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Thank God for Monty Python

Just when things are looking particularly bleak, Terry Jones (of Python fame) channels God in order to lend some perspective to George Bush and Tony Blair's piety.

A high-level leak has revealed that God is "furious" at Tony Blair's attempts to implicate him in the bombing of Iraq. Sources close to the archangel Gabriel report him as describing the Almighty as "hopping mad ... with sanctimonious yet unscrupulous politicians claiming He would condone their bestial activities when He has no way of going public Himself, owing to the MMW agreement" (a reference to the long-established Moving in Mysterious Ways concordat).


"If Tony Blair thinks his friendship with George W Bush is worth rubbing out a couple of hundred thousand Iraqi men, women and children, then that's something he can talk over with me later," said God. "But when he starts publicly claiming that's the way I do the arithmetic too, it's time I put my foot down!" It is well known that God has a very big foot.

A source says Gabriel has spent days trying to dissuade the Almighty from loosing a plague of toads upon the Blair family. Gabriel reminded God that Cherie and the children had nothing to do with Tony's decisions. God's response, it is reliably reported, was: "Blair says the Iraqis are lucky to have got bombed, so how can he complain if his family gets a few toads in the bath?"

For God's sake, read the whole thing at The Guardian

UK soldier quits in disgust over American tactics in Iraq

Ben Griffin, a highly regarded British SAS (Special Air Services) soldier, has quit rather than fight alongside American troops. Here are some of his reasons:

He said he had witnessed "dozens of illegal acts" by US troops, claiming they viewed all Iraqis as "untermenschen" - the Nazi term for races regarded as sub-human.


Mr Griffin, 28, who spent two years with the SAS, said the American military's "gung-ho and trigger happy mentality" and tactics had completely undermined any chance of winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi population. He added that many innocent civilians were arrested in night-time raids and interrogated by American soldiers, imprisoned in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, or handed over to the Iraqi authorities and "most probably" tortured.

What makes the story even more interesting, is the civilised, and intelligent reaction to Griffin's decision by a high ranking official in the British Department of Homeland Security:

"Trooper Griffin is a highly experienced soldier. This makes his decision particularly disturbing and his views and opinions must be listened to by the Government."

Read the full report at The Telegraph (UK)

Ultrasound, and "The Geopolitics of Sexual Frustration"

Thanks in large part to technological advances such as the ultrasound machine, millions of women in Asia choose to terminate pregnancy if the fetus is female. This has helped to produce a huge gender imbalance in that part of world, and one which some serious observers argue could lead to greatly increased violence. Martin Walker has an interesting article on the topic at the Foreign Policy website.

Back in 1990, Nobel Prize-winning Indian economist Amartya Sen was one of the first to call attention to the phenomenon of an estimated 100 million “missing women” in Asia. Nearly everywhere else, women outnumber men, in Europe by 7 percent, and in North America by 3.4 percent. Concern now is shifting to the boys for whom these missing females might have provided mates as they reach the age that Shakespeare described as nothing but stealing and fighting and “getting of wenches with child.”

Now there are too few wenches. Thanks in large part to the introduction of the ultrasound machine, Mother Nature’s usual preference for about 105 males to 100 females has grown to around 120 male births for every 100 female births in China.


Many of the excess boys will be poor and rootless, a lumpenproletariat without the consolations of sexual partners and family. Prostitution, sex tourism, and homosexuality may ease their immediate urges, but Asian societies are witnessing far more dramatic solutions. Women now risk being kidnapped and forced not only into prostitution but wedlock. Chinese police statistics recorded 65,236 arrests for female trafficking in 1990–91 alone.

Read the full article here (thanks to Abbas at 3quarksdaily)

The awful truth

Given the dizzying array of scandals originating from the current Administration's flawed policies, it isn't easy to place value judgments on their respective severity. But I'm going to take a shot, and suggest that the tacit use of torture in Iraq, Guantanamo, and beyond, ranks right up at the top.

