, a mild-mannered man who wears a windmill pin on his lapel, has been credited by many environmentalists for his diplomatic skills with China, India and the Bush administration. He has pushed for international efforts to increase innovation like hydrogen fuel cells and methods for capturing carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, before it is emitted from smokestacks. "What Canada will attempt to do is reach a rapprochement," he said.
Even Elizabeth May (Sierra Club of Canada) has taken a shine to Dion, of late. So much so that she fumed about the timing of the election call:
"It's unfortunate. I sort of feel like saying "a plague on all their houses for allowing this to happen," said Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club of Canada, who noted that three of the four major political parties endorse Kyoto. "Allowing an election to happen now only serves the ends of people who don't want to see progress made under the Kyoto Protocol, so you have to say it's unfortunate that we've come to this." She said that Mr. Dion is "irreplaceable" because of the work he's done on the international scene, meeting with the heads of delegations and preparing the groundwork for the conference. "It is an extremely important point that the domestic political situation in Canada should not intrude on the success of global negotiations of unparalleled importance," she said.
This is consistent with an earlier SCC news release issued by Elizabeth May, just before the government fell:
"It is hard to imagine how the conference will make progress in the immediate chaos of an election campaign,” said Ms. May. "There is no time to lose in broadening the Kyoto commitments to more nations. We are not worried about the timing of an election, but for this one issue. Do not bring down the government until December 8th. It is hard to have respect for any of the parties when they play political games with our children's future," she added.
SCC's recent comments are particularly interesting when you consider their 2004 Election report card. The Liberal Party only ranked 3rd in their evaluation of the National Parties, with a "B" grade: (1) New Democratic Party A+, (2) Bloc Quebecois A; Green Party A, (3) Liberal Party B, and (4) Conservative Party D-
You can read the full 2004 SCC Report Card here (including comments and responses from most of the parties). Naturally Harper's 2004 plan received the most stinging rebuke. Here's an excerpt from the summary (on how the other 3 parties differed):
The Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party Platforms are clearly the strongest. In terms of climate change, the language of the Bloc Quebecois platform is the most forceful of any party platform, including the Green platform. The policy prescriptions to meet Kyoto are quite similar. The NDP, the Bloc and the Greens all propose an emissions trading system for carbon dioxide within a cap. The NDP and the Bloc both favour regulating fuel economy standards for automobiles. The Liberal plan calls for the same level of improvement, but relies on voluntary methods.[...] the strongest set of environmental promises come from the New Democratic Party. The Bloc Quebecois lost points for its support for the asbestos industry and for reluctance to complete the national park system and protect endangered species due to jurisdictional concerns. The Liberals picked up points for strong commitments to completing the national park system, but provided status quo answers on support for the nuclear industry, biotechnology, and asbestos.
So what's happened since the 2004 election? Did the minority government deliver and put their money where their mouth was? Sorta...almost...ok, not really. This is what was promised in the April amendments to the budget (the Lib/NDP deal):
$1 billion over half a decade – will go into a Clean Fund [...Under the Liberal-NDP deal, the budget will include another $900 million for the environment, with one more cent of the federal gas tax going to public transit. The money will go to buying emission reductions from Canadians, industry and projects in other countries involving Canadian companies.]
[...] $225 million to expand the EnerGuide retrofit incentive program for houses. Ottawa said the money, which will flow over five years, would bump the total number of retrofits across the country to 500,000 homes by 2010. The federal government has also reserved $200 million to stimulate the use of wind power to generate electricity. About $300 million will go to the Green Municipal Fund, which is run by the Canadian Federation of Municipalities. The fund supports projects such as deep water-cooling systems for commercial buildings, and more efficient water and sewage treatment facilities.
Here's the really bad news: Canada's emissions have increased...a lot! What happened? From the G&M:
Canada has vowed to cut its emissions by 6 per cent from its 1990 level over the period from 2008 to 2012, but its emissions by the end of 2003 were up 24 per cent. Federal Environment Minister Stéphane Dion attributes Canada's rise partly to robust economic growth. The economy has grown by 43 per cent since 1990. Canada is also being saddled with emissions from the booming energy industry, which is exporting record amounts of oil and gas to the United States.
Yeah, what about that oily elephant in the room, the 'Berta oil sands? Or those deals with refiniries? Don't think those have gone unnoticed in international circles. Again, here's the NY Times' Clifford Krauss:
The oil production from oil sands - a far higher emitter of pollution than conventional oil production - is estimated to triple from the current one million barrels a day by 2015 and sextuple by 2030. Canada's target has been made all the more difficult to reach by government arrangements with oil refineries and other large industries to reduce their annual emission cuts to 36 million metric tons from the 55 million metric tons first planned.
So, what do you think? Will the "E" word be a big issue, this federal election? It's definitely crept up the priority-list, if last night's CBC Environics poll is any indication. Of course, we're bound to be exposed to a lot of hot-air in the days ahead. Next up: Kyoto Daze Part II: Car & Driver.

Read on, MacDuff!

Monday, November 28, 2005

The coming air-raids (Seymour Hersh's latest)

Seymour Hersh has another blockbuster out today, in The New Yorker. "Up in the Air" dispels the myth that Bush will begin substantial withdrawal of US forces from Iraq anytime soon. I believe Condi Rice attempted to float that on a recent TV appearance. What's more, it appears as though the "plan" is to supplant American boots-on-the-ground with heavier US air-support for the Iraqi 'army'. That means much more bombing. Here are some key excerpts from Hersh's piece:
A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President’s public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.

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[...] Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding. Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that “God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that “he’s the man,” the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reëlection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose. The former senior official said that after the election he made a lengthy inspection visit to Iraq and reported his findings to Bush in the White House: “I said to the President, ‘We’re not winning the war.’ And he asked, ‘Are we losing?’ I said, ‘Not yet.’ ” The President, he said, “appeared displeased” with that answer. “I tried to tell him,” the former senior official said. “And he couldn’t hear it.”
[...] Many of the military’s most senior generals are deeply frustrated, but they say nothing in public, because they don’t want to jeopardize their careers. The Administration has “so terrified the generals that they know they won’t go public,” a former defense official said. A retired senior C.I.A. officer with knowledge of Iraq told me that one of his colleagues recently participated in a congressional tour there. The legislators were repeatedly told, in meetings with enlisted men, junior officers, and generals that “things were fucked up.” But in a subsequent teleconference with Rumsfeld, he said, the generals kept those criticisms to themselves.
So what do you think Bush thought of Congressman Jack Murtha--an erstwhile hawk--and his proposal for beginning a staged troop withdrawal?
Murtha’s call for a speedy American pullout only seemed to strengthen the White House’s resolve. Administration officials “are beyond angry at him, because he is a serious threat to their policy—both on substance and politically,” the former defense official said. [...] “The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,” the former defense official said. “He doesn’t feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’ ” He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. “They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,” the former defense official said.
And what of Syria?
Meanwhile, as the debate over troop reductions continues, the covert war in Iraq has expanded in recent months to Syria. A composite American Special Forces team, known as an S.M.U., for “special-mission unit,” has been ordered, under stringent cover, to target suspected supporters of the Iraqi insurgency across the border. (The Pentagon had no comment.)

Read on, MacDuff!

Best bottom-hitting story ever :)

Please forgive me but I have to post this story from AP (via Morning Sedition radio): "Flight diverted after passenger smokes, urinates in aisle":
A United Airlines flight was diverted to Charlotte after a passenger lit a cigarette, argued with a flight attendant, then urinated in the plane's aisle, the airline said. [...] The man was taken into custody by federal authorities, Charlotte/Douglas International Airport director Jerry Orr said.
[...] Flight attendants noticed that the man appeared drunk not long after the plane left Orlando, Urbanski said. He later lit a cigarette and began to argue with a flight attendant who asked him to put it out, she said. He obeyed, but when the flight attendant walked away, he stood up and urinated, Urbanski said.

