Thursday, March 22, 2007

Strategic Insights on Iraq

Editor's note: I am posting Friday's new articles at the overflow blog(see Thursday's below).


Volume VI, Issue 2 (March 2007)

The Iraq Study Group Report: The Way Forward or Backward?

A Strategic Insights Special Edition

Introductory Overview

Introduction to the Special Edition of Strategic Insights on the Iraq Study Group
by Robert Looney

Feature Articles

Diplomacy and the Iraq War
by John Tirman

Saudi Arabia: Iraq, Iran, the Regional Power Balance, and the Sectarian Question
by F. Gregory Gause, III

Israel and the Iraq Study Group Report
by Jonathan Spyer

Iraq’s Future 101: The Failings of the Baker-Hamilton Report
by Brendan O’Leary

Shi`i Perceptions of The Iraq Study Group Report
by Abbas Kadhim

Strategic Insecurity After Saddam: Whither Regional Security in a World Turned Upside Down?
by James Russell

Beyond the Iraq Study Group: The Elusive Goal of Sustained Growth
by Robert Looney

Coming Soon: A Response from a Member of The Iraq Study Group
by Leon Panetta

Reflections on the Long War

It’s Now 2007: So Where are We in the Long War?
by John Mills

Cultural Understanding within Context as a Tool for Countering Irregular Threats and as a Force for Peace
by Kathleen M. Meilahn

The Evolution of Arab Conceptions of the Crusades
by John "Garick" Chamberlin


Pouring More Arms into Iraq Risks Regional Conflagration
by James Russell

Whither Victory in the War on Terror?
by Barry Zellen

Conference Report

Conference Report: The Militarization of Energy Security
by James A. Russell and Trisha Bury

Student Thesis

The Resiliency of Terrorist Havens: A Social Mobilization Theory Approach
by Robert W. Johnston

U.S. raids Iraq mosque, kills worshippers

Article published Mar 21, 2007
Mar 20, 2007

U.S. military investigates raid on Iraq mosque
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. military, Iraqi government officials and witnesses here offered conflicting accounts Tuesday of whether several people killed during a Baghdad raid Monday night were armed insurgents or civilians gathered at a mosque.

According to a U.S. military statement, Iraqi soldiers assisting in a search for insurgents entered the Imam al-Abass mosque in Hurriyah, a formerly mixed Baghdad neighborhood that is now a stronghold of the Shiite Mahdi Army, before 9 p.m. Forces detained about 50 people as a search of the area continued, then released them, the military said.

After the search, the statement said, a separate group of about 20 armed men attacked Iraqi and U.S. soldiers with rocket-propelled grenades and guns. The soldiers returned fire, killing three insurgents; three other armed men were detained, the military said. Military aircraft participated in the raid but did not fire, the statement said.

But Col. Mahmoud Abdul Hussein of Iraq's Interior Ministry said six civilians were killed and seven wounded when U.S. helicopters fired on homes after coming under attack from armed men. Another ministry spokesman, Sami Jabarah, said late Tuesday that the casualties has risen to eight killed and 11 wounded.

Two witnesses described indiscriminate shooting, but no helicopter fire, by U.S. forces that resulted in the deaths of at least six civilians, including some armed guards.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said the military was investigating the incident.

Mohammed Abu Rouaa, 31, said he was inside the mosque commemorating the anniversary of the death of the prophet Muhammad when he heard shots strike the outside of the building, where other people were gathered. More than 20 American soldiers entered, rounded up those inside, and took them for questioning to a nearby school, where they remained for about four hours, he said. As he passed by, he saw several people with gunshot wounds lying on the ground outside, he said.

Abu Rouaa and a Hurriyah district spokesman for radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said they were told the American soldiers shot at the mosque's armed guards when the guards tried to prevent them from entering the site. The guards returned fire, and a fierce shootout began, they said. Abu Rouaa said six people were killed, including two guards.

Ali Hussein Ali, 36, said he was leaving the mosque when the troops arrived, and said U.S. soldiers began spraying bullets around the area and hitting people at random. He ran for cover in a house, he said, and heard gunfire continue for several hours.

"People were terrified, even we grown-up men,'' Ali said. "The mosques, through their loudspeakers, started to shout â€òGod is greatest' to calm the people.'''

While it remains unclear what happened, the incident underscored the fragile nature of the U.S. military's ongoing efforts to secure Baghdad by sending soldiers to patrol the most volatile neighborhoods.

Col Ann Wright: The Sheikh and the Torture Senator

Col Ann Wright : The Sheikh and the Torture Senator

"...the new HBO documentary, "The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib." After watching the documentary, panelists Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) discussed prisoner abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib. To the amazement of the audience, Graham said with a twinkle in his eye that "Americans don't mind torture; they really don't." Then he smiled broadly, almost gleefully, and said that the US had used certain interrogation techniques on "Sheikh Mohammed..."

More on Dick Cheney's connections to Duke Cunningham scandal

I'm digging deeper into this Carol Lam/White House/Duke Cunningham story. Very odd stuff.

Check out the following from the LA Times. Now, keep in mind that MZM was the firm bribing Cunningham, and the firm that Cunningham was directing the federal contracts to. The thing is, MZM had no revenue yet in 2001, but somehow from somewhere they had $100,000 to pay off Cunningham at the same time. Also, MZM had never had any federal contracts. But somehow they get on the preferred vendor list and their first contract is with Dick Cheney's office in the White House. And the amount of money Cheney's people pay MZM is the exact amount of money that is needed to buy Duke Cunningham's boat.

How and why did Dick Cheney's office help this nobody suddenly get rolling?
MZM Inc. was incorporated in 1993 but had not posted any revenue as late as 2001. Still, the company began paying for Cunningham's expenses, according to court documents. In November 2001, a company check for $12,000 paid for three nightstands, a leaded-glass cabinet, an antique washstand and four armoires.

In December 2001, a $50,000 company check was sent to a mortgage banker, who in turn made out a check to Cunningham for the same amount. In January 2002, the company's American Express card was used to purchase a leather sofa and a sleigh bed for Cunningham.

In all, more than $100,000 in cash and furnishings were given to Cunningham even before MZM had posted its first revenue.

Although MZM had no experience with government contracts, the General Services Administration in May 2002 placed the company on a list of approved information technology service providers, a key step for the company to get business from federal agencies.

The first contract, worth $140,000, came from the White House — to provide office furniture and computers for Vice President Dick Cheney.

Two weeks later, on Aug. 30, 2002, Wade purchased a yacht, later christened "Duke-Stir," for $140,000, according to court documents. Cunningham used the yacht, docked at the Capital Yacht Club, as his home in Washington — and the scene of parties for lobbyists and others.

The money and gifts MZM gave Cunningham were a small price to pay for the ultimate prize. In September 2002, the General Services Administration signed a so-called blanket purchase agreement with MZM totaling $250 million over five years.

Under the agreement, specific computer services for the Pentagon would be contracted to MZM without competition.

by John Aravosis (DC)
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What Bush is hiding

In the U.S. attorney scandal, Alberto Gonzales gave orders, but he also took them -- from Karl Rove, who plotted to turn the federal criminal justice system into the Republican Holy Office of the Inquisition.

By Sidney Blumenthal

Mar. 22, 2007 | Leave aside the unintentional irony of President Bush asserting executive privilege to shield his aides from testifying before the Congress in the summary firings of eight U.S. attorneys because the precedent would prevent him from receiving "good advice." Leave aside also his denunciation of the Congress for the impertinence of requesting such testimony as "partisan" and "demanding show trials," despite calls from Republicans for the dismissal of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Ignore as well Bush's adamant defense of Gonzales.

The man Bush has nicknamed "Fredo," the weak and betraying brother of the Corleone family, is, unlike Fredo, a blind loyalist, and will not be dispatched with a shot to the back of the head in a rowboat on the lake while reciting his Ave Maria. (Is Bush aware that Colin Powell refers to him as "Sonny," after the hothead oldest son?) But saving "Fredo" doesn't explain why Bush is willing to risk a constitutional crisis. Why is Bush going to the mattresses against the Congress? What doesn't he want known?

