Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Sami al-Haj walks with pain on his steel crutch; almost six years in the nightmare of Guantanamo have taken their toll on the Al Jazeera journalist and, now in the safety of a hotel in the small Norwegian town of Lillehammer, he is a figure of both dignity and shame. The Americans told him they were sorry when they eventually freed him this year - after the beatings he says he suffered, and the force-feeding, the humiliations and interrogations by British, American and Canadian intelligence officers - and now he hopes one day he'll be able to walk without his stick.
The TV cameraman, 38, was never charged with any crime, nor was he put on trial; his testimony makes it clear that he was held in three prisons for six-and-a-half years - repeatedly beaten and force-fed - not because he was a suspected "terrorist" but because he refused to become an American spy. From the moment Sami al-Haj arrived at Guantanamo, flown there from the brutal US prison camp at Kandahar, his captors demanded that he work for them. The cruelty visited upon him - constantly interrupted by American admissions of his innocence - seemed designed to turnal-Haj into a US intelligence "asset".
"We know you are innocent, you are here by mistake," he says he was told in more than 200 interrogations. "All they wanted was for me to be a spy for them. They said they would give me US citizenship, that my wife and child could live in America, that they would protect me. But I said: 'I will not do this - first of all because I'm a journalist and this is not my job and because I fear for myself and my family. In war, I can be wounded and I can die or survive. But if I work with you, al-Qa'ida will eliminate me. And if I don't work with you, you will kill me'."
The grotesque saga began for al-Haj on 15 December, 2001, when he was on his way from the Pakistani capital Islamabad to Kandahar in Afghanistan with Sadah al-Haq, a fellow correspondent from the Arab satellite TV channel, to cover the new regional government. At least 70 other journalists were on their way through the Pakistani border post at Chaman, but an officer stopped al-Haj. "He told me there was a paper from the Pakistani intelligence service for my arrest. My name was misspelled, my passport number was incorrect, it said I was born in 1964 - the right date is 1969. I said I had renewed my visa in Islamabad and asked why, if I was wanted, they had not arrested me there?"
Sami al-Haj speaks slowly and with care, each detail of his suffering and of others' suffering of equal importance to him. He still cannot believe that he is free, able to attend a conference in Norway, to return to his new job as news producer at Al Jazeera, to live once more with his Azeri wife Asma and their eight-year old son Mohamed; when Sami al-Haj disappeared down the black hole of America's secret prisons the boy was only 14 months' old.
Al-Haj's story has a familiar ring to anyone who has investigated the rendition of prisoners from Pakistan to US bases in Afghanistan and Guantanamo. His aircraft flew for an hour and a half and then landed to collect more captives - this may have been in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital - before flying on to the big American base at Bagram.
"We arrived in the early hours of the morning and they took the shackles off our feet and pushed us out of the plane. They hit me and pushed me down on the asphalt. We heard screams and dogs barking. I collapsed with my right leg under me, and I felt the ligaments tearing. When I fell, the soldiers started treading on me. First, they walked on my back, then - when they saw me looking at my leg - they started kicking my leg. One soldier shouted at me: 'Why did you come to fight Americans?' I had a number - I was No 35 and this is how they addressed me, as a number - and the first American shouted at me: 'You filmed Bin Laden.' I said I did not film Bin Laden but that I was a journalist. I again gave my name, my age, my nationality."
After 16 days at Bagram, another aircraft took him to the US base at Kandahar where on arrival the prisoners were again made to lie on the ground. "We were cursed - they said 'fuck your mother' - and again the Americans walked on our backs. Why? Why did they do this? I was taken to a tent and stripped and they pulled hairs out of my beard. They photographed the pupils of my eyes. A doctor found blood on my back and asked me why it was there. I asked him how he thought it was there?"
The same dreary round of interrogations recommenced - he was now "Prisoner No 448" - and yet again, al-Haj says he was told he was being held by mistake. "Then another man - he was in civilian clothes and I think he was from Egyptian intelligence - wanted to know who was the "leader" of the detainees who was with me. The Americans asked: 'Who is the most respected of the prisoners? Who killed [Ahmed Shah] Massoud ([the leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance Afghan militia]?' I said this was not my business and an American soldier said: 'Co-operate with us, and you will be released.' They meant I had to work for them. There was another man who spoke perfect English. I thought he was British. He was young, good-looking, about 35-years-old, no moustache, blond hair, very polite in a white shirt, no tie. He brought me chocolate - it was Kit Kat—and I was so hungry I could have eaten the wrapping."
On 13 June, al-Haj was put on board a jet aircraft. He was given yet another prison number - No 345 - and once more his head was covered with a black bag. He was forced to take two tablets before he was gagged and his bag replaced by goggles with the eye-pieces painted black. The flight to Guantanamo took 12 to 14 hours.
"They took us on a boat from the Guantanamo runways to the prison, a journey that took an hour." Al-Haj was escorted to a medical clinic and then at once to another interrogation. "They said they'd compared my answers with my original statement and one of them said: 'You are here by mistake. You will be released. You will be the first to be released.' They gave me a picture of my son, which had been taken from my wallet. They asked me if I needed anything. I asked for books. One said he had a copy of One Thousand and One Nights in Arabic. He copied it for me. During this interview, they asked me: 'Why did you talk to the British intelligence man so much in Kandahar?' I said I didn't know if he was from British intelligence. They said he was.
"Then after two months, two more British men came to see me. They said they were from UK intelligence. They wanted to know who I knew, who I'd met. I said I couldn't help them." The Americans later referred to one of them as "Martin" and they did not impress al-Haj's senior interrogator at Guantanamo, Stephen Rodriguez, who wanted again to seek al-Haj's help. "He said to me: 'Our job is to prevent "things" happening. I'll give you a chance to think about this. You can have US citizenship, your family will be looked after, you'll have a villa in the US, we'll look after your son's education, you'll have a bank account'. He had brought with him some Arabic magazines and told me I could read them. In those 10 minutes, I felt I had gone back to being a human being again. Then soldiers came to take me back to my cell - and the magazines were taken away."
By the summer of 2003, al-Haj was receiving other strange visitors. "Two Canadian intelligence officers came and they showed me lots of photos of people and wanted to know if I recognised them. I knew none of them."
In more than 200 interrogations, al-Haj was asked about his employers the Al Jazeera television channel in Qatar. In one session, he says another American said to him: "After you get out of here, al-Qa'ida will recruit you and we want to know who you meet. You could become an analyst, we can train you to store information, to sketch people. There is a link between Al Jazeera and al-Qa'ida. How much does al-Qa'ida pay Al Jazeera?"
"I said: 'I will not do this - first of all because I'm a journalist and this is not my job. Also because I fear for my life and my family.'"
Many beatings followed - not from the interrogators but from other US guards. "They would slam my head into the ground, cut off all my hair. They put me into the isolation block - we called it the 'November Block' - for two years. They made my life torture. I wanted to bring it to an end. There were continual punishments without reason. In interrogations, they would tighten the shackles so it hurt. They hadn't allowed me to receive letters for 10 months - even then, they erased words in them, even from my son. Again, Rodriguez demanded I work for the Americans."
In January of last year, Sami al-Haj started a hunger strike - and began the worst months of his imprisonment. "I wanted my rights in the civil courts. The US Supreme Court said I should have my rights. I wanted the right to worship properly. They let me go 30 days without food - then I was tied to a chair with metal shackles and they force-fed me. They would insert a tube through my nose into my stomach. They chose large tubes so that it hurt and sometimes it went into the lung. They used the same tube they had used on other prisoners with muck still on it and then they pumped more food into me than it was possible to absorb. They told us the people administering this were doctors - but they were torturers, not doctors. They forced 24 cans of food into us so we threw up and then gave us laxatives to defecate. My pancreas was affected and I had stomach problems. Then they would forbid us from drinking water."