Read on, MacDuff!

Ignatieff fall-oot

I think I've made my feelings about Ignatieff known so I won't use this post as yet another opportunity to decry (a) the occupation of Iraq or (b) torture. {Shorter Hope & Onions: Iraq war bad; torture bad.} It suffices to say that "Iggy" clearly has a lotta s'plainin to do before he'll endear himself to most Canadians.

Well, it looks like he's starting to respond to yesterday's demonstration outside the Etobicoke/ Lakeshore Federal Liberal Riding Association:
Ignatieff talks about the diversity of the Etobicoke-Lakeshore — which is heavily Ukrainian and Eastern European — and points out that he has taken his children to visit the sites where Ukrainian-Canadians were interned during World War I, and that his own ancestors are buried in Ukraine. But that may not be sufficient argument for those who are complaining that he is being parachuted into the riding.
My facile prediction: expect more stories and hand-on-heart remembrances of Ukrainians. Expect more fine-tooth-combing through Iggy's many books and articles. So what does Ignatieff want to accomplish, exactly? According to the Star:
The two issues he cares about most are bringing diversity into Canadian politics and national unity. Not just Quebec; the fractures and tensions can be seen across Canada. "The challenge is to fashion a new language of national unity," he said, adding, keeping the country together was the primary responsibility of the federal government.
Ok. I'll bite: What does he mean by "a new language of national unity?" As for "diversity," isn't Ignatieff a middle-age white dude? Of course he is...but it seems an odd thing for him to drop "diversity" in the middle of an interview about his own candidacy.

Wait: before you go, Mike, can't we pleeeeease have a bit of your signature fake-modesty? Oop...wait for it...wait for it:
"I'm succeeding a popular MP, an MP who's been an icon to her community, an MP with a tremendous rapport in her riding," he said. "Who the hell am I?"

Read on, MacDuff!

Another Time mag. reporter testifies--Rove in more trouble?

Viveca Novak, a Time magazine reporter, has testified before the CIA leak grand jury. This is the 2nd Time mag reporter to testify regarding chief WH aide Karl Rove and his role in the leak of a CIA agent's secret identity. Novak was asked to testify about her conversations with Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin. Time says that Viveca Novak is cooperating with the prosecutor. Viveca is not related to Robert "prince of darkness" Novak--the man who actually printed the CIA agent's identity in July 2003.

In other CIA leak 'news,' Harry Shearer has outdone himself: the longtime voice of the Simpsons put on quite the performance last week! Shearer has a regular radio show on KCRW called "Le Show." Towards the end of his Nov 20th show, Shearer played both Larry King & Bob Woodward in a special "Preview" of the actual CNN interview that aired on the 21st. I would hasten to add that Shearer's version was far more illuminating than the actual King/Woody interview :)

Read on, MacDuff!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Deepening crisis in Kashmir

As an earthquake hit China today--and another earthquake hit Iran, it seemed important to check-up on the relief-efforts relating to the enormous disaster in Kashmir. Over 86 000 have died so far--and experts are bracing for thousands more unless efforts are stepped-up to provide shelter and aid to the millions of homeless who are living in the isolated mountain villages.

From the CBC:
More than 40,000 Pakistani earthquake survivors could soon be flooding into the city of Muzaffarabad from their mountain villages, a top United Nations official warned Thursday. [...] Many of the injured were living in remote Himalayan villages cut off from aid supply routes and help has been slow to reach them. Local officials have told Guterres [UNHCR] they expect a mass migration from the communities within weeks. Aid workers are building more tent camps to accommodate them near Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
As many as three million people lost their homes in the disaster, which came just weeks before deep winter snows were expected to cut off transportation routes.
The UK Observer: describes the nature & pace of relief (hint: not nearly good enough!):

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...a senior Nato official on the ground warned that half of the 70,000 seriously injured in October's earthquake that hit Pakistan and Kashmir may not survive the winter. 'The extent of the catastrophe we found there is unimaginable,' said Portuguese Lieutenant-Colonel Mario Lemos Pires, who is responsible for the Nato rescue operation. According to Lemos Pires, the Nato Reaction Force of 1,000 soldiers has completed 135 helicopter missions in the areas most affected by the quake and transported some 2,000 tonnes of food and other aid to the victims of the disaster. 'If the level of aid to the population is kept up and if media coverage continues', the 2.8 million to 3.2 million people without shelter may survive, with some difficulty, the harsh winter weather,' he said.
The warnings were echoed by top UN official Jan Vandemoortele, who called on the international community not to neglect the millions affected by the 8 October earthquake. There is concern that focus is shifting away to long-term reconstruction and rehabilitation. 'It is important to start building new hospitals and schools as soon as possible, but it's most urgent to save the lives of thousands of children who could then make use of these schools,' he said. Though the UN and humanitarian agencies have appealed for $550m to help the quake survivors, less than half this has been raised and many lives remain at risk.
Here is a valuable first-person account of the scene on the ground--including life in the 'camps'--from Dublin's Simon Roughneen, media officer for the humanitarian organisation GOAL:
During a three-hour drive from Bagh, a city where 75 percent of buildings were destroyed, to Muzafferabad, scene of 90 percent destruction, we saw countryside of almost ethereal beauty. But just about every building within view has been ruined. This same countryside will be a solid white landscape in two or three weeks. Temperatures will drop to minus 10 degrees or maybe minus 15 degrees Celsius (5-14 degrees Fareinheit). Many roads will be impassable. [...] The snow promises imminent death to those who cannot get adequate shelter. People are constantly telling us about their attachment to this area, to their home place, their land and their livestock. We delivered a variety of shelter materials to village areas at heights of 7,200 feet (2,200 meters), part of an overall programme to feed and shelter over 100,000 people.
The idea is to allow people to remain in their home area if possible, if they wish to do so. If people congregate in camps, though some are organised and well-run, the challenges posed by the winter will be compounded by communicable disease, social tensions, and domestic and sexual violence. Life will be tough enough for these people as things are. As Mohammed Iqbal, who lost his wife and two daughters in the earthquake, said: “If we have enough shelter, tents, blankets, tin sheets, we can manage.” Timber is available on the tree-covered slopes, and people have access to home-grown foodstuffs to complement the flour, oil, pulses that they receive from agencies. But that “if” applies to so many people, and with the slow response and continued lack of funding of the relief effort generally, it really is a big “if” for many of the vulnerable.
You can find regular updates on the state-of-relief from Reuters' Alertnet "South Asia Earthquake" page. It appears that Reuters has a South Iran Earthquake page as well.

Read on, MacDuff!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Haiti confusion

What's going on down there, in Haiti? It appears that the Dec 27 election date has been postponed until January 8, 2006. And some of that pre-Canadian-election spending money is earmarked for Haiti: "On Friday, the government announced a $33 million aid package to support justice, health and education."

As I admitted last month, I am really confused about Canada's (and the UN's) mission to Haiti. I'm not really sure if we're helping or hurting. The 'Canada Haiti Action Network' recently held protests in Ottawa and Winnipeg about Canada's involvement. Among their complaints:
Discontinue all RCMP training and logistical support for the human rights-abusing Haitian National Police, and withdraw all Canadian logistical support for the UN “peacekeeping” mission-turned repression operation
To be sure, there have been reports of repression and barbaric acts committed by the police against Aristide-supporters (police trained by whom? I don't know for certain). I'm still not even sure how all of this started.

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Democracy Now interviewed Aristide as he escaped/exiled (?) from Haiti, last winter. Aristide insisted that it was a US-sponsored 'coup.' This version of events is strongly rejected by the US and its UN allies in Haiti (incl. Canada, France, Chile, etc.). Even Amnesty Intl's official take on Aristide's departure is that it happened under "disputed circumstances." In the interim, there has been a great deal of anti-Aristide/anti-Lavalas "score settling": some Aristide supporters (e.g. Father Gerard Jean-Juste) have been hunted down and imprisoned without trial. Crazy violence, too.

