Saturday, December 2, 2006

Our economic quagmire


EVEN IF you are not planning an (ever more expensive) European trip any time soon, pay attention to the decline of the dollar. It could portend deeper trouble for the economy.

The dollar just hit a 20-month low against the euro. It now costs $1.32 to buy one euro, and the dollar is falling against other currencies as well.

The greenback is sinking mainly because the United States runs an immense trade deficit with the rest of the world, especially East Asia. Countries like China, Korea, and Japan have an unhealthy co dependency with the United States. Their governments help their industries capture leadership in technologies, products, and jobs. They then sell America far more then they buy. However their central banks happily lend those dollars back to us, so that we can finance the trade deficit and keep buying their exports.

New Labour's War on the Kurds

[Tuesday 21-11-2006]

By STUART CROSWAITHE Early morning on September 5th security guards burst into the sleeping quarters of Colnbrook detention centre in west London. The guards had come to take thirty two Iraqi Kurdish men away.

Barefoot, handcuffed, with the guards swearing at them, the thirty two were taken to RAF Brize Norton. Their threatened forced deportation to Arbil in northern Iraq was imminent. In response, one man slit his throat and up to fourteen others took overdoses or cut themselves in a desperate attempt to avoid "removal". One eye witness described the scene at the holding area at the airport as "carnage with blood on the walls".(1) The Kurds knew the danger of returning to Iraq. They had fled the country years before because of that danger.

The UK Home Office is alone in their view that northern Iraq is safe for Kurds to be forced back to. Amnesty International, the Refugee Council, and even the UK Foreign Office all stress the lethal danger to those entering northern Iraq. (2) But if northern Iraq, like the rest of the country, isn't safe; if Saddam's weapons of mass destruction never existed, then why was the war on Iraq waged?

In a speech entitled "A War Not of Conquest But of Liberation", delivered in March 2003, Prime Minister Blair laid out Labour's reasons for its planned war on Iraq. "Our objective is to protect the people in the Kurdish autonomous zone" and, he added, "to secure the northern oilfields" (of northern Iraq/Kurdistan) (3). The latter was certainly true. This article aims to show that the first stated objective - protecting the Kurds - was a calculated lie. That Britain has in fact waged war on the Kurds over eighty years; that this war has followed the Kurds from their homeland to the streets and detention centres of this country.

The Kurds are the biggest stateless ethnic group in the world. (4) This fact is not unconnected to their repeated abuse and manipulation by the imperial powers and their proxies. Britain's record is particularly shameful. Winston Churchill set the standard in 1919 when he told the War Office (referring to the Kurds and Afghans): "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes". (5) Six years later the RAF did just that against the Kurdish town of Sulaymaniya. In 1988 Saddam Hussein took Churchill's advice and killed five thousand Kurds at Halabja using poison gas supplied with the knowledge of the West.

After the first Gulf War in 1991, the UK joined the US in encouraging a Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein. After one month, Kurdish fighters and civilians were fleeing Saddam's (western-supplied) tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships. Thousands of peshmerga (militia fighters) and civilians were killed, hoping for a western military intervention that never came. Over one and a half million people were made refugees. Most Kurdish refugees tried to escape to Iran or Turkey. Over one thousand people died each day as they crowded at the borders, abandoned by their self-appointed "protectors" in the West.(6).

In the following decade, many abandoned their lives in Iraq in an attempt to reach the apparent safety of Europe. No surprise then, that the UK's Iraqi Kurdish population rose from a few thousand in the early 1990's to over 30,000 in 2006. (7) They were trying to escape from an Iraqi state that terrorised them because they were Kurdish; from a civil war between the two main Kurdish political parties during the 1990's; from ethnic tensions deliberately fostered by the Iraqi state and, particularly for Kurdish communists, from repression by Islamic groups.

It wasn't the opportunity to claim UK state benefits that brought them to this country. As one Iraqi Kurdish man explained at a public meeting in Sheffield in September 2005: "I am a solicitor in Iraq, Kurdistan is a rich country. I didn't come here for a £35 a week food voucher." Nor did Kurdish engineers and scientists arrive with the hope of serving kebabs or working in a car wash. It was the chance to live safely, to find asylum in the UK - the country that had claimed to protect them. Most hoped to return soon to northern Iraq, to their families, to their oil-rich and culturally rich homeland. But northern Iraq, like the rest of the country was, of course, never made safe by the West's war and occupation. These refugees were to find that the cynical manipulation that led to them fleeing their homes in Iraq was echoed by their treatment in the UK.

"Protecting the Kurds": Forced Deportation #1

The UK Government is alone in western Europe in carrying out mass forced deportations of Iraqi Kurds. Their first attempt was in November 2005. On that occasion, successful legal challenges limited the number to twenty from an original intention to deport seventy. (8) Then Home Secretary Charles Clarke was forced to admit to a "regrettable mistake" when one man was deported in error after he had been denied access to legal representation. (9) This case prompted High Court Judge Justice Collins to criticise Government policy: "Frankly, the court has got a little fed up with how the Home Office is putting these removals into practice. It is not good enough." (10)

"Protecting the Kurds": Forced Deportation #2

Judge Justice Collins would have, doubtless, been rather peeved with Home Secretary John Reid's handling of the second forced deportation in September 2006. In an unprecedented move, Reid warned the duty High Court Judge that the Home Office would ignore any last-minute applications for a judicial review of individual cases which would defer or prevent deportation.(11) Despite the huge difficulties facing potential deportees in obtaining injunctions to stop their deportation, six of them applied for an injunction, with the support of the Refugee Legal Centre. Of the six applications, five injunctions were granted, halting their immediate deportation.

The National Audit Office estimates the cost of each deportation at £11,000. The Home Office was determined to get its money's worth, despite legal niceties. Their response to the successful injunctions was simple: select another five from the pool of around seventy who they had captured and served deportation notices on during previous weeks. This gruesome version of an airline "stand-by" system adds weight to the claim that the Home Office has scant regard for an individual's circumstances in its pursuit of quota-fulfilment.

The forced deportation of September 5th 2006 is significant not just because of its calculated brutality and its attack on the legal rights of detained asylum seekers. It marks a shift in the tactics of the Home Office towards Iraqi Kurdish asylum seekers in the UK.

"Protecting the Kurds": Blackmail

In February 2004 the UK Home Office announced its intention to deport "thousands" of Iraqi Kurdish asylum seekers. The deportations were to begin in April that year at a rate of thirty per week. Even the Home Office could not claim that Iraq was safe to return to - or that there was a safe route of return - until August 2005. (12) Until then their policy was to encourage voluntary return to northern Iraq, organised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). There were few takers amongst Iraqi Kurds in the UK.

From August 2005 letters were sent to all traceable Iraqi Kurdish asylum seekers in the UK. The Home Office used these letters to claim that there was now a "safe route of return" to northern Iraq. Casual observers, not directly affected by events in northern Iraq, could have been forgiven for accepting this claim made by the UK Government. However, for Iraqi Kurds threatened with forced "removal" the claim that there was "a safe route of return" was an incredible one. It was not lost on them that the "safe route" included Highway 10 from Jordan to Iraq, a road so hazardous that the occupying US and UK military forces hesitated to use it. Arbil airport in northern Iraq was to be the destination for direct flights carrying those returning to Iraq. In 2005 neither UK nor US military aircraft were prepared to land there, such was the danger.

