Friday, May 14, 2004

Dual outrages to end the week

Nick Berg, the 26 year old who was beheaded by what the CIA says was an Al-Qaida man, wasn't a Halliburton type. He was a small businessman who was trying to help Arabs with his telecom company that was supposed to connect small towns. He spoke Arabic and this is what in fact got him in trouble.

His family tells us (via Nick's emails) that he was detained by Iraqi police (if there really is such a thing) and then turned over US authorities. These guys questioned him because he had a book on Iran in his backpack and seemed to know Arabic. They wanted to know if he worked for Iran or was an Islamic Radical or Israeli Intelligence. And you don't say Israeli intelligence too loud in a prison filled with Angry (most likely radical) Muslims. That's like throwing a white guy into a mostly all black block and saying, "So you work for the KKK?" And maybe that's why he was ultimately abducted and beheaded.

Now the US denies that they held him, except for another email his family has contradicts this too. Beth A. Payne, the U.S. consular officer in Iraq, wrote on April 1st to Nick's Dad Michael that "I have confirmed that your son, Nick, is being detained by the U.S. military in Mosul. He is safe. He was picked up approximately one week ago. We will try to obtain additional information regarding his detention and a contact person you can communicate with directly." They never said when the US turned him loose.

Weirder still, the family said Berg had been questioned by the FBI more than a year ago about a contact he had with a terrorism suspect in 1999, while he was a student at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

A senior law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the terror suspect appears to have been acquainted with Zacarias Moussaoui, an al-Qaida adherent now in federal custody and awaiting trial on conspiracy charges stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks.

The official said an e-mail address traced to Berg had been used by the unidentified individual with purported terror connections, but a 2002 investigation showed Berg had never met the individual and had not given the e-mail address to that person. Maybe this is why they questioned him in Iraq. They thought he was Al-Qaida.

In any event, Nick was trying to get home as soon as possible (according, again to his e-mails to family) and the government claims he turned down offers to deport him home.

Michael Berg is so upset by this that he said "My son died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. This administration did this." I will leave it at that.

On a seemingly more minor note, the Bush Administration is going ahead with its missile "defense" system despite repeated failed tests and warnings from scientists that it won't necessarily work (but hey they never listen to scientists on global warming or stem cells, why should we be surprised). There is "no basis for believing the system will have any capability to defend against a real attack," wrote the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Missile Defense really is, as one reporter wrote, a "Maginot Line in the Sky." That is, something that makes the people feel safe but would never really keep us safe/protect us. Even if this multibillion sinkhole project did work, it wouldn't keep us that safe.

Why? Who is going to hit us with a missile? North Korea? Russia? China? I don't think any of those countries are so stupid as to attack the US so obviously; we can track exactly where each missile came from. More likely, Al-Qaida will bring in a bomb via cargo container or something, not a missile. The real threat is not a missile coming over the pacific. This is yet another example of the Bush Administration being stuck in the Cold War era, when we live in an era of failing states and terrorism. And what is bad about this is not just the money that it costs, but the message it sends to the rest of the world, with India Pakistan China and North Korea accelerating their missile program and the EU creating their own military.

A George W Bush world is a dog-eat-dog world that Thomas Hobbs described oh so many years ago. You are on your own, even if you are an American citizen, like 26 year-old Nick Berg.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

The blame game

While Rumsfeld plays a surprise visit on Iraq in a further effort to save the Administration from further embarrassment, and US Senators look at forcibly bare-breasted Iraqi women, the media is saying "the situation did it" and not a few wacko individuals (or what I believe, a systematic design to extract information from Iraqis by PyOps via humiliation).

The media is reviving an old (1971) Stanford Prison Study by ex-professor Philip Zimbardo, and having him on as an "expert." Slate's William Saletan and I don't buy it but for different reasons.

Saletan talks about the major differences of the Study's participants and the soldiers involved in Abu Ghraib. He claims that the Stanford students were nonviolent for the most part while some of these MPs had a history of violence (against their wives even). It is also true that many of these folks weren't originally MPs. Many families of the accused abusers say their son/daughter was a mechanic in the wrong place/just taking orders.

Race is also a factor to Saletan, and I agree. I think if the country we had invade wasn't Arab, and the soldiers in question weren't mostly white, things might have turned out differently. Still, the acts that were done, the way soldiers posed, and the fact that the release of these photos was threatened on the prisoners-- all of this points to an intelligent design (to attack the Arab ideals of Manhood and Honor) and not just "Hey, let's do this!" Ad Hoc sadism.

As Will points out, "Prisoners have been photographed wearing hoods; but according to guards, it was intelligence officers who initially brought "hooded" prisoners to them. Last week, the commander of military prisons in Iraq announced that intelligence officers would no longer "hood" detainees, in effect confirming that they had been doing so."