In the U.S. attorneys scandal, Gonzales was an active though second-level perpetrator. While he gave orders, he also took orders. Just as his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, has resigned as a fall guy, so Gonzales would be yet another fall guy if he were to resign. He was assigned responsibility for the purge of U.S. attorneys but did not conceive it. The plot to transform the U.S. attorneys and ipso facto the federal criminal justice system into the Republican Holy Office of the Inquisition had its origin in Karl Rove's fertile mind.

Just after Bush's reelection and before his second inauguration, as his administration's hubris was running at high tide, Rove dropped by the White House legal counsel's office to check on the plan for the purge. An internal e-mail, dated Jan. 6, 2005, and circulated within that office, quoted Rove as asking "how we planned to proceed regarding the U.S. attorneys, whether we are going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc." Three days later, Sampson, in an e-mail, "Re: Question from Karl Rove," wrote: "As an operational matter we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current U.S. attorneys -- the underperforming ones ...The vast majority of U.S. attorneys, 80-85 percent I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc."

The disclosure of the e-mails establishing Rove's centrality suggests not only the political chain of command but also the hierarchy of coverup. Bush protects Gonzales in order to protect those who gave Gonzales his marching orders -- Rove and Bush himself.

"Now, we're at a point where people want to play politics with it," Rove declared on March 15 in a speech at Troy University in Alabama. The scene of Rove's self-dramatization as a victim of "politics" recalls nothing so much as Oscar Wilde's remark about Dickens' "Old Curiosity Shop": "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing."

From his method acting against "politics," Rove went on to his next, more banal talking point: There can be no scandal because everyone's guilty. (This is a variation of the old "it didn't start with Watergate" defense.) "I would simply ask that everybody who's playing politics with this, be asked to comment on what they think of the removal of 123 U.S. attorneys during the previous administration and see if they had the same, superheated political rhetoric then that they've having now." Instantly, this Rove talking point echoed out the squawk boxes of conservative talk radio and through the parrot jungle of the Washington press corps.

Indeed, Presidents Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Reagan replaced the 93 U.S. attorneys at the beginning of their administration as part of the normal turnover involved in the alternation of power. A report issued on Feb. 22 from the Congressional Research Service revealed that between 1981 and 2006, only five of the 486 U.S. attorneys failed to finish their four-year terms, and none were fired for political reasons. Only three were fired for questionable behavior, including one on "accusations that he bit a topless dancer on the arm during a visit to an adult club after losing a big drug case." In brief, Bush's firings were unprecedented, and Rove's talking point was simply one among several shifting explanations, starting with the initial false talking point that those dismissed suffered from "low performance."

"Administration has determined to ask some underperforming USAs to move on," wrote Sampson in a Dec. 5, 2006, e-mail to associate attorney general Bill Mercer. Yet the Associated Press reported on Tuesday, March 20: "Six of the eight U.S. attorneys fired by the Justice Department ranked in the top third among their peers for the number of prosecutions filed last year, according to an analysis of federal records. In addition, five of the eight were among the government's top performers in winning convictions."

When the scandal first broke, Rove personally offered a talking point on one of those fired, claiming on March 8 that the U.S. attorney for San Diego, Carol Lam, "refused to file immigration cases ... at the direction of the Attorney General, she was asked to file, and she said I don't want to make that a priority in my office." Though there was pressure on Lam to pursue more immigration cases, a heated issue for Republicans, three months before she was dismissed, the Justice Department had sent a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noting that Lam's office had devoted "fully half of its Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute criminal immigration cases."

Nor was the U.S. attorney for Washington state, John McKay, dismissed for "low performance." On Aug. 9, 2006, Sampson recommended him for a federal judgeship, writing in an e-mail: "re: John, it's highly unlikely that we could do better in Seattle." Yet, less than a month later, on Sept. 13, Sampson placed McKay on a list titled: "[U.S. Attorneys] We Now Should Consider Pushing Out." McKay was removed from favored status, according to his own sworn testimony before the Congress, because of his refusal to prosecute Democrats on nonexistent charges of voter fraud after the Democratic candidate for governor won by a razor-thin margin in 2004. McKay said he received telephone calls from Ed Cassidy, chief of staff to Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and state Republican Party chairman Chris Vance pressuring him to open a probe. Now, McKay has called for a special prosecutor to investigate the firings.

McKay's case parallels that of David Iglesias. As Iglesias wrote in the New York Times in an article titled "Why I Was Fired": "Politics entered my life with two phone calls that I received last fall, just before the November election. One came from Representative Heather Wilson and the other from Senator [Pete] Domenici, both Republicans from my state, New Mexico. Ms. Wilson asked me about sealed indictments pertaining to a politically charged corruption case widely reported in the news media involving local Democrats. Her question instantly put me on guard. Prosecutors may not legally talk about indictments, so I was evasive. Shortly after speaking to Ms. Wilson, I received a call from Senator Domenici at my home. The senator wanted to know whether I was going to file corruption charges -- the cases Ms. Wilson had been asking about -- before November. When I told him that I didn't think so, he said, 'I am very sorry to hear that,' and the line went dead. A few weeks after those phone calls, my name was added to a list of United States attorneys who would be asked to resign -- even though I had excellent office evaluations, the biggest political corruption prosecutions in New Mexico history, a record number of overall prosecutions and a 95 percent conviction rate."

Domenici and Wilson have both hired lawyers, given that they could potentially face prosecution for obstruction of justice. Their possible legal vulnerability and that of other Republicans across the country suggests a major reason why Bush is fighting to keep Rove from testifying before the Congress under oath.

McKay's and Iglesias' cases, as they explain them, involve efforts to pressure U.S. attorneys to launch investigations solely for political motives. The U.S. attorneys decided that evidence was lacking for such probes, and they were accordingly punished. Meanwhile, four of those fired were guilty of offenses of commission, not omission, having begun legitimate public corruption investigations of Republican officials.

Lam, who had successfully prosecuted Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, was following the trail by investigating his associates, defense contractor and Republican fundraiser Brent Wilkes, and Wilkes' best friend, Dusty Foggo, the No. 3 ranking official at the CIA, the chief of contracting; and Rep. Jerry Lewis, a California Republican.

Daniel Bogden, the U.S. attorney for Nevada, was investigating whether Gov. Jim Gibbons "accepted unreported gifts or payments from a company that was awarded secret military contracts when Mr. Gibbons served in Congress," according to the Wall Street Journal.

H.E. "Bud" Cummins, the U.S. attorney for Arkansas, was investigating conflict-of-interest corruption involving state contracts that Missouri governor Matt Blunt granted to Republican contributors. In October 2006, Cummins announced he would not seek indictments. But his statement just came four weeks before the election for the U.S. Senate seat in Missouri that the Democratic candidate, Claire McCaskill, won narrowly. Cummins told the Los Angeles Times, "You have to firewall politics out of the Department of Justice. Because once it gets in, people question every decision you make. Now I keep asking myself: 'What about the Blunt deal?'"

Paul Charlton, the U.S. attorney for Arizona, was investigating Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., for allegedly corrupt land deals and introducing legislation to benefit a major campaign contributor. Charlton was curiously accused of not filing obscenity cases, which, in fact, he did pursue.

In each of these public corruption cases, it is reasonable to assume that the relevant Republican political figures either themselves complained or complained through surrogates about the U.S. attorneys to Rove, the matrix of national GOP politics. But which officials -- instead of foolishly making direct calls to the U.S. attorney, like Domenici and Wilson -- went through Rove to stymie the investigations (or rush them, if they were targeting Democrats)? Then, what did Rove say about the individual U.S. attorneys to the White House Office of Legal Counsel and officials in the Justice Department?