Al-Haj says he completed 480 days of hunger strike by which time his medical condition had deteriorated and he was bleeding from his anus. That was the moment his interrogators decided to release him.
"There were new interrogators now, but they tried once more with me. 'Will you work with us?' they asked me again. I said 'no' again - but I thanked them for their years of hospitality and for giving me the chance to live among them as a journalist. I said this way I could get the truth to the outside world, that I was not in a hurry to get out because there were a lot more reporters' stories in there." They said: 'You think we did you a favour?' I said: 'You turned me from zero into a hero.' They said: 'We are 100 per cent sure that Bin Laden will be in touch with you...' That night, I was taken to the plane. The interrogators were watching me, hiding behind a tennis net. I waved at them, those four pairs of eyes."
The British authorities have never admitted talking to Sami al-Haj. Nor have the Canadians. Al Jazeera, whose headquarters George Bush wanted to bomb after the invasion of Iraq, kept a job open for Sami al-Haj. But Prisoner No 345 never received an official apology from the Americans. He says he does not expect one.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Wall Street ideologues have been gambling our money and screwing us all. Now is a chance to correct their excesses
By Ian Williams27/09/08 "The Guardian'
As the all-too-often selectively quoted Adam Smith actually said: "All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind."
No one can say that current events are a one-off. The get-government-out-of-business brigade, the masters of the universe, have in their three decades of unbridled power produced the savings and loan bail-out, the Mexican bond bail-out, the Asian currency crisis, the Enron and other related scandals, the tech bubble, the Long-Term Capital Management collapse and rescue, a wage freeze for working Americans and now this.
And the irony is that these vile people who are now graciously agreeing to pocket a trillion dollars of taxpayers' cash have been arguing for three decades that government has no business in business, least of all in pension provision. In their famous phrase, it would pose a "moral hazard" for ordinary Americans to think that their government would look after them if in old age their income or their health failed them.
Those who have engineered these serial disasters, which have inflicted more damage on the US and world economy than Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, have not been pursued into the hills of Bora Bora. Governments have reduced their taxes as they reward themselves with more and more salary, bonuses and stock options. If the shares of the company they manage take a dive, they backdate their options. If the company fails, they take a golden parachute. And when all else fails, they come to the taxpayers, top hat in hand.
There is one small consolation. What if these guys had achieved their desire, shared with John McCain and George Bush, to privatise the social security system? Just think of the social and economic disaster they could have wrought given all those trillions of dollars to play with.
With the sudden affection for government ownership and assistance now globalising its way consensually from Washington, will we see a new, social-democratic age of government involvement in industry? Probably not soon. But as Churchill said, this surely deserves to be beginning of the end of the Washington neoliberal consensus that George Bush's father called voodoo economics. Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and even Gordon Brown all succumbed to that old black magic – and looking at Barack Obama's economic advisers, there is a more than even chance that he, too, is under its spell.
Clinton introduced tough love for working people, with welfare reform and lifetime caps, since it was clear that if you had no job it was your fault, not that of the titans of industry who had offshored your job or preferred to play the tables with sliced-and-diced derivatives of derivatives rather than use the capital for industrial and infrastructural investment.
Clinton famously quibbled about what "is" meant. It is much more productive to consider what the "market" is, not least when it falls from McCain's lips. As the negative example of Soviet-style economy suggests, it is difficult to beat the market when you are talking about the free exercise of consumer choices for goods and services and the consequent allocation of capital for providing them. But in the US, no one blinks when governments ban or regulate sales of tobacco, alcohol or drugs, let alone gambling or sexual services.
The financial markets, with increasing deregulation, have become a heady combination of sex and gambling. The Wall Street ideologues have been gambling our money and screwing us all, as investors, pensioners, workers and taxpayers.
There has been some understandable chortling as the British and American governments override their free-trade platitudes to nationalise companies, whether Northern Rock or AIG, Fannie Mae or Freddy Mac. But the plan Goldman Sach's alumnus Hank Paulson is proposing now is not nationalisation. It is a strings-free handout to his former colleagues on Wall Street.
However, there are opportunities in this crisis. Don't just take over the lemons left squeezed to the pips. Take equity shares in the whole companies. Maybe the proceeds could go to a sovereign wealth fund, to invest in manufacturing and infrastructure.
Above all, if the high priests of finance invoke government assistance, then now is the time to finish the job that Roosevelt started, Truman propounded and even Nixon considered: a universal single-payer healthcare system in the US. If AIG, one of the world's biggest insurers, is effectively now nationalised by the US government without debate, then who can argue? Nationalise the health insurance companies.
At the very least, now is the time to set up a comprehensive and effective regulatory system, and to ensure that if the taxpayers pick up the tab for executive excesses, the executives pick up more of the tab for taxes. Over to you Obama – and for that matter, Gordon Brown. Are you with the vile or the victims?
27/09/08 "ICH" -- - The financial system is blowing up. Don't listen to the experts; just look at the numbers. Last week, according to Reuters, "U.S. banks borrowed a record amount from the Federal Reserve nearly $188 billion a day on average, showing the central bank went to extremes to keep the banking system afloat amid the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression." The Fed opened the various "auction facilities" to create the appearance that insolvent banks were thriving businesses, but they are not. They're dead; their liabilities exceed their assets. Now the Fed is desperate because the hundreds of billions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) in the banks vaults have bankrupt the entire system and the Fed's balance sheet is ballooning by the day. The market for MBS will not bounce back in the foreseeable future and the banks are unable to roll-over their short term debt. Game over. The Federal Reserve itself is in danger. So, it's on to Plan B; which is to dump all the toxic sludge on the taxpayer before he realizes that the whole system is cratering and his life is about to change forever. It's called the Paulson Plan, a $700 billion boondoggle which has already been disparaged by every economist of merit in the country.
"Borrowings by primary dealers via the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, and through another facility created on Sunday for Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch, and their London-based subsidiaries, totaled $105.66 billion as of Wednesday, the Fed said."
See what I mean; they're all broke. The Fed's rotating loans are just a way to perpetuate the myth that the banks aren't flat-lining already. Bernanke has tied strings to the various body parts and jerks them every so often to make it look like they're alive. But the Wall Street model is broken and the bailout is pointless.
Last week, there was a digital run on the banks that most people never even heard about; a "real time" crash. An article in the New York Post by Michael Gray gave a blow by blow description of how events unfolded. Here's a clip from Gray's "Almost Armageddon":
"The market was 500 trades away from Armageddon on Thursday...Had the Treasury and Fed not quickly stepped into the fray that morning with a quick $105 billion injection of liquidity, the Dow could have collapsed to the 8,300-level - a 22 percent decline! - while the clang of the opening bell was still echoing around the cavernous exchange floor. According to traders, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, money market funds were inundated with $500 billion in sell orders prior to the opening. The total money-market capitalization was roughly $4 trillion that morning.
The panicked selling was directly linked to the seizing up of the credit markets - including a $52 billion constriction in commercial paper - and the rumors of additional money market funds "breaking the buck," or dropping below $1 net asset value."
