Monday, March 31, 2008

Not as Funny as You Think

Read this fascinating history of our favorite pastime on-line. (Click on picture above.)

(Thanks to Matthew for showing me the book.)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

This has me a little worried...

Apparently, in a recent visit to Whiteman AFB, Missouri, Vice President Cheney asked to be given flying lessons in the B-2 Stealth Bomber. According to a confidential source, he told the instructor he wasn't interested in learning how to land the bomber.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

PBS "Frontline": Bush's War. Watch it!

A remarkable retrospective of the events and decisions that took us to war in Iraq, and a portrait of an Executive Branch run amuck.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Success? Winning? Victory?

Who are George Bush, Dick Cheney, David Petraeus and John McCain talking to? What are they selling?

The only success, the only "winning", the only victory comes when all combatants lay down their arms and declare an end to this war. (Admittedly, this must be difficult with an occupying army and foreign agitators in your midst.)

Only when this comes to pass (as combatants always grow weary of the fight), will there truly be a success, a "winning", a victory. And it will be for all: Sunni, Shiite, Kurd, Muslim, Christian, Arab, Iraqi, Iranian, Saudi, Israeli, American, Syrian, Turk, Afghani, etc.

This is not a game. Not a contest. Yet our leaders frame the conflict as if they're addressing a group of adolescents.

It's an insult to the intelligence of Americans, to the intelligence of Iraqis and to the intelligence of the world community.

It is clear to me that our current leaders do not understand the meaning of success. And they certainly have no strategy for achieving a durable peace. (A durable presence, yes, and many suspect that is the ulterior motive here.)

Many Americans have resigned themselves to simply await the results of the upcoming election, hoping that "regime change at home" will bring an end to the "national nightmare" that is Iraq and Afghanistan.

With 300 days until the inauguration of a new President, 300 more guaranteed days of war, we can anticipate another 3,000 to 15,000 people shall violently lose their lives in Iraq alone. We Americans grieve at the loss of 4,000 of our own over the past five years.

We don't even have the decency to talk about Iraqi losses. They remain nameless, faceless statistics, not even worthy of the energy it might require to count them. We don't even know within an order of magnitude how great are their losses. 60,000? 85,000? 650,000? Over a million? All these numbers have been suggested. By any reckoning, they have taken far more casualties than America took in the Vietnam War. The truth is, most Americans simply don't care. We're too distracted by the game.

The Iraqi people, whose freedom we are so devoted to, and for whom we sacrifice our "blood and treasure", our young soldiers, many still teenagers. Ask yourself. Do you ever think of them?

In the political campaigns here at home, we have the audacity to debate whether racism exists in America. While we argue about what some preacher said from his pulpit, we wage a blatantly racist war in the Middle East.

Any American who fails to oppose this war, who remains silent in the face of our own racist campaign abroad, shares far more guilt than Reverend Wright.

(Published in the April 9th "North Bay Bohemian".)

Monday, March 24, 2008

In Case You Missed It....

This little clip reveals Dick Cheney's contempt for the will of the Americans people.

Friday, March 21, 2008

"We Need a President, Not Just a Commander in Chief" by Joe Brewer and George Lakoff

t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 20 March 2008
In this primary season, the question of what makes a good presidential candidate has taken many forms. Is it how to negotiate with leaders of other nations? What kind of experience qualifies one to be a leader? Yet, the question that should make progressives ripple with discomfort is "Will the president be a strong commander in chief?"

Emphasis on "commander in chief" activates a right-wing frame and progressives should be very circumspect in referring to the presidency in this manner.

Though the words themselves are neutral, they have been used within a right-wing frame that is not obvious. The frame includes the following:
  • The overriding challenge facing our country is military in nature.
  • The military role of the president is, therefore, far more important than all of the other jobs he or she performs.
  • Military experience, or direct experience with military affairs (e.g., the Armed Services Committee), is the single most important experience needed for the presidency.
  • The country should be governed on a military basis. The state should first and foremost be a security state.
  • The temperament needed for a president is martial; the president should be a fighter and should be engaged in fighting.
  • The governing style for a president should be giving orders and making sure they are carried out. Others in public service should be obedient to the president's orders.
That is what it means to make the "commander-in-chief" question the main issue in a campaign. The commander-in-chief frame shifts the role of the president away from governing our nation and into the more limited scope of managing military affairs. It takes us away from domestic questions, including other questions of protection and leadership.

That frame is not what America is about. It does not embody fundamental American values. Nor does it portray what the role of the government is in our democracy. The dual roles of government are protection and empowerment, as we have written elsewhere. Protection is not just military or police protection, but a wide range: consumer protection, worker protection, environmental protection, social security, protection from natural disasters and disease and protection from economic devastation.