These Home Office letters stipulated a new condition for the receipt of "Section 4" support. Named after a section of the 1999 Asylum and Nationality Act, Section 4 support consists of a £35 per week food voucher and rent paid on accommodation provided through the National Asylum Support Service (NASS). (13) The ultimatum from the Home Office stated that unless Section 4 recipients agreed "voluntarily" to return to "safe" Iraq they would "be required to leave your accommodation and will not be entitled to any other form of support". (14)

This blackmail sparked nationwide protest from refugee support organisations and from Iraqi Kurds themselves. One man, Naseh Ghafor in Sheffield, sewed his lips up and refused food for over forty days stating, "I would rather die here than go back and get killed in my own country" (15).

"Protecting the Kurds": Kidnapping

Those Kurds who agreed to return voluntarily to Iraq lost any legal right to contest their deportation. They also became immediately traceable to the authorities through the practice of monthly signing at reporting centres. Such centres are usually at local police stations. From late 2005 it became increasingly common for those entering reporting stations never to leave them: except in an Immigration Service van on the way to a detention centre. This practice, had it occurred in Iraq, would have been labelled "kidnapping" by the UK Government. One of the men deported in November 2005, Karwan, was kidnapped in this way when he reported to Dallas Court in Bolton for a Home Office "interview".

"Protecting the Kurds": Creating Destitution

Many Kurds refused to sign the Home Office letter which bound them to return to northern Iraq. Destitution became widespread. In Leeds around 250 Iraqi Kurds lost their homes and all state support between September-December 2005. In Sheffield, about 200 Kurds were forced onto the street with nothing.(16) These "failed" asylum seekers do not have the right to work legally, leading to a boom for employers wanting a desperate workforce prepared to work for a pittance. From summer 2006 there has also been an increase in the scale of Immigration Service raids on those forced to work illegally. (17) All routes, except that of returning to lethal danger in Iraq, are being closed.

"Protecting the Kurds": Bribery

"The Kurd has the mind of a schoolboy...He requires a beating one day and a sugar plum the next." So wrote Major WR Hay, a political officer in the British army, stationed in Arbil, northern Iraq in 1919. (18) Eighty six years later, the UK Government supplemented the beatings of deportation, kidnapping and destitution with a £500 sugar plum. The Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme (VARRP) was extended from June to December 2006. Operated by the IOM, the scheme offered voluntary returnees to Iraq a £500 cash "relocation" grant and a further £2500 conditional on strict "reintegration" criteria.(19) Immigration and Nationality Directorate figures show that only 1,020 Iraqi Kurds in the UK took up this offer in the whole period from June 2004 - December 2005. (20)

The latest forced deportation of September 2006 is surely aimed (along with the weapon of destitution) at increasing the number of "voluntary" returns. I met Kawa (not his real name), a local Kurdish man, in the Sheffield restaurant where he worked illegally, and asked him why he planned to return to Iraq with VARRP. Kawa was working twelve hour shifts for £1.50 an hour and sleeping on friend's floors at night. He explained: "If I go back I might die, but here I die every day." He also recounted the story of a man who had previously returned to Iraq with VARRP. After the plane landed at Arbil airport this man was robbed of his £500 (in $US) by a taxi driver. He knew other men who had stepped off the plane at Arbil and were immediately taken into detention by the security forces of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). (21)

"Protecting the Kurds": Corruption and Collaboration

The establishment of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), was cited by the UK Government as a vindication of their war on - and occupation of - Iraq. However, the human rights abuses and corruption of the KRG have been well documented.(22) Ahmed (not his real name), from Sheffield's Kurdish community, described the KRG: "That dictatorship - it's worse than Saddam Hussein's." Why, he asked, did the leadership of the KDP need to travel around Kurdistan in 200-car convoys for its own protection? (23)

The two main Kurdish parties, the KDP and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have long collaborated with Western governments (and with Saddam Hussein at times) in their desperate attempts to achieve Kurdish statehood, or any form of regional or national autonomy.

Since 2005 there have been regular meetings between senior civil servants representing the UK Home Office, Iraqi Embassy officials, representatives from Iraqi Kurdish community organisations and KRG officials, including members of the KDP and PUK. Publicly both KDP and PUK have opposed forced deportations of Iraqi Kurds from the UK to Iraq. (24) However, at a meeting in March 2006, KDP representatives urged the UK Home Office to continue and to increase deportations of Iraqi Kurds from the UK. Iraqi Embassy officials at the meeting supported this position. (25) In northern Iraq young Kurds are fleeing KRG persecution, corruption and poverty at a rate of 2000 per week. (26) This leaves the area short of labour and potential recruits to the armed and security forces of the KRG and its main constituent parts - KDP and PUK.

The return of political opponents, through forced deportation, from the UK to northern Iraq also gives the KDP and PUK the chance to settle political scores. These two parties, now in an uneasy governmental alliance, spent much of the 1990's embroiled in a civil war between themselves and against communist and Islamic Kurdish organisations. Sherzad Ahmed, an Iraqi Kurd demonstrating against the September deportation, told a reporter: "I don't understand how anyone could think I will be safe if I'm sent back." He explained that his wife had been murdered and his family targeted for their communist sympathies and opposition to the KDP and PUK.(27) The KDP has not condemned the September 5th forced deportation of thirty two Iraqi Kurds from the UK.

With the cooperation of at least one of the two main Kurdish political parties, all the links in the chain of the deportation process have been fastened: an Iraqi Kurdish asylum seeker signs at a reporting centre each month to entitle him/her to Section 4 support. There they can be seized and held by police. Immigration officials can then take them to a detention centre. They are then served deportation notices en masse, denied access to legal support and taken (usually at night) to an airport. When the plane flies to northern Iraq, its destination is Arbil - controlled by the KDP.

"Protecting the Kurds": Abandonment

What happens to people after they get deported to northern Iraq?
According to European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) guidelines "member states should implement an effective system for monitoring forced returns." (28) Questions to Home Secretary John Reid's office have yielded replies explaining that the UK Government has put no such monitoring system in place for northern Iraq (or indeed for anywhere else). Nor, it seems, does it have any plans to do so. Reports about those forcibly deported have come only from the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees and phone contact between individuals in the UK and their fellow Kurds back in northern Iraq.

Recent reports suggest that the September 5th forced deportation was not the last: at least twenty two more Iraqi Kurds were seized through dawn raids and kidnapping at reporting centres in September. There were at least two workplace raids by immigration officials in Sheffield during October. Many of those held are now in detention centres. We can now expect beatings without sugar plums.

The Tony Blair regime is in its final months. Home Secretary John Reid is positioning himself to continue Blair's work. The same Labour Government that launched a war in 2003 against Iraq to "protect the Kurds" has now declared another war: on Iraqi Kurdish asylum seekers in this country.