With the possible exception of launching an illegal war under false pretenses, what could possibly be more damaging to the U.S.? Not only is the hypocrisy of such sanctioned behavior by the world's "beacon of freedom" breathtaking, but the blowback we are likely to face for years to come, in the form of radicalized people who would otherwise have posed no threat, were they not touched by such horror, boggles the mind.

Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist who spent over 8 months reporting from occupied Iraq, has an important article on the topic at Mother Jones. In it, he provides evidence which supports the charge that the U.S. has been, and continues to be engaged in the widespread, and systematic use of torture.

It was May of 2004 when I documented his testimony in my hotel in Baghdad. "We will take you to Guantanamo," he said one female soldier told him after he was detained by U.S. forces on September 13, 2003. "Our aim is to put you in hell so you'll tell the truth. These are our orders -- to turn your life into hell." And they did. He was tortured in Abu Ghraib less than half a year after the occupation of Iraq began.

While the publication of the first Abu Ghraib photos in April 2004 opened the floodgates for former Iraqi detainees to speak out about their treatment at the hands of occupation forces, this wasn't the first I'd heard of torture in Iraq. A case I'd documented even before then was that of 57 year-old Sadiq Zoman. He was held for one month by U.S. forces before being dropped off in a coma at the general hospital in Tikrit. The medical report that came with his comatose body, written by U.S. Army medic Lt. Col. Michael Hodges, listed the reasons for Zoman's state as heat stroke and heart attack. That medical report, however, failed to mention anything about the physical trauma evident on Zomans' body --- the electrical point burns on the soles of his feet and on his genitals, the fact that the back of his head had been bashed in with a blunt instrument, or the lash marks up and down his body.

Such tales -- and they were rife in Baghdad before the news of Abu Ghraib reached the world -- were just the tip of the iceberg; and stories of torture similar to those I heard from Iraqi detainees during my very first trip to Iraq, back in November 2003, are still being told, because such treatment is ongoing.

Read the full article here

South Dakota and beyond

One of the unfortunate, glaring gaps in my education is Bible study, and I'm sorry to say that I know relatively little about the great book. But I do know how to seek out those who have studied it, and one of my favorites is the anonymous author of the site Radical Bible. He or she picks out lesser-known, if not radical quotes from the Bible, and presents them as "Commentary and Inspirational Quotes for Christian Members of the Reality-Based Community". There is one in particular which is worth considering in the wake of South Dakota's attempt to outlaw abortion. It is found in Exodus 21:22.

If men fight with each other and hit a woman who is going to have a child so that she loses her baby but no other hurt comes to her, he must pay whatever the woman's husband says he must, as agreed upon by the judges.

But if there is other hurt also, then it is life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, cut for cut, sore for sore.

Anonymous then goes on to say the following:

I mention this passage NOT because I think our country should be run according to the Laws of Moses, but because so many right-wing Christians who believe that abortion should be treated as murder before the law evidently do (or at least think they do). What's interesting about this passage is that it offers no grounds for the belief that forms (as I understand it) the basis of the antiabortion movement in this country--the idea that a fetus is a full human being and should be treated as such under the law.

As interesting as it is, this quote is not likely to have any real impact on the debate. However, faced with the quote, I would like to hear reactions from some of those prominent activists who insist on quoting the Bible in order to prop up their positions. And my interest in hearing those reactions is fueled by the thought that some, if not most, would be forced to argue that advances in science have recently proven that the unborn are human beings, and that, therefore, the above law should be reinterpreted.

Boy oh boy, would that open up a can of worms!

Read the full post here

What about Wolfowitz?

Paul Wolfowitz was, of course, one of the leading architects of the disastrous war in Iraq. Among his many fantastic–and subsequently disgraced–predictions were that the cost to the U.S. would be low ("To assume we're going to have to pay for it all is just wrong."), and that General Shinseki was "wildly off the mark" when he predicted that there were insufficient troops to do the job right during the aftermath of the war.

You may also recall that Wolfowitz was rewarded for his ineptitude by President Bush by being named head of the World Bank. At the time, Steve Clemons warned (much as he had warned of the danger of having John Bolton in the U.N.) of the potential for damage that the appointment could cause. I'm sorry to say that Steve's warnings were, in stark contrast to Wolfowitz's Iraq predictions, prescient.