Bush's resistance to having Rove placed under oath or even having a transcript of his testimony appears to be a coverup of a series of obstructions of justice. The e-mails hint at the quickening pulse of communications between the White House and the Justice Department. But only sworn testimony can elicit the truth.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee issued five subpoenas, including one for Rove, and on Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to follow suit. With these subpoenas, a constitutional battle is joined. "The moment subpoenas are issued, it means that they have rejected the offer," said White House press secretary Tony Snow. Bush is barricading his White House against the Congress to prevent its members from posing the pertinent question that might open the floodgate: What did Karl Rove know, and when did he know it?

On Point on Hezbollah

Yesterday, NPR’s On Point aired an hour-long show about my article from this month's magazine, Parties of God: The Bush Doctrine and the rise of Islamic democracy (excerpted online). Other guests included Augustus Richard Norton, professor of international relations at Boston University, and author of the new book Hezbollah: A Short History; Anthony Shadid, correspondent for the Washington Post; and Gidi Grinstein, a former Israeli peace negotiator and president of the Re'ut Institute.

As I told host Tom Ashbrook in summing up the story, “In this part of the world we frequently ask if the Islamic world is ready for democracy, and there's this suggestion that they're not quite mature enough or ready for it--when in fact what we might be asking is whether the West is ready for Islamic democracy, because for more than the past decade, there's been a real flowering of Islamic political parties across the Middle East.”

“It's difficult to see how you're going to lead to real democratic reform,” said Shadid, “and real democratic change in these countries . . . without some kind of engagement with Islamic movements.” Shadid recently wrote two terrific pieces (piece 1, piece 2) on the Mubarak regime’s repression of Egyptian democratic movements. “They represent such large constituencies,” he said, “but at this point you don't see any real signal from the Americans that they're willing to engage or have a desire to engage them.”

Click here to hear the show.

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Democrats Vow to Bring the Oil Back Home

The war in Iraq was never “all about oil,” but the planners of the war obviously factored that Iraq sits atop huge amounts of petroleum into their equations; after all, one of their deeply held ambitions was to open up Iraq's nationalized energy sector to foreign investment after the fighting stopped. American energy companies held similar ambitions. “Iraq,” said Chevron's then-CEO Kenneth Derr all the way back in 1998, “possesses huge reserves of oil and gas—reserves I'd love Chevron to have access to.” Now the Democrats are about to help the Bush Administration and international oil companies achieve that access.

The House will vote as early as today on the Democratic leadership's $124 billion supplemental appropriations bill. The bill funds the war in Iraq but calls for withdrawal of U.S. troops by September 2008. Democrats are arguing that while they don't have the votes to actually cut off war funding, by passing the bill they will effectively shut it down 18 months from now.

That's a dubious proposition given that President Bush has promised to veto the bill if it passes. Meanwhile, about halfway through the 80-page supplemental bill is a section that demands that the Iraqi government enact “a broadly accepted hydro-carbon law that equitably shares oil revenues among all Iraqis” by this fall. That sounds perfectly fine, but the law in question turns out to be one that the Bush Administration and American energy firms have been pushing for years and that, as Antonia Juhasz of Oil Change International explained last week in a New York Times op-ed, would allow international companies to take control of much of Iraq's oil “for a generation or more,” with no requirements to reinvest earnings in the country. Juhasz noted elsewhere that the Bush Administration dismissed nearly all of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group Report—save for the recommendation that called for the United States to “assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise” and to “encourage investment in Iraq's oil sector by the international community and by international energy companies.”

Congressman Dennis Kucinich has been circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter that asks, so far to no avail, that the call for passage of the oil law be stripped from the measure. “We cannot . . . support this law and continue to claim our actions are in the best interest of the Iraqi people,” he wrote.

Members of the Democratic leadership are still chasing the votes they need to try to pass the bill. If they get the votes, says Kucinich, he'll seek to offer an amendment to remove the oil law benchmark. But it looks like the House leadership plans to rule Kucinich out of order and not accept any amendments to the bill. “The Democrats say they're determined to not “let the perfect be the enemy of the good” with this bill,” said Steve Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International. “But we're unclear as to how giving the Bush Administration and Big Oil exactly what they want most in Iraq, at the expense of Iraq's future, can be seen as good.”

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This is Democrats Vow to Bring the Oil Back Home by Ken Silverstein, published Thursday, March 22, 2007. It is part of Washington Babylon, which is part of

Ban Boom!


Toxic Waste in the Sub-Prime Market: Waiting for the Bodies to Float Up

March 22, 2007


In recent times high-profile Wall Street investment banks have brought slick financial reasoning to the base art of loan-sharking. The most vulnerable Americans have been targeted for loans they can ill afford. Those with poor credit histories can be charged at double or treble the interest of a customer in good standing with the rating agencies. By the end of last year housing loans to six million unrated customers ­ 'sub-prime' mortgages ­ totalled $600 billion.

Three or four years ago Citigroup, Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and HSBC acquired 'sub-prime' lenders ('loan sharks') which they historically regarded with disdain. Citigroup acquired Associates First Capital, and HSBC bought Household Finance, blazing a trail others were to follow. Finance houses have long teamed up with retailers to shower so-called gold and platinum cards on all and sundry with the hope of ratchetin up consumer debt - rising from 110 per cent of personal disposable income in 2002 to 130 per cent in 2006 - and subsequently charging an annual 18 or 20 per cent on money for which the banks are paying four or five per cent. Such hot rates of return gave the banks a taste for seamy lending. They discovered how to limit their own exposure, while raking in the charges, by re-packaging the debts as CDOs (Collateralised Debt Obligations) in which they capture the risk premium while sloughing off the risk.

With direct access to sub-prime mortgages, the banks and hedge funds bundle together and divide up the debt into ten tranches, each of which represents a claim over the underlying securities but with the lowest trench representing the first tenth to default, the next tranche the second poorest-paying tranche and so on up to the top tenth. Borrowers who can only negotiate a sub-prime mortgage have either poor collateral or poor income prospects, or both, and that is why they must pay over the odds. Of course the bottom tranche of the CDO ­ euphemistically designated the 'equity' ­ is very vulnerable but can still be sold cheaply to someone as a bargain. The purchaser will also be assured by those assembling the CDO that they can hedge the possibility of defaults in the 'equity tranche' by taking out insurance against it. The bank will ­for an extra fee ­ also arrange this insurance, making the entire 'credit derivative' product very complex and difficult to value.

The top tranches, and even many of the medium tranches, will be more secure yet will pay a good return. The chief executive of a mortgage broker explains: 'Sub-prime mortgages are the ideal sector for the investment banks, as their wider margins provide a strong protected cash-flow and the risk history has been favourable. If the investment bank packages the securities bonds for sale, including the deeply subordinated risk tranches, it can, in effect, lock in a guaranteed return with little or no capital exposureGenerally investment banks do not like lending money but they are good at measuring risk, parcelling this up and optimising its value.' For such reasons Morgan Stanley purchased Advantage Home Loans, Merrill Lynch bought Mortgages PLC and Lehman Brothers acquired Southern Pacific Mortgages and Preferred Mortgages.

The investment banks are playing a rapidly-moving game of 'pass the parcel'. Ideally the loans are bought one day, packaged over-night in India, and then sold on to institutional investors the next day. In recent months 'sub-prime' defaults have jumped. A Lehman Brothers analyst warns that some $225 billion worth of sub-prime loans will be in default by the end of 2007 but others say the figure will be nearer $300 billion. The 'equity tranch' is now dubbed 'toxic waste' by the insiders and analysts are waiting to see which bodies float to the surface. In early March the New York Stock Exchange suspended New Century Financial, a company which had taken on insurance obligations for submerged tranches of mortgage debt for most of the big banks.