I remain completely confused about the turn of events and don't know what really happened or what Canada's doing there. If we're really helping, then great: let us know what's going on and why it's important to stay. If we're hurting, then you'd better let us know about that too. And by "you," I mean our media. The real reporters with the taperecorders and travel budgets...and maybe even some journaMAlistic experience :)

Just to illustrate why I'm so confused---and I realize I may just be "dim"--I'll leave you with a snippet from this Tuesday's Democracy Now. At the end of an interview with Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (former aide to Colin Powell), Amy Goodman pressed him about the circumstances of Aristide's departure:

AMY GOODMAN: [...] What do you know of what happened February 29th, 2004, when the Aristides were forced out of the country?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I will have to tell you that I think Secretary Powell saved a great many lives on both sides, if there are two sides. There are more than two sides in Haiti. Secretary Powell was all for and was pushing hard for some sort of reconciliation, some sort of reconciliation where we could recognize the democratically elected government of Aristide and Aristide could himself step back from the brink, a brink that he had been largely responsible for creating, and things could improve in Haiti and the government that was in existence at that time could continue in office.
Once our ambassador, Ambassador Foley, who was one of the people who changed my opinion forever about the foreign service -- our ambassador in Liberia did the same thing for me in Monrovia, such brave people. They're braver than people I have even known sometimes in combat. And Ambassador Foley, at great risk to himself, personal risk, counseled President Aristide, talked with President Aristide, confronted him with the situation that Aristide was going to meet on the morn, so to speak, confronted him with the devastation that was likely to take place, and President Aristide, to his credit, made the decision to take Ambassador Foley's offer and to leave the country.
I know he said a thousand things different from that in the subsequent weeks and months and years, but this was a situation fraught with all kinds of chaos, and Secretary Powell and the United States government and our ambassador in Haiti, in particular, did a marvelous job, I think, under the circumstances, of preventing what could have been widespread bloodshed and getting Aristide out of the country.
One testimony to that was the fact that even though on the surface we had had all of these rancorous relations, supposedly, with France, much on the part of Secretary Rumsfeld’s having stiffed the French on almost everything they wanted to do in the way of military liaison and so forth, the French were willing to come in and help us with the situation in Haiti and to provide troops for stabilizing that situation, because they, too, understood how desperate the situation was.
[...] AMY GOODMAN: This all happened after the Aristides left. Why not bring in these forces before? We were only talking about a couple of hundred thugs that were moving in on the capital?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Aristide was the focal point. Aristide was the person who needed to be removed from Haiti, and even he understood that. In the conversation he had with our ambassador, he understood that. He knew that he was the lightning rod, and that if he didn't remove himself from the island, there was going to be a lot of bloodshed.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, he would contest every point.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Of course, he would.
AMY GOODMAN: I went to the Central African Republic, and he told the story of basically what he described as being forced out of Haiti at the time, that you had this small group – I mean, these were not a large number of people – small group, known killers, people like Jodel Chamblain, who was found guilty of murder in absentia for the murder of the Justice Minister, Guy Malary, in 1993; Antoine Izmery. These were people who were known -- certainly Colin Powell also knew them -- had been back during the first coup, had been there negotiating with those involved in the coup. This was not the overall sentiment of the Haitian people, and he said it was the U.S. that pressed him to leave, that pushed him out, that put him onto this plane with U.S. military and security. He had no idea where was going until he was dumped in the Central African Republic.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I can’t imagine a man like Aristide, whose will to power is excessive, even obsessive, saying anything differently. Colin Powell, as you said, did know the situation in Haiti, probably as well as anyone in America. Colin Powell made the decision based on our ambassador in Haiti's very clear presentation of the circumstances, and the President made the decision ultimately, and it was a good decision, and I would stand by that decision.
Haiti is a situation that picks at all our hearts all the time. Haiti is right next to being a failed state. And because of its proximity to the United States, we know what that failure means. And Haiti is not apparently capable of coming out of that situation. It's a situation that, as I said, drags at all our hearts, but in this particular instance, I think a good decision was made, a decision that prevented further bloodshed that would have been widespread had it not been made.
AMY GOODMAN: Why say that the president, Aristide, had an obsession with power? This was a man who was the democratically elected president of Haiti, certainly got a higher percentage of the vote than President Bush got in this country.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Please, don't refer to the percentage of vote as equatable to democracy, as equatable to the kinds of institutions we have reflecting democracy in America. Hitler was elected by popular vote.
AMY GOODMAN: I spoke to the head of the Steele Foundation. That was the American foundation that provided the security for the people around President Aristide, who was not allowed to send in reinforcements. Again, since we're talking about such a small group of people who are moving in on the capital, the Steele Foundation felt he could be secured, but the U.S. government stopped Aristide's own security from being able to come in.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Aristide felt like he couldn't be secured. That's the only -- I was privy to the cables that come in from our ambassador. I was privy to some of the information that the secretary let me know about what was happening down there in terms of telephone calls and so forth. Aristide made the decision deep into the night that his life was in danger and that the bloodshed that would occur would probably fall at his feet, and so Aristide made a mutual decision with our ambassador to leave the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Why would --
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Despite what he says now, that's what the record reflects.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I don't doubt he felt threatened, but he felt threatened, as Kenneth Kurtz said, who was the head of the Steele Foundation, on our program, that they were not allowed to bring in the security. Why wouldn't the U.S. government allow the security to be brought in? This was the president of the country.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: That's a question you should address to George Bush, because I'm unfamiliar with the circumstance you're talking about. I know about all of the elements that were converging. I know about all of the different elements that Aristide had excited to converge. I don't know this story about private security people, who were willing to come in at the last moment and guard Aristide. I heard some information to that effect after the situation occurred, but I am unable to comment on that with any accuracy, because I'm not familiar with exactly what you are talking about.
AMY GOODMAN: And Gerard Latortue, the person who was put in charge in Haiti and his connection to the United States, how he was chosen?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: That’s a process that unfolded after Aristide was removed, and again, I don't have any profound insights into that.

Read on, MacDuff!

Truck envy :)

It's official: I have the sense of humour of a 12 yr old boy:
"It's a stretch: Man pulls truck with penis"
Grandmaster Tu Jin-Sheng, best known for his Iron Crotch, attached himself not once, but twice, to a rental moving truck and pulled it several yards across a parking lot in Fremont. In lace-up leather boots and a black tank top, the 50-year-old tied a strip of blue fabric around the base of his penis and testicles and tugged to make sure it was on tight. An assistant kicked him hard between the legs before he lashed himself to the vehicle.
He groaned, grunted and pressed against two men for resistance.
Then, slowly, the truck began to roll forward...[click here for the full article]

Read on, MacDuff!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Acolytes, careerists and true believers: Resurrecting the old cabal

Sidney Blumenthal's latest Salon piece on Cheney is very timely indeed. Although Blumenthal follows the career arc of Cheney in particular, there are a great deal of other co-conspirators and hangers-on who are tarred by association. What emerges from the piece is a portrait of Cheney as the 30 year amasser-of-executive-privilege. Bruce Shapiro alluded to this in his 2002 piece, "Restoring the imperial presidency." [the accompanying 1975 photo of Cheney & Rumsfeld is courtesy of this particular article]
Blumenthal chronicles Cheney's long-push toward "untrammeled" and "unaccountable" executive power and includes the following milestones:

Milestone #1: Cheney's experience in the Nixon White House, as Rumsfeld's assistant (Rummy was Nixon's counselor); Cheney ascended to deputy WH chief of staff after Ford became president. Cheney was tasked by Rumsfeld to deal with intelligence matters and attempted to retaliate against journalist Seymour Hersh for his 1975 NYT expose of CIA abuses--even threatening to have Hersh's apartment searched by the FBI! {Sidenote: Hersh told Amy Goodman that he didn't discover this 'plan' himself until the year 2000. Some Newsweek dudes discovered the Cheney/Rumsfeld memos (and their rebuke from the Dept. of Justice) during an examination of Gerald Ford's library-documents.}

[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]

Milestone #2: Strongarming Pres. Ford into abandoning the Kissinger policy of détente with the Soviets (Ford was a lot more moderate on cold-war issues than either Cheney or Rumsfeld). Cheney & Rumsfeld "undermined the negotiations for a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty being conducted by Kissinger." Later, at the next Republican Party Convention, Cheney midwived Reagan's more "muscular" foreign policy into the party platform--much to the dismay of Ford, Kissinger and Rockefeller (VP). Displeased with the "anti-détente" attitudes of the CIA, the director, William Colby was replaced with the eminently pliable George HW Bush.