Why do I say this? It goes without saying that it's not a result of my having read a critical report in a mainstream American paper. But rather the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram, in which Mohamed Hakki (formerly on staff at the World Bank) writes in depth about the repercussions of Wolfowitz's appointment. Here's an excerpt:

What everybody in the Bank perceives most evidently is the increasing rift between Wolfowitz and his inner cabal of advisors and the staff at large. The problem is manifesting itself on several levels.

In recent months, there had been a massive exodus of top talent from the World Bank. The senior ethics officer of the bank has departed. Also on the exit roster are the vice president for East Asia and the Pacific, the chief legal counsel, the vice president for environmentally and socially sustainable development, the bank's top managing director, the director of institutional integrity (who monitors internal and external corruption), and the head of the information solutions group.


What has Wolfowitz done to start this serious wave of negative sentiment? He appointed Kevin Kellems, former communications director and spokesman for Vice President Cheney, to a newly created post of director of communication strategy in addition to his position as advisor to the president, effectively sidelining the vice president of communication, UN and External Affairs at the Bank. While one could question Kellems' professional ability and record in view of his previous position and the miscommunication that flowed from Cheney's office over the years, the immediate issue for Bank staff is that he was imposed following a Wolfowitz presidential fiat. Wolfowitz in effect, forced a political appointment at the director level, which is rather unheard of, especially since directorships are lower in the administrative stratosphere and are traditionally filled following an open competitive process based on merit, not political imposition.

Another glaring example of presidential fiat came with the appointment of the Bank's new corruption czar, Suzanne Rich Folsom, as the new head of "institutional integrity". Her catapulting prompted the courageous and highly respected chairwoman of the Bank's Staff Association, Alison Cave, to issue an open letter of protest to all staff. Ms Rich, married to a powerful Republican leader and a powerful Republican lobbyist in her own right, was also appointed with no concern for clear and open competitive process. She also has the title of "Counsellor to the President". A clear conflict of interest if there was ever one.

Read the full article here

Obama adds creativity and substance to the mix

Already the Democrats brightest hope for the future, Barak Obama has made a creative proposal to the U.S. Auto industry which underscores that there is substantially more to him than good looks and a silver tongue. From Knight Ridder:

Trying to jump-start gains in auto fuel efficiency after decades of inaction, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is proposing an unusual swap for the Big Three U.S. carmakers: Washington would pay some of Detroit's multibillion-dollar health costs in exchange for it making cars that get higher gasoline mileage.

The federal government would pay 10 percent of the $6.7 billion in annual health costs for retirees that are weighing down General Motors, Ford and Chrysler if they'll commit to building more fuel-efficient cars, Obama proposed in a speech Tuesday before a panel at the National Governors Association conference. He called it a "win-win proposal for the industry."

Read the full article here

Cronkite: "The war on drugs has failed."

It's a shame that the legendary reporter and anchorman Walter Cronkite doesn't carry the same weight that he did when he helped public opinion turn the corner during the Vietnam war. Nevertheless, his opinions on the long-standing, disastrous U.S. drug policy, should be heard by as many people as possible.

As anchorman of the CBS Evening News, I signed off my nightly broadcasts for nearly two decades with a simple statement: "And that's the way it is."

To me, that encapsulates the newsman's highest ideal: to report the facts as he sees them, without regard for the consequences or controversy that may ensue.

Sadly, that is not an ethic to which all politicians aspire - least of all in a time of war.

I remember. I covered the Vietnam War. I remember the lies that were told, the lives that were lost - and the shock when, twenty years after the war ended, former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara admitted he knew it was a mistake all along.

Today, our nation is fighting two wars: one abroad and one at home. While the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought on our own streets. Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own citizens.

I am speaking of the war on drugs.

And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure.

Read Cronkite's full post at huffingtonpost

Katherine Harris exposed as a liar? What a surprise.

Harris, you may recall, was, as the Secretary of State of Florida, deeply involved in fixing facilitating the Bush "victory" over Gore in the 2000 election. Now a Member of Congress, Harris, like so many of her ilk, faces the prospect of a precipitous fall as a result of unbridled arrogance built up in the wake of that initial, intoxicating power grab.

