Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mercenaries 'R' Us

Update II: As I was sayin': Jeremy Scahill, who has written a book on Blackwater, was interviewed by Bill Moyers on PBS last night, and provided a horrific glimpse into the ongoing results of Bush's obsession with privatization of traditional government functions, ~ e.g. the convenient relationship of the expenditure of taxpayers' dollars to said private companies' contributions to campaign coffers. (A lesson Hillary has already learned). If you missed it, here's a taste:
Update I (coverup):
Continuing Lessons in Cowboy Capitalism
Well, if you're going to launch an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation & occupy it indefinitely so as to get at its oil, the least you can do to avoid a draft (with its requisite drain on ordinary Americans who would otherwise be shopping) is to outsource the messy job of willy-nilly killing to professional mercenaries.
George may have gotten a "gentleman's C" in history (which would be an "F" for all y'all for who weren't born into privilege) by dint of the Affirmative Action for the Rich program at Yale, but he does know everything there is to know about outsourcing American problems to private corporations, servicing that particular portion of his constituency, & protecting them from Congressional investigations.
Never mind that history has demonstrated over & over again that hiring out the business of war is very, very dangerous to the integrity of the state which foolishly expects to use it without being bitten in the ass by it later. But we all know George doesn't worry about the long term; he plans to dump those problems into the lap of the unfortunate who follows him into office.
And what a problem it's turning out to be, pitting the Department of Defense against the Department of State, against the Iraqis. While the Department of State orders Blackwater not to cooperate or reveal its dealings to the Congressional investigation that's sprung up, however belatedly, the poobahs in Washington officialdom argue amongst themselves while Blackwater mercenaries continue to run amok on the ground, jeopardizing the mission in Iraq, whatever it may be.
"This is a big mess that I don't think anyone has their hands around yet," said another U.S. military official. "It's not necessarily a bad thing these guys are being held accountable. Iraqis hate them, the troops don't particularly care for them, and they tend to have a know-it-all attitude, which means they rarely listen to anyone -- even the folks that patrol the ground on a daily basis."
Last week, Blackwater employees fired into a crowd of civilians, according to the Iraqi government, leading to its decision to revoke the company's "license" to operate there. Of course, Blackwater claims it was under attack by insurgents. And in the meantime, the Department of State does its best to obstruct a Congressional investigation of mercenary forces in Iraq. The Iraqi government is also investigating killings of Iraqis prior to this episode, according the New York Times.
"This is a nightmare," said a senior U.S. military official. "We had guys who saw the aftermath, and it was very bad. This is going to hurt us badly. It may be worse than Abu Ghraib, and it comes at a time when we're trying to have an impact for the long term."
Not to mention accusations of gun-running by Blackwater, which may have ended up in enemies' hands, further complicating the problem we started ourselves: who, indeed, of the Iraqis are enemies, & who are friends?
"Blackwater may also face investigation on another front: The News and Observer newspaper in Raleigh, N.C., reported that United States federal investigators were looking into whether the company shipped unlicensed automatic weapons and military goods to Iraq. The Department of Justice would not confirm whether an investigation was under way; Blackwater, in a statement issued Saturday, said it had not done anything wrong."
But with "friends" like Blackwater, who needs enemies?
The Washington Post's coverage of the imbroglio:
New York Times coverage:
"Security Firms Face Criminal Charges in Iraq":

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Your Demon Rests Her Case

Ill: Mark Bryan
"The Puppet Show"
with permission
For those readers who've not yet divined why Demon calls her blog Moron Cowboy, this should clear up the mystery.

From a Reuters report following Bush's address to the UN we get the news that the leader of the free world, who's had ~ what, 6 depressing years to learn other world leaders' names ~ still can't pronounce them without the aid of phonetic spellings:
"How do you keep a leader as verbally gaffe-prone as U.S. President George W. Bush from making even more slips of the tongue?

"When Bush addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, the White House inadvertently showed exactly how -- with a phonetic pronunciation guide on the teleprompter to get him past troublesome names of countries and world leaders.

"The White House was left scrambling to explain after a marked-up draft of Bush's speech popped up briefly on the U.N. Web site as he delivered his remarks, giving a rare glimpse of the special guidance he gets for major addresses.

"It included phonetic spellings for French President Nicolas Sarkozy (sar-KO-zee), a friend, and Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe (moo-GAH-bee), a target of U.S. human rights criticism.
Pronunciations were also provided for Kyrgyzstan (KEYR-geez-stan), Mauritania (moor-EH-tain-ee-a) and the Zimbabwe capital Harare (hah-RAR-ray).