Milestone #3: In tandem with the neutered CIA, Cheney & Rumsfeld authorized a shadow intelligence unit known as "Team B." (Think "Office of Special Plans"!). If you've seen the documentary "The Power of Nightmares," you'll recognize that name. As Doug Feith's "Office of Special Plans" was tasked with constructing a pro-Iraq-invasion intelligence estimate, Team B was tasked with constructing a pro-escalation/pro-StarWars intel estimate. This "intelligence" was bound to portray the Soviet Union as having amassed far more weapons than previously thought by the CIA--weapons that were so secretive as to be undetectable. {In the PoN documentary, you hear a 1976-Rumsfeld stating that the Soviets had been "very, very busy" in a manner similar to his pre-Iraq assertions about Saddam's "stockpiles" and "arsenals."} Paul Wolfowitz was tapped to coauthor Team B's report. It was "cleansed of contrary intelligence.":
It was fundamentally a political tool in the struggle for control of the Republican Party, intended to destroy détente and aimed particularly at Kissinger. Both Ford and Kissinger took pains to dismiss Team B and its effort. (Later, Team B's report was revealed to be wildly off the mark about the scope and capability of the Soviet military.)
With Ford's defeat, Team B became the kernel of the Committee on the Present Danger, a conservative group that attacked President Carter for weakness on the Soviet threat. The growing strength of the right thwarted ratification of SALT II, setting the stage for Reagan's nomination and election.
So, even while out of power during the Carter administration, the hawks remained hard at work; kind of like what happened during Clinton's admin. Just replace the "Committee on the Present Danger" with the "Project for a New American Century"!

Milestone #4: During this late-70s 'power outage,' Cheney moved on to become a congressman and leader on the House Intelligence Committee. During the Iran-Contra investigation, Cheney actively blocked the Democrats and protected VP George HW Bush from being questioned by the congressional committee.

Milestone #5: When VP Bush became President GHW Bush, Cheney was tapped as Sec. Defense. In turn, Cheney hired Wolfowitz as his undersecretary & Libby (Wolfowitz's former pupil) became Deputy undersecretary. All three men found themselves at odds with then Gen. Colin Powell during the buildup to the first Gulf war. Cheney set up a new Team B to be kept secret from Powell and for the express purposes of developing his own war plan. He ordered Wolfowitz: "Set up a team, and don't tell Powell or anybody else."
The plan was called Operation Scorpion. "While Powell was out of town, visiting Saudi Arabia, Cheney -- again, without telling Powell -- took the civilian-drafted plan, Operation Scorpion, to the White House and presented it to the president and the national security adviser," writes Mann in his book. Bush, however, rejected it as too risky. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf was enraged at Cheney's presumption. "Put a civilian in charge of professional military men and before long he's no longer satisfied with setting policy but wants to outgeneral the generals," he wrote in his memoir. After Operation Scorpion was rejected, Cheney urged Bush to go to war without congressional approval, a notion the elder Bush dismissed.
And now?
Within the White House, the office of the vice president is the strategic center. The National Security Council has been demoted to enabler and implementer. Systems of off-line operations have been laid to evade professional analysis and a responsible chain of command. Those who attempt to fulfill their duties in the old ways have been humiliated when necessary, fired, retired early or shunted aside. In their place, acolytes and careerists indistinguishable from true believers in their eagerness have been elevated.
So there you have it. Erstwhile servants of the state--the career bureaucrats and non-partisan experts--have been dismissed and/or smeared. The word "oversight" is a quaint anachronism that has since been scrubbed from the American lexicon (like so much unwanted-intelligence). For Cheney & Bush, it's 'you & me against the world, baby!'--a kind of Vulcan Thelma & Louise. Hold on tight, brothers: your car is definitely headed over the cliff.

Read on, MacDuff!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Harper: Dryden is soft on fingerpainters

Ok, I joke...Harper didn't say that. But he might :) Harper is the gift that keeps on giving, in this regard: humourless, angry, and so uncomfortable around people that it's a wonder he got into politics at all.

Case in point: the kiddies. Politicians can't resist being photographed with the l'il ones. How many times have we seen Martin (and lately, Dryden) sitting down with classfulls of children. It's a nobrainer photo-op: the contrast of the 50-something guy in a suit sitting cross-legged on the floor, and getting mobbed by giggly children. The politico is inevitably giggly too and *snap* you've got yerself a "policy" for childcare/daycare.

Now, of course the Grits are trotting out the ex-NHL'er, Ken Dryden, to advertise "new" money for childcare. We can debate the merits & opportunism of this another time. What really caught my eye was this: there was a quick bit of footage last night on The National of Dryden visiting a classroom full of children and he looked...happy. I know, I know, 'big fucking deal,' right? Well, it reminded me of David Olive's devastating June 2005 profile of Stephen Harper:
Alarmed by the positive poll readings Martin garnered recently from his encounters with pre-voting-age Canadians who appear to enjoy the Prime Minister's company, Harper's handlers arranged a photo-op of their own at a Wallaceburg, Ont., rehab centre for children.
But the Tory leader was miscast for the assignment. He watched silently, not knowing what to say to these kids. Until, that is, one of the finger-painting toddlers leaned toward his tailored suit.
"Don't touch me," Harper said.
Harper: He's God's (or Calgary's) Angry Man.

Read on, MacDuff!

Just like mother's milk

Yecchh...I mean, 'Yak' :)
Just catching up on Dan Froomkin's blog on the WaPo site when I noticed this:
Christopher Cooper writes in the Wall Street Journal: "President Bush once again touted his war policy, hailing the 'stunning transformation' of Iraq. Nearly as stunning was an overseas audience that offered not a single catcall -- and instead broke into the kind of rhythmic applause often heard at rock concerts. . . .
"Mr. Bush wasn't able to avoid was a sip of the local specialty -- fermented mare's milk -- even though he's a teetotaler."
Incidentally, according to the Web site, fermented mare's milk has an alcoholic content of about three percent.
Man, that's a long way from the guy who didn't even have a passport until he was president; who's appreciation for foreign culture was limited to doin' shooters at Senor Frog's down in Cabo St. Lucas. [And yes, my source for that is David Cross :)]

Read on, MacDuff!