The vulnerable in today's America certainly include the aged and unemployed who risk their one possession by re-mortgaging their home to an investment bank. But many of the middle class find themselves vulnerable too. In recent years they have lost health care and pension benefits and have been tempted by easy credit into purchases they discover they can ill-afford. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Last week, HCBCs chief executive officer, Michael Geoghegan, sought to dispel the notion that the bank had lowered its lending requirements. The typical customer of HSBC Finance Corp., which oversees the bank's U.S. consumer finance business, has an average household income of $83,000, is 41 years old, has two children and a home worth $190,000. Mr Geoghegan told investors: "This is Main Street America", he said'.

Helped by their role in packaging and selling such 'credit derivatives' as mortage-backed CDOs the banks achieved remarkably good profits right through the post-bubble trough and well into the subsequent recovery. However indebted consumers were not so good for non-financial corporations in the post-bubble era since demand was dampened - by 2003 18 per cent of the disposable income of US consumers was required to service debt and only a housing price boom and re-mortgaging maintained consumer purchasing power. Neither the Fed nor the SEC were keen to crack down on the mortgage bonanza because it helped to maintain consumer demand and market buoyancy. The default crunch will not only cause great unhappiness to the victims ­ who stand to lose their homes - it hurts the housing market and increases the chances of a downturn.

Robin Blackburn is the author of Age Shock: How Finance Is Failing Us (2007), a comprehensive account of risk and social insecurity in the age of financialization. See also Blackburn's, 'Financialization and the Fourth Dimension', New Left Review, May-June 2006. He can be reached at

Gaza Strip

Some realities of Life in Palestine, Gaza Strip.

In January of 2001, American director James Longley traveled to the Gaza Strip. His plan was to stay for two weeks to collect preliminary material for a documentary film on the Palestinian Intifada. It was during his stay that Ariel Sharon was elected as Israeli Prime Minister. As violence erupted around him, Longley threw away his return ticket and filmed for the next three months, acquiring nearly 75 hours of footage. Gaza Strip, his first feature documentary, is an extraordinary and painful journey into the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip struggling with the day-to-day trials of the Israeli occupation. Filmed in verité style and without narration, Gaza Strip at last gives voice to a population largely ignored by mainstream media.

Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice
"Deserves merit and of the most important documentaries of recent times."

A.O. Scott, The New York Times
"...there are moments in "Gaza Strip" that disclose a wrenching human reality deeper and more basic than any politics."

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
"An unflinchingly honest portrayal of a population under siege…deserves the widest possible audience."

Daily Star
"Beautiful, heartbreaking, raw and revealing…" Gaza Strip: DVD: James Longley

Four Years Later: Leadership is Needed, Not Political Calculation

Four years ago, a month before the start of the U.S. war in Iraq, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. and I attempted to introduce a resolution we hoped would be debated at the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee. Our resolution noted that despite signs the administration was moving headlong into a war in Iraq, the president had not been clear about the costs, consequences and terms of commitment for the U.S. military in that war. He had not laid out strategic objectives, nor had he documented a compelling enough case to win the support of the American people or the international community.

Armed with these concerns, our resolution simply called upon Democrats to insist that President Bush be more active in the pursuit of a diplomatic solution, and be fully transparent with his plans for Iraq.

Despite our best efforts (including penning an op-ed “Democrats Must Lead or Risk Losing” which appeared in a number of U.S. papers) to push for an open debate on the drive toward war, party leaders would not allow the resolution to be discussed or voted on at the winter meeting. I was, however, given the opportunity to speak on this issue at the executive committee meeting. My remarks were well-received, but no discussion or vote was allowed.

What this meeting is best remembered for, of course, was Governor Howard Dean’s stirring challenge to the party delivered only a few hours after my frustrated effort to have a debate. It was at the opening of his speech to the assembled Democratic activists that Dean asked, “why in the world is the Democratic Party leadership supporting the president’s unilateral attack on Iraq?”

From the pressure I was subjected to in the days leading up to that meeting, I had already learned, first hand, the answer to Dean’s question. It was political calculation. Democrats lacked the confidence to confront the president on an issue involving national security. Despite the public’s ambivalence about President Bush and his march to war, Democrats would repeat the tired mantra: “We stand shoulder to shoulder with the president in the defense of our country.” Some Democrats wanted to appear strong on national defense, ignoring the reality that “strong” and “smart” are not always the same thing.

They would criticize Bush’s tax cuts, his failure to address the healthcare crisis, or his relationships with corrupt corporate officials, but when it came to the war, different calculations were made.

It was this inherent weakness that allowed the president to win support for his war resolution in the fall of 2002. Some Democrats, to be sure, had opposed the White House in principle. But too many others made the calculation (actually verbalized to me by one senator) that “we’ll give him this vote, get it out of the way and then be able to focus the 2002 election on the issues we do best on: the economy, education, healthcare, corporate corporation.”

The calculation failed. Dean was right, as was the Democratic base. The party leaders were wrong.

In the end, it was, this political calculation and insecurity of some Democrats that gave Bush all he needed to drag the nation into war. As I have said before, invading Iraq without defining a compelling enough case to win international legitimacy for the effort and armed with no plan (other than what I have called the “infantile fantasies” of “shock and awe,” “flowers in the streets,” “blooming democracy,” etc.) and without understanding the consequences of this war on our nation, on the Iraqi people, or on the region as a whole was at best, an act of “criminal negligence.” And some Democrats were as complicit as the president in this crime.

Four years later, the Iraq debate has changed, though, on some levels, it has not significantly or qualitatively improved. Other than knowing a few Arabic words to describe the sectarian groups in that country, there is still little understanding or appreciation of Iraq’s history or culture. And there is still too little acknowledgement of our responsibility for the chaos and tension our policies have created in that country and the broader region. Those who want to “surge to victory” don’t understand or acknowledge this. Neither do those who want to set a date to leave as precipitously and unilaterally as we went in.

The Iraq Study Group report, while not perfect, provided important guideposts leading to a responsible way out. Some Democrats initially embraced it, then ran away from it. The administration, on the other hand, rejected the report and then began to cherry-pick pieces of it, feigning support, but only giving lip service to the most important of the ISG recommendations. For example, the ISG’s call for a commitment to achieve a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace or for the establishment of an Iraq Contact Group doesn’t mean an occasional visit by the Secretary of State or an informal meeting in Baghdad. What the ISG sought was a concrete way for the U.S. to rehabilitate its image and leadership in the Middle East, rebuild regional trust and alliances and create a structure which invested neighboring countries in efforts to achieve regional stabilization and reconciliation in Iraq.

It is this path that would have shown the way forward: isolating extremism, confronting Iranian ambitions and providing for an orderly removal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

Without such a comprehensive regional plan, either staying and fighting or setting a date to leave will result in only more chaos.

Making matters worst, there is now intense pressure from the Administration and from AIPAC (the pro-Israel lobby) to ratchet up the campaign against Iran, without any idea of where this will lead, other than to war. And tragically, once again, too many Democrats are falling into the same trap they fell into four years ago. And once again, it is out of insecurity and the political calculation that it is better to appear tough instead of smart.

These are dangerous times that require courageous and thoughtful leadership. Those who were culpable in getting us into this mess should accept their responsibility. They owe us and the Iraqi people more than the limited current debate. What they owe us is a comprehensive plan: a plan for an Arab-Israeli peace, a plan that will rebuild fractured ties with allies enabling us to defeat extremists, stabilize and reconcile Iraq, confront Iranian ambitions and bring U.S. troops home.

We need this kind of leadership, not more political calculation, because the price we’ve paid for that has already been too high.