Harris repeatedly misled journalists and the public about her conversations with defense contractor Mitchell Wade.


Harris has claimed, to me and other journalists, that she didn't have any idea. She insisted that she had assumed all those MZM-connected people -- who didn't live in Florida and whose $2,000 checks arrived in bundles -- just liked her stands on the issues and wanted to see her re-elected.


Harris is like a magnet for illegal campaign contributions, going back to long before she went to Congress. It seems she is so happy to get campaign money that all red flags remain invisible to her.

Tom Lyons of the (FL) Herald Tribune supplies the dirty details.

Torture: an eloquent first hand account

The Guardian (UK) recently published a long, moving excerpt from Moazzam Begg's book Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim's Journey To Guantánamo And Back. Begg, a thoughtful and interesting man, was innocent, and was finally released after over three years in custody. The U.S. has not apologized, nor has Begg been compensated in any manner.

After eight months in Guantánamo, I knew that the early promises by the Americans that I would get a lawyer were hollow and that I was a man in limbo, on the say-so of President George Bush. On July 7 2003, I became one of only six prisoners in Guantánamo facing a potential trial, under President Bush's military order. I didn't know this until almost two months later. So this was it: trial by military commission - a soldier's trial. "What does that mean?" I thought. "What are they going to charge me with? What if I'm convicted based on the statement I signed? Will I get life? Surely they won't execute...? Will I get my own lawyer?"

I started asking the guards, with a nagging increase in anxiety, "What have you heard about the military commissions?" The consensus seemed that it would include the use of secret information, the absence of a jury, and a military defence lawyer. It seemed quite outrageous to me: how on earth was it possible for a soldier to defend me? A soldier who'd given his oath of allegiance to the United States of America, and to George Bush, who had already labelled us as killers and terrorists?

Read an interesting associated post at Empire Burlesque

1%, 87%, 181%, 497%

Those are the shocking numbers revealed in a new research paper by Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, called "Where Did the Productivity Growth Go?". The numbers correspond to the annual average wage and salary increases between 1972 and 2001 for four groups: the 90th percentile of income distribution, the 99th, 99.9th, and 99.99th. Paul Krugman explains in a recent column:

Just to give you a sense of who we're talking about: the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that this year the 99th percentile will correspond to an income of $402,306, and the 99.9th percentile to an income of $1,672,726. The center doesn't give a number for the 99.99th percentile, but it's probably well over $6 million a year.... The idea that we have a rising oligarchy is much more disturbing. It suggests that the growth of inequality may have as much to do with power relations as it does with market forces. Unfortunately, that's the real story. Should we be worried about the increasingly oligarchic nature of American society? Yes, and not just because a rising economic tide has failed to lift most boats. Both history and modern experience tell us that highly unequal societies also tend to be highly corrupt.

Read the full post at Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal

Protecting whistle-blowers

A seemingly obvious, and very important thing to do. One which the vast majority of Americans, and (at least honest) politicians support. Yet, thanks in large part to the current Administration, blowing the whistle has become a much more, rather than less dangerous thing to do.

The situation, as it stands, has the potential to do tremendous damage on both large and small scales. The Plame affair is the best known recent example of the former. As most of you know, some in the Adminstration decided to out a CIA agent (Valerie Plame) as retribution for Joseph Wlison (Plame's husband) having questioned the case being made for the Iraq war. More broadly, however, the move was meant to be a warning shot, so that others who considered speaking out against the Administration would think twice. That outrage, and its effects, are still resonating throughout the country.

In the meantime, here's a smaller, albeit still vitally important example of the same, insidious trend. Stephen Heller exposed Diebold as having committed crimes (disenfranchising voters, in essence) in California two years ago. Diebold was de-certified as a result (though was recently re-certified), but not prosecuted. Now guess who is standing trial?

Peter Soby, Jr. provides a good overview, and the LA Times has the basic story. Here's an excerpt from the latter:

Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, refused to call Heller a "whistle-blower."