Sept 21, 2001 PDB: No Iraq/Al Qaeda link

Murray Waas of the National Journal reports that US President Bush knew that there were no "significant ties with Al Qaeda" and Saddam Hussein on September 21, 2001. This intelligence came to Bush in the form of his "President's Daily Brief" or "PDB." The PDB also included the assessment that Saddam was, in fact, monitoring Al Qaeda himself, and wanted to infiltrate the ranks of Al Qaeda with Iraqi operatives (out of fear for his own regime). So...who else may have been briefed on the contents of this particular PDB?:
The highly classified CIA assessment was distributed to President Bush, Vice President Cheney, the president's national security adviser and deputy national security adviser, the secretaries and undersecretaries of State and Defense, and various other senior Bush administration policy makers, according to government records.
But surely the Senate Intel Cmte. has seen the exact same intelligence that the President saw. Right? Well, funny story:
The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the White House for the CIA assessment, the PDB of September 21, 2001, and dozens of other PDBs as part of the committee's ongoing investigation into whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information in the run-up to war with Iraq. The Bush administration has refused to turn over these documents.
This must be the "Phase II" of the Senate investigation on pre-war intelligence (you know, the one that was rained-out due to Republican control; Phase I was completed last summer, back when Republican Senators were in full CYA (and CYB'sA) mode. Anyway...back to Waas' findings:
Indeed, the existence of the September 21 PDB was not disclosed to the Intelligence Committee until the summer of 2004, according to congressional sources. Both Republicans and Democrats requested then that it be turned over. The administration has refused to provide it, even on a classified basis, and won't say anything more about it other than to acknowledge that it exists.

[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]
Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass.) is trying to get an amendment passed so that they can see the PDB. While we're waiting for hell to freeze over, can the Gentlemen & Ladies of the Senate at least press the CIA to cough up the goods, independently? Uh...
The conclusions drawn in the lengthier CIA assessment-which has also been denied to the committee-were strikingly similar to those provided to President Bush in the September 21 PDB, according to records and sources. In the four years since Bush received the briefing, according to highly placed government officials, little evidence has come to light to contradict the CIA's original conclusion that no collaborative relationship existed between Iraq and Al Qaeda. "What the President was told on September 21," said one former high-level official, "was consistent with everything he has been told since-that the evidence was just not there."
Needless to say, the CIA dudes must be pissed! If I were getting blamed for this, I know I'd feel like leaking. *nudge* Hey, how 'bout it guys! A l'il ol leak? A bit of sumpin-sumpin? Let's not forget how aggressively these ridiculous Al Qaeda/Saddam "links" were trumpetted to a frightened American citizenry. Cheney was by far the worst offender in this regard. Waas remembers:
The most explosive of allegations came from Cheney, who said that September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, the pilot of the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center, had met in Prague, in the Czech Republic, with a senior Iraqi intelligence agent, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, five months before the attacks. On December 9, 2001, Cheney said on NBC's Meet the Press: "[I]t's pretty well confirmed that [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in [the Czech Republic] last April, several months before the attack." Cheney continued to make the charge, even after he was briefed, according to government records and officials, that both the CIA and the FBI discounted the possibility of such a meeting. {emphasis mine}
And the 9/11 commission--for all of its whitewash--did point out this grievous error. Waas continues:
Regarding the alleged meeting in Prague, the commission concluded: "We do not believe that such a meeting occurred." Still, Cheney did not concede the point. "We have never been able to prove that there was a connection to 9/11," Cheney said after the commission announced it could not find significant links between Al Qaeda and Iraq. But the vice president again pointed out the existence of a Czech intelligence service report that Atta and the Iraqi agent had met in Prague. "That's never been proved. But it's never been disproved," Cheney said.
Libby Waas goes on to describe how Libby Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. bypassed the CIA to get the "goods" about Al Qaeda/Hussein. The intelligence stovepipe took the form of the Office of Special Plans, run by Douglas Feith. reminds us that we're gonna need another investigation:
Earlier this month, on November 14, the Pentagon's inspector general announced an investigation into whether Feith and others associated with the covert intelligence unit engaged in "unauthorized, unlawful, or inappropriate intelligence activities." In a statement, Feith said he is "confident" that investigators will conclude that his "office worked properly and in fact improved the intelligence product by asking good questions."
Remember Wolfowitz? What was that guy up to?! Well, turns out Wolfowitz was working with Cheney et al. to actively discredit or devalue the CIA:
On July 22, 2002, as the run-up to war with Iraq was underway, one of the Naval Reserve officers detailed to the unit sent Feith an e-mail saying that he had just heard that then-Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz wanted "the Iraqi intelligence cell … to prepare an intel briefing on Iraq and links to al-Qaida for the SecDef" and that he was not to tell anyone about it. After that briefing was delivered, Wolfowitz sent Feith and other officials a note saying: "This was an excellent briefing. The Secretary was very impressed. He asked us to think about possible next steps to see if we can illuminate the differences between us and CIA. The goal was not to produce a consensus product, but rather to scrub one another's arguments." [...] The Pentagon unit also routinely second-guessed the CIA's highly classified assessments. Regarding one report titled "Iraq and al-Qaeda: Interpreting a Murky Relationship," one of the Naval Reserve officers wrote: "The report provides evidence from numerous intelligence sources over the course of a decade on interactions between Iraq and al-Qaida. In this regard, the report is excellent. Then in its interpretation of this information, CIA attempts to discredit, dismiss, or downgrade much of this reporting, resulting in inconsistent conclusions in many instances. Therefore, the CIA report should be read for content only-and CIA's interpretation ought to be ignored."
Again, you have active efforts to discredit/devalue the CIA. Now that's balls! Hey: you don't suppose this'll have any bearing on the CIA leak investigation? You know, that "perverted war" Libby complained about to Judy Miller: Libby believed that the CIA was trying to pin the bad WMD intel on the White House and wanted them punished. Waas reports:
This same antipathy toward the CIA led to the events that are the basis of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity, according to several former and current senior officials. [...] They viewed Wilson's outspoken criticism of the Bush administration as an indirect attack by the spy agency. Those grievances were also perhaps illustrated by comments that Vice President Cheney himself wrote on one of Feith's reports detailing purported evidence of links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. In barely legible handwriting, Cheney wrote in the margin of the report:
"This is very good indeed … Encouraging … Not like the crap we are all so used to getting out of CIA."

Read on, MacDuff!

The PR that midwife'd the war

Just an update to my earlier post on The Rendon Group. Amy Goodman conducted an in-depth interview with James Bamford on Monday. Bamford wrote a piece in Rolling Stone on The Rendon Group--the PR group hired by the CIA to sell every American war since Panama (with the exception of Somalia). The transcript of Goodman's Democracy Now interview is available (as is the video & mp3 segment).
Bamford also expanded on Rendon's role in "media mapping" and the early days of the Pentagon's "Office of Strategic Influence":
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, it’s a very interesting area, this media mapping. And basically, what it is, is [Rendon was] directed to take a close look at the actual reporters who were reporting the news and analyze them. What is their slant? What is their bias? What is the background for these people? What makes that very worrisome is that there was another group that was set up by the Pentagon, Office of Strategic Influence, and that was eventually closed down, but one of the things –
AMY GOODMAN: Forced to because it became public?