The Fed's dramatic $105 billion liquidity injection on Thursday (pre-market) was just enough to keep key institutional accounts from following through on the sell orders and starting a stampede of cash that could have brought large tracts of the US economy to a halt." (New York Post)
Commercial paper is the lubricant that keeps the financial markets functioning. When confidence vanishes (because the stewards of the system in Washington are buffoons), investors withdraw their money, normal business operations become impossible, and the markets collapse. End of story. So, rather than restore the public's confidence by strong leadership and behavior designed to reassure investors; President Bush decided to give a major prime-time speech stating that if Paulson's emergency bailout package was not passed immediately, the nation's economy would vaporize into the ether. Go figure?
Last week, the commercial paper market, (much of which is backed by mortgage-backed securities) shrunk by a whopping $61. billion to $1.702 trillion, the lowest level since early 2006. So, Paulson's bailout will effectively underwrite CP as well as the whole alphabet soup of mortgage-backed derivatives for which there is currently no market. The US taxpayer is not only getting into the plummeting real estate market, he is also backstopping the entire financial system including defaulting car loan securities, waning student loan securities, flailing home equity loan securities and faltering credit card securities. The whole mountainous pile of horsecrap-debt is about to be stacked on the back of the maxed-out taxpayer and the ever-shriveling greenback. Paulson assures us that its a "good deal". Booyah, Hank!
PAULSON'S $700 BILLION BOONDOGGLE
How did Treasury Secretary Paulson figure out that recapitalizing the banking system would cost $700 billion? Or did he just estimate the amount of money that could be loaded on the back of the Treasury's flatbed truck when it sputters off to shower his buddies at G-Sax with freshly minted greenbacks? The point is, that Paulson's calculations were not assisted by any economists at all, and they cannot be trusted. It is a purely arbitrary, "back of the envelope" type figuring. According to Bloomberg: Swiss investor Marc Faber, known for a long track record of good calls, believes the damage may come to $5 trillion:
"Marc Faber, managing director of Marc Faber Ltd. in Hong Kong, said the U.S. government's rescue package for the financial system may require as much as $5 trillion, seven times the amount Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has requested....
``The $700 billion is really nothing,'' Faber said in a television interview. ``The treasury is just giving out this figure when the end figure may be $5 trillion.''(Bloomberg News)
Most people who follow these matters would trust Faber's assessment way over Paulson's. In his latest blog entry, economist Nouriel Roubini said that "no professional economist was consulted by Congress or invited to present his/her views at the Congressional hearings on the Treasury rescue plan." Roubini added:
"The Treasury plan is a disgrace: a bailout of reckless bankers, lenders and investors that provides little direct debt relief to borrowers and financially stressed households and that will come at a very high cost to the US taxpayer. And the plan does nothing to resolve the severe stress in money markets and interbank markets that are now close to a systemic meltdown."
Roubini is right on all counts. So far, more than a 190 prominent economists have urged Congress not to pass the $700 bailout bill. There is growing consensus that the so-called "rescue package" does not address the central economic issues and has the potential to make a bad situation even worse.
Financial industry rep. Paulson is the ringleader in a banker's coup the results of which will decide America's economic and political future for years to come. The coup leaders have drained tens of billions of dollars of liquidity from the already-strained banking system to trigger a freeze in interbank lending and hasten a stock market crash. This, they believe, will force Congress to pass Paulson's $770 billion bailout package without further congressional resistance. It's blackmail.
As yet, no one knows whether the coup-backers will succeed and further consolidate their political power via a massive economic shock to the system, but their plan continues to move jauntily forward while the economy follows its inexorable slide to disaster.
The bailout has galvanized grassroots movements which have flooded congressional FAXs and phone lines. Callers are overwhelmingly opposed to any bailout for banks that are buckling under their own toxic mortgage-backed assets. One analyst said that the calls to Congress are 50 percent "No" and 50 percent "Hell, No". There is virtually no popular support for the bill.
From Bloomberg News: "Erik Brynjolfsson, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School, said his main objection "is the breathtaking amount of unchecked discretion it gives to the Secretary of the Treasury. It is unprecedented in a modern democracy."
"I suspect that part of what we're seeing in the freezing up of lending markets is strategic behavior on the part of big financial players who stand to benefit from the bailout," said David K. Levine, an economist at Washington University in St. Louis, who studies liquidity constraints and game theory." (Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis)
Brynjolfsson's suspicions are well-founded. "Market Ticker's" Karl Denninger confirms that the Fed has been draining the banking system of liquidity in order to blackmail Congress into passing the new legislation. Here's Denninger:
"The Effective Fed Funds rate has been trading 50 basis points or more below the 2% target for five straight days now, and for the last two days, it has traded 75 basis points under. The IRX is demanding an immediate rate cut. The Slosh has been intentionally drained by over $125 billion in the last week and lowering the water in the swamp exposed one dead body - Washington Mutual - which was immediately raided on a no-notice basis by JP Morgan. Not even WaMu's CEO knew about the raid until it was done....The Fed claims to be an "independent central bank." They are nothing of the kind; they are now acting as an arsonist. The Fed and Treasury have claimed this is a "liquidity crisis"; it is not. It is an insolvency crisis that The Fed, Treasury and the other regulatory organs of our government have intentionally allowed to occur."
Bingo. This is a banker's coup cooked up and facilitated by the deep-money guys who operate stealthily behind the political sideshow. The only time they emerge from their stinkholes is when they're flushed out by a crisis that threatens their continued dominance. Grassroots resistance, spearheaded by Internet bloggers (like Mish, Roubini and Denninger) are demonstrating that they can mobilize tens of thousands of "peasants with pitchforks" and be a factor in political decision making. It also helps to have elected officials, like Senator Richard Shelby, who stand firm on principle and don't faint at the first whiff of grapeshot (like his weak-kneed Democratic counterparts) Shelby has shouldered the full-weight of executive pressure which has descended on him like a Appalachian rockslide. As a result, there's still a slight chance that the bill will have to be shelved and the industry reps will have to go back to Square 1.
Market Ticker has provided charts from the Federal Reserve that prove that Bernanke has withdrawn $125 billion from the banking system in the last 4 days alone to create a crisis situation that will incite credit market mayhem and increase the liklihood of passing the bill. This is coercion of the worst kind. http://market-ticker.denninger.net/archives/2008/09/24.html
The country's economic predicament is steadily deteriorating. Orders for manufactured durable goods were off 4.5 percent last month while inventories continued to rise. Unemployment is soaring and the housing crash continues to accelerate. Credit Suisse now expects 10.3 million foreclosures (total) in the next few years. Numbers like that are not accidental, but part of a larger scheme to use monetary policy as a way to shift wealth from one class to another while degrading the nation's overall economic well-being. More alarming, the country's primary creditors are now staging a rebellion that is likely to cut off the flow of capital to US markets sending the dollar plummeting and triggering a deflationary credit collapse. This is from Reuters:
"Chinese regulators have asked domestic banks to stop lending to U.S. financial institutions in the interbank money markets to prevent possible losses during the financial crisis, the South China Morning Post reported Thursday. The China Banking Regulatory Commission's ban on interbank lending of all currencies applied to U.S. banks, but not to lenders from other countries, the report added."
Bloomberg News reports that Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher has broken with tradition and lambasted the proposed bailout saying that it "would plunge the U.S. government deeper into a fiscal abyss."