"We call him a defendant," she said. "He's accused of breaking the law…. If we feel that the evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt in our minds that a crime has been committed, it's our job as a criminal prosecutor to file a case."

Although state law protects whistle-blowers from retaliation by their employers, they can still be criminally prosecuted, said Tom Devine, legal director at the Washington, D.C.-based Government Accountability Project.

"It's very rare that it's successful," he said. "It's a tactic where the primary goal may be to scare other would-be whistle-blowers rather than a realistic attempt to obtain a conviction."

For those of you who are really concerned about the Diebold issue, bradblog has important details on California's highly questionable decision to re-certify that company.

Black Swans, John Robb, and Gary Null

Gary Null (heard on public radio and seen on PBS) is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on the topic of alternative medicine. John Robb is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on the topic of 21st Century warfare. They are also similarly prone to promote themselves in ways which can prove to be distracting, if not off-putting.

But in both cases, their knowledge is formidable, and anyone interested in their respective areas of expertise should consider using them as sources. Robb's most recent post continues his discussion of the risk that we face (worldwide) from terrorists in the form of system disruptions. Here's an excerpt:

Over four years after we began the war on terror, al Qaeda demonstrated that they still can manufacture events (black swans) that have the potential to throw our dynamically unstable global system into chaos. We appear be more vulnerable today to shocks of this type than we were four years ago.

The first attack, a successful one, on the Askariya shrine in Samarra, caused so much friction in Iraq's social systems, the country will likely end up in civil war. This would put the entire US venture in the country at immediate risk as the situation deteriorates. The second attack was an abortive attempt to take down the massive Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia. This was almost a disaster for the global economy (if the Aramco uniformed attack team had breached the second security ring, we would be looking at $100 a barrel oil today).

More is on the way. We should expect al Qaeda to begin to disrupt Saudi oil production in the more efficient but less glamorous method we have seen in Iraq and other locations, now that the attempted coup de main on Abqaiq was thwarted. These smaller and less difficult attacks, can in time replicate the effects of taking down a portion of Abqaiq. There will also be more attacks on Shiite symbolic targets, since even with the diminishing returns on terrorist attacks post-Askariya, it won't take much to continue the fragmentation.

Read John's full post at his Global Guerrillas website

Howard Dean on the wisdom of invading Iraq (revisited)

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent and pungent post up at Crooks and Liars entitled, appropriately, "Whose judgment on the Iraq War is entitled to respect?". In it, he reminds us of just how prescient Dean was, in blinding contrast to the Administration, prior to the invasion of Iraq. Here are some points made by Dean in a speech which he gave about a month before we went to war:

Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms.

Anti-American feelings will surely be inflamed among the misguided who choose to see an assault on Iraq as an attack on Islam, or as a means of controlling Iraqi oil.

And last week's tape by Osama bin Laden tells us that our enemies will seek relentlessly to transform a war into a tool for inspiring and recruiting more terrorists.

There are other risks. Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms.

Read Glenn's piece here

Why We Fight

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together. –Dwight D. Eisenhower (1961) (photo credit: Richard Avedon)

Why We Fight is the title of Eugene Jarecki's new film. By all early accounts, it appears to be well worth seeing. You can view the trailer (Flash 7 required) here

Neocon comedy

The following was posted by Jonathan Schwarz on his excellent site, A Tiny Revolution

The Secret Of Comedy Is, Of Course, Ti-MING

Danielle Pletka, vice president at the American Enterprise Institute and alpha neoconservative, recently wrote an angry op-ed for the Los Angeles Times slamming the CIA:

[T]he CIA itself is a political organization... it should be clear from the sheer volume of senior intelligence officials quoted regularly in the nation's newspapers that there was—and is—a specific agenda...

There were, for example, inaccurate warnings... that [Iraq] would erupt into civil war..."

Beautifully enough, Pletka's op-ed was published on Tuesday, one day before the mosque in Samarra was blown up.

The only way this could have been better is if Pletka had written: "There were, for example, inaccurate warnings that I would write an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that would make me look like an incredible moron."