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JAMES BAMFORD: That's right, when it became knowledge, and one of the aspects was that they were going to plant phony stories in news organizations around the world, and when you plant a phony story in a news organization anywhere in the world today, I mean, it’s immediately accessible to people in the United States. So, it would have had a very bad blowback effect.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, I remember when Rumsfeld closed it. He said, ‘Yeah, we may change the name, but it doesn't mean we have to stop doing what we are doing.’
JAMES BAMFORD: Exactly. And a lot of people believed that it sort of disappeared and then emerged secretly again someplace else in the Pentagon.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you say that was Douglas Feith's organization?
JAMES BAMFORD: Yes, Feith, Douglas Feith, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy set up that organization.
AMY GOODMAN: And it’s now being investigated.
JAMES BAMFORD: Yes, that's right, and again, as soon as the – I think it was The New York Times came out with the story on it. And as soon as that happened, it was within weeks that Donald Rumsfeld closed it down, at least said he closed it down, or at least took that name away from it. But one of the aspects of that was to actually look very secretly at these journalists around the world, and that’s what’s worrisome, when you do media mapping. How far do you go? And what are you going to do with the journalists? And at the time, the Pentagon was claiming that Al-Jazeera was aiding the enemy, aiding the Iraqi government – actually, I'm sorry, aiding the insurgency and so forth. So, it’s a very dangerous situation when you have part of the U.S. government acting secretly to do something about foreign media that may end up deceiving U.S. media back in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you write, “The secret targeting of foreign journalists may have had a sinister purpose. Among the missions proposed for the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence was one to coerce foreign journalists and plant false information overseas, secret briefing papers also said that the office should find ways to punish those who convey the wrong message. One senior officer told CNN the plan would formalize government deception, dishonesty and misinformation.” Punish, coerce, how?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, I don't know. That's as far as the information we have been able to obtain has come out. But when you talk about ‘punish’ and ‘coerce’, I mean, they’ve got very, I think, ominous definitions to them. How do you punish and coerce a foreign journalist? So, the Office of Strategic Influence was closed down. Whether that aspect of it was also done away with, nobody knows at this point. John Rendon, during the interview, said his office, or his company, was not involved with the Office of Strategic Influence.
The NY Times reported the emergence of the Office of Strategic Influence, shortly after 9/11. The outcry over a 'Voice of America' aimed at Americans themselves created an outcry and the name was rescinded. In November 2002, US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said:
I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I'll give you the corpse. There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.

[Thanks to The Center for Cooperative Research for the NYT & DOD links]. Former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith was responsible for setting up both the Office of Strategic Influence & the Office of Special Plans. The latter was tasked with stovepiping all of the 'intelligence' that Cheney wanted and was the only 'intelligence' agency to insist on that ridiculous Al Qaeda/Saddam/911 link. Kristina Borjesson does an excellent job tracing the history of Cheney's Iraq-intel abuse.

Read on, MacDuff!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Interview with Bob Baer (Syriana)

Ex-CIA spook, Robert Baer was interviewed on Morning Sedition radio, Monday morning. The new movie Syriana is based on his book, See No Evil. You can podcast the show here (Baer's interview is in the last 1/3 of the November 21st show). Syriana is due for wide release on Dec 9th.

Baer had some interesting insight into the current morale at the CIA and--more importantly--he had some thoughts on Iraq:
BAER: I'm being flooded by phone calls--not from the media--but from CIA people leaving... They hate the torture, they don't want to be blamed for Iraq...CIA knows it's getting nailed for WMD...It's mad at George Tenet for giving into the WH when Cheney went back and said "Give me the intelligence I want." Everybody inside knows the stuff on WMD was bogus and they're mad about it. And the place is further demoralized.
[Marc Maron asks if the WH bullying of the CIA on intel has worked; if the CIA has been cowed]

BAER: The great irony is now that the CIA started saying in October in official assessments that we cannot win the war in Iraq and no one's listening. Can never win it. Of course, the WH is ignoring it. There's nothing we can do, no strategy, no change that's going to make any difference.... They don't hate our culture, they hate our politics...
Incidentally, if you're a fan of Morning Sedition, you can sign the petition to keep Marc & Mark on the air. I can't believe their new CEO doesn't like them :( Definitely the best show on AAR. I love Janeane but she's hardly on anymore, 'cause of the West Wing.

Read on, MacDuff!

Monday, November 21, 2005

What 80 pounds'll buy you :)

No joke: this is the new UK Home Office's public-service 'ad' against "drunk and disorderly" behaviour. That, my friends, is a whole lotta bangers 'n mash! [Thanks to Green Carpet for the tip]

Read on, MacDuff!

Guevara Redux?

This Sunday's NY Times Magazine contained a very lengthy profile of Evo Morales, the man expected to win the Dec 18 presidential elections in Bolivia. Here are a few highlights:
Morales is the first full-blooded Aymara, Bolivia's dominant ethnic group, to make a serious run for the presidency, which is in itself testimony to the extraordinary marginalization that Bolivian citizens of pure Indian descent, who make up more than half of the population, have endured since 1825, when an independent Bolivia was established.
[...]How seriously to take Morales's tough talk about drug "depenalization" and nationalization of natural resources - oil, gas and the mines - is the great question in Bolivian politics today. Many Bolivian observers say they believe that MAS is nowhere near as radical as its rhetoric makes it appear. They note that conservative opponents of Brazil's current leftist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also predicted disaster were he to be elected, but that in office Lula has proved to be a moderate social democrat. And MAS's program is certainly much more moderate than many of its supporters would like. Washington, however, is not reassured. Administration officials are reluctant to speak on the record about Morales (the State Department and Pentagon press offices did not reply to repeated requests for an interview), but in private they link him both to narco-trafficking and to the two most militant Latin American leaders: Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's leftist populist military strongman, and Fidel Castro.
Chávez? Castro? Uh oh...just add "bin Laden" and you got yerself a Washington-hat-trick!

[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]

Michael Shifter, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy group in Washington, and one of the shrewdest and most experienced American observers of Latin America, told me that he has been struck by the depth of conviction in Washington that Morales is dangerous. "People talk about him as if he were the Osama bin Laden of Latin America," Shifter told me, adding that, after a recent lecture Shifter gave at a military institution, two American officers came up to him and said that Morales "was a terrorist, a murderer, the worst thing ever." Shifter replied that he had seen no evidence of this. "They told me: 'You should. We have classified information: this guy is the worst thing to happen in Latin America in a long time."' In Shifter's view, there is now a tremendous sense of hysteria about Morales within the administration and especially at the Pentagon.
But Morales is only a part of the incredible groundswell of anti-globalization sentiment in Latin America:
The left is undergoing an extraordinary rebirth throughout the continent; Castro's survival, Chávez's rise, the prospect that the next president of Mexico will be Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftist mayor of Mexico City, and the stunning trajectory of Morales himself all testify to that fact. Pardo-Maurer is right that Morales's success reflects both Bolivia's current dire economic conditions and the perception of the indigenous majority that it is finally their time to come to power. But it is also a product of the wider popular mood in Bolivia and, for that matter, in much of contemporary Latin America.
[...] Many Bolivians, and certainly almost all MAS supporters, are more than prepared to blame the Americans for much of what went wrong during what Roberto Fernandez Téran, the economist from the University of San Símon, described to me as "the lost decade of the 1980's and the disappointments of the 1990's." A joke you hear often in Bolivia these days sarcastically describes the country's political system as a coalition between the government, the international financial institutions, multinational corporations and la embajada - the U.S. Embassy. But while it would be unwise to underestimate the force of knee-jerk anti-Americanism in Latin America, the ubiquitousness of leftist sentiments in Bolivia today has more to do, as Joseph Stiglitz points out, with the complete failure of neoliberalism to improve people's lives in any practical sense. It is almost a syllogism: many Bolivians believe (and the economic statistics bear them out) that the demands by international lending institutions that governments cut budgets to the bone and privatize state-owned assets made people's lives worse, not better; the Bolivians believe, also not wrongly, that the U.S. wields extraordinary influence on international financial institutions; and from these conclusions, the appeal of an anti-American, anti-globalization politics becomes almost irresistible to large numbers of people.

On pinning Bolivia's hopes & dreams on Morales:
Even without apparent resources, MAS is surging, and the most recent polls put Morales ahead of his two principal rivals. Yet many Bolivians, including some who are sympathetic to MAS, say privately that Morales remains something of an unknown quantity. Shifter suggested to me that Morales is "still a work in progress," and a number of well-informed Bolivians I met agreed. The problem, of course, is that given the severity of the Bolivian crisis, the militancy of so much of the population and the impossibly high level of expectations that a MAS government would engender among Bolivia's poor and its long-marginalized indigenous populations, there is very little time.

Read on, MacDuff!

"When things turn weird, the weird turn pro": The man who marketed Chalabi Inc.