One could compare the media/Zimbardo argument on Abu Ghraib to those about the Germans during Nazism. Why didn't ordinary Germans try to stop Hitler? Some did, and they were caught and killed. Nazi Germany was a prison state, and certainly the situation/environment had a chilling effect on people. As Zimbardo argues "if we can attribute deviance, failure, and breakdowns to the individual flaws of others, then we [as a society] are absolved." But as Saletan points out "if we blame the situation, the perpetrators are absolved, too."

My point is, there may be some real bad apples in the MP system, especially since the military is running incredibly short on MPs (they can't be too picky and they force untrained "mechanics" to do MP work), but there is also some bad policies in place that brings out the monster in some people. PsyOps and those that approved these methods are also to blame for their dehumanizing treatment of Iraqis, as well as the foot soldiers under suspension.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

What lying to our troops gets us

Today I was reading today's Boston Metro on my way to work on the "T" and came across a tiny blurb that said more than its few words.

"A female Army soldier in the notorious 320th Military Police Battalion meted out ''vigilante justice'' on Iraqi prisoners she believed had raped former POW Jessica Lynch, according to a letter from her battalion commander obtained by The Associated Press."

It has been well documented that Jessica Lynch's story was embellished to arouse patriotism (read this versus this). Her rescue footage was released while other items were classified, and many dispute her "all guns blazing capture" and there is no evidence of rape. That initial story from the Post, has been widely discredited.

Of course, the current female foot soldier in question is denying she abused prisoners and further that her commanding officer is making it up. "It's funny how the leadership continues to point downward," said then-Master Sgt. Lisa Girman Girman, a 35 year old Pennsylvania State Trooper in civilian life. (Watch for more low level troops to rat out their commanding officers as court martial trials start).

What struck me about this story, even if the Lynch-"revenge" angle isn't true, is that the story is credible. Most of the troops over in Iraq still think they are avenging 9/11, when Iraq had nothing to do with it. Why would they think such a silly thing? Well all the right-wing media, all there commanding officers, and all their civilian leaders (all the way up to the president himself) lead them to believe it, because they wanted to believe it too.

It's already unbearable when American troops are dying because of a lie, and Iraqi civilians are as well, but not that there is proof people are tortured because of it, how do the Vulcans (Bush's war cabinet of Cheney Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, etc) not feel shame? Appearantly not.

Now Rumsfeld and his ilk are disgustingly pleased that an American contractor was beheaded on an Al-Qaida affiliated website, because they now have a good excuse for holding back the rest of the photos and videos. One of these yet-to-released tapes or pictures is of a rape in progress of a female Iraqi. So much for the rape rooms being closed.

And so now the pressure is on CNN (I saw this morning) to do a Fox News style "here's all the good things the US has done in Iraq" segment since people flooded the site with right wing emails. The American people, no the world, demands transparency and concrete steps to fix this problem, not distracting it away with Tit-for-tat vigilantism.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I'm not with stupid

Last night, as I was brushing my teeth, I listened to BBC world news. The one great thing about radio is that since their audience (particularly public radio’s) is so small, there is less pressure to be snappy and ratings grabby like CNN's constant drone of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jackson (whatever happened to Scott Peterson or Martha Stewart...oh that’s right I don’t give a rat's a**) so they can do longer clips from press conferences and give more in depth analysis.

Anyway, back to what I heard. When George W. Bush went to the Pentagon yesterday to meet with Rumsfeld and company in the E-Ring for an hour, he was only shown a few selected photos and videos of the torture of Iraqi prisoners. That means there must be a lot more nasty stuff coming down the pike. But when Bush got out to speak before reporters, that's when he gave us yet another clue that he is not in charge. His speech was not that of a man trying to find the most palatable words, but one who was trying to remember his lines.

At this, my fiancée shouted, "What an idiot!" with disgust. And that got me thinking (ironically) A) this is why I am going to law school in a few months and B) boy that article was spot on.

Slate's Jacob Weisberg, the author of Bushisms (a book which is a collections of "the accidental wit and witticisms of George W. Bush") has an article pointing out that Bush isn’t dumb, he’s something far scarier: someone who works hard at seeming and being dumb for his personal benefit.

Bush is in fact a very smart man; he is a shrewd evaluator of politics knows how to seem like a simple man when he is actually just as aristocratic as John Forbes Kerry and Albert Gore, Jr.

Until he was 40, Bush acted out the classic rebellious teenager of a rich daddy routine: getting out of anything he wanted, coasting by in school, becoming borderline alcoholic, and so on. After recovering from a nasty hangover on his 40th birthday, Dubya decided his “youthful intercessions” must end, and gave up liquor cold turkey. He “found Jesus” thanks to Reverend Billy Graham and was reborn a God-fearing Christian.