Stuart Crosthwaite can be reached at:

1. The Sun Online, "32 Iraqis are booted out of UK", 7/9/06

2. Amnesty International, "Forcible return to Iraq would be unlawful".

Refugee Council, "Forced removal of Iraqis expected to begin today".

UK Foreign Office, "We advise against all but essential travel to the north of Iraq".

3. "A War Not of Conquest but of Liberation", 24/3/03

4. Kurdish statelessness makes exact figures impossible. A reasonable estimate seems to be 30 million. See D McDowall, "The Kurds: A Nation Denied".

5. War Office minute of 12/5/1919, quoted in Martin Gilbert, "Winston Churchill" companion Volume 4, Part 1.

6. Observer, 14/4/91.

7. Precise figures are not available: official figures do not recognise Kurds as a nationality.

The quoted figures are arrived at through use of Immigration and Nationality Directorate

(IND) statistics for asylum applications from Iraq along with estimates from the Refugee Council on the number of Kurds in the UK and the proportion of those Kurds who are from Iraq.

See the Refugee Council's "Asylum by Numbers 1985-2000" and IND website.

See also European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) report. ECRE gives numbers of Iraqis (not solely Iraqi Kurds) seeking asylum in the UK as increasing from "about 4,200 in 1989" to "over 41,200 in 2001"

8. Refugee Council, "Response to the Forced Removal of 15 Iraqis", 20/11/05

9. Daily Telegraph, "Clarke to bring back wrongly deported Kurd", 20/12/05

10. Independent Online, "Search for Kurdish refugee deported to Iraq by mistake", 20/12/05

11. Guardian Society Online, "Reid warns judges not to block Iraqi's deportation", 5/9/06

12. Refugee Council briefing, "Iraq-return and Section 4 support", December 2005

It was also difficult for the UK Government to carry out their policy because beforesummer 2005 Kurdish members of the interim Iraqi Government were vocal in their opposition to forced deportations from the UK to northern Iraq.

13. The NASS vouchers (set at two-thirds the rate of UK subsistence benefit levels) can only be used at certain supermarkets and no change is given.

14. Home Office letter, undated. Copy held by author.

15. Personal communication to author, July 2005

16. Leeds Today, "250 Iraqis forced on to the streets", 14/12/05 and estimates made by Sheffield Kurdish Community Centre.

17. See Committee to Stop Deportations to Iraq (CSDIraq),

18. FO 371/5068, "Note on Rawanduz", 26/12/1919. Quoted in D McDowall: "A Modern History of the Kurds".

19. European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), "Guidelines on the treatment of Iraqi asylum seekers and refugees in Europe", PP1/03/2006/EXT/SH, March 2006

20. IND figures quoted on CSDIraq website,

21. Personal communication to author, January 2006

Ominously, all returnees are required to sign a waiver stating, "I acknowledge that IOM has no responsibility for me or my dependents once I return to Iraqi territory and I hereby release IOM from any liability in this respect." See Refugee Council briefing, Iraq-return and Section 4 support, October 2005.

22. See, for example, Amnesty International's view quoted in The Guardian, "Home Office makes sure asylum flight is full", 6/9/06. Also, ECRE March 2006 report and CSDIraq website,

23. Personal communication to author, September 2006

24. For example, Kurdmedia, "Barzani slams Britain for returning Kurds to war-torn country", 20/8/05,

25. Personal communication to author, March 2006.

26. CSDIraq website, 000043.html

27. Quoted in Independent Online, "Iraq: Deported refugees fearful of persecution on their return", 8/9/06.

28. ECRE guidelines,

Also, "All returns should be safe, dignified and sustainable",


Saudis Threaten to Back the Baathists (Again) in a New Iraq Proxy War

Never mind the report of James Baker’s Iraq Study Group, whose primary purpose appears to be achieving national unity in Washington, and whose broad recommendations for a slow drawdown of American troops and a new focus on regional diplomacy may already have been eclipsed by events, and will almost certainly be mangled by an Administration still wedded to too many of its most damaging illusions. The most important documents to surface in Washington this week were, instead, the memo by Bush’s national security adviser Stephen Hadley leaked to the New York Times, and an extraordinary op-ed in the Washington Post by a well-known senior adviser to the Saudi regime that threatened, among other things, that the Saudis would provide financial and military support to the Sunni insurgency if the U.S. begins a phased withdrawal from Iraq.

Both documents reflect the extent to which Iraq has been plunged into chaos, although the media may have misjudged the relative significance of each: It was generally reported that it was a fit of pique at the contents of the Hadley memo that prompted Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to snub Wednesday night’s scheduled dinner in Amman with Bush and King Abdulla. But, as my colleague Bobby Ghosh reports from Baghdad, Maliki was snubbing Abdullah rather than Bush:

Analysts say the Iraqi Prime Minister, a Shi’ite, doesn’t trust Jordan’s Sunni monarch and did not want to discuss sensitive issues with Bush in Abdullah’s presence.

Indeed, and that sentiment may have more to do with what is revealed in the Saudi op ed than in Hadley’s memo.

The most remarkable thing about Hadley’s memo is its spectacular naivete. Much of the media has focused on the fact that the document shows the Administration’s real assessment of Maliki is far removed from Bush’s public show of support for him. No question that to anyone who’s read Hadley’s report, or is familiar with the thinking of U.S. officials, Bush’s claim that “Maliki is the right guy for Iraq” sounds almost sarcastic. But even more alarming are the steps Hadley recommends Maliki should be pressed to take — break his alliance with Moqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite sectarian politician on whose support Maliki rode into power, appoint a cabinet of technocrats and abandon his Dawa party circle of advisers in favor of a more “representative” one, make more overtures to the Sunnis and Baathists, etc. Hadley warns

[Maliki] may simply not have the political or security capabilities to take such steps, which risk alienating his narrow Sadrist political base and require a greater number of more reliable forces. Pushing Maliki to take these steps without augmenting his capabilities could force him to failure — if the Parliament removes him from office with a majority vote or if action against the Mahdi militia (JAM) causes elements of the Iraqi Security Forces to fracture and leads to major Shia disturbances in southern Iraq. We must also be mindful of Maliki’s personal history as a figure in the Dawa Party — an underground conspiratorial movement — during Saddam’s rule. Maliki and those around him are naturally inclined to distrust new actors, and it may take strong assurances from the United States ultimately to convince him to expand his circle of advisers or take action against the interests of his own Shia coalition and for the benefit of Iraq as a whole…

…We could help him form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities. Ideally, this base would constitute a new parliamentary bloc that would free Maliki from his current narrow reliance on Shia actors. (This bloc would not require a new election, but would rather involve a realignment of political actors within the Parliament). In its creation, Maliki would need to be willing to risk alienating some of his Shia political base and may need to get the approval of Ayatollah Sistani for actions that could split the Shia politically.