"White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the draft, labelled the 20th version and complete with typos and speechwriters' cellphone numbers, had been turned over in advance to help U.N. interpreters who must simultaneously translate leaders' speeches into several languages.
Bush's text also had to be loaded onto a teleprompter to appear on screens in front of the podium as he spoke."

"'There was an error made,' Perino told reporters. 'I don't know how the draft of the speech that was not final was posted but it was and it was taken back.'
Things like this make us more than usually embarrassed & humiliated to be known as Americans during the Bush years. The rest of the world must be wondering, rightly, whether we've completely lost our minds to "elect" *haha* a man who, left to his own devices, so obviously has none.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Iraq War Coverage ~ All Warlords All The Time

Ill: All Hat No Cattle

Your Demon is sure she isn't the only one out here in American TV-land who is suffering from a mighty boob-tube cathode-ray hangover after 2 dismal days of non-stop droning ~ C-Span coverage of General Petraeus & Ambassador Ryan Crocker on how "well" *ahem* the surge is working. Ever a glutton for punishment, I also gorged on the feast of ink sprayed over the topic by the likes of the New York Times & the Washington Post.
Somehow I thought it was important to be well-informed, as if I were to be permitted to have a say or something, & duly noting mentally that this is 4 years after Bush made what I hope will go down in history as the most memorable & bizarre empty PR stunt ever attempted by an American president ~ his glorious flight-suited landing on the deck of the aircraft carrier beneath a big, bright "Mission Accomplished" banner. In retrospect, a great moment in drastically premature boastful hubris & progaganda in a war destined to be remembered, in Demon's opinion, for the fact that it was, at the end of the day, remarkable for nothing but, & the far-ranging consequences, not only for the Mid East, but for the rule of law at home. I hope it will be forever memorialized in my grandchildrens' history books as the signal visual image, a highlight of sorts symbolizing the dismal George Bush years, & a warning to all posterity.

But I digress.
So, was anybody actually surprised at what Petraeus & Crocker had to say? Media types asked each other the same thing, & the answer, uniformly, was "no." The illustrious guests hedged their bets, careful not to promise anything, but were upbeat enough to say, more or less, "we should stay." Petraeus recommended a drawdown of 30,000 troops, which, conveniently enough, Bush will announce to the country on Thursday.

Apart from interesting arguments how the measures of distress in Iraq were assessed (a bullet in the back of the head is a sectarian execution, a bullet in front is merely some sort of crime, & the fact that ethnic cleansing has killed or driven away all opposition in an area is a good thing), missing from all the intense coverage & yet to be articulated, I believe, has always been & continues to be a clear definition of success. Else how will we know when we've reached it?
In this blitz of highly moderated "fairly happy news" on Iraq, something else was missing, & not just the certain goof-isms of a highly inarticulate George (we have to presume that was no accident, & perhaps the clearest measure yet that George knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Americans think he can't be trusted at all to give the straight scoop where Iraq is concerned ~ damn those invisible WMDS, mobile bio-warfare labs, & the evidence Dick Cheney still seems to think exists tying a 911 highjacker to Saddam Hussein).
Demon stumbled across an analysis from indie news organization Alternet that went a long way toward explaining things I had a hunch were missing from the "official news" portrayal & which also does a better job of who's fighting who & for what reasons. The additional fault lines by which the problem should be understood have to do with nationalists vs. separatists.