From Bloomberg: "The plan by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to buy troubled assets from financial institutions would put 'one more straw on the back of the frightfully encumbered camel that is the federal government ledger,' Fisher said today in the text of a speech in New York. 'We are deeply submerged in a vast fiscal chasm.'...The seizures and convulsions we have experienced in the debt and equity markets have been the consequences of a sustained orgy of excess and reckless behavior, not a too-tight monetary policy," Fisher said to the New York University Money Marketeers Club." (Bloomberg)
Surely, the cure for hyperbolic "credit excesses and reckless behavior" cannot be "more of the same." In fact, Paulson's bailout does not even address the core issues which have been obscured by demagoguery and threats. The worthless assets must be written-down, insolvent banks must be allowed to go bust, and the crooks and criminals who engineered this financial blitz on the nation's coffers must be held to account.
The carnage from Greenspan's low interest rate, "easy money" binge is now visible everywhere. Inflated home and stock values are crashing as the gas continues to escape from the massive equity bubble. The FDIC will have to be recapitalized--perhaps, $500 billion--to account for the anticipated loss of deposits from failing banks caught in the cross-hairs of asset-deflation and steadily contracting credit. Recession is coming, but economic collapse can still be avoided if Paulson's misguided plan is abandoned and corrective action is taken to put the country on solid financial footing. Market Ticker lays out framework for a workable solution to the crisis, but they must be acted on swiftly to rebuild confidence that major systemic changes are underway:
1--Force all off-balance sheet "assets" back onto the balance sheet, and force the valuation models and identification of individual assets out of Level 3 and into 10Qs and 10Ks. Do it now. (Editor: In other words, no more Enron-type accounting mumbo-jumbo and no more allowing the banks assign their own "values" to dodgy assets)
2--Force all OTC derivatives onto a regulated exchange similar to that used by listed options in the equity markets. This permanently defuses the derivatives time bomb. Give market participants 90 days; any that are not listed in 90 days are declared void; let the participants sue each other if they can't prove capital adequacy.(Ed: If trading derivatives contracts can damage the "regulated" system, than that trading must take place under strict government regulations)
3--Force leverage by all institutions to no more than 12:1. The SEC intentionally dropped broker/dealer leverage limits in 2004; prior to that date 12:1 was the limit. Every firm that has failed had double or more the leverage of that former 12:1 limit. Enact this with a six month time limit and require 1/6th of the excess taken down monthly. (Ed: The collapse in the "structured finance" model is mainly due to too much leverage. For example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had $80 of debt for every $1 dollar od capital reserves when they were taken into government conservatorship)
If there's going to be a bailout, let's get it right. Paulson's $700 billion bill does nothing to fix the deep structural problems in the financial markets; it merely pushes the day of reckoning a little further into the future while shifting the burden of payment for toxic assets onto the taxpayer. It's a real turkey. The entire system needs transformational change so that the activities of Wall Street mesh with the broader objectives of the society it's supposed to serve. Paulson's business-model is busted; it does no one any good to try to glue it back together.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Impeccably put together by precocious teen siblings - Kitty, Daisy and Lewis - this compilation gleefully rummages through the 1940s and 50s with such joy that both aficionados and those who wouldn't know boogie-woogie from rockabilly should be equally entertained. The high number of novelties - notably Louis Jordan's School Days and the Western Melody Makers' Who Put the Turtle in Myrtle's Girdle - heightens the impression that the trio were rocking to this stuff in the cot. But that innocence is balanced by rude sauce and sass: Rufus Thomas's Bear Cat, a hiss-spit riposte to Hound Dog, or the Swallows' It Ain't the Meat, a glorious celebration of the female body, whatever its shape. The siblings' own cover of a 1940s song, called Ooo Wee, is so authentic that only the demotic London accent gives its modernity away.
One word - awesome!
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Teenage brothers and sisters all over the world get together in their bedrooms and sing along to rock 'n' roll. But not all brothers and sisters are like Kitty, Daisy and Lewis, and not all siblings build a fully functional studio to record in, particularly one based on Memphis' legendary Sun studios. This is the North London family who, backed by their parents Ingrid Weiss and Graeme Durham, on double-bass and guitar respectively, raised the roof at the 2008 South By South West festival and have supported artists such as Mika and Razorlight.
R&B: they’ve got it; Swing: they've got it; Country, Blues, Hawaiian and Rock 'n' Roll... the list goes on. And, like true musicians they swap instruments as much as they swap tunes. But, despite the analogue production, what this album lacks is conviction.
The first single from the album, Mean Son Of A Gun, recorded for Rob Da Bank's Sunday Best record label, lacks pep. It just doesn’t do justice to the original honky tonker by Johnny Horton. Maybe it's the perspective of 21st century urban youth, or maybe it's fledgling musical talent that means that whilst you might want to join in the knee-slapping sing-a-long, you just don’t quite believe that these guys are: ''going to some place where [they've] never been before''.
Kudos, however for the self-penned Buggin' Blues. It brings the sounds of the 50s into contemporary teenage life with all it’s complexities and insecurities; ''Now I reconsidered darling/I want you by my side/I don’t care how I get you baby/ I’ll get you dead or alive….You made me so lonely/You made me weep and moan''. Meanwhile the band's swinging Hawaiian strains (Honolulu Rock-A Roll-A and Swinging Hawaii, complete with plucky ukulele) make you want to get up and swing your little grass skirt.
The album does, at times, recreate some great nostalgic sounds, particularly those coaxed from the harmonica (Polly Put The Kettle On and Mean Son of A Gun, for instance) and the old 88s (Buggin' Blues), but on the whole it just manages to make you want to listen to the great originals. It's an album that needs more snap, more crackle, but less pop. Elvis doesn't quite live on, but nor will he be turning in his grave.
by Susie Goldring
Not the most flattering of reviews and probably right on the mark... but saying, that this album is bloody fun and well cool. Which more than suits me.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Thank god we've got people like Rio Caraeff over at Universal Music to help me. To make it easy. Now selling music on micro-SD cards.
Yes, I've got a phone with a micro-SD slot. I always take the back off my GSM phone. Yes, I decided on GSM because I travel the world. I believe CDMA carriers provide better service in the States, but... Yes, I'm aware that you can buy a BlackBerry with both chips. But usually when I go to Europe I take my U.S. phone and purchase a local chip and then go on Twitter and let everybody know my overseas number. Now I can bring a collection of micro-SD albums with me overseas! I've purchased a tiny little binder to collect all of them. And I've got a special rubber glove that allows me to pick them up. I love reading the liner notes on my mobile phone. It's so informative. Then I search via 3G technology and look up all the other credits of the players. It's so great living in the material world.
ARE YOU FUCKING NUTS?
That's what's wrong with newspapers. Writing articles so neutral as to be uninformative. What's that cliche? If tomorrow Dick Cheney said the earth was flat, even the "New York Times" would write: "Roundness of the Earth in question."
I'd be happier if newspapers didn't even give any ink to this inane business concept. Or were at least more critical. The L.A. "Times" article linked below did have some negative comments, but what about the whopper they failed to contradict? That the iPod and iTunes are just too difficult to use and that the micro-SD card is the solution? That's like saying telephones are too hard to use, that's why everybody's switching to VOIP. No, it's worse... That's like saying Mac OS X is too hard to use and everybody's switching to LINUX!
Do you even know if you have a micro-SD slot in your phone? And, if you do, what are you going to do with the card inside when you buy an album? Talk about easy to lose... Let's go even worse... Can you remove the back off your phone? On the BlackBerries I've had it's nigh near impossible. As for the tiny card, you've got to raise a door, insert it just so, close the door, put the back back on... FOR EACH AND EVERY ALBUM?
Oh, it's easy on an iPhone. Which doesn't have a slot, but has built-in GIGS of memory! But that syncs to the impossible iTunes.