That is the major protective mission of the government. The protective job of the president is leadership, primarily in these areas, and also in military matters when our country is in serious danger of attack by a military force. Leadership in all of these areas places different requirements on a president:
  • The ability to articulate those needs for protection so that the nation will comprehend them as overriding needs.
  • The ability to get the country united behind plans for protecting Americans in all of those ways.
  • The ability to inspire a generation of Americans to devote their lives and careers to these tasks.
Protection and leadership are vital issues in a presidential campaign. But the commander-in-chief frame hides them, and replaces them with a right-wing model of government and of the presidency. Conservatives have a long history of dominating the landscape of ideas by trumpeting security issues. So long as the public generally thinks about military affairs as overwhelming, they will be susceptible to conservative frames. Associations between the presidency and commander in chief will tend to promote a conservative view of the world where use of force is not merely encouraged but made mandatory.

This unfortunate distortion of constitutional law, as well as the real problems of Americans, has a major strategic impact in today's political climate. Throughout recent years, the theory of the "unitary executive" has taken hold in the practices of the Bush administration. This theory places the president in the role of decider at the helm of government, thus denigrating the roles of Congress (the real decider in matters of both foreign and domestic policy) as well as the courts.

The imposition of the commander-in-chief frame imposes the top-down hierarchy of commands within the military on the decision-making authority of the president - reinforcing the "unitary executive" mindset. It conceals the fact the president is only granted power to direct military activities during times of war. There can only be a commander if there is an army fighting another army. The term only makes sense within the military frame - typically enmeshed in the more general war frame.

The kind of military chain of command and absolute authority in wartime does not apply to most functions of the president. The president is not supposed to be commander in chief of Congress, nor commander in chief of the FBI or the Justice Department, nor commander in chief of the American people. Right now, he isn't even commander in chief of Blackwater, a private army.

As we have just seen, the commander-in-chief role does not extend to most protections that a president should be concerned with - natural disaster (FEMA), health (FDA, health care agencies), environmental protection (EPA) etc. A president must address these domestic issues through leadership skills outside the realm of military action.

As we've noted before at Rockridge, such issues of framing are central to our democracy:

"Congress may argue against the president's Iraq policy, but when they do so using his words, and thus his fundamental moral frame, they put themselves at a distinct disadvantage. It is nearly impossible to persuasively present a progressive policy using conservative language and frames."

Framing the role of the president in conservative terms suppresses progressive leadership frames. The conservative view of the world as a dangerous place where military threats always lurk nearby is not conducive to the tasks that make our world safer: communicating effectively with leaders of other nations, building trust and forging lasting alliances across the globe, promoting peace through diplomacy and engaging in efforts to ease suffering through initiatives that build secure communities at home and abroad.

Instead, we are reminded of vague threats that evoke fear and encourage division among the peoples of the world. War and militarism activate fear circuits in our brains, altering the processing of information toward absolutist concepts of "good versus evil," "us versus them" and the acceptability of violence.

Progressives need to understand the politics of fear if we are to build upon the basic human capacity underlying our view of the world - empathy with responsibility. Feelings of fear and anxiety reduce the expression of empathy and lead us to place responsibility elsewhere. The antidote is to pay attention to the common bonds we all share. As Shakespeare once wrote, "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" It is this recognition that pain in others is like our own that motivates the desire for healing and peace.

Progressive leaders need to promote progressive leadership frames. This means dropping the commander-in-chief term in general debates about the nature of the presidency and shifting instead to the overall role of government, protection in general, empowerment of both individuals and business and overall presidential leadership need to accomplish them.

We need a president, not just a commander in chief.

Joe Brewer brings a diverse educational background to Rockridge. He received three B.S. degrees from Southeast Missouri State University - in physics, applied mathematics, and interdisciplinary studies. He received an M.S. in atmospheric sciences from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Since receiving his masters, Mr. Brewer has focused on the study of cognitive science and linguistics, including studying with Mark Johnson - a co-author with George Lakoff on two books. Mr. Brewer has a special interest and expertise in the framing of global warming issues.

George Lakoff is the co-founder and senior fellow of the Rockridge Institute. A professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, he previously taught at Harvard University and the University of Michigan. He has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and a visiting professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris (1995) and at the Linguistics Society of America Summer Institute at the University of New Mexico (Summer, 1995).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Success": Paving the Way for a John McCain Presidency and Continued Occupation of Iraq

Above, President Bush poses with U.S. Army Specialist Rick Yarosh
at the Brooke Army Medical Center last Veterans Day.

There is no "success" in war, no "winning".