"This week, we'll be buried under a crush of analysis about an Iraq that's being ravaged by a religious civil war -- an incomprehensible war between 'militants' of various stripes and 'the Iraqi people.' But Americans will be poorly served by the media's singular focus on Iraq's 'sectarian violence.' It obscures the fact that sectarian fighting is a symptom -- a street-level manifestation -- of a massive political conflict over what kind of country Iraq will be, who will rule it and who will control its enormous oil wealth.
"And it obscures the great irony of the American project: that in that defining conflict over the future of the country, the Bush administration, with the support of Congress, has taken the same side as Iran's hardliners and the same side as the Sunni fundamentalist group called al Qaeda in Iraq. All are working -- separately, but towards the same ends -- against the wishes of a majority of Iraqis, who polls show want a united, sovereign country in control of its own resources and free of meddling by Washington, Tehran and other foreigners.
[...little, comparatively] to do with the differences that distinguish the different branches of Islam -- Iraq isn't struggling with a religious civil war.
"Iraqis are fighting over fundamental questions about the future of their country. They're fighting over whether it will have a strong central government or be a weak confederation of semiautonomous states, over how soon and to what degree it will be independent of foreign influence, over who will control its massive energy reserves and under what terms they will be developed -- all of these things are tangible, concrete issues that are crucial in determining Iraq's future.
"We refer to this central political conflict as one between Iraqi separatists and nationalists. Loosely speaking, separatists favor a 'soft partition' of Iraq into at least three zones with strong regional governments, similar to the semiautonomous Kurdish'"state' in Northern Iraq; they are at least willing to tolerate foreign influence -- meaning Iranian, U.S. or other powers' influence, depending on which group one is discussing -- for the foreseeable future; they favor privatizing Iraq's massive energy reserves and ceding substantial control of the country's oil sector to regional authorities.
"Nationalists are just the opposite: They reject any foreign interference in Iraq's affairs, they favor a strong technocratic central government in Baghdad that's not based on sectarian voting blocs and they oppose privatizing Iraq's oil and natural gas reserves on the extraordinarily generous terms (to the oil companies) proposed by the U.S. government and institutions like the IMF. They favor centralized control over the development of Iraq's oil and gas reserves."
Miscellaneous remarks: CNN did the best job of at least mentioning the differences, if not fleshing them out fully, & was rigorously honest about pointing out the hype & the errors so far -the reasons we were led into Iraq, particularly, & also Anderson Cooper's questioning what may well be viewed in the future as the second major tactical error in Iraq (after disbanding the Iraqi military & turning loose a bunch of angry, confused, armed & unemployed men into the streets), now comes the American decision to arm warlords to rout Al-Queda. I can see that possibly coming back to bite us in the ass someday. (Anybody here remember that it was also America that armed a bunch of rag-tag freedom fighters in order to force Russia out of Afghanistan? Excellent training, as it turned out, for future Taliban fighters.)

Not to mention that we're arming insurgents in Iraq who oppose the very Maliki government we fostered there, but what the hell, Maliki et al. are incompetent, corrupt & can't govern, & can't seem to manage to push through the energy bill that would privatize Iraq's oil & let American petroleum companies in on the fun in a big way.
Yeah, mark me down as a cynic.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