As for the BlackBerry itself. I won't say it's counterintuitive, but now that there's push e-mail on the iPhone, I'd switch if AT&T's connections weren't so heinous.
slotMusic is an insane idea. Dreamed up by a company that has difficulty competing with Apple because it's got no software and is a heartbeat away from being taken over by Samsung. As for the labels running with this idea... Yup, they endorse nonstarters like this, but come up with an idea to actually give people what they want, online, and they say no.
Furthermore, any success in music retail is going to come from LOWER prices, not higher. And, to quote the business cliche, companies are going to make it up on volume.
And one more thing. For those so ignorant, for those at the labels getting their music for free... The only people who care about DRM/copyright protection ARE THOSE WHO ARE STEALING THEIR MUSIC! People who pay at the iTunes Store don't give a shit. Which is why the DRM-free tracks at Amazon and eventually MySpace Music are not taking over the market. You hear a lot of noise from the Net prognosticators, but those savvy enough to bitch online are also savvy enough to use BitTorrent.
Utterly ridiculous idea doomed to failure.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Day One / Album One
Kimya Dawson - Alphabutt
Solo and as half of Moldy Peaches, Dawson has applied child-like wisdom and humor to adult issues like crack, romantic love, and the Iraq war. So it makes peculiar sense that she'd follow the freak success of the Juno soundtrack, which featured her on seven tracks, with a set of genuine kids songs. (She also recently became a mom.) But by the time she's halfway through the scatological title track — "C is for cat butt, D is for doo-doo" — it's clear this ain't Nickelodeon. Some songs are sneakily grown-up: On the rockabilly-ish "Bobby-O," the pink Speedo-clad hero loses his job as a water aerobics instructor because "he did something naughty/what it is, we'll never know," while the shimmering "Happy Home (Keep On Writing)" is about paying off student loans and finding your creative voice. Others are strictly inside jokes: it's hard to imagine anyone not involved with toilet-training enduring "Pee-Pee In The Potty" more than once, if that. Mostly, though, this toy-trainwreck of kazoos, building blocks, Fisher-Price pianos and acoustic guitars is childish joy for all ages. From Rolling Stone
One listen thus far - at work so it don'treally count as I couldn't focus on the lyrics. Now to transfer said album tothe bobpod foreasy listening and then afterdinner I am going to wallow in kiddylike gleeoverthis baby.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
By Tom Engelhardt
In a little noted passage in her bestselling book, The Dark Side, Jane Mayer offers us a vision, just post-9/11, of the value of one. In October 2001, shaken by a nerve-gas false alarm at the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney, reports Mayer, went underground. He literally embunkered himself in "a secure, undisclosed location," which she describes as "one of several Cold War-era nuclear-hardened subterranean bunkers built during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, the nearest of which were located hundreds of feet below bedrock…" That bunker would be dubbed, perhaps only half-sardonically, "the Commander in Chief's Suite."
Oh, and in that period, if Cheney had to be in transit, "he was chauffeured in an armored motorcade that varied its route to foil possible attackers." In the backseat of his car (just in case), adds Mayer, "rested a duffel bag stocked with a gas mask and a biochemical survival suit." And lest danger rear its head, "rarely did he travel without a medical doctor in tow."
When it came to leadership in troubled times, this wasn't exactly a profile in courage. Perhaps it was closer to a profile in paranoia, or simply in fear, but whatever else it might have been, it was also a strange kind of statement of self-worth. Has any wartime president -- forget the vice-president -- including Abraham Lincoln when southern armies might have marched on Washington, or Franklin D. Roosevelt at the height of World War II, ever been so bizarrely overprotected in the nation's capital? Has any administration ever placed such value on the preservation of the life of a single official?
On the other hand, the well-armored Vice President and his aide David Addington played a leading role, as Mayer documents in grim detail, in loosing a Global War on Terror that was also a global war of terror on lands thousands of miles distant. In this new war, "the gloves came off," "the shackles were removed" -- images much loved within the administration and, in the case of those "shackles," by George Tenet's CIA. In the process, no price in human abasement or human life proved too high to pay -- as long as it was paid by someone else.
Recently, it was paid by up to 60 Afghan children.
The Value of None
If no level of protection was too much for this White House, then no protection was what it offered civilians who happened to be living in the ever expanding "war zones" of the planet. In the Middle East, in Somalia, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, the war to be fought -- in part from the air, sometimes via pilotless unmanned aerial vehicles or drones -- would, in crucial ways, be aimed at civilians (though this could never be admitted). "Collateral damage," the sterile, self-exculpating phrase the Pentagon chose to use for the anything-but-secondary death and destruction visited on civilians, would be the name of the game in the President's chosen war almost from the moment the Vice President disappeared into his bunker.
In a world where death came suddenly in that vast swath of the planet the neoconservatives once called "the arc of instability" (before they made it one), civilians had few doctors on hand, no less full chemical body suits or gas masks, when disaster struck. Often they were asleep, or going about their daily business, when death made its appearance unannounced. Throughout these years, the stories of these deaths, when they appeared at all, normally were to be found on the inside pages of our newspapers in summary war reports. Regularly, they had "women and children" buried somewhere in them.
We have no idea just how many civilians have been blown away by the U.S. military (and allies) in these years, only that the "collateral damage" has been widespread and far more central to the President's War on Terror than anyone here generally cares to acknowledge. Collateral damage has come in myriad ways -- from artillery fire in the initial invasion of Iraq; from repeated shootings of civilians in vehicles at checkpoints, and from troops (or even private mercenaries) blasting away from convoys; during raids on private homes; in village operations; and, significantly, from the air.
In Afghanistan, in particular, as the Taliban insurgency grew more quickly than U.S. and NATO troop strength, so did the use of air power. From 2004 to 2007, air strikes increased tenfold. Over the past year, civilian deaths from those air strikes have nearly tripled. According to Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon official and military analyst at Human Rights Watch, 317,000 pounds of bombs were dropped this June and 270,000 this July, equaling "the total tonnage dropped in 2006."
As with all figures relating to casualties, the actual counts you get on Afghan civilian dead are approximations and probably undercounts, especially since the war against the Taliban has been taking place largely in the backlands of one (or, if you count Pakistan, two) of the poorest, most remote regions on the planet. And yet we do know something. For instance, although the media have seldom attended to the subject, we know that one subset of innocent civilians has been slaughtered repeatedly. While, for instance, Americans spent days in October 2006 riveted to TV screens following the murders of five Amish girls by a madman in a one-room schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, and weeks following the mass slaughter of 32 college students by a mad boy at Virginia Tech in April 2007, between 2001 and this year, three Afghan and one Iraqi wedding parties were largely wiped out from the air by American planes, the latest only months ago, to hardly any news coverage at all.
The message of these slaughters -- an estimated 47 people, mostly from "the bride's party," including the bride herself, died in the latest such "incident" -- is that if you live in areas where the Taliban exists, which is now much of the country, you'd better not gather.
Each of these events was marked by something else -- the uniformity of the U.S. response: initial claims that U.S. forces had been fired on first and that those killed were the enemy; a dismissal of the slaughters as the unavoidable "collateral damage" of wartime; and, above all, an unwillingness to genuinely apologize for, or take real responsibility for, having wiped out groups of celebrating locals.
And keep in mind that such disasters are just subsets of a far larger, barely covered story. In July alone, for example, the U.S. military and NATO officials launched investigations into three air strikes in Afghanistan in which 78 Afghan civilians (including that wedding party) were killed.