Washington Watch

If You Want To Know Why We Keep Fighting Wars, Look No Further Than The South.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

March 22, 2007

Re: If You Want To Know Why We Keep Fighting
Wars, Look No Further Than The South.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
[Dean, Massachusetts School of Law]

Dear Colleagues:

One who often reads American history can hardly avoid being constantly reminded why the historical South deserves contempt, if not sheer anger. Southerners of today dislike hearing this. They point out such truths as that the South has undergone much change; not everyone there is a yahoo; it has millions of intelligent citizens of good will; politeness and courtesy are valued there, as one wishes (forlornly) that they were valued elsewhere. Yet one is always reading -- ineluctably -- of a history so horrible that the mind boggles that this could have been America. As bad as the North was, it was nothing as compared to what went on for hundreds of years in the region that the supposedly sainted Robert E. Lee fought for -- what horrifically went on, indeed, for 100 years after he fought for it.

The latest book I’ve read that brings up this appalling history is one I’m currently in the midst of. It is “The Race Beat,” by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. The authors are not exactly chopped liver; they are eminent in their field. Roberts, among other things, was the Executive Editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer for an 18 year period in which, on his watch, it won 17 Pulitzers. He subsequently was managing editor of The New York Times. Klibanoff is the managing editor for news at The Atlanta Constitution. Their book is a fascinating history of the press coverage of the Civil Rights movement. I’m almost half way through it, and the portion I’ve read often describes, of necessity, horrid things that were daily fare in the South. The worst are the murders and lynchings -- themselves nearly daily fare in the South. With apologies to the authors for lengthy quotes describing two of the worst of these events in order to give the reader a sense of what was going on in the South, here are descriptions of the lynching of Claude Neal and the never to be forgotten murder of Emmett Till:

“In the same way that Emmett Till would become the most defining event in the childhood lives of Negro children in Mississippi, the terrifying story of Claude Neal had made an indelible impression on the lives of Negro residents in north and central Florida. Newson [an African American reporter] had been seven years old in 1934 when Claude Neal was tortured and lynched in Marianna, a north Florida town not far from Alabama and Georgia. Neal, who was accused of having killed a white woman, was scalded repeatedly with a hot iron, castrated, and dragged through the streets before being stretched and displayed in a tree. This had not been an impulse lynching; newspaper and radio stories had given advance notice of it. As Neal was being hauled by a mob from an Alabama jail to Marianna, a crowd estimated at about four thousand had time to get to the scene. By some accounts, he was forced to eat his own genitals, and his finger and toes were put on display in the town. It was a story that haunted the Negroes of north and central Florida for decades .” P. 95.

“On August 31, three days after Till was reported abducted, his tortured, bloated, and decomposed body floated partially to the surface of the Tallahatchie River. It was a ghastly sight, made all the more horrible because Till’s neck was wrapped in barbed wire attached at the other end to a cotton gin fan that weighed twice its seventy pounds because of the mud on it. The left side of the boy’s head was beaten in and “cut up pretty badly, like an axe was used,” the sheriff said. One eyeball was dangling from its socket; his tongue extended from his mouth, swollen to eight times its normal size. Behind his left ear was a bullet hole. Around one of his fingers was an oversized ring that his mother had finally agreed he could wear with a little tape to help it fit. The ring was engraved “LT,” the initials of his dead father, Louis Till.” P. 87.

“At the Illinois Central station, accompanied by Simeon Booker, other reporters and photographers for the Negro press, and scores of mourners, Mrs. Mamie Bradley [Till’s mother] waited for the pine box to arrive. Booker later wrote that when the box was handed down and opened for her to see, some of the young boy’s skull fell off and some of his brains fell out.” P. 88.

Till’s murderers were acquitted by a Mississippi jury in one hour and seven minutes. It was these kinds of things, it was the denial of almost all human decency in almost every way to almost all African Americans in the South, it was howling white mobs screaming at African American children, it was this kind of South, and Southern violence, that those of my generation in the North grew up learning about, reading about, seeing on television. And a good thing too, or it would never have changed.

But, in reality, perhaps the question is whether it all has changed. Let us put race aside, notwithstanding what appears to be in the heart of big league Southern leaders like Trent Lott, who wishes the country had followed Strom Thurmond. Let us confine ourselves to a single issue relating to violence; let us confine ourselves to regularly favoring the use of military force. Or, to put it more bluntly, regularly favoring starting and continuing wars.

The most famous Southern writer, Faulkner, said the past is not dead, it is not even past. This would seem true of the Southern attitude towards war. War has regularly been a Southern policy of choice -- not excluding the Civil War. The South wanted the War of 1812, it wanted war with Mexico, it wanted the Civil War, it wanted to invade and take over Cuba and parts of Central America. Woodrow Wilson, a Southerner, got us into World War I after saying he kept us out of war. Even Harry Truman, who took us into Korea without Congressional authorization and thereby set the stage for a militarized nation and Viet Nam, was in effect a southerner -- Missouri was a rebel leaning border state with lots of Southern feeling (and guerrillas) where Truman grew up not long after the Civil War. Lyndon Johnson was a Southerner, and so was Dean Rusk. So is the current George Bush.

It’s not that no northerners ever got us into (and kept us in) war: there were FDR and the first George Bush, after all. (The first Bush was really a Northerner even if he eventually repaired to Texas). But the fact is that Southerners have been prominent in seeking wars throughout American history. The South became militaristic at least as early as the 1830s or so if not before -- it started creating military academies to train men against the day it might be necessary to fight the North, and it never gave up its violent, militaristic attitudes. Faulkner’s point that the past is not even past would seem especially true with regard to the South’s love for war. Another way to say the same thing, a way I just heard a few days ago, is that Southerners just don’t care enough about their kids. (Which reminds me of the German nobleman type who said in the 1930s that he would give one of his sons to defeat England.)

Consider, most recently, the Congressional vote for war with Iraq in 2002, and the 50 to 48 Senate vote last week against pulling out most troops by 2008, a pullout that would have had to begin within four months.

When it came to the initial resolution authorizing the war in October 2002, the vote in the Senate was 77 for, 23 against. 23 of these yeas came from the Old Confederacy plus the three Southern Border States of Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland, while only three of the nays came from these. (Two of the three nays came from the border state of Maryland, so that there was only one nay from all 11 states of the Old Confederacy.) In the House there were 296 for and 133 against. 122 of the yeas and only 24 nays came from the Old Confederacy plus the border three. So, what is obvious is that the vote for war was overwhelming from the Old Confederacy plus the border three, with Senators and Congressmen from the rest of the country being much more divided.

Or to look at the recent 50 to 48 Senate vote against ending the war, only seven Senators from the Old Confederacy or the border three voted to end the war, while 19 voted against ending it.

These figures illustrate what has long been obvious to anyone who has studied or considered the history of the matter: they show that the South is far more inclined towards war than the rest of the nation. Naturally, there will be some objections to this view. It will be said, for instance, that the recent figures are what they are because the South is overwhelmingly Republican, this is Bush’s war, and his party members are supporting him. Well, not all party members supported him in the relevant votes. A few did not, just as some Democrats voted for war in 2002. But, far more importantly, to be in favor of war is the position of people who are conservative to reactionary (as well as some moderates). Southerners are Republicans because they are conservative to reactionary. They are not conservative to reactionary because they are Republicans. (Think of this idea as being something like Plato’s question of whether something is good because the Gods love it, or whether the Gods love it because it is good.) The South has been a conservative to reactionary stronghold (now called a red state stronghold) for at least 175 to 180 years, and that is why it is Republican today. So people who say southern support for this war is a party matter fail to reckon with the long history of conservative to reactionary, and militaristic, thinking. If the South weren’t that way it wouldn’t be Republican today and wouldn’t be supporting the war so overwhelmingly.

Then it may also be objected that the foregoing Southern votes in Congress aren’t responsible for the war, since there were plenty of non Southern votes to authorize the war. That, of course, is true. Yet is makes a considerable practical difference, when it comes to war or any other policy, if you start with a large, diehard committed bloc on your side, a bloc that will argue for you, work for you, and needs no convincing, but instead will push for you. The South is such a bloc when it comes to war. Beyond this, the Southern bloc did make a difference on the Senate vote to end the war. The resolutions would have had a majority of votes cast if you remove all the Southern votes pro and con, or even if you just split them evenly. It may not at this time have garnered the 60 needed to override a veto, but who knows what could have happened had it at least had a majority?