We Gonna Party Like It's 1929

Bumper sticker for sale at:
Your Demon is today pondering the question why, when a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau found that the gap between rich & poor grows, indeed yawns, between poles that have been forced ever-increasingly apart by the Bush State's aversion to doing anything for "the little people" out there until an un-ignorable disaster looms ~ & then fronting proposals that were originally Democrats' ideas (i.e., amending rules that allow federal agencies to intercede before home foreclosure & refinance at fixed rates, with a little "punishing GOP-Daddy-magic" thrown in more lately, as here: ~), most Americans don't seem to be very hot & bothered by it, although it is in truth just one of many examples of unbridled rapacious cannibal-capitalism we've witnessed during the Bush years, especially in the energy industry.
Leaving aside the fact that not many people who don't have Bushco's ear aren't likely to have the media's either, your Demon muses that it's we "little people" who are sometimes our own worst enemies in that we continue to buy into economic theories that are invisible to us, not least because we don't know or care much about our own country's history in that regard, & in other ways do our best to ignore other things we're too busy working our arses off trying to attain or sustain: we don't have an economy that supports, broadly, a "middle class" lifestyle anymore, thanks to union-busting, outsourcing, offshore tax havens, & our stupidity as voters in turning our power over to politicians who downsize government programs & services even while they're happy to take our tax money.
Similarly, talk of "class" in American politix seems to go nowhere. Why? Because we think that "class distinctions" don't, & never have, applied to us. Individualism is our secular religion, & that, in fact, has been turned against us. "Up by the bootstraps" is no longer a viable economic policy in an age where one can barely graduate from college (a basic necessity to earning a halfway decent living, unlike the days when an apprenticeship served the same purpose) without being swamped in consumer debt.
Sometimes it takes an outsider's perspective to knit some of the pieces together, as in this article by Gary Younge in The Guardian, a UK paper, keeping in mind that the Old World might indeed have something instructive to say to the New:
"There are moments when things really are the way they seem and facts really do speak for themselves. Bad as the facts may appear, attempting to rationalise them only makes matters worse. Trying to convince people otherwise only insults their intelligence.
"So it would have seemed last Tuesday when the US census bureau revealed its latest findings on income, poverty and health. The report showed that since George Bush came to power the poverty rate had risen by 9%, the number of people without health insurance had risen by 12%, and real median household income had remained stagnant. On the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina we learned the racial disparity in income and the gap between rich and poor show no sign of abating.
"Bush declared himself 'pleased' with the results, even if the uninsured presented 'a challenge'. He pointed out that over the past year poverty had declined (albeit by a fraction, and from the previous high he had presided over) and median household income had increased (albeit by a fraction and primarily because more people were working longer hours). Maybe he thought Americans would not realise that five years into a 'recovery' their wages were stagnant, their homes were being repossessed at a rate not seen since the Depression, and their pension funds were on a roller coaster.
"Having beckoned ordinary Americans with the lure of cheap credit and stock market gains, the invisible hand of the market has now grabbed them by the scruff of the neck and is shaking them mercilessly.
"Iraq has, quite rightly, dominated the national conversation and will dominate Bush's legacy. But that doesn't mean it will necessarily be the chief concern for voters choosing their next president. In this week that officially kicks off the presidential primary season, sexual scandal is not the only issue to remind us of the Clinton era. In 1991 Clinton's chief strategist pinned a note on the wall of his campaign headquarters to remind the team of its core message: 'the economy, stupid'.
"A similar focus may once again be necessary, although translating that maxim into votes is not straightforward. Paradoxically, the states with the highest levels of poverty and lowest incomes are staunchly Republican. Poor people tend not to vote, and candidates tend neither to appeal nor refer to them. However, economically they are a glaring and shameful fact of American life; socially and culturally they dominate the centre of almost every moral panic - but politically they do not exist.
"None the less, in recent years the conditions associated with poverty have spread far beyond the poor. Almost two-thirds of those who lost their health insurance last year earn $75,000 or more. Homeowners are also not so easy to write off, not least because those hardest hit happen to be in politically sensitive areas. Of the 10 states that have suffered the most from foreclosures, six - Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Michigan - are swing states.
"Among the viable Democratic contenders, John Edwards has embraced the economic agenda most forcefully. In his stump speech he calls for reversing Bush's tax cuts for those earning more than $200,000 a year, cutting poverty by a third in 10 years and eliminating it altogether in 30. Having announced his candidacy from New Orleans he has walked many a picket line in recent months and tells crowds: 'The organised labour movement is the greatest anti-poverty movement in American history.' With the brooding resentment at growing insecurity now reaching a critical point, Obama and Hillary are also shifting their focus.

"Sadly it is unlikely this resentment will gain much in the way of political expression beyond populist rhetoric. The notions of personal reinvention and economic meritocracy that lie at the heart of the American dream are far more powerful and enduring than the kind of class consciousness necessary to redress the imbalance between rich and poor. Inequality of wealth in the US has long been justified on the grounds that there is equality of opportunity. The trouble is that while inequalities have grown dramatically over the past 20 years, equality of opportunity has been all but eroded.
"According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 1989 American CEOs earned 71 times more than the average worker - today, by most calculations, it is up to around 270 times. Meanwhile, social mobility has slowed to a level below that in most of Europe, including Britain.
"Most Americans identify themselves as 'middle class' - but in the middle of what is not clear. Anything that would identify working people as a group with a collective set of interests that are different from and at times antagonistic to the interests of corporations has pretty much been erased from public discourse. People will refer to 'blue collar workers', 'working families', 'the poor', the 'working poor'. But the working class simply does not exist.
"None the less, class does play a role. It is most often used by the right to cast liberals as cultural 'elites'. The price of Edwards's haircut, John Kerry's windsurfing, Al Gore's earth tones - all are exploited as illustrations of the effete mannerisms of those who claim to speak for the common man and woman. Class is not elevated to politics but reduced to performance: that is how the fact that Bush has made so little of his elite upbringing has become an asset.
"The conservative columnist Cal Thomas said of Edwards: 'His populist jargon is nothing but class warfare.' If only. Long ago the wealthy declared war on the poor in this country. The poor have yet to fight back."
But that's an unknowable future, folks ~ in the meantime, the neo-populists among us only hope the privileged wealthy elite will continue to party like it's not 1929 yet.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Wild Adventures In Profiteering & Corruption In Iraq, Cont'd.

'Tis fitting, Demon thinks, that while we're on the subject of how well things are going overall in Iraq (below), & to accompany the news that Bush seeks an additional $50 Billion to spend for the war effort, to take this opportunity to also point out that recent news reports say that Maliki's government is not only incapable of governing, but rife with systemic corruption.