Since the Afghan War began in 2001, such "incidents" have occurred again and again. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration, in combination with the Pentagon, has devised a method for dealing with such happenings. After all, the Global War on Terror is premised on an unspoken belief that the lives of others -- civilians going about their business in distant lands -- are essentially of no importance when placed against American needs and desires. That, you might say, is the value of none.
Incident in Azizabad
Another gathering of Afghans recently ended with the slaughter of civilians on a startling scale. For once, it's gotten far more than minimal coverage and hasn't (yet) gone away. Remaining in the news, it has also opened a window into just how the U.S. military and the Bush administration have dealt with most incidents of "collateral damage" that made it into the news over these last years.
Here are the basic facts as best we know them. On the night of August 21st, a memorial service was held in Azizabad, a village in the Shindand District of Afghanistan's Herat Province, for a tribal leader killed the previous year, who had been, villagers reported, anti-Taliban. Hundreds had attended, including "extended families from two tribes."
That night, a combined party of U.S. Special Forces and Afghan army troops attacked the village. They claimed they were "ambushed" and came under "intense fire." What we know is that they called in repeated air strikes. According to several investigations and the on-the-spot reporting of New York Times journalist Carlotta Gall, at least 90 civilians, including perhaps 15 women and up to 60 children, died that night. As many as 76 members of a single extended family were killed, along with its head, Reza Khan. His compound seems to have been specially targeted.
Khan, it turns out, was no Taliban "militant," but a "wealthy businessman with construction and security contracts with the nearby American base at Shindand airport." He reportedly had a private security company that worked for the U.S. military at the airport and also owned a cell phone business in the town of Herat. He had a card "issued by an American Special Forces officer that designated [him] as a 'coordinator for the U.S.S.F.'" Eight of the other men killed that night, according to Gall, worked as guards for a private American security firm. At least two dead men had served in the Afghan police and fought against the Taliban.
The incident in Azizabad may represent the single deadliest media-verified attack on civilians by U.S. forces since the invasion of 2001. Numerous buildings were damaged. Many bodies, including those of children, had to be dug out of the rubble. There may have been as many as 60 children among the dead. The U.S. military evidently attacked after being given false information by another tribal leader/businessman in the area with a grudge against Khan and his brother. As one tribal elder, who helped bury the dead, put it: "It is quite obvious, the Americans bombed the area due to wrong information. I am 100 percent confident that someone gave the information due to a tribal dispute. The Americans are foreigners and they do not understand. These people they killed were enemies of the Taliban."
Repeated U.S. air attacks resulting in civilian deaths have proven a disaster for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He promptly denounced the strikes against Azizabad, fired two Afghan commanders, including the top ranking officer in western Afghanistan, for "negligence and concealing facts," and ordered his own investigation of the incident. His team of investigators concluded that more than 90 Afghan civilians had indeed died. Along with the Afghan Council of Ministers, Karzai also demanded a "review" of "the presence of international forces and agreements with foreign allies, including NATO and the United States."
Ahmad Nader Nadery, commissioner of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, similarly reported that one of the group's researchers had "found that 88 people had been killed, including 20 women." The U.N. mission in Afghanistan then dispatched its own investigative team from Herat to interview survivors. Its investigation "found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men." (The 60 children were reportedly "3 months old to 16 years old, all killed as they slept.")
The American Response
Given the weight of evidence at Azizabad, the on-site investigations, the many graves, the destroyed houses, the specificity of survivor accounts, and so on, this might have seemed like a cut-and-dried case of mistaken intelligence followed by an errant assault with disastrous consequences. But accepting such a conclusion simply isn't in the playbook of the U.S. military or the Bush administration.
Instead, in such cases what you regularly get is a predictable U.S. narrative about what happened made up of outlandish claims (or simply bald-faced lies), followed by a strategy of stonewalling, including a blame-the-victims approach in which civilian deaths are regularly dismissed as enemy-inspired "propaganda," followed -- if the pressure doesn't ease up -- by the announcement of an "investigation" (whose results will rarely be released), followed by an expression of "regrets" or "sorrow" for the loss of life -- both weasel words that can be uttered without taking actual responsibility for what happened -- never to be followed by a genuine apology.
Now, let's consider the American response to Azizabad.
Initially, the U.S. military flatly denied that any civilians had been killed in the village. In the operation, they claimed, exactly 30 Taliban "militants" had died. ("Insurgents engaged the soldiers from multiple points within the compound using small-arms and RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] fire. The joint forces responded with small-arms fire and an air strike killing 30 militants.")
Targeted, they said, had been a single compound holding a local Taliban commander, later identified as Mullah Sadiq, who was killed. (Sadiq would subsequently call Radio Liberty to indicate that he was still very much alive and deny that he had been in the village that night.) Quickly enough, however, military spokespeople began backing off. Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, a NATO spokesman, said that "investigators sent to the site immediately after the bombing" had, in fact, verified the deaths of three women and two children, who were suspected of being relatives of the dead Taliban commander.
After President Karzai's angry denunciation, and the results of his team's investigation was released, the U.S. military altered its account slightly, admitting that only 25 Taliban fighters had actually died as well as five Afghans identified as "noncombatants," including a woman and two children. The U.S. command, however, remained "very confident" that only 30 Afghans had been killed.
Later, after a military investigation had been launched, the U.S. command in Afghanistan issued a vague statement indicating that "[c]oalition forces are aware of allegations that the engagement in the Shindand district of Herat Province, Friday, may have resulted in civilian casualties apart from those already reported."
On August 28th, the U.S. military "investigation" released its results, confirming that only 30 Afghans had died.
On August 29th, however, Gen. David D. McKiernan, American commander of NATO forces, raised the number, suggesting that "up to 40" Afghans might have died, though still insisting that only five of them had been civilians, the rest being "men of military age."
These revised numbers were still being touted on September 2nd when, according to the Washington Post, "U.S. military officials flatly rejected" the Afghan and U.N. figures.
On September 4th, the Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. military was now "acknowledging" 35 militants and seven civilians -- 42 Afghans -- had died in the attack.
This is where the American numbers remain today. Think of all this as a strange (and callous) kind of informal negotiation process under pressure. Over a span of two weeks, the Americans slowly gave way on those previously definitive figures, moving modestly closer to the ones offered by the Karzai and U.N. teams, without ever giving way on their version of what had happened.
The first investigation, according to U.S. military spokespeople, occurred the morning after the attack when investigators from the attacking force supposedly went house to house "assessing damage and casualties" and "taking photos." Combat photographers were said to have "documented the scene." According to New York Times reporter Gall, the U.S. military claimed its forces had made a "thorough sweep of this small western hamlet, a building-by-building search a few hours after the air strikes, and a return visit on Aug. 26, which villagers insist never occurred."
As claims of civilian deaths mounted and Karzai denounced the attacks, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, ordered an "investigation" into the episode. ("All allegations of civilian casualties are taken very seriously. Coalition forces make every effort to prevent the injury or loss of innocent lives. An investigation has been directed.")
On August 29th, the conclusions of the investigation, completed in near record time, were released. The casualty count -- only 30 Afghans, 25 of them Taliban militants -- had been definitively confirmed. A future "joint investigation" with the Afghan government was, however, proposed. On the 29th, General McKiernan suggested that the U.N., too, should be part of the joint investigation.
On September 3rd, the Afghans accepted the U.S. proposal for what was now a "tripartite investigation."
On September 7th, "emerging evidence" -- a grainy video taken on a cell phone by a doctor in Azizabad, "showing dozens of civilian bodies, including those of numerous children, prepared for burial" -- led Gen. McKiernan to ask that the U.S. investigation be reopened. The U.S. Central Command is now preparing to "send a senior team, headed by a general and including a legal affairs officer, to reinvestigate."