Cartoons, and freedom of the press

Although the dust has hardly settled, Glenn Greenwald has posted a powerful analysis of how many supporters of the Administration are, at the very least, displaying rank hypocrisy with respect to the publication of the Danish cartoons. Here's an excerpt:

So, to recap so far: publishing stories which inflame Muslims by reporting on American abuses at Guantanamo is wrong and subversive and ought be suppressed. Anyone who states that Iraq is disintegrating and our war effort is failing is harming the troops and is a traitor who ought to be treated as such. Images which depict grotesque acts by the U.S. military are dangerous and their publication is treasonous. But when it comes to anti-Muslim cartoons which are at least as provocative and inflammatory, consequences be damned; lofty principles of a free press demand that they be published and published widely regardless of the reactions.

These demands by Bush followers that ideas be freely expressed without restraint are extremely selective – they want the ideas they like to be disseminated widely and aggressively but ideas which they dislike to be suppressed. In general, when one espouses standards and principles which one applies only selectively and in a self-interested manner, the result is just garden-variety hypocrisy. But when principles of a free press are applied selectively -- such that one urges some ideas to be vigorously safeguarded while other ideas be aggressively suppressed -- it is not merely hypocritical, but incomparably pernicious, because what is really being sought, by definition, is a system of laws and rules which exist to propagandize.

That is exactly the project which Bush followers (spearheaded by their neoconservative chapter) are relentlessly pursuing with their simultaneous attacks on the press (when it comes to ideas which undermine their agenda) and cynical defense of unrestrained expression (when it comes to ideas which promote that agenda). But a press which exists to disseminate anti-Muslim ideas but which must refrain from publishing ideas that reflect poorly on the U.S. or the Administration is not a free press. That is a Pravda-like propaganda arm of the state which exists to glorify the government and promote its aims. That is plainly what these Bush followers are trying to institute.

If you care about the threat looming over the press in this country–and you really should, take some time and read the full post

Delightful "Dickfest" contest results

The superb (and almost invariably serious) firedoglake site recently held a poetry contest which, amusingly, was called "Dickfest". The only rule was that the entries were to include as their subject the latest debacle left in Dick Cheney's wake. Here are the two, excellent poems which made it to the finals:

In second place, and by only the smallest fraction (one vote), our silver medalist is:

An accident it must have been,
And not a planned attack
Because Dick shot him in the face
Instead of in the back.

by rageneau

And the gold goes to:

If epitaphs were polygraphs,
This, terse and edifying,
Would crown the veep in final sleep:
Here lies Big Time--still lying.

by 88

If you haven't already, by all means check out firedoglake

"Is Osama Bin Laden winning after all?"

That's the question which Simon Jenkins posed in his editorial in last Sunday's Times (UK). And he's absolutely right to be provocative. The following paragraph, also extracted from his editorial, sums up the absurdity of the "war on terror" in tidy fashion.

There never was a "terrorist threat" to western civilization or democracy, only to western lives and property. The threat becomes systemic only when democracy loses its confidence and when its leaders are weak, as now. Terror attacks are for the police. For George Bush and Blair to demand a "long war" against Bin Laden and, by implication, a long suppression of civil liberty is ludicrous. Western civilization is not some simpering weakling that cowers before a fanatic 's might, pleading for leaders to protect it by all means, however illegal. It has been proof against Islamic expansionism since the 17th century. It is not at risk.

Read the full piece at

Very bad news in Iraq...

in the wake of the bombing of the al-Askari shrine in Samarra.

Re: Iraq, Juan Cole is almost invariably the best source for detailed analysis

The port firestorm

The controversy surrounding the acquisition of a British port management company by DP World, a Dubai-based company, is both interesting and complicated. Many others have expounded on different aspects of the issue, but I'd like to make a few points.

There's a lot of loose talk about "outsourcing port security to Arabs" and such. This company manages ports; the security of the ports has been, and will still be the responsibility of local (American) authorities.