The author of "A Pretext for War," James Bamford has a new blockbuster article in Rolling Stone. It's about The Rendon Group--a PR company that received $16 Million from the Pentagon to market the invasion of Iraq. The firm, headed by John Rendon, was tasked with manufacturing the cassus belli for the invasion: in a nutshell, Rendon provided the glue that linked Ahmad Chalabi, Judith Miller, Paul Moran (an Australian freelancer who died during the 2003 invasion), and a Kurdish defector, al-Hadeiri {emphasis mine}:
Although Rendon denies any direct involvement with al-Haideri, the defector was the latest salvo in a secret media war set in motion by Rendon. In an operation directed by Ahmad Chalabi -- the man Rendon helped install as leader of the INC [Iraqi National Congress] -- the defector had been brought to Thailand, where he huddled in a hotel room for days with the group's spokesman, Zaab Sethna. The INC routinely coached defectors on their stories, prepping them for polygraph exams, and Sethna was certainly up to the task -- he got his training in the art of propaganda on the payroll of the Rendon Group. According to Francis Brooke, the INC's man in Washington and himself a former Rendon employee, the goal of the al-Haideri operation was simple: pressure the United States to attack Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein.
As the CIA official flew back to Washington with failed lie-detector charts in his briefcase, Chalabi and Sethna didn't hesitate. They picked up the phone, called two journalists who had a long history of helping the INC promote its cause and offered them an exclusive on Saddam's terrifying cache of WMDs.

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For the worldwide broadcast rights, Sethna contacted Paul Moran, an Australian freelancer who frequently worked for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. [...] "We were trying to help the Kurds and the Iraqis opposed to Saddam set up a television station," Sethna recalled in a rare interview broadcast on Australian television. "The Rendon Group came to us and said, 'We have a contract to kind of do anti-Saddam propaganda on behalf of the Iraqi opposition.' What we didn't know -- what the Rendon Group didn't tell us -- was in fact it was the CIA that had hired them to do this work."
The INC's choice for the worldwide print exclusive was equally easy: Chalabi contacted Judith Miller of The New York Times. Miller, who was close to I. Lewis Libby and other neoconservatives in the Bush administration, had been a trusted outlet for the INC's anti-Saddam propaganda for years. Not long after the CIA polygraph expert slipped the straps and electrodes off al-Haideri and declared him a liar, Miller flew to Bangkok to interview him under the watchful supervision of his INC handlers. Miller later made perfunctory calls to the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, but despite her vaunted intelligence sources, she claimed not to know about the results of al-Haideri's lie-detector test. Instead, she reported that unnamed "government experts" called his information "reliable and significant" -- thus adding a veneer of truth to the lies. Her front-page story, which hit the stands on December 20th, 2001, was exactly the kind of exposure Rendon had been hired to provide. AN IRAQI DEFECTOR TELLS OF WORK ON AT LEAST 20 HIDDEN WEAPONS SITES, declared the headline.
Well, we all know how that worked out. The rest of the article chronicles the utterly-fascinating career of John Rendon. What popped out at me was the incredible right-turn he made from his early beginnings in political adsmanship:
To explain his philosophy, Rendon paraphrased a journalist he knew from his days as a staffer on the presidential campaigns of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter: "This is probably best described in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, when he wrote, 'When things turn weird, the weird turn pro.'"
So what happened to this erstwhile peacenik?
Rendon is one of the most influential of the private contractors in Washington who are increasingly taking over jobs long reserved for highly trained CIA employees. [...] Originally an opponent of the Vietnam war...he boasted openly of the sweep and importance of his firm's efforts as a for-profit spy. "We've worked in ninety-one countries," he said. "Going all the way back to Panama, we've been involved in every war, with the exception of Somalia."
[...] Rendon's first experience in the intelligence world, in fact, came courtesy of the Republicans. "Panama," he says, "brought us into the national-security environment." In 1989, shortly after his election, President George H.W. Bush signed a highly secret "finding" authorizing the CIA to funnel $10 million to opposition forces in Panama to overthrow Gen. Manuel Noriega. Reluctant to involve agency personnel directly, the CIA turned to the Rendon Group. Rendon's job was to work behind the scenes, using a variety of campaign and psychological techniques to put the CIA's choice, Guillermo Endara, into the presidential palace.

HW Bush was so pleased with Rendon's work that he re-hired him for the 1991 Gulf War:
What the Kuwaitis wanted was help in selling a war of liberation to the American government -- and the American public. Rendon proposed a massive "perception management" campaign designed to convince the world of the need to join forces to rescue Kuwait. Working through an organization called Citizens for a Free Kuwait, the Kuwaiti government in exile agreed to pay Rendon $100,000 a month for his assistance. [...] Once the Gulf War began, he remained extremely busy trying to prevent the American press from reporting on the dark side of the Kuwaiti government, an autocratic oil-tocracy ruled by a family of wealthy sheiks.
[...] After Iraq withdrew from Kuwait, it was Rendon's responsibility to make the victory march look like the flag-waving liberation of France after World War II. "Did you ever stop to wonder," he later remarked, "how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American -- and, for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries?" After a pause, he added, "Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs then."
Footnotes: (A) Is this Rendon guy a variation on the "Economic Hitman" archetype? i.e. instead of outsourcing loan-sharks, is this a type of oursourcing of CIA-style jackals? If so, I wonder why this Rendon's providing his fingerprints. (B) Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (Colin Powell's former aide) disclosed that he had read James Bamford's book, A Pretext for War. Wilkerson has been speaking out a great deal, particularly viz Cheney, Rumsfeld, torture and the manipulation of intelligence (CNN Late Edition interview video; his 'cabal' speech at the New America Foundation here; interview on PBS Newshour here).

Read on, MacDuff!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Torture is the new...uh...torture

Human rights activists and torture-victims will be ramping up the pressure on the US Congress to close down the infamous "School of the Americas." This is an American-run military school that has been long suspected of including torture in its curriculum. Military spokesmen maintain that torture is not included. Maybe it's just "extra credit"? From the AP:
The demonstrations are held each November to mark the Nov. 16, 1989, slayings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter in El Salvador. A congressional task force found that some of the soldiers responsible for the massacre had been trained at the School of Americas, which moved to Fort Benning from Panama in 1984.
With the veritable flood of evidence of torture in Afghanistan, Gitmo and Iraq--never mind the rendition**--organizers of this year's anti-SOA protests are hoping for a big turnout:
Roy Bourgeois, a Catholic priest, founded the group in 1990 in an attempt to come to grips with the violence he had witnessed as a Naval officer in Vietnam and especially as a priest working with the poor in Bolivia in the 1980s. "What I and others hope to accomplish is that our efforts will somehow help relieve the suffering of other people," Bourgeois said. "We're here trying to love and support people of other countries who are victims of the training at this school we're trying to shut down and our country's foreign policy."
[...] "Torture is a hot issue now," he said. "It has been a common part of our foreign policy. When I was in Vietnam, it was common knowledge that torture was used. When I was in Bolivia ... a lot of political prisoners that I and others visited in these prisons were being tortured. This was coming from ... the Bolivian military that we supported and that dictatorship."
Citing the so-called torture manuals discovered in the 1990s, Bourgeois said torture was part of the School of Americas' curriculum. U.S. military officials, however, deny that the books were ever an official part of the training or that the school ever advocated human rights abuses. [...] A bill introduced this year by U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., calls for the closing of the school, an evaluation of the training and an investigation to determine who created the torture manuals, how the manuals were used and how they might have influenced students.
**"Never Mind the Rendition" is not to be confused with the (unsuccessfully) pitched Bruce Willis TV-drama of the same name.

Read on, MacDuff!