Normally, such investigations, whose results usually remain classified, are no more than sops, meant to quiet matters until attention dies away. In this case, the minimalist military investigation, which merely backed up the initial cover-up about the assault on Azizabad, was forced into the open and, as protest in Aghanistan widened, has now essentially been consigned to the trash heap of history.
Initially, according to the Washington Post, "a U.S. military spokeswoman dismissed as 'outrageous' the Afghan government's assertions that scores of civilians had been killed in the attack… A U.S. official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Taliban has become adept at spreading false intelligence to draw U.S. strikes on civilians." In not-for-attribution comments, U.S. military officials would later suggest "that the villagers fabricated such evidence as grave sites."
Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military, insisted: "We're confident that we struck the right compound."
On August 24th, as protests over the deaths at Azizabad mounted in Afghanistan, White House Spokesman Tony Fratto said at a press gaggle: "We regret the loss of life among the innocent Afghanis who we are committed to protect… Coalition forces take precautions to prevent the loss of civilians, unlike the Taliban and militants who target civilians and place civilians in harm's way."
On August 25th, Fratto added: "We believe from what we've heard from officials at the Department of Defense that they believe it was a good strike… I should tell you, though, first of all, we obviously mourn the loss of any innocent civilians that may lose their lives in these attacks in -- whether they're in Afghanistan or in Iraq, in any of these conflict areas." On that same day, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said: "We continue at this point to believe that this was a legitimate strike against the Taliban. Unfortunately there were some civilian casualties, although that figure is in dispute, I would say. But this is why it is being investigated."
On August 27th at a Pentagon press conference, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Conway said: "If the reports of the Afghan civilian casualties are accurate -- and sometimes that is a big 'if' because I think we all understand the Taliban capabilities with regard to information operations -- but if that proves out, that will be truly an unfortunate incident. And we need to avoid that, certainly, at every cost…
"You know, air power is the premiere asymmetric advantage that we hold over both the Taliban and, for that matter, the al Qaeda in Iraq… And when we find that you're up against hardened people in a hardened type of compound, before we throw our Marines or soldiers against that, we're going to take advantage of our asymmetric advantage… You don't always know what's in that compound, unfortunately. And sometimes we think there's been overt efforts on the part of the Taliban, in particular, to surround themselves with civilians so as to, at a minimum, reap an IO [information operations] advantage if civilians are killed."
On August 29th, Gen. McKiernan reiterated the American position, while expressing regrets for any loss of civilian life: "This was a legitimate insurgent target. We regret the loss of civilian life, but the numbers that we find on this target area are nowhere near the number reported in the media, and that we believe there was a very deliberate information operation orchestrated by the insurgency, by the Taliban." He also complained about the U.N. investigation, saying: "I am very disappointed in the United Nations because they have not talked to this headquarters before they made that release" and he suggested that President Karzai had been the victim of bad information.
On September 3rd, with pressure growing, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad put the disparities in numbers down to the "fog of war," while urging a new joint investigation: "I believe that there is a bit of a fog of war involved in some of these initial reports. Sometimes initial reports can be wrong. And the best way to deal with it is to have the kind of investigation that we have proposed, which is U.S., coalition, plus the Afghan government, plus the United Nations."
On the same day, Karzai's office issued a statement indicating that President Bush had phoned the Afghan president: "The President of America has expressed his regret and sympathy for the occurrence of Shindand incident." They quoted him as saying, "I am a partner in your loss and that of the Afghan people."
On September 3rd, General McKiernan said: "Every death of a civilian in wartime is a terrible tragedy. Even one death is too many… I wish to again express my sincere condolences and apologies to the families whose loved ones were inadvertently killed in the cross fire with the insurgents in Azizabad." Though the Afghans seem to have largely died due to U.S. air strikes, not in a crossfire, this was as close to an apology as anyone related to the U.S. government or military has come.
On September 7th, as he was reopening the military investigation, Gen. McKiernan said: "The people of Afghanistan have our commitment to get to the truth."
Playing with Fire
Let me mention a small irony of history. The U.S. military claimed that its now discredited findings at Azizabad "were corroborated by an independent journalist embedded with the U.S. force." That man turned out to be none other than Oliver North, working for FOX News. North had not only gained notoriety as an official of, a defender of, and a shredder of papers for the Reagan administration in the Iran-Contra scandal, but had earlier fought in Vietnam. He actually appeared as a witness for the defense in the case of one of the Marines accused of carrying out a massacre of Vietnamese at Son Thang in February 1970.
As now, so in Vietnam, were "hearts and minds" being hunted both from the air and on the ground; so, too, civilians were repeatedly blown away there; and so, too, as in the case of the infamous My Lai massacre, cover stories were fabricated to explain how civilians -- Vietnamese peasants -- had died and those stories were publicized by the U.S. military, even though they bore little or no relation to what had actually happened.
Today, "hearts and minds" are being similarly hunted across large stretches of the planet, and people in surprising numbers continue to die while simply trying to lead their lives. This summer was, in fact, dotted with "incidents" that often barely reached the news, in which civilians died in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas of Pakistan: At a checkpoint in Iraq's Diyala Province, American soldiers killed Dr. Abdul-Salam al-Shimari, the chief internist at the Baaquba Public Hospital, while he was driving to work as other American soldiers in a convoy had gunned down the manager and two female employees of a bank branch at Baghdad International Airport on the Airport road. (The unarmed, dead Iraqis would then be declared armed "criminals" before protests forced the U.S. military to withdraw the charge.) Similarly, an Afghan woman and two children were killed recently at a German checkpoint in Kunduz Province, as were two Afghan civilians by an errant NATO bomb.
In the tribal areas of Pakistan, a U.S. assault by helicopter on a village killed 20 civilians, according to the outraged provincial governor; and Pakistanis, mainly the relatives of a man identified as a Taliban commander, including one of his several wives, "his sister-in-law, a sister, two nieces, eight grandchildren and a male relative," were killed by missiles from a U.S. Predator drone.
This sort of "collateral damage" is an ongoing modern nightmare, which, unlike dead Amish girls or school shootings, does not fascinate either our media or, evidently, Americans generally. It seems we largely don't want to know about what happened, and generally speaking, that's lucky because the media isn't particularly interested in telling us. This is one reason the often absurd accounts sometimes offered by the U.S. military go relatively unchallenged -- as, fortunately, they did not in the case of the incident at Azizabad. Nonetheless, the Bush administration has been more than willing to accept "collateral damage" as an everyday matter in pursuing its Global War on Terror.
Of course, it matters what you value and what you dismiss as valueless. When you overvalue yourself and undervalue others, you naturally overestimate your own power and are remarkably blind to the potential power of others -- you underestimate them, that is. This might be said to be a reasonable summary of the short, bitter history of the Bush era.
In this way, not just Vice President Cheney but the President and his top officials have remained self-protectively embunkered throughout their years in office. The 60 or so children slaughtered in Azizabad, each of whom belonged to some family, don't matter to them. But they do matter. And when you kill them, and so many others like them, you surely play with fire.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
The events of the past seven years have yielded a definitive judgment on the strategy that the Bush administration conceived in the wake of 9/11 to wage its so-called Global War on Terror. That strategy has failed, massively and irrevocably. To acknowledge that failure is to confront an urgent national priority: to scrap the Bush approach in favor of a new national security strategy that is realistic and sustainable -- a task that, alas, neither of the presidential candidates seems able to recognize or willing to take up.