So we are faced with a militaristically inclined, pretty solid bloc of conservative to reactionary votes in the part of the country that has long been a one party section, for about 80 years a solidly Democratic section and now, for about 35 to 40 years or so, a solidly Republican section. The South can, through history in various fields (like civil rights) for many years did, and in future may again stall progress toward a better society. Its warlike proclivities may in themselves stall progress, because as was true in the times of Wilson, FDR and Johnson, war brings progress to an end, or at least severely limits it, because emotion and focus turn extensively to war instead of to progress. War, like death (spoken of by Oppenheimer at Trinity), is the destroyer of worlds.

The South’s tendency, even desire, for war is part of a broader problem that has been explained and discussed here at other times: the problem of the vastly disproportionate power the South has continually exercised over the political life of this country since 1789, with the sole exception of the period 1861-76. There is no easy way to solve this problem, with its militaristic component, but there is a way, one that would help make the country far more democratic than it is now.

One of the reasons for the South’s disproportionate power is the constitutionally mandated composition of the Senate, with two Senators from each state regardless of a state’s population. One really knows of no one who suggests changing this, and it is dubious that any change could be worked in less than 100 years. But another reason for the South’s political power is the winner take all system of single member districts in votes for Representatives, and the winner take all nature of state representation in the Electoral College. Neither the single member district system, nor the winner take all method used in such districts and in the Electoral College, are constitutionally mandated. In fact, to a minimal extent they either have not been or are not currently being used by a tiny number of states today. They can be changed to proportional systems of voting. The pros and cons of this have been discussed in other postings, and therefore will not be rehashed now. Suffice to say now that proportional systems of voting would mean that the votes of the millions of Southerners whose votes count for nothing now because they are totally nullified by majorities, would instead count for something. Southern progressives and liberals would be able to elect Congressmen and Congresswomen, and their votes would also count in the Electoral College. The South would no longer be a solidly conservative to reactionary bloc in national affairs. It would instead be reasonably divided, like the rest of the country is.

Of course, the use of systems of proportional representation would also mean that several states that are reliably Democratic (i.e., liberal or progressive) in elections for President or the House would elect a larger number of conservatives. For the conservative vote in those states would no longer be reliably cancelled out, reliably overridden and nullified, in such elections, just as the liberal vote would no longer be nullified, in such elections, just as the liberal vote would no longer be nullified in the South. So be it. Our major problem really is not, and as far as I know never has been, the existence of divided political power in the North. Rather, it has always been the presence of undivided political power in the South. The solid bloc South has already caused this country much disaster, including the Civil War which killed more Americans than any other war even though the country’s population was only 30 million at the time, not the approximately 140 million of World War II, or the approximately 180 to 200 million or so at the time of Viet Nam. Unless history proves to be no guide whatever -- which one would not think on the basis of Bush II’s Iraq war -- we’d better find some way of ending the solidly-conservative-to-reactionary-bloc- power of the South or it will cause us disaster again in the future. That is, as I say, unless history proves to be no guide at all. Does anyone wish to argue that history will be no guide because historical patterns do not repeat themselves? If so, they will find a lot of historians to argue with.

 This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at

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Cheney and Libby: Lying about Lying

News > March 21, 2007

By Marcy Wheeler

Here is the real news from the I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby trial: Evidence released during the case indicates that not only did Libby lie to the grand jury (the crime for which he was convicted) but that the Office of the Vice President (OVP)—specifically Vice President Dick Cheney, Libby and Cathie Martin, Cheney’s press secretary—tried to cover-up the Bush administration’s original lies to Congress and the American people about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction with more lies.

This second round of lies began after Joseph Wilson published a July 6, 2003 op-ed in the New York Times, in which he said that his 2002 fact-finding mission found no evidence that Saddam Hussein had bought yellowcake uranium from Niger. Recall that President George W. Bush in his 2003 State of the Union (SOTU) address used this story about Niger yellowcake as proof that Saddam was trying to develop a nuclear arsenal.

One piece of evidence introduced at the trial was a Jan. 24, 2003 CIA document—a document that Martin, in a note submitted at the trial, described as a “restatement” of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) claim that Saddam was trying to acquire uranium. Faced in the summer of 2003 with accusations from Wilson and journalists that OVP had knowingly put erroneous uranium claims in President Bush’s 2003 SOTU address, OVP tried to declassify the NIE and the Jan. 24 restatement. By declassifying both, OVP hoped to prove that the CIA supported the Niger claim in October 2002—and still supported it in January 2003, when it formed the basis for the “16 words” Bush uttered in the SOTU.

This was patently untrue, but that didn’t stop Libby and Cheney from attempting to make this argument several times. The two men tried unsuccessfully to have the NIE restatement included in then-CIA director George Tenet’s July 11, 2003 public acknowledgement of responsibility for the false uranium claim in the SOTU. They included it in a talking points memo drafted in response to Tenet’s statement. And, using Paul Wolfowitz as the leak, they released it to the press.

On July 17, 2003, a Wall Street Journal editorial proclaimed: “Regarding the supposedly discredited Niger story, the NIE says that ‘a foreign government service reported that as of early 2001 Niger planned to send several tons of “pure uranium” (probably yellowcake) to Iraq.’ ” The Journal editorial then asserted that the same information was used—via the Jan. 24 document—in preparation for the State of the Union: “But we are told that language identical to what was in the NIE is what the CIA presented to the White House last January 24 in preparation for President Bush’s State of the Union address.”

This last bit is key: Every time OVP raised the Jan. 24 document in their talking points during that frantic week of damage control in July 2003, they claimed the document was used in preparation for the State of the Union. In fact, however, the document was submitted to the White House after the CIA had already removed references to Niger from the SOTU.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on Iraq states that the NIE document was submitted to the White House to use in preparation of Colin Powell’s Feb. 5, 2003, speech to the United Nations, not the SOTU. The cover sheet on the document itself bears this out—it was faxed to the White House Situation Room for the Saturday work session on Powell’s speech, and it was faxed to (among others) Libby, who claims not to have worked on that part of the SOTU.

There’s one other detail revealed by the OVP talking points memo introduced at the trial. The OVP used the Jan. 24 document to counter a July 23 explanation by Tenet and Condoleezza Rice that Alan Foley, then-head of the CIA’s Weapons, Intelligence, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Center, forced Bob Joseph, a staffer at the National Security Council, to remove some details from the SOTU. Foley testified before the Senate that one of those details was the word “Niger.”

But the OVP’s talking points memo reveals that Foley made Joseph remove the word Niger before the Jan. 24 document was created. The memo states:

Director Tenet’s statement cites an oral conversation between CIA [Foley] and NSC staffers [Joseph] shortly before the State of the Union, but not the equally or more authoritative Jan. 24 submission that was sent by the CIA officer responsible for the NIE, that reached some or all of these same NSC staffers within two days of the oral discussion and that reaffirmed the Intelligence Community’s conclusions in the NIE.

The conversation in which Foley instructed Joseph to remove the word Niger occurred two days before the Jan. 24 document was created! The CIA told Joseph not to include Niger in the SOTU, and a day or so later, someone at the White House requested—and Libby and Joseph received—that section of the NIE that supported the uranium claim.

Not only did OVP lie about what speech the Jan. 24 document pertained to—but that lie was made worse by the timing. The Niger reference had already been removed from the SOTU by the time this document was created.

In July 2003, when confronted with their lying, the administration acted indignant, responded with another lie and then tried—again—to cook the evidence.

Marcy Wheeler

Marcy Wheeler is the author of Anatomy of Deceit--a primer on the CIA leak and the dicey intelligence claims the administration used to justify the war. She was a key liveblogger of the Scooter Libby trial and blogs regularly at The Next Hurrah. She received a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and works as an independent business consultant in Michigan.