You should try their fingertraps, Mr. President

From the BBC: "Door thwarts quick exit for Bush" (AP photo, via BBC):
President George W Bush tried to make a quick exit from a news conference in Beijing on Sunday - only to find himself thwarted by locked doors. The president strode away from reporters looking annoyed after one said he appeared "off his game". President Bush tugged at both handles on the double doors before admitting: "I was trying to escape. Obviously, it didn't work." [...] Mr Bush answered a range of questions before one reporter said: "Respectfully, sir - you know we're always respectful - in your statement this morning with President Hu, you seemed a little off your game, you seemed to hurry through your statement. There was a lack of enthusiasm. Was something bothering you?"
The president answered: "Have you ever heard of jet lag? Well, good. That answers your question." The reporter asked for a follow-up question but the president then thanked the attending journalists and said: "No you may not."
But hold-up a second: perhaps I'm misunderestimating him again. Maybe this was Bush's oblique way of answering requests for an exit strategy. After all, he keeps hammerin' away at the 'it's not an exit strategy; it's a success strategy'. If so, it works about as well as Kramer's mail-man dummy with the bucket on his head:
Kramer, handing out anti-mail pamphlets: "Here you go. Mail is evil. Pass it on. Hey, mail blows. Fax it to a friend."
Woman: "Why does this dummy have a bucket on its head?"
Kramer: "Because we're blind to their tyranny."
Woman: "Then shouldn't you be wearing the bucket?"
Kramer: "Yeah. Move along, Betty."
Naaah...that would be too shrewd. This is more like it:
Elaine: Perhaps there's more to [Newman] than meets the eye.
Jerry: No, there's less.
Elaine: It's possible.
Jerry: No it isn't. I've looked into his eyes. He's pure evil.

Read on, MacDuff!

Moyers on...well, on everything

I miss Bill Moyers. I know he's not dead or anything, but I definitely miss seeing him every week on "NOW." While I'm waiting for him to come out of retirement, I satisfy myself with the odd article or speech. And Moyers has made some absolute barn-burners, lately. You can find most of them here]. In his latest, he tackles journalism, the newest fiery "Christo-crat" and the hostile corporate gutting of America. Although his remarks were composed specifically for the 50th Anniversary of The Texas Observer--an independent, muck-raking paper that brings us Molly Ivins!--some of what he had to say was too gorgeous and perfect not to share. It's really, really long though, so I'll try to provide the best excerpts: Setting The Record Straight, by Bill Moyers {emphasis mine}
... McCarthyism was a raging plague in the 1950s and the virus rampaged across Texas like tumbleweeds in a wind storm. The legendary Maury Maverick Jr. was in the legislature at the time, one of the “Gashouse Gang” that fought bravely against the poison of the era. He said these were “the worst years” in his life. “The lights were going out” and few voices were raised in protest. The low point, said Maverick, came when the state Senate passed a bill to remove all books from public libraries which “adversely” reflected on American and Texas history, the family and religion. Even the state teachers association endorsed the bill, in exchange for a pay raise. Maverick voted against it, but walking back to his apartment that evening he was suddenly overwhelmed by the evil of what was happening, and he “vomited until flecks of blood came up.”
[...] Just sample the legacy [of The Texas Observer]: In these pages 40 years ago, Dugger called on liberals to remember our commitment to personal liberty, personal love, personal joy and pain. He urged us to listen to the critique of big government—“It is big, it is impersonal, it is confused” —and to be vigilant in the name of the lone individual:

“We must test our system, not by whether we get to the moon, but by whether a man [or woman] can freely and fully express himself here on earth; not by whether we are ahead in weapons, but by whether we are ahead in real room to be free and alive…to be ourselves.”
[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]

[...] Consider the scene just a few weeks ago when [Texas] Gov. Perry, surrounded by cheering God-folk, showed up at a pep rally in Fort Worth for yet another cleverly staged bashing of gay people, contrived to keep the pious signed on for the culture war so they won’t know they are losing the class war waged against them in Austin by the governor and his rich corporate patrons. The main speaker was none other than the Rev. Rod Parsley of Ohio. Keep your eyes on Rev. Parsley. He is the new incarnation of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, that devout duo who channeled Elmer Gantry into a new political religion driven by an obsession to punish people on account of sex. Parsley runs a multimillion-dollar-a-year televangelism ministry based in Columbus, Ohio, with access worldwide to 400 TV stations and cable affiliates. He describes himself as neither Republican nor Democrat but a “Christo-crat” —a gladiator for God marching against “the very hordes of hell in our society.” But he shows up with so many Republicans that he has been publicly described as the party’s “spiritual advisor.”

The “advice” he offers is the same old stuff peddled by Robertson and Falwell in their own rise to the top of the dung heap of religious bigotry and bile. Parsley demonizes other faiths (“The god of Islam and the god of Christianity are not the same being”) and rouses the partisan faithful to fever pitch by tossing them the red meat of radical disinformation: “The church in America is under oppression.” “The separation of church and state is a lie perpetrated on Americans—especially on believers in Jesus Christ.” So intense is his scapegoating of gays that one cannot help but think of the 1930s when the powerful and the pious in Germany demonized Jews and homosexuals in order to arouse and manipulate public passions. Watching the two of them together, you have to wonder if Gov. Perry and Rev. Parsley have ever read a history book detailing how Heinrich Himmler organized a special section of the Gestapo to deal with homosexuality and abortion, exhorting his country to remember that “Germany’s forebears knew what to do with homosexuals. They drowned them in bags.” You want to believe the governor and the preacher are surely ignorant of such horrors, horrors you know they would never condone, but
you want to grab them by the lapels and shake them and tell them their loathing of other people is the kindling of evil.

[...] Everything President George W. Bush knows, he learned here, as the product of a system rigged to assure the political progeny needed to perpetuate itself with minimum interference from the nuisances of liberal democracy. You remember liberal democracy: the rule of law, the protection of individual and minority rights, checks and balances against arbitrary power, an independent press, the separation of church and state. As governor, Bush was nurtured by the peculiar Texas blend of piety and privilege that mocks those values.
With the election of 2000, he and his cohorts arrived in Washington like atheists taking over the Vatican; they had come to run a government they don’t believe in.

[...] Much has been made of the president’s inept response to Hurricane Katrina. His early response was to joke the fun he had as a frat boy in now-grieving New Orleans. When a reporter pressed him on what had gone wrong after the hurricane struck, he sarcastically asked: “Who says something went wrong?” His attitude would surprise no one who read the 1999 profile of Bush by a conservative journalist who reported how the then-governor had made fun of Karla Fay Tucker’s appeals to be spared the death penalty. The journalist—a conservative, remember —wrote that Bush mocked and dismissed the woman, like him a born-again Christian, as he depicted her begging him, “Please don’t kill me!” But this is not what she had said. Bush made it up.

Such contempt for other people’s reality is embedded in a philosophy hostile to government except as an instrument of privilege and patronage. [...] Hurricane Katrina uncovered what the progressive advocate Robert Borosage calls the “catastrophic conservatism” of the long right-wing crusade to denigrate government, ‘starve the beast,’ scorn its purposes and malign its officials. We are seeing the results of an economic policy focused on top-end tax cuts and deregulations to reward private investors, as opposed to public investments in the country’s vital infrastructure. [...] We are seeing now the results of systemic and spectacular corruption and cronyism and the triumph of a social ideal—
the “You get yours/I’ll get mine” mentality—that is diametrically opposed to the ethic of shared sacrifice and responsibility.

[...] This is what you get from people who don’t believe in government except to aggrandize their own privilege. It wasn’t the lack of resources that prevented the administration from responding effectively to the [Katrina] disaster. The Washington Post’s Bill Arkin, among others, reminds us that the federal government had water, medicine, food and security at hand, in addition to the transportation needed to get it down to the coast in a hurry. The problem was “leadership, decisiveness, foresight.” And this goes to the core of the radical right’s atheist-in-the-Vatican philosophy:
Denounce the government you now run, defang its powers and dilute its responsibilities, and direct the spoils of victory to your cronies in the private sector.

Read on, MacDuff!