On ABC's March 19th "Good Morning America" show, Martha Radditz interviewed Dick Cheney during his visit to Oman. The subject turned to Iraq:

CHENEY: On the security front I think there's a general consensus that we've made major progress, that the surge has worked. That's been a major success.

RADDITZ: Two-thirds of Americans say it's not worth fighting...

CHENEY: So? (Said with a devilish smile that replaced his usual "smirk".)

RADDITZ: do not care what the American people think?

CHENEY: No, I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls. There has in fact been fundamental change and transformation and improvement for the better. That's a huge accomplishment.


From what I've seen the past few years, this particular poll has not fluctuated much. Rather, it has moved steadily in one direction: increasingly, Americans are opposed to the war and occupation in Iraq.

With a concentrated and emboldened campaign to sell the "success" in Iraq, the Bush Administration is working to defuse one of two overwhelming concerns for Americans. If they "succeed" in convincing America that Iraq is on the path to normalcy, they can focus on the economy, an area where monetary policy, international lending and, yes, stimulus rebates can be brought to bear, yielding apparent (if momentary) relief. This is part of the strategy for holding The White House.


How many ways can you say "success"?

By now, Americans have grown accustomed to Bush Administration public relations blitzkriegs, hitting all major news channels with a concerted message and uniform talking points mouthed by a predictable cast of characters. So, in discussions of Iraq this week, the term "success" was on "everyone's" lips, whether the speaker was George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, General Petraeus or John McCain (who made a quick trip to Baghdad so that he could be more convincing in his assertion.) Of course, this rosy analysis is almost entirely derived from the Administration, Republican politicians, the U.S. Military or from reporters embedded with the military in Iraq.

Unsurprisingly, their view is not necessarily shared by other, "less aligned" agencies. For example:
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross: the "humanitarian situation in Iraq is among the most critical in the world."
  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates over 4.5 million Iraqis have been forced from their homes.
  • Amnesty International: "Five years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the country is still in disarray. The human rights situation is disastrous, a climate of impunity has prevailed, the economy is in tatters and the refugee crisis continues to escalate."
And, without noting specific citations here, there are the dozen or so reports I've read and heard this week from foreign media reporters, independent observers and bloggers on the ground in Iraq, Iraqi refugees in Syria, analysts, diplomats, etc. (See Dahr Jamail's analysis "Iraq: Five years, and counting.")

The picture is not as neat and clean as the Administration paints it (and began painting it five years ago.)

But as Dick Cheney so resolutely put it, "you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls" (nor, apparently, by the American people, by a few million refugees, by the international community, nor even by the citizens of the nation you are occupying.)

Has there ever been an American Administration that has displayed such open contempt for the will of its own people, and for humanity?

(Note about the above photo: the look on Bush's face betrays an inner conflict. For him, this must have been a profound experience. Compare the left and right halves of his face - cover one side, then the other.)

Some different perspectives on "The Surge"

These short videos come from "The Guardian" of London, and tell a story we're not likely to see on the major American networks. The truth is comprised of all the different viewpoints.

Video: 80,000 Angry Men. Is the US Surge collapsing?

Video: Baghdad: City of walls

Mr. Global Economy

As I prepared to leave the house this morning, I thought about this entwined economy in which we live. I pride myself on being aware of the origins of things I buy, trying to buy locally-made products when possible. It's not easy. When we complain about "off-shoring of jobs", what role do we as the consumer play? The central role. Personal consumption is 65-70% of the economy.

So here's the 5-minute inventory made before heading out the door.

Boxers - Thailand
Socks - USA
T-shirt - Honduras
Levi's 501s - Dominican Republic
Shirt - India
Vest - USA
Belt - China
Watch - Switzerland
Watch band - China
Wallet - China
Glasses - Italy (frames) and Germany (lenses)
Memo pad and pen - USA
Riding jacket - Vietnam
Helmet - Japan
Gloves - Romania
Boots - Italy
Motorcycle - Germany (components from various countries)
Panniers - Spain
Gasoline - Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE, Ecuador???

And that was just to get me up to the coffee shop (for my cup of Sulawesi coffee.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Invasion of Iraq - 5th Anniversary

14-year-old Trevor Nixon came out to "support the troops, but not the war." His brother, a Marine, has just returned after two tours in Iraq. Another brother has just entered the Navy, and is training to be a SEAL.

At the Sonoma demonstration, I ran into "Diane" (on the right), who had also attended last January's "March on Washington".

Sonoma Valley Hospital board member Mike Smith kneels in the intersection of Napa Street and Broadway in Sonoma, as Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputies move in to make a symbolic arrest.

For 393 weeks, Sonoma peace activists have been demonstrating against the war.

Demonstrators begin to gather in front of Sonoma's City Hall. The retirees showed up first, followed by younger people as they finished their work days.