Soon there after, Bush got to be the pretty face for the MLB's Texas Rangers and then got to revenge his father's embarrassment (via her speach at the 1992 Democratic Convention) by defeating Texas Governor Ann Richards in 1994. In all the sadness among Democrats after the loss of the US Congress, few noticed that man that would make things even worse for them in the 21st century. (My Dad did: "And the worst of it is, George Bush's son won in Texas; watch out for him." -1994)

But all this seems like a history lesson you say, why do I care? Well because the man who used stupidity to get back at his dad for never being there continues use stupidity to defeat the opposition who "misunderestimated" him. Bush’s willful ignorance comes at a price, along with not having to worry one’s pretty head with policy matters and details, comes the need to ignore things that don’t fit into ones paradigm.

The result? A war whose premise was sought for and falsified, whose execution was excellent but whose ensuing occupation was an instruction manual for "How not to occupy an Arab country." The prisoner abuse scandal is yet another example of this. Bush didn't know about this because he didn't want to know, lower level people didn't want to bother the president and his cabinet with unpleasant facts because those that do get yelled at.

From an administration (read Cheney) that says Fox News is the gospel truth, its not surprising that they have trouble hearing the other side. Sure, I will be among the first to admit that I have trouble watching/listening to right wing newscasts, but I at least am highly skeptical of the Times, the Post, and the Journal, and other media outlets, as well as campaign sources.

Bush has proven repeatedly that he doesn’t have the desire to learn from his mistakes and evolve his policy to fit the facts on the ground. He hasn't made sound judgments from day one. Woodward tells us the military and intelligence segment had to convince Bush et al to go into Afghanistan, seemingly on the promise that Iraq would be next.

Dubya needs to be driven out of office. If we want any home of fixing Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, and reduce our risk to terror, removing the 43rd president is our best bet. Let me translate this into Limbaugh: Bush wins re-election, the terrorists win.

Monday, May 10, 2004

3rd Ave. 3.0

The Third Avenue just got a botox injection. What do you think of the new look? I will be working to get comments back online soon sorry. Also, for the time being, don't view this with Netscape 7.1, it doesn't seem to work. But Mozilla and IE seem to be fine. Go figure.
Throw Grandmama from the train

Well good and bad news for Democrats out of the Utah GOP convention on Saturday. The good news: Acting Governor Olene Walker (female for those of you who don't know Utah names) lost before the primary to run for Governor this fall.

"It's kind of like throwing your grandma from the train," State Democratic party Chairman Donald Dunn told the Salt Lake Tribune. Olene is in her seventies. "It just shows that the Republican delegates are nominated by kind of the right-wing agenda and I think they're out of touch with Utahns."

The bad news is, a moderate and wacko/criminal right-winger are paired together could win the GOP nomination (they still have a primary on June 22) and in November. Jon Huntsman Jr., whose Dad has given tons of money to the state and is a good old Mormon and ex-Bush ambassador to Singapore to boot got the nod, along with the a "moderate" Board of Regents Nolan Karras and his LG candidate, Enid Greene Waldholz.

Does Enid's name sound familiar? Remember back, way back, 10 years ago when Republicans first took over the House of Representatives? Well Enid had just beaten my family friend and previous Representative Karen Shephard, and Enid was sitting pretty with a seat on the Rules Committee, which was unheard of for a Freshman (let alone Freshwoman). Turns out her Husband Joe Waldholz, who was also her campaign treasurer, illegally funneled over $2 Million into her campaign in the closing weeks via the sale of his Dad's house. Joe, is out of prison now. Meanwhile, Enid pretended to be deceived by Joe and cried in the hospital with a pity parade about her new baby and a husband in the slammer.

Instead of resigning (or being investigated), Enid said she wouldn't run for re-election in 1996 and she disappeared ever since. Now, non-hacks must agree that either Enid was in on the scam (in which case she should have gone to jail too) or she was incompetent (how could you not notice $2M coming in overnight) and was unfit for office.

In the closest (Ok well second closest) congressional race last time around, Utah's 2nd district, the GOP couldn't get 70% necessary to have a single candidate and will also be having a primary. John Swallow, who lost to Congressman Jim Matheson by a mere 1600 votes last time, would seem to have the leg up. However, Tim Bridgewater bested Swallow in the" convention 54%/46%.Tim Bridgewater, who failed at this in 2002 as well. Tim is a millionaire, but has a horrible voice. I think both will not be as strong against Jim this time, although they will have more money than last time.

Jim has busted his hump in places he did poorly in, taking advantage of incumbency to get pork for Southern Utah and going out of his way to meet and get to know folks down there. It is much easier to hate a stereotype of a Democrat than an actual person, who is a pretty conservative Democrat anyway.

Let's just hope his brother Scott Jr. does as well against Nolan or Jon as his little bother.