More information about Marcy Wheeler

Dogs don't bark for the GOP

American conservatives love to go after the UN, even on the most dubious charges. So why aren't they doing so when a Republican is involved?

March 22, 2007 8:30 PM

Ian Williams

Sherlock Holmes aficionados will remember the story about the dog that did not bark. It sprang to mind this week as I strained to hear the deafening sound of silence from the usual suspects - the Murdoch/Fox hunters - who are so well trained to bay at the first hint of a UN corruption story.

Consider. A senior official of a UN agency that Washington banned for many years because of its alleged corruption and anti-American bias has just resigned, shortly before the auditors closed in with a devastating report. The official is a former legislator from the party currently running his government back home - and currently mired in nepotism and corruption scandals. Nominated by his President, once ensconced in the agency's offices, the official sliced and diced consultancy contracts into segments smaller than $100,000 so that he could award them on a no-bid basis to an influential company back home. To do so, he used funds totaling over $2m earmarked to combat illiteracy in Africa, and even used half a million at one point for a sycophantic reception in honour of the spouse of the president who nominated him. These charges were made in the French press three months ago, and have been circulating among the knowledgeable ever since - even though those who raised questions about the official found themselves transferred from Paris to plum postings like Zimbabwe.

Wow. Are the Foxes hunting? Is the Wall Street Journal op-ed page about to declare war on someone and demand US withdrawal from the UN?

No. The sound of silence is deafening. Why? Elementary, my dear Watson.

The official concerned is former American Republican Congressman Peter Smith, nominated by President George W Bush to go to UNESCO and reform the organization after 19 years of American boycott. UNESCO is based in Paris, and the auditors are those used by the French government.

The company that was the beneficiary of Smith's Halliburtonesque contracting practices was Navigant, a big Washington company whose website, you will notice, does not claim any educational expertise at all.

UNESCO critics claim he transferred over $200,000 from literacy projects in Mauritania, Iraq and Palestine to bankroll the conference hosted by Laura Bush and the White House in September last year, where Ms Bush was feted as the Honorary Ambassador of the United Nations Literacy Decade. The New York caterer was the beneficiaries of the children's loss.

Of course, it is possible that he is entirely innocent. But when you consider the Oil for Food allegations, you have to wonder why some parts of the fourth estate don't show the same restraint before going after foreigners, liberals and globalists of various hues.

Indeed, the relative silence is an interesting contrast to the two year furor over the Oil For Food programme. After hyperbolic talk of billions of dollars improperly diverted, the scandal ended up as a whimper, not a bang: The allegation is now that the former head of the programme, Benon Sevan, received $160,000 over four years, which is claimed to have come from a friend who bought oil from Saddam Hussein. Sevan had declared it on his UN forms, saying it came from his aunt, and denies any connection. (Of course, he is a Cypriot, and spent a lifetime working for the UN, and had no known connection with the GOP - so his guilt has been assumed from the beginning.)

But the silence is also reminiscent of the blanket over the $10bn that the UN Oil for Food programme handed over to US occupation authorities. Congressman Henry Waxman has been trying to find out what happened - and has been quite successful in uncovering the serious incompetence and corruption of the Americans who handled these huge bricks of cash. His efforts have had less than one per cent of the publicity of the unproven and frankly dubious Oil for Food scandal.

The lesson is clear. If you want to be corrupt in the UN, being an influential Republican is as good as ticking the box for no publicity.

Born in Liverpool, Ian Williams graduated from Liverpool University despite several years’ suspension for protests against its investments in South Africa. Consequently, his variegated career path included a drinking competition with Chou En Lai and an argument about English literature with Mme Mao at the tail end of the Cultural Revolution. He has been living in New York since 1989.

He has written for newspapers and magazines around the world, ranging from the Australian, to The Independent, from the ew York Observer and the Village Voice to the Nation and the New Statesman and Newsday, to the Financial Times and the Guardian. His byline has been in the Baptist Times, Penthouse, and Hustler.

He has also “pundited” on BBC, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CBC and innumerable radio stations, for example appearing on “Hard Ball,” “the O’Reilly Factor,” etc on Fox, where he plays the liberal lion thrown to the Christian Right.

His first book was The Alms Trade, a study of the role of charities in Britain and the second was The UN For Beginners. Deserter: was published by Nation Books July 2004 and his latest is Rum: A Social & Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776. He is currently writing a book on the Americans who blame the UN for all the US's ills.

Swiss discussed compromise idea in Iran: diplomats

By Louis CharbonneauWed Mar 21, 9:52 AM ET

Switzerland recently sent a senior official to Iran to discuss a proposal aimed at resolving Tehran's nuclear dispute with the West, despite requests by key Western powers to drop the idea, diplomats said.

The diplomats said Swiss Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Ambuehl went to Tehran sometime after a visit to Bern last month by Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.

"The purpose of (Ambuehl's) visit was to promote a Swiss initiative to reach a compromise with Iran over its nuclear file and resume talks on nuclear-related issues," said a one-page report about the trip given to Reuters by a Western diplomat.

The proposal was that Iran would be permitted to keep its current uranium enrichment infrastructure of several hundred centrifuges. Iran could run the centrifuges but would not feed any processed uranium hexafluoride (UF6) into them while negotiating a package of incentives with six world powers.

Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Johann Aeschlimann neither confirmed nor denied the report about Ambuehl's visit to Tehran, but said: "Switzerland has not put forward a proposal to run these centrifuges without uranium gas."

Half a dozen diplomats said the idea was not an official proposal on paper but confirmed the Swiss had been pushing it and had discussed it repeatedly with the Iranians.

Diplomats said the plan was being coordinated with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

Key Western powers are dismissive of the idea, which could complicate their drive gradually to expand sanctions against Tehran since both the IAEA and Iran are considering it favorably, the diplomats said.

Several diplomats said Iran was wavering about the idea of running its centrifuges without uranium gas, fearing that Tehran might be perceived as having backed down.

Russia and China, which can veto any sanctions resolutions at the U.N. Security Council, would like a compromise with Iran.

Germany's U.N. ambassador in New York, Thomas Matussek, was aware of the proposal but said it had played no role in current discussions on Iran at the U.N. Security Council.

The IAEA declined to comment, but a diplomat close to the agency said the Iranians were "relatively positive" about the idea. Iran's foreign ministry had no immediate comment.


The West fears Iran is developing atomic weapons under cover of an energy program and demands that it freeze its enrichment program, which can produce uranium fuel for bombs or power plants. Iran insists its nuclear intentions are peaceful.

The diplomats said the United States and the European Union's three biggest powers -- Germany, France and Britain -- dislike the Swiss idea and asked the Swiss not to open a second negotiating track with Iran.

The four powers, plus Russia and China, offered last year to hold talks with Iran on a package of incentives provided it suspended uranium enrichment beforehand, something Iran has so far refused to do.

"Trying to establish a second track is not an approach we wish to take," a U.S. official said. An EU3 diplomat agreed.

The IAEA concluded in an internal report on the Swiss idea that Iran could gain useful technical knowledge from the dry operation of centrifuges, including information about the durability of the machinery and trouble-shooting.

The United States and EU3 have drafted a second U.N. Security Council resolution imposing further sanctions on Tehran for refusing to suspend enrichment. But Council chair South Africa has called for the suspension of all sanctions against Iran.

(Additional reporting by Evelyn Leopold at the United Nations, Karin Strohecker in Vienna, Sam Cage in Zurich and Frederik Dahl in Tehran)

What's red, white and blue with black eye?

Tamara Dietrich

March 21 2007

Patriots can suffer all manner of indignities for their country. Nathan Eckstrand is no exception.

The 23-year-old philosophy student is one of about 90 people from Hampton Roads who joined 30,000 others from around the country to march in the nation's capital Saturday against the Iraq war. It wasn't his first demonstration.

Somewhere between 21st and 22nd streets along the march route, Eckstrand says, counter-demonstrators awash in black leather, camouflage, Marine insignias and the American flag lined both sides of a sidewalk.