It's a Long Way From Kennebunk

The last time I saw Kevin Allen was in El Chaltén, Argentina in February, 2006. He was hitchhiking, trying to get a ride out of the remote town. For the past seven weeks, Kevin has been driving the frozen North, from Kennebunk, Maine, up to the Yukon and Alaska, then down the Pacific Coast.

We met for breakfast in Pt. Reyes Station, California. Afterwards, he continued his 10,000-mile-and-counting trek, planning to see the Big Sur coastline before turning toward Las Vegas.

Kevin plots his course to Las Vegas.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Dinner With Ahmed" by Scott Ritter

Published on Tuesday, March 18, 2008 by
As we approach the fifth anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, I find myself thinking back on how we got ourselves into this predicament. Like many who played a direct role in the issues surrounding Iraq in the years leading up to the decision to invade, I have wrestled with the demons of history, wondering about the specific impact my actions (or inaction) may have had on the course of human affairs. I’ve also wondered whether or not I have been witness to any events that, if more fully reported, might enable others to have a better understanding of the events that shape our world today, for better or for worse. As I examine where we are today and contemplate our future and those who are positioning themselves to play a role in Iraq, it seems to me that there is at least one such incident, a dinner party I attended at the home of Ahmed Chalabi in June 1998 that is worthy of a more public illumination.
During my time as a weapons inspector for the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), I frequently traveled to Washington, D.C., for liaison purposes. The usual customers, so to speak, included the State Department, the CIA and the Department of Defense. All such meetings were conducted in accordance with instructions I had received from the executive chairman of UNSCOM (from 1991 until July 1997 this post was held by a Swede named Rolf Ekéus and after July by an Australian, Richard Butler) and as such were considered “official business.”

I strayed from the umbrella of “official business” only once during my tenure as an inspector, when, in June 1998, during a scheduled official trip to Washington, D.C., I ventured out into the shadows of back-bench domestic American politics. Bill Clinton was president then, and there was a growing undercurrent of neoconservative ideology that was gripping the nation’s capitol as the right wing of the Republican Party, frustrated by its inability to outmaneuver the president on the domestic front, chose to instead do battle on matters pertaining to foreign policy and national security. Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein was deeply entrenched in Baghdad. Economic sanctions, which served as the primary vehicle for containing the Iraqi dictator by denying him markets for his oil-based economy, were collapsing amid international concern for the humanitarian toll that such sanctions took on the people of Iraq, and in the face of old-fashioned greed. U.N. weapons inspections were floundering and the Clinton administration seemed to lack any coherent plan on how to bring order from the foreign policy chaos that was Iraq.

In early June 1998, UNSCOM weapons inspectors received a technical report from a U.S. military laboratory in Aberdeen, Md., which specialized in chemical and biological agent analysis. In March 1998, UNSCOM had retrieved from Iraq several fragments of ballistic missile warheads from a site that had been used by the Iraqis in their program of unilateral destruction of WMD in the summer of 1991. The Iraqis, in an effort to clarify glaring discrepancies in the accounting of their weapons-of-mass-destruction stockpiles, had admitted that a certain number of these warheads had been filled with chemical and biological agent, in particular nerve agent, and anthrax and botulinum toxin biological agent. In an effort to verify the Iraqi claims, UNSCOM had excavated warhead fragments from the declared destruction sites and sent them to the U.S. military laboratory in Aberdeen for analysis.

By early June 1998 the results were back, and they were, on the surface, stunning: Rather than finding evidence of the declared chemical or biological agent that the Iraqis had admitted placing in the warheads, the Aberdeen lab results showed trace evidence of the chemical degradation byproduct of stabilized VX nerve agent, one of the most deadly substances known to man. The Iraqis had admitted trying to produce VX nerve agent in the past, but denied that they had ever succeeded in stabilizing the volatile chemical (i.e., preventing the agent from deteriorating over time and becoming useless as a weapon), let alone filling any warhead with VX. The lab results from Aberdeen, if correct, dramatically contradicted the Iraqi claims and potentially turned the entire disarmament effort of UNSCOM in Iraq on its head.

Butler, the Australian diplomat who headed UNSCOM at the time, was arriving in Baghdad when the Aberdeen lab results were released. Inspectors in New York were able to transmit a copy of the report to Baghdad, and the senior UNSCOM chemical inspector in Iraq at the time was able to meet Butler at plane-side to personally brief him on the dramatic news. Butler was in Baghdad to undertake a delicate negotiation with the Iraqi government on a so-called road map that would serve as the basis upon which UNSCOM and Iraq would seek to work together to clarify outstanding issues, and seek verification for declarations made by Iraq, such as its