You have to wonder, where has Hadley been for the past three years? Maliki is a Shiite politician elected in a democratic process in which most Iraqis voted on the basis of sect or ethnicity. His political and quite possibly his physical survival depend on his place at the center of the ruling Shiite coalition, of which he is a partisan. He’s a longtime Dawa activist with historic ties to Iran and Syria. And he is obviously mindful of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s injunction that, above all, Shiite politicians are obliged to maintain their united front. And Hadley imagines that at the behest of a hapless Bush Administration, Maliki’s going to give up on everything that he is and instead, be remade as a political creature of the U.S. [EM] a second Iyad Allawi, if you like. (Allawi, the last U.S.-appointed prime minister who pursued a similar strategy to the one outlined by Hadley lost heavily in the last election, and today lives primarily in London.) Hadley appears to be still laboring under the illusions of 2003, in which the U.S. can seek out actors and mould the Iraqi political landscape to its satisfaction. Let’s just say that the week started for Maliki with the U.S. warning him to drop Moqtada Sadr or else, and Sadr telling him to drop the U.S. or else. And it ended with Moqtada saying maybe he wouldn’t quit the government after all. And I’d say it’s a safe bet that Maliki will welcome his renewed support, regardless of Hadley’s coalition plans.

The Saudis, on the other hand, have never shared the illusions that guided Team Bush’s invasion of Iraq. For Nawaf Obaid, known as a top adviser to the ruling royal family who would be unlikely to weigh in unless his views were approved by Riyadh, the current malaise in Iraq is simply vindication of King Abdullah’s warning that invading to topple Saddam would cause more problems than it would solve.

Obaid was blunt: If the U.S. starts scaling down its involvement, the Saudis would be obliged to rally to the defense of the Sunnis, primarily by supporting the Sunni insurgency against what he sees as the Iranian-led Shiites. Indeed, he warns, it would do so on behalf of Jordan and Egypt as well:

Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is intense. Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action.

Obaid says the Saudis have until now rebuffed those calls having promised Bush they would stay out, and that they couldn’t be sure that Sunni insurgent groups they backed wouldn’t attack U.S. forces. “They will, however, be heeded if American troops begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq,” he warns. Not only would the Saudis start funding and arming the insurgency (as they say Iran is doing to the Shiite militias), they would also — and here it gets plain nutty — consider pumping more oil (!!) to bring down the price and make it harder for Iran to sustain its support of its Iraqi allies. (Imagine if the Iranians took that seriously and decided to respond by stopping Saudi oil shipments through the Hormuz Straits…)

Obaid says the Saudis know they could set off a war, but they also believe that they have no option becuase the U.S. drawing down troops would leave the Sunnis vulnerable to massacre.

This extraordinary intervention not only reveals the extent of panic among Washington’s key regional allies; its willingness to countenance a return to the tradition of funding holy wars abroad in defense of Sunnis under attack — one way to get rid of the challenge of the radicals at home, of course (it was a similar impulse in the Afghan jihad that gave us Osama bin Laden, after all) is pretty bizarre. It also underscores the talk of a Sunni strategy, with Obaid stressing that talks with Cheney had been positive. What’s interesting here, though, is that the “Sunni Front” that the U.S. has hoped to build against Iran may be taking shape, but one of its prime objectives may be rolling back the Shiite-led government that Iraqi democracy produced. (There was a reason, after all, that the regimes of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt had supported Saddam in his war with Iran.)

The strategy is a non-starter, of course, not only because it would set the U.S. against the majority of Iraqis, which is an untenable situation for an occupying army, but because the regional dynamic in the wake of the Iraq war has accelerated the collapse of the old regional order on which it is based. For all Obaid’s tough talk, the Iranians are unlikely to be quivering in their boots at the prospect of a more robust Saudi intervention in the region. The response of the region to last summer’s conflagration in Lebanon, where the Saudis initially blamed Hizballah and were then forced to retract as the Arab street rallied overwhelmingly behind the Shiite guerrilla movement, was a sign that as hostile as they may be to Iranian influence, the old Sunni autocracies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are increasingly marginal players in the region. Bush succeeded in his aim of breaking the old order when he invaded Iraq, but the new Middle East he has created is nothing like what he intended. But it remains highly unlikely that this Administration is ever going to be ready to engage with the realities that it has helped create — a region in which most of the traditional U.S. allies have been repudiated and the representative political forces tend to be Islamist in character and hostile to Washington’s influence.

So, instead, as Antonio Gramsci warned us about situations in which the old order is dying but the new cannot be born, “in this interregnum, morbid phenomena of the most varied kind come to pass.” Brace yourselves.

The Bush-Maliki Summit and the New Middle East Cold War

Friday, December 01, 2006

Over 100 Bodies found in Past 48 Hours

Al-Hayat writing in Arabic sums up the results of the Bush-Maliki Summit:

1. The US and its Arab allies rejected the notion of making any concessions to Iran in return for Tehran's help in calming the situation in Iraq.

2. The al-Maliki government would be given "another chance" to crack down on Shiite militias such as the Mahdi Army and would be given greater freedom of movement in confronting them militarily.

In other words, Bush is trying to set al-Maliki up for a confrontation with the Sadr Movement and is trying to keep the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad from too openly embracing Iran. (That cow is already out of the barn, of course).

Al-Hayat sees the influence of Arab allies of the US on Bush's policy as decisive. It says that informed sources in Amman report that the Arab diplomats warned Bush against giving Iran nuclear privileges and against giving Syria "Lebanese" privileges, in return for their help in Iraq. These Arab countries likely include Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Egypt. That is, there is a new Middle Eastern Cold War between the pro-Western Arab states (Riyadh-Amman-Cairo-Kuwait City) and the Tehran-Damascus axis. The pro-Western Arabs fear the Iranian nuclear program, and they generally support Saad Hariri, Fouad Seniora, and the 14 March Movement in Lebanon against Hizbullah, which is backed by Syria and Iran.

This Middle Eastern Cold War is pushing Washington, allied with the Arab conservatives, into a contradictory stance in Iraq, having installed a Shiite, pro-Iranian government there but remaining unable to work with this new reality on a geopolitical level. The Middle Eastern Cold War pitting the Saudis and Egyptians against the Iranians and Syrians is reinforced by Washington's other major ally in the region, Israel, which also wants to contain or roll back Syria and Iran. As is often the case, despite their rhetoric of seeming enmity, the pro-Western Arab regimes and the Israelis have not so dissimilar geopolitical aims in the region, with the disposition of the Palestine Authority really the only major dispute between them. Iraq is caught in the middle of this new Cold War and seems likely to be the major victim of it.

If Bush gets his way, we could see substantial Shiite on Shiite violence in the coming months, of which it is likely the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement will take advantage.

The Sadr Movement representatives in parliament and on the Iraqi cabinet announced that the setting of a timetable for US military withdrawal from Iraq is the minimum condition for their return to al-Maliki's coalition. They also said that they would work toward the creation of a parliamentary front that would demand a US withdrawal. Over 100 out of 275 members of parliament have already voted for the US to set a timetable and leave, but rather than let the whole parliament vote a resolution, the al-Maliki government sent the issue to committee, from which it may never emerge or not for months.

Hassan M. Fattah of the NYT reports that Arab analysts and observers are asking of the Bush-Maliki summit, "is that all?" No new results seemed to come of the meeting. Bush seemed patronizing of al-Maliki. And the US National Security Council appears not to understand the most basic things about contemporary Iraqi politics, as the Boston Globe editorial team points out.