I have done some business (pertaining to racehorses) with the Prime Minister of (and most powerful person in) Dubai, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum. That hardly makes me an expert, but I do know quite a bit more about the country than the average American. Dubai is a very progressive, anomalous Arab state. It is completely different– in many important respects–to those states with which we are all somewhat familiar. In order to put Dubai into some perspective, I'm going to borrow a useful comment from bart889, which he left in a discussion at Kevin Drum's site:

al Qaeda transferred money through many banks in may countries (such as the US and Germany - and the UAE). Before 9/11 there were lax banking rules and oversight here. Now there isn't. Now, to open a bank account or deposit any money you have to swear that the money is of legit origin, and show some sort of proof.

Secondly, after 9/11 the UAE cleaned house of any and all fundie imams, and shut down all the radical mosques. They now watch the mosques like hawks (taping all the sermons, and so on.) Secret police hang out in markets, malls, coffee shops and schools (including the one I work in), keeping an ear to the ground for radical talk and actions. Trust me, this country is at much greater risk than the US from al Qaeda, and they have done much more to protect themselves (and, by extension, the rest of the world).

The notion that any member of the business and political elite in Dubai or Abu Dhabi will suddenly become an al Qaeda stooge makes as much sense as saying that Rick santorum will cross the floor and sit for the Dems. It's absurd on its face. This is not Saudi Arabia. In fact, the local tribes kicked out the wahhabis in the 1850s and rebuffed an attempted Saudi annexation in 1955.

The local government was not actively complicit in the money transfers or planning, in the same way the Helmut Kohl was not complicit in the "Hamburg Cell" and Jeb Bush wasn't complicit in the flight training. This is a relatively free country in terms of personal movement and entry/exit, (like the US, and unlike Saudi, we do not need internal passports or permission to leave, and tourist visas are easy to come by) and al Qaeda took advantage of that. al Qaeda used the UAE as a physical and financial transit point, the same way they used many other countries. There was and is no connection between the UAE government and al Qaeda.

BTW, the UAE has peace-keeping forces in Afghanistan. The UAE buys military hardware and donates it to the new Iraqi army. The UAE brings Iraqi brigades down here for training, on their own dime. The UAE hosts US U-2 spyplanes that spy on Iran and Pakistan from very close by. Jebel Ali Port in Dubai is the most visited foreign port in the world for the US Navy. Avast proportion of the upper management of this country (including business, health, education and military) is run by US/Canada/UK expats, and many US institutions have massive presences here. The UAE is about as hostile to the US as Canada is.

There are three aspects of the port story which I find very interesting. The first is whether any of our ports should be managed by private companies, let alone companies owned by other governments. There are good related points brought up at norbizness, Sisyphus Shrugged, and at levelgaze.

The second is how those opposed to this Administration can, and (even more interestingly) why they should use the issue to their advantage. The Talking Dog has an excellent post on this.

And finally, why would the Administration would run the risk of igniting this sort of controversy? I believe that there is only one possible explanation: MONEY. Some of the links above touch on how Treasury Secretary Snow fits into the puzzle, and there will surely be more pieces to come. Here are some tidbits from The NY Daily News

UPDATE: Here's a good update from Kevin Drum

Stay tuned.

"Extraordinary Rendition" in theory and practice

The U.S. practice of extraordinary rendition (essentially kidnapping a terror suspect and transporting him/her to another country for interrogation) is, to put in mildly, highly questionable. Not only is the efficacy of the practice in question, but there have been truly awful, documented cases of mistaken identity as well.

Steve Clemons has just attended a screening of what sounds like a very important documentary film on the topic. Here's an excerpt from his post:

One particularly outrageous case that Fouda documents was that of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, who while vacationing in Macedonia was arrested and packed off to a detention/interrogation facility in Afghanistan. After authorities discovered that the man they had was innocent and was taken on the basis that he had the same name as a wanted al Qaeda operative, they still held him incommunicado for an extra two months.

Even after he was released -- without passport or identity papers or any gesture of apology from American officials -- on the border of Albania and Macdenia, El-Masri was later refused entry into the US and had to fly back to Germany because the known to be innocent German was still on border watch/reject lists.

Condoleezza Rice herself had to personally intervene to compel the immigration and border bureaucracy to allow him entry into the US on his next trip, when he met with lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union to appropriately file suit against the US government.

Steve has a lot more to say about the film here

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