Demon thinks she should warn Maliki he's infringing on Bushco trademarks & patented business methods where incompetence & corruption are concerned.

And, oh yeah, more on the mistreatment of those charmingly deluded US government & former government officials who somehow thought they were doing the right thing to expose illegal arms sales by Iraqis with our assistance, & well-documented fraud & overcharging by the likes of Halliburton & KBR.

Bushco showed them! We must have order in the ranks, after all. The moral of the story may also be "lie down with dogs, get fleas & worse."

From an MSNBC report late last month:

"One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted.
Or worse.

"For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military [for 97 days] in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods.
"Corruption has long plagued Iraq reconstruction. Hundreds of projects may never be finished, including repairs to the country’s oil pipelines and electricity system. Congress gave more than $30 billion to rebuild Iraq, and at least $8.8 billion of it has disappeared, according to a government reconstruction audit.

"Despite this staggering mess, there are no noble outcomes for those who have blown the whistle, according to a review of such cases by The Associated Press.

“'If you do it, you will be destroyed,' said William Weaver, professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso and senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

“'Reconstruction is so rife with corruption. Sometimes people ask me, ‘Should I do this?’ And my answer is no. If they’re married, they’ll lose their family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything,' Weaver said.

"They have been fired or demoted, shunned by colleagues, and denied government support in whistleblower lawsuits filed against contracting firms.
" Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse knows this only too well. As the highest-ranking civilian contracting officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, she testified before a congressional committee in 2005 that she found widespread fraud in multibillion-dollar rebuilding contracts awarded to former Halliburton subsidiary KBR.

"Soon after, Greenhouse was demoted. She now sits in a tiny cubicle in a different department with very little to do and no decision-making authority, at the end of an otherwise exemplary 20-year career.

"People she has known for years no longer speak to her.

"Then there is Robert Isakson, who filed a whistleblower suit against contractor Custer Battles in 2004, alleging the company — with which he was briefly associated — bilked the U.S. government out of tens of millions of dollars by filing fake invoices and padding other bills for reconstruction work.

"He and his co-plaintiff, William Baldwin, a former employee fired by the firm, doggedly pursued the suit for two years, gathering evidence on their own and flying overseas to obtain more information from witnesses. Eventually, a federal jury agreed with them and awarded a $10 million judgment against the now-defunct firm, which had denied all wrongdoing.

"It was the first civil verdict for Iraq reconstruction fraud.

"But in 2006, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III overturned the jury award. He said Isakson and Baldwin failed to prove that the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-backed occupier of Iraq for 14 months, was part of the U.S. government.

"Not a single Iraq whistleblower suit has gone to trial since."

Read on:

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Join The Army ~ & You, Too, Can Serve Your Country As A Scapegoat


Fry the little fish so the big fish can swim free unnoticed ~ who wouldn't want to join such an honorable military tradition?

Today's WaPo has an excellent editorial regarding the sham trials & courts-martials of minnows while the sharks in charge of the notorious happenings at Abu Ghraib are allowed to swim free:

"THE MISBEGOTTEN effort to hold military officers accountable for the notorious abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison limped to a close last week when an Army lieutenant colonel was cleared by a court-martial jury of charges that he was responsible for the mistreatment of detainees. Steven L. Jordan, the only officer to be prosecuted for crimes that were documented in stomach-turning photographs and videotapes, probably never should have been charged. His week-long trial demonstrated that he had little or nothing to do with the harsh interrogation tactics and other abuse introduced at Abu Ghraib in late 2003. His prosecution was symptomatic of the Pentagon's perverse handling of Abu Ghraib: The most senior officer to be administratively sanctioned, an Army Reserve brigadier general, also had no role in carrying out the abuses.

"There were certainly officers at Abu Ghraib overseeing interrogations of prisoners. There were other senior officers who drew up or approved methods -- such as the use of dogs to terrorize detainees -- that violated the Geneva Conventions and U.S. military codes. And there were civilian political appointees in the Pentagon, including then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who demanded more aggressive steps to collect intelligence from prisoners. Some have confessed to wrongdoing, such as Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who oversaw interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Some have dodged accountability, like Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, a former commander of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib who at one point invoked his right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying under oath. All have been excused from criminal charges, even while the low-ranking personnel who tortured Iraqi detainees -- in some cases under orders -- serve prison sentences."

But don't stop ~ there's more at:

So why hasn't Congress followed through on its threats to investigate, made more than a year ago?

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