Robert Scheer takes a position opposite of that of al-Hayat, arguing that Bush's policies have put him in a position where he'll probably have to learn to live with and cooperate with the ayatollahs in Iran. Apparently, however, Bush will avoid doing so until the chance for real progress has passed.

Matthew Chavez reports on Bush's inability to face up to the realities of civil war in Iraq and its implications for US policy. (I'm quoted.)

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, is afraid that a US withdrawal from Iraq will plunge the country into a civil war and warns that the "whole world will pay" if that happens. He also cautioned that the Israel-Palestine dispute must be settled and warned of dire consequences if the US moves militarily against Iran. The Emir would be right about the first point if the question were posed in a vacuum. But what if the US presence is making the situation worse and making it impossible for the Iraqis to compromise with one another?

The Iraqi Interior Ministry is now going to attempt to monitor and "correct" journalists in Iraq. Journalists are already at risk of being kidnapped or killed. Now they are going to have some Iraqi general from the Iran-trained Badr Corps or a dusted off Baathist dictate to them what is and is not the "correct" news.

McClatchy reports that 25 dead bodies were found in Baghdad on Thursday, and that a major Sunni leader was assassinated in Basra.

On Wednesday, Reuters said, 52 bodies had been found in Baghdad, and 6 in Mosul. A "mass grave" with 28 bodies in it was found near Baquba. A US soldier was killed by guerrillas. There was fighting between the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi security forces (dominated by the Badr Corps) in the southern Shiite city of Samawa. This is Shiite on Shiite violence, part of a turf war between followers of young Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and those of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Saudi King Abdullah's visit to Turkey is, as AP says, a possible sign of a slight shift in foreign policy in Ankara toward the Middle East and away from Europe. But the real power in Turkey is in the hands of the strongly secular, pro-Western officer corps, and this article seems to me to give too much weight to the views of the elected prime minister, who can only go so far without risking a military intervention.

The visit is probably more important as a sign that Iraq's Sunni neighbors are now attempting to coordinate some response to the civil war there, the likelihood of an American withdrawal, and the fact of a new, Shiite, pro-Iranian regime in the region centered on Baghdad.

UNITED NATIONS: 179 U.N. soldiers disciplined for sexual abuse

Tacoma, WA - Saturday, December 2, 2006

UNITED NATIONS: 179 U.N. peacekeepers disciplined for sexual abuse

Last updated: December 1st, 2006 01:31 AM (PST)

Nearly 180 soldiers, civilians and police in U.N. peacekeeping missions have been targeted for disciplinary action for sexual abuse since the beginning of 2004, the U.N. spokesman said Thursday.

Despite the U.N.’s “zero tolerance,” Stephane Dujarric said, “acts of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeeping personnel continue to occur.”

“Over the past two years, it’s been clear that we have redoubled our efforts … to prevent these acts from happening, to discipline those who are responsible, and to bring assistance to the victims,” Dujarric said. “But we obviously have a ways to go.”

Since January 2004, the U.N. has investigated 319 peacekeeping personnel in all U.N. missions, Dujarric said.

“These resulted in the summary dismissal of 18 civilians and the repatriation on disciplinary grounds of 17 police and 144 military personnel,” he said.

The Associated Press

Originally published: December 1st, 2006 01:00 AM (PST)

Report: Rate of disability among Israeli Arabs twice that of Jews

Last update - 23:06 02/12/2006

By Ruth Sinai, Haaretz Correspondent

A report published by JDC-Israel (Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) reveals that the rate of disability among the Israeli Arab population is twice as high as that among Israeli Jews.

The unprecedented report has been prepared ahead of the International Day of Disabled Persons which will take place on Sunday.

The report states that 1.4 percent of Israeli Arab children suffer from some form of a disability of the senses, as opposed to 0.7 percent of Jewish children. It also states that two percent of Israeli Arab children suffer from a physical disability, as opposed to 0.9 percent of Jewish children.

In the case of learning disabilities and emotional disabilities the rate among the Jewish children is higher, 4.3 percent as opposed to 2.9 percent among the Arab children. The authors of the report believe that this statistic does not reflect reality and attribute the anomaly to the fact that Arab children are simply not as readily diagnosed with learning or emotional disabilities.

The authors of the report were met with a general shortage of statistical data regarding Israel's Arab population, and therefore were forced to rely mainly on data regarding recipients of state disability pensions, as well as hospital records on the chronically ill.

The report finds that one percent more disability pensions are collected in predominantly Arab towns, as opposed to predominantly Jewish towns. The frequency of cancer is higher among Israeli Arabs with the exception of lung cancer which occurs more often only among Israeli Arab men, not women. Fourteen percent of the Israeli-Arab population suffers from diabetes, as opposed to eight percent of the Jewish population.

The report states that 44 percent of the Arab population reported suffering from some chronic illness or disability - double the rate reported in the Jewish population.

There are far less elderly people in the Arab community in comparison to the Jewish community. However, the elderly among the Arabs suffer more disabilities. Thirty percent of the Arab elderly are unable to perform daily tasks without assistance, as opposed to 14 percent of the Jewish elderly. One quarter of the Arab elderly are house-ridden, as opposed to 12 percent of the elderly Jews. The authors of the report attribute this gap to differences in genetics, nutrition, education, income, availability of health care and lifestyle.

The authors of the report explain that the relatively high incidence of disability among Israel's Arab population is due to intermarriage within families which is more common among the Arab population, child bearing relatively late in life among the Bedouin women, and a higher disability rate as a result of accidents.

The authors commend the growing awareness of special needs within the Arab community, and their tendency to incorporate the disabled into society. However, they describe the Arab community's treatment of the disabled as still somewhat tainted by prejudice and stigmas.

As a result of these findings, a four-plan to bolster the status of the disabled in the Arab community has been formulated.

Al-Sadr bloc talks of alliance with Sunnis, Christians

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- One day after suspending participation in Iraq's government, the bloc loyal to anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced a possible new political alliance with Sunnis and Christians.

Calling the group a "national front," the head of al-Sadr's bloc in Parliament -- Falah Hassan Shanshel -- said the groups would target the U.N. Security Council's decision to extend the mandate of the 160,000 multinational force in Iraq for another year.

The formation of such an alliance has been in the works for at least two months, said Saleh al-Mutlag, a prominent Sunni politician and vocal critic of al-Maliki.

He called the alliance a nonsectarian, national patriotic front, drawing from different areas of the country and also including secularists, Kurds, Yazidis, Turkmens and clerics.

The group does not include the Mehdi Army, a militia loyal to al-Sadr, al-Mutlag said, adding that he believes the militia should dissolve. He said that al-Sadr himself is "not negative" about the alliance and that it could be achieved peacefully.

Members of the alliance are working with insurgents to get them to lay down their arms, al-Mutlag said. He emphasized that a withdrawal table for U.S. troops would convince insurgents Americans won't stay.

The United States should be talking to members of this grass-roots movement about solving Iraq's problems, al-Mutlag added, saying he believes the government is the cause of the country's problems now.

The al-Sadr bloc's 30 Parliament members and six Cabinet ministers on Wednesday carried out their threat to boycott the government to protest President Bush's meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Jordan. (Details)

Members of the country's largest Sunni bloc -- the Iraq Accord Front -- as well as Christian and independent lawmakers contacted the al-Sadr movement after its boycott to announce their solidarity, Shanshel said. (Watch how much clout al-Sadr and his bloc wieldVideo)

Al-Sadr's group said it will resume government participation when al-Maliki comes up with a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal. It also wants better security and improvements in infrastructure.

Al-Maliki, who believes disagreements should be addressed within the framework of government, has urged the bloc to reconsider its boycott, calling it "an unproductive turn in the political process."

His spokesman later said that Parliament members may legally suspend their participation, but Cabinet ministers may not -- and must either resign or take leave without pay.

The al-Sadr faction is part of the United Iraqi Alliance, which also includes al-Maliki's party -- the Dawa movement -- and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a staunch rival of al-Sadr's movement.

It was the issue of federalism that put SCIRI and al-Sadr's people on opposite sides of the camp, with al-Sadr supporters siding with Sunnis in support of a united Iraq, and SCIRI members wanting a Shiite autonomous zone -- similar to the Kurds'.

U.S. commanders believe al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia has played a key role in stoking sectarian violence this year, but al-Maliki, who draws his support from al-Sadr's supporters, hasn't targeted them.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq, Erin McLaughlin and Arwa Damon contributed to this report

Facts and Body Language Bring Clues and Questions at Bush-Maliki Meeting

December 2, 2006
Reporter’s Notebook



Mr. Maliki, though, did not look very happy with Mr. Bush at the news conference. When the president heaped praise upon the prime minister, lauding him for his courage, Mr. Maliki barely looked Mr. Bush’s way. Though much was made afterward of the body language, White House officials blamed the language barrier, saying each man was listening intently into his earpiece for a translation of the other’s words.

But there did not seem to be any translation lag when the president asked if Mr. Maliki wanted to take a few extra questions from reporters. In an instant, Mr. Maliki’s head swiveled toward Mr. Bush, his eyes wide open in a glare as he blurted out, “We said six questions, now this is the seventh — this is the eighth — eight questions.”

FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool

By Declan McCullagh

Story last modified Fri Dec 01 18:46:27 PST 2006

The FBI appears to have begun using a novel form of electronic surveillance in criminal investigations: remotely activating a mobile phone's microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations.

The technique is called a "roving bug," and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him.

Nextel cell phones owned by two alleged mobsters, John Ardito and his attorney Peter Peluso, were used by the FBI to listen in on nearby conversations. The FBI views Ardito as one of the most powerful men in the Genovese family, a major part of the national Mafia.

The surveillance technique came to light in an opinion published this week by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan. He ruled that the "roving bug" was legal because federal wiretapping law is broad enough to permit eavesdropping even of conversations that take place near a suspect's cell phone.

Kaplan's opinion said that the eavesdropping technique "functioned whether the phone was powered on or off." Some handsets can't be fully powered down without removing the battery; for instance, some Nokia models will wake up when turned off if an alarm is set.

While the Genovese crime family prosecution appears to be the first time a remote-eavesdropping mechanism has been used in a criminal case, the technique has been discussed in security circles for years.

The U.S. Commerce Department's security office warns that "a cellular telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone." An article in the Financial Times last year said mobile providers can "remotely install a piece of software on to any handset, without the owner's knowledge, which will activate the microphone even when its owner is not making a call."

Nextel and Samsung handsets and the Motorola Razr are especially vulnerable to software downloads that activate their microphones, said James Atkinson, a counter-surveillance consultant who has worked closely with government agencies. "They can be remotely accessed and made to transmit room audio all the time," he said. "You can do that without having physical access to the phone."

Because modern handsets are miniature computers, downloaded software could modify the usual interface that always displays when a call is in progress. The spyware could then place a call to the FBI and activate the microphone--all without the owner knowing it happened. (The FBI declined to comment on Friday.)

"If a phone has in fact been modified to act as a bug, the only way to counteract that is to either have a bugsweeper follow you around 24-7, which is not practical, or to peel the battery off the phone," Atkinson said. Security-conscious corporate executives routinely remove the batteries from their cell phones, he added.

FBI's physical bugs discovered
The FBI's Joint Organized Crime Task Force, which includes members of the New York police department, had little luck with conventional surveillance of the Genovese family. They did have a confidential source who reported the suspects met at restaurants including Brunello Trattoria in New Rochelle, N.Y., which the FBI then bugged.

But in July 2003, Ardito and his crew discovered bugs in three restaurants, and the FBI quietly removed the rest. Conversations recounted in FBI affidavits show the men were also highly suspicious of being tailed by police and avoided conversations on cell phones whenever possible.

That led the FBI to resort to "roving bugs," first of Ardito's Nextel handset and then of Peluso's. U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones approved them in a series of orders in 2003 and 2004, and said she expected to "be advised of the locations" of the suspects when their conversations were recorded.

Details of how the Nextel bugs worked are sketchy. Court documents, including an affidavit (p1) and (p2) prepared by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kolodner in September 2003, refer to them as a "listening device placed in the cellular telephone." That phrase could refer to software or hardware.

One private investigator interviewed by CNET, Skipp Porteous of Sherlock Investigations in New York, said he believed the FBI planted a physical bug somewhere in the Nextel handset and did not remotely activate the microphone.

"They had to have physical possession of the phone to do it," Porteous said. "There are several ways that they could have gotten physical possession. Then they monitored the bug from fairly near by."

But other experts thought microphone activation is the more likely scenario, mostly because the battery in a tiny bug would not have lasted a year and because court documents say the bug works anywhere "within the United States"--in other words, outside the range of a nearby FBI agent armed with a radio receiver.

In addition, a paranoid Mafioso likely would be suspicious of any ploy to get him to hand over a cell phone so a bug could be planted. And Kolodner's affidavit seeking a court order lists Ardito's phone number, his 15-digit International Mobile Subscriber Identifier, and lists Nextel Communications as the service provider, all of which would be unnecessary if a physical bug were being planted.

A BBC article from 2004 reported that intelligence agencies routinely employ the remote-activiation method. "A mobile sitting on the desk of a politician or businessman can act as a powerful, undetectable bug," the article said, "enabling them to be activated at a later date to pick up sounds even when the receiver is down."

For its part, Nextel said through spokesman Travis Sowders: "We're not aware of this investigation, and we weren't asked to participate."

Other mobile providers were reluctant to talk about this kind of surveillance. Verizon Wireless said only that it "works closely with law enforcement and public safety officials. When presented with legally authorized orders, we assist law enforcement in every way possible."

A Motorola representative said that "your best source in this case would be the FBI itself." Cingular, T-Mobile, and the CTIA trade association did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mobsters: The surveillance vanguard
This isn't the first time the federal government has pushed at the limits of electronic surveillance when investigating reputed mobsters.

In one case involving Nicodemo S. Scarfo, the alleged mastermind of a loan shark operation in New Jersey, the FBI found itself thwarted when Scarfo used Pretty Good Privacy software (PGP) to encode confidential business data.

So with a judge's approval, FBI agents repeatedly snuck into Scarfo's business to plant a keystroke logger and monitor its output.

Like Ardito's lawyers, Scarfo's defense attorneys argued that the then-novel technique was not legal and that the information gleaned through it could not be used. Also like Ardito, Scarfo's lawyers lost when a judge ruled in January 2002 that the evidence was admissible.

This week, Judge Kaplan in the southern district of New York concluded that the "roving bugs" were legally permitted to capture hundreds of hours of conversations because the FBI had obtained a court order and alternatives probably wouldn't work.

The FBI's "applications made a sufficient case for electronic surveillance," Kaplan wrote. "They indicated that alternative methods of investigation either had failed or were unlikely to produce results, in part because the subjects deliberately avoided government surveillance."

Bill Stollhans, president of the Private Investigators Association of Virginia, said such a technique would be legally reserved for police armed with court orders, not private investigators.

There is "no law that would allow me as a private investigator to use that type of technique," he said. "That is exclusively for law enforcement. It is not allowable or not legal in the private sector. No client of mine can ask me to overhear telephone or strictly oral conversations."

Surreptitious activation of built-in microphones by the FBI has been done before. A 2003 lawsuit revealed that the FBI was able to surreptitiously turn on the built-in microphones in automotive systems like General Motors' OnStar to snoop on passengers' conversations.

When FBI agents remotely activated the system and were listening in, passengers in the vehicle could not tell that their conversations were being monitored.

Malicious hackers have followed suit. A report last year said Spanish authorities had detained a man who write a Trojan horse that secretly activated a computer's video camera and forwarded him the recordings.

Copyright ©1995-2006 CNET Networks, Inc. All rights reserved.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

By One Pissed Off Liberal

Sat Dec 02, 2006

This diary is not about how far we have diverged from our national principles, or how badly America sucks, or what a bunch of hypocrites we are - at least not explicitly. It is about some very peculiar realities that bear examination, and (IMHO) need to be rigorously and even ruthlessly questioned.

Why pick at these scabs? Do I get some sort of perverse pleasure finding fault with our country? Why do I hate America?

First, I love this country with all my heart and soul. Second, you have to see that which is broken clearly if you ever hope to fix it. Third, there is (believe it or not) a `vast rightwing conspiracy' to keep us all in the dark. Fourth, is not self-examination appropriate for the reality-based community?

Peculiar Reality # 1

Our government is spying on peaceniks, Quakers, and ordinary citizens.

Keeping Tabs on the Peaceniks
Punished for Pacifism
Court-Ordered Documents Detail Pentagon Spying on U.S. Anti-War Groups
New Rules Compel Firms to Track E-Mails
Constant Surveillance: Who's a Target?
"Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid." - Cracking U.S. Government Policies of Fear

Peculiar Reality # 2

Our government is actively ignoring the greatest issue of all time, global warming.

Union of Concerned Scientists - Global Warming
Bush's "bamboozling ballet of dissimulation and denial" on global warming
Climate 'warmest for millennium'
Doomed by Politics, and by Ourselves

Peculiar Reality # 3

Our government is aggressively stripping us of our civil rights.

Much of American Public Naïve, or Worse, About Bush and Civil Liberties
'They treat a whistle-blower like a virus'
One step closer to theocracy. Bill passed in House would severely curb our ability to sue for Freedom of Religion
Police state roundup!
FBI Drops Another Patriot Act Demand But Keeps Gag on Internet Service Provider

Peculiar Reality # 4

In response to 9/11 our government:

Invades Iraq

CNN Host Slams Iraq as a War For Oil; Wonders if President was Actually Elected
How Jesus Endorsed Bush's Invasion of Iraq
War critics astonished as US hawk admits invasion was illegal
Iraq invasion a disaster, Blair admits
Study: War blamed for 655,000 Iraqi deaths

Does nothing to actually increase our security

The Dubai Ports Deal
Bush Would Veto Any Bill Halting Dubai Port Deal
Coast Guard Sounded Alarms Over Dubai Ports Deal
Truth About UAE Port Security Scandal Quietly Leaks Out
Homeland Insecurity

Doles out billions to well-connected do-nothing contractors

Corruption: the 'second insurgency' costing $4bn a year
Contractors Rarely Held Responsible for Misdeeds in Iraq
Halliburton paid $4 million to politicians for 600% gain on contracts since 2000
Custer Battles and the swindling of a nation
Where is the outrage over war profiteering?
War for profit: American tax dollars at work
Republicans kill amendment to investigate Halliburton contract abuse; pledge hearings in December

Legalizes torture

President Authorized Abu Ghraib Torture, FBI Email Says
Ex-general at Abu Ghraib says Rumsfeld OK'd abuse
The Truth about the Military Commissions Act

Peculiar Reality # 5

Our government has corrupted and taken over the news media (and it's not just FOX).

CNN Distributes Bush's Fake News
Buying of News by Bush's Aides Is Ruled Illegal
Embedded with Bush: fake news reports and phony journalism
CIA Claims the Right to Decide What is News
Bush and Iraq: Mass Media, Mass Ignorance
How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up


The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media..

~ William Colby, former CIA director

as quoted by Dave McGowan in his book Derailing Democracy

Don't miss that quote! The CIA owns everyone of any significance in the major media. Brothers and sisters, that says it all.

Is our government going to fix any of this? No they are not. Not unless we make them. Their resistance to our will has gone from stubbornness to obstinacy, and now borders on insubordination. Remember, they are our servants. They either need to do our will - or clear out their desks and hit the unemployment line.


The government is merely a servant -- merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn't. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them.

~ Mark Twain

Are these realities acceptable to you? Are you okay with a CIA-owned news media that spews government lies and propaganda? Are you fine with the government spying on peaceniks and ordinary citizens?

Do you not mind that in direct contradiction to the expressed will of the democratic majority they are threatening to ratchet up the war in Iraq? Do you not miss your civil liberties? Don't you envy congress's extraordinary healthcare?

Are you satisfied with the government's response to 9/11 and Katrina? Do you not want to be reimbursed for the trillions that have been stolen by Halliburton, KBR, the Carlyle Group, the major `defense' contractors and others?

Are you content with a government that operates in secret, serves and protects corporate criminals, works against the best interests of the American people, and spits in our faces when we demand withdrawal from Iraq?

Brothers and sisters, I ask you in all earnestness, what's wrong with this picture?

Taking Action

MHO as to what we need to do:

* Demand the same level of healthcare that congress has for every American
* Clobber them if they try to send more troops to Iraq
* Use the power of the netroots to demand reform
* Demand openness, honesty, and accountability
* Demand free and fair elections
* Demand repeal of the Patriot Act
* Demand an end to domestic spying
* Demand an end to the Drug War
* Demand an end to government manipulation of the press
* Demand urgent action on global warming
* Stop taking no for an answer

You may be asking, `why do you have to be so negative and critical mister Pissed Off?' The answer is because all of these things are wrong, and not by just a little bit. They are woefully, egregiously, and tragically wrong. We can either accept it as `just the way it is', oppose it `moderately', or we can reject it and oppose it with hell-fire and passion, which is what I believe we should do.

In the discussion that followed my last diary advocating the end of the tragic Drug War, one commenter said we'd never change it because it was a trillion dollar industry, implying that it is impossible to ever change anything from which so much money is being made. If that were true it would also apply to the military-industrial complex and their beloved international arms trade, as well as our crooked to the bone patronage-based political system. There's way too much money involved to ever change any of these horrors, right? Wrong!

Granted, the challenges are formidable. We are up against vicious criminals who are bottomless pits of greed and avarice with big fat checkbooks. They are mean, lack any vestige of human compassion or conscience, and they will stop at nothing to perpetuate the status quo. They murder, rape, rob, pillage and torture like we brush our teeth - routinely and without a second thought.

We on the other hand represent that which is best in humanity. We are good, decent people with an abundance of compassion, we are driven by conscience, and perhaps most importantly, there are way more of us than there are of them. We may not have fat checkbooks, but we have people power - and that is a far better thing. Virtually every tyrannical regime, every dictatorship, every police state that ever existed was ended by it. People power is what will be our salvation.

The way it has worked historically is that once the percentage of the population who have had all they're willing to take reaches a certain critical mass, the people rise up as one and smite their oppressors as they did in France with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, as our forefathers did here in America with the British in 1776. And these days we have something far better and much more powerful than pitchforks, guillotines, or muskets - we have the Internets and their magic tubes. And though they've been severely hobbled; we have the tools of democracy. This time we can do it without violence. This time we can slay the dragon with democracy and pure people power.

So my purpose in writing diaries like this is to reveal the truth, and yes, to make you angry so that we can increase our numbers until we reach that critical mass of those who are thoroughly fed up and have had all they are going to take.

I hope to live long enough to see us rise up as one and smite our oppressors. I long to see an American government back in the possession of its rightful owners, the American people. We are headed in the right direction brothers and sisters and you are all a part of that. Kudos to you all! We just have to keep on keeping on - and never let up.

May our oppressors be smitten sooner rather than later! Mahalo!


Act NOW on Global Warming
Global Warming FAQ
Friends of the Earth
Worldwatch Institute
Human Rights Watch
American Civil Liberties Union
Common Cause
Amnesty International
School of the Americas Watch
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Tags: Global Warming, oppression, Democracy, the Internets and their magic tubes, smiting oppresors, slaying dragons, saving the planet, ACTION/ACTIVISM, (All Tags)

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Government Boss Seeks to Reduce Audits

GSA Chief Seeks to Cut Budget For Audits
Contract Oversight Would Be Reduced

By Scott Higham and Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 2, 2006; A01

The new chief of the U.S. General Services Administration is trying to limit the ability of the agency's inspector general to audit contracts for fraud or waste and has said oversight efforts are intimidating the workforce, according to government documents and interviews.

GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan, a Bush political appointee and former government contractor, has proposed cutting $5 million in spending on audits and shifting some responsibility for contract reviews to small, private audit contractors.

Doan also has chided Inspector General Brian D. Miller for not going along with her attempts to streamline the agency's contracting efforts. In a private staff meeting Aug. 18, Doan said Miller's effort to examine contracts had "gone too far and is eroding the health of the organization," according to notes of the meeting written by an unidentified participant from the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The GSA is responsible for managing about $56 billion worth of contracts each year for the departments of Defense and Homeland Security and other agencies.

Doan compared Miller and his staff to terrorists, according to a copy of the notes obtained by The Washington Post.

"There are two kinds of terrorism in the US: the external kind; and, internally, the IGs have terrorized the Regional Administrators," Doan said, according to the notes.

Through a spokesman, Doan said she respects the inspector general's role and is not doing anything to undercut his independence. She also denied that she had referred to Miller, a former terrorism prosecutor, or his staff as terrorists.

"She's trying to reduce wasteful spending," said GSA spokesman David Bethel. "Just like any other office within GSA, she has asked the OIG to live within his budget, and she's hopeful that the IG is going to embrace that concept. She is not singling him out for this attention. She's not challenging the IG's independence. This is about fiscal discipline and reducing wasteful spending and creating a business environment that can be embraced by everyone.

"By law, she can't reduce the IG's independence, and she's aware of that."

Doan, who was confirmed as administrator May 26, has publicly criticized Miller on other occasions. In her Nov. 10 annual report, Doan stated there was only one GSA manager unwilling to "confront programs and policies that had outlived their usefulness and were wasting taxpayer money." She later told Miller that she was referring to him, according to officials familiar with Doan's statement who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.

Doan also complained in the annual report that Miller was being "unsupportive of recent changes" and said vendors and government contracting officials had reported that his auditors and investigators were exerting "undue pressure."

Bethel said yesterday that Doan's statement in her annual report "speaks for itself," and he declined to elaborate.

Miller declined to discuss his relationship with Doan.

"Let's keep our eyes on the larger picture, which is that GSA's $60 billion operations need to have objective and independent scrutiny," Miller said. "My office provides that public scrutiny. Not everyone is happy with this level of scrutiny. Nevertheless, my task is to keep our office focused on fulfilling our mission of working with GSA to enhance the quality and effectiveness of the services it provides, protect the integrity of GSA operations, and to keep fraud, waste and abuse away from its doorstep."

Before joining the GSA in August 2005, Miller served as a federal prosecutor and worked on the government's case against al-Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has written to Doan expressing his concerns.

"The primary mission of the IG in your agency and every other government agency is to be a sentry standing guard against fraud, waste, and abuse wherever it occurs regardless of circumstances," Grassley wrote on Oct. 20. "This cannot be accomplished if the IG's independence is impaired or hindered by the agency in any way, shape, or form."

Doan responded by acknowledging his concerns and saying she was mainly focusing on balancing her agency's budget.

"Please be assured that I do not -- and should not -- decide which audits or investigations the IG pursues," she wrote to Grassley. "That would be inappropriate."

Inspector general's offices were given by Congress a mandate to operate as independent watchdogs in the executive branch, working on behalf of taxpayers to guard against wasteful spending. The Inspector General Act of 1978 stated: "Neither the head of the establishment nor the officer next in rank below such head shall prevent or prohibit the Inspector General from initiating, carrying out, or completing any audit or investigation."

The GSA inspector general's office's audits have helped the agency recover billions of dollars in recent years from flawed or fraudulent contracts. Some vendors and government workers have complained that the audits have made contracting more cumbersome than necessary.

Soon after Doan was nominated to lead the GSA this spring, she promised outside vendors that she would make contracting with the agency much easier for both government bureaucrats and corporations. After she assumed the post, she began trimming the budget proposal of the inspector general's office. She wrote in her annual report that the office's budget and staff had "grown annually and substantially" in the past five years.

Since 2000, the number of employees in the inspector general's office has grown from 297 to 309, according to the office.

In August, a budget official in the inspector general's office described Doan's efforts to cut funding and to limit the number of audits as "unprecedented," according to an e-mail obtained by The Post. The official, John C. Lebo, said that "for the first time in memory, the Budget Office changed or deleted portions of our budget without notifying us prior to their changes."

Lebo, who has since left the agency, said the changes were troubling.

"The Administrator's Office wants to change the IG's overall approach from independently rooting out crime, fraud and abuse, to one in which the OIG is a team player working with GSA," he wrote.