On September 30, 2001, President Bush received from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a memorandum outlining U.S. objectives in the War on Terror. Drafted by Rumsfeld's chief strategist Douglas Feith, the memo declared expansively: "If the war does not significantly change the world's political map, the U.S. will not achieve its aim." That aim, as Feith explained in a subsequent missive to his boss, was to "transform the Middle East and the broader world of Islam generally."
Rumsfeld and Feith were co-religionists: Along with other senior Bush administration officials, they worshipped in the Church of the Indispensable Nation, a small but intensely devout Washington-based sect formed in the immediate wake of the Cold War. Members of this church shared an exalted appreciation for the efficacy of American power, especially hard power. The strategy of transformation emerged as a direct expression of their faith.
The members of this church were also united by an equally exalted estimation of their own abilities. Lucky the nation to be blessed with such savvy and sophisticated public servants in its hour of need!
The goal of transforming the Islamic world was nothing if not bold. It implied far-reaching political, economic, social, and even cultural adjustments. At a press conference on September 18, 2001, Rumsfeld spoke bluntly of the need to "change the way that they live." Rumsfeld didn't specify who "they" were. He didn't have to. His listeners understood without being told: "They" were Muslims inhabiting a vast arc of territory that stretched from Morocco in the west all the way to the Moro territories of the Southern Philippines in the east.
Yet boldly conceived action, if successfully executed, offered the prospect of solving a host of problems. Once pacified (or "liberated"), the Middle East would cease to breed or harbor anti-American terrorists. Post-9/11 fears about weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of evil-doers could abate. Local regimes, notorious for being venal, oppressive, and inept, might finally get serious about cleaning up their acts. Liberal values, including rights for women, would flourish. A part of the world perpetually dogged by violence would enjoy a measure of stability, with stability promising not so incidentally to facilitate exploitation of the region's oil reserves. There was even the possibility of enhancing the security of Israel. Like a powerful antibiotic, the Bush administration's strategy of transformation promised to clean out not simply a single infection but several; or to switch metaphors, a strategy of transformation meant running the table.
When it came to implementation, the imperative of the moment was to think big. Just days after 9/11, Rumsfeld was charging his subordinates to devise a plan of action that had "three, four, five moves behind it." By December 2001, the Pentagon had persuaded itself that the first move -- into Afghanistan -- had met success. The Bush administration wasted little time in pocketing its ostensible victory. Attention quickly shifted to the second move, seen by insiders as holding the key to ultimate success: Iraq.
Fix Iraq and moves three, four, and five promised to come easily. Writing in the Weekly Standard, William Kristol and Robert Kagan got it exactly right: "The president's vision will, in the coming months, either be launched successfully in Iraq, or it will die in Iraq."
The point cannot be emphasized too strongly: Saddam Hussein's (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction and his (imaginary) ties to Al Qaeda never constituted the real reason for invading Iraq -- any more than the imperative of defending Russian "peacekeepers" in South Ossetia explains the Kremlin's decision to invade Georgia.
Iraq merely offered a convenient place from which to launch a much larger and infinitely more ambitious project. "After Hussein is removed," enthused Hudson Institute analyst Max Singer, "there will be an earthquake through the region." Success in Iraq promised to endow the United States with hitherto unprecedented leverage. Once the United States had made an example of Saddam Hussein, as the influential neoconservative Richard Perle put it, dealing with other ne'er-do-wells would become simple: "We could deliver a short message, a two-word message: 'You're next.'" Faced with the prospect of sharing Saddam's fate, Syrians, Iranians, Sudanese, and other recalcitrant regimes would see submission as the wiser course -- so Perle and others believed.
Members of the administration tried to imbue this strategic vision with a softer ideological gloss. "For 60 years," Condoleezza Rice explained to a group of students in Cairo, "my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither." No more. "Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people." The world's Muslims needed to know that the motives behind the U.S. incursion into Iraq and its actions elsewhere in the region were (or had, at least, suddenly become) entirely benign. Who knows? Rice may even have believed the words she spoke.
In either case -- whether the strategy of transformation aimed at dominion or democratization -- today, seven years after it was conceived, we can assess exactly what it has produced. The answer is clear: next to nothing, apart from squandering vast resources and exacerbating the slide toward debt and dependency that poses a greater strategic threat to the United States than Osama bin Laden ever did.
In point of fact, hardly had the Pentagon commenced its second move, its invasion of Iraq, when the entire strategy began to unravel. In Iraq, President Bush's vision of regional transformation did die, much as Kagan and Kristol had feared. No amount of CPR credited to the so-called surge will revive it. Even if tomorrow Iraq were to achieve stability and become a responsible member of the international community, no sensible person could suggest that Operation Iraqi Freedom provides a model to apply elsewhere. Senator John McCain says that he'll keep U.S. combat troops in Iraq for as long as it takes. Yet even he does not propose "solving" any problems posed by Syria or Iran (much less Pakistan) by employing the methods that the Bush administration used to "solve" the problem posed by Iraq. The Bush Doctrine of preventive war may remain nominally on the books. But, as a practical matter, it is defunct.
The United States will not change the world's political map in the ways top administration officials once dreamed of. There will be no earthquake that shakes up the Middle East -- unless the growing clout of Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas in recent years qualifies as that earthquake. Given the Pentagon's existing commitments, there will be no threats of "you're next" either -- at least none that will worry our adversaries, as the Russians have neatly demonstrated. Nor will there be a wave of democratic reform -- even Rice has ceased her prattling on that score. Islam will remain stubbornly resistant to change, except on terms of its own choosing. We will not change the way "they" live.
In a book that he co-authored during the run-up to the invasion, Kristol confidently declared, "The mission begins in Baghdad, but it does not end there." In fact, the Bush administration's strategy of transformation has ended. It has failed miserably. The sooner we face up to that failure, the sooner we can get about repairing the damage.
Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University
Sunday, September 07, 2008
Prof North said the research could have many uses in marketing, adding: "If you know a person's music preference you can tell what kind of person they are, who to sell to.
"There are obvious implications for the music industry who are are worried about declining CD sales.
"One of the most surprising things is the similarities between fans of classical music and heavy metal. They're both creative and at ease but not outgoing.
"The general public has held a stereotype of heavy metal fans being suicidally depressed and of being a danger to themselves and society in general. But they are quite delicate things."
More than 36,000 people from all over the world were asked to rate 104 musical styles and also questioned about aspects of their personality.
The study is continuing and Prof North, who is head of the university's department of applied psychology, is still looking for participants to take part in a short online questionnaire.
MUSICAL STYLES VERSUS PERSONALITY TRAITS
BLUES: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease
JAZZ: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing and at ease
CLASSICAL MUSIC: High self-esteem, creative, introvert and at ease
RAP: High self-esteem, outgoing
OPERA: High self-esteem, creative, gentle
COUNTRY AND WESTERN: Hardworking, outgoing
REGGAE: High self-esteem, creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle and at ease
DANCE: Creative, outgoing, not gentle
INDIE: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard working, not gentle
BOLLYWOOD: Creative, outgoing
ROCK/HEAVY METAL: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard-working, not outgoing, gentle, at ease
CHART POP: High self-esteem, not creative, hardworking, outgoing, gentle, not at ease
SOUL: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle, at ease
Friday, September 05, 2008
Thursday, September 04, 2008
A night of music, art and performance.The evening kicks off with an art exhibition, featuring works by City, Mijic and Chadid.The lovely Judy Garment of the Hootchy Kootchy Girls Burlesque Troop will get the crowd warmed up with a bit of sizzle.