It was a gantlet of abuse.

"They were literally shouting in our ears," recalls Eckstrand, who is volunteering at a Mediation Center in Norfolk before starting grad school this fall. Eckstrand's mother marched a couple of paces ahead.

"One of them I guess was carried along with momentum and the feeling of hatred on their side," he says. "He spat on me. And as I was walking away I heard him call me a traitor."

He called Eckstrand another name as well. Expletive deleted.


Clair Langford of Poquoson marched the gantlet, too. She's 26-year-old student government vice president at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton.

She's also an Army veteran. So she was placed with other veterans near the head of the march.

Langford had never demonstrated before and had high hopes. When she first got off the bus, she was so overwhelmed, so grateful to see so many people of like mind that she wept.

Later, at the gantlet, tears streamed down her face again. But they were tears of another sort.

"There was so much anger and so much hate," Langford says. "They were cursing us. They were flipping us off, spitting. That was very difficult for me to go through because there was so much hate in the air."

So much hate, heading into the fifth year of a quagmire.

So many towns and cities feeling the hurt.

While Eckstrand and Langford marched for peace, Smithfield was mourning a young man killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq just days before he planned to marry. Army Sgt. Michael Peek is the latest of 28 men with connections to Hampton Roads to die in this war.

And on Monday, the fourth anniversary of U.S. bombs dropping on Iraq, reporter Stephanie Heinatz profiled just a few of countless local impacts.

A local military mother and retired Navy captain who had to face her own son's deployment. A war widow who is learning to love again. An employer buckling down to cover for a worker called up for his third tour. High-school students struggling to grasp the ethics versus realpolitik of war.

After four years, communities here and all over this country know the reality down to their bones. They've buried their share, too.

They've also taken in thousands of men and women so badly broken from combat that they will never be the same. Lost limbs, scarred souls. Brain trauma, post-traumatic stress.

Everyone hopes that the spilled blood and torn flesh, the body bags and the grieving at gravesides won't be in vain.

A sizable portion of the population fears that it will.

It's fear that put protesters and counter-protesters in Washington on Saturday. One side afraid that good men and women are dying for no good reason. The other side afraid that that will be the verdict of history - and furious at the prospect.

So, with no clear enemy to engage, they bully the peacemakers.

With a tragically flawed grasp of the individual rights their own country stands for, they try to choke off protest and dissent.

As if the loudest voice wins. As if pinning a flag to your chest makes you a patriot.

As if American-style democracy is forcing everyone to goose-step to the same tune.

Or else.

The ones who spit on their own countrymen for the sin of marching for peace, for calling for our servicemen and women to be brought home safe and soon, and for indicting the president and his cabal for instigating chaos need a more robust appreciation of democracy.

Eckstrand, for instance, didn't want to lash out at the man who spat upon him, but talk with him.

"On one hand, I'm actually glad they showed because I think it's always healthy for democracy to see disagreement," Eckstrand says.

"But obviously the way he expressed it was way over the line. His side was trying to shut down disagreement. Disagreement is a good thing. It's out there and they need to respect it, appreciate it.

"The American flag doesn't mean anything if you don't put any faith in it."

Tamara Dietrich can be reached at or 247-7892.

Copyright © 2007, Daily Press

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  • Stephen Colbert calls bears "Godless killing machines." Are they really? Or is Colbert just a pawn of the gun and/or picnic industry?
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  • He unapologetically stands with George W. Bush. Why isn't he more apologetic?
Stand up to Stephen Colbert. Watch the movie, learn the facts--and then sign our petition to end Colbert's falsiness once and for all.

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Georgie Anne Geyer

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- This week marks the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war, and the newspapers and TV are filled with sad, half-hearted analyses of this unnecessary "war of man's choice."

We needed more "boots" on the ground (and, one assumes, also in the air and on the sea); we should have kept the Iraqi army together and then the people would have loved us; we should have done something (anything!) about those pesky Iranians, who unfortunately are the cousins of Iraqi Shiites, who oddly prefer relatives to us. That's what we hear.

But the underlying truth, the big truth of the Iraq war, seems still to elude us. It is not that our military and politicians choose to ignore this "basic" of modern warfare; it is that they (God help America!) still don't understand it. There was no way to win this war.

When I served as a foreign correspondent with the Chicago Daily News in Vietnam in 1967, '68 and later in '70 and '71, it didn't take me long to figure out that we were going to lose -- and why. The reason was childishly simple: The intentions of the North Vietnamese were infinite, while ours were finite.

It was their country, their roots, their long, guerrilla-guided fight against the French, who we had, for reasons that still evade any rational explanation, chosen to replace. They would outlast us, and send us and our expensive games packing, and they did. And we would actually get angry that they "tricked" us by not coming out in the field of battle and losing.

They had thousands of years of gnarled, but real, roots in the conflict. How could we possibly match that as we flew in so confidently to clean up things a bit?
And we still didn't start teaching counterinsurgency in our military academies until this year, when Gen. David Petraeus, a splendid man for conventional wars, suddenly put out a counterinsurgency booklet for our forces. How avant!

But focus on what the historians say: In the 20th and, until now, 21st centuries, there has not been one national or local insurgency, employing guerrilla or now what is fashionably called asymmetric warfare, that has been defeated by a major power. Not one. Some historians argue that the Malaysian civil war in the 1940s and '50s was "won" by the British colonialists, but that was actually a special case. More real was the extraordinary picture of French Gen. Charles de Gaulle, not exactly a wuss, retreating from "French" Algeria.

My old friend Barry Zorthian, who was the official American spokesman in Vietnam and beloved by journalists, told me last week he wrote a memo to the commanding generals in 1968, outlining all the problems there -- and that they were virtually a mirror image of Iraq today. Then he told me sadly, "We could have had the same deal with the North Vietnamese in 1968 that we got five years later -- only in those five years, 25,000 Americans died."

But is the experience in Vietnam in any real way equal to the experience in Iraq? As a matter of fact, in many ways, yes.

The Iraqis are still suffering from 500 years of Ottoman colonialism, then the pesky British (will they never go home and stay?), and always the Iranians conspiratorial presence. While I met many Iraqis I liked during my eight trips to Iraq in the '70s and '80s, when I interviewed Saddam Hussein and his whole gang, it didn't take a Margaret Mead to see that these were probably the most violent people in the world.

Their great cities -- Babylon, Ur, Nineveh, Hatra -- all had been destroyed by conquest and by environment fatigue. Their religions -- Sunni and Shiia Islam, plus many sects -- had been at war internally for 900 years. They distrust everyone, particularly foreigners, who have not historically made a favorable impression upon them, and they are some of the most vicious fighters in the world.

They are not "just like us and want the same things for their children" (George W.'s favorite, and ignorant, refrain) and never, ever, could be, given their brutal history.

At this moment, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has stood against this war for the same reasons as I and other journalists like Arnaud de Borchgrave, Steve Chapman, Seymour Hersh, Trudy Rubin and a few brave others have, has written a brilliant book about our involvement in Iraq, "Second Chance."

The Iraq war, he said in appearances on the book, has led to a "calamitous image of American global standing. Fifteen years after we became the only superpower, according to the new BBC worldwide poll, the three lowest countries in opinion are Israel, Iran and the U.S. We are bogged down, and Iran has benefited geopolitically. There is an increasing terrorist threat to the U.S. and intensified hatred of us.

"We cannot be acting like an imperial power in a post-imperial age or a colonial power in a post-colonial age."

He then gave grades to the last three presidents. To the first President Bush, he gave a solid B for his policy regarding freeing Eastern Europe and acting with resolution in the Middle East; but George H.W. Bush did not follow up on his potential. To Bill Clinton he gave only a C because, while Clinton was full of good intentions, his whole administration was self-indulgent. To George W. Bush he gave an F: "What this president has done to America in the world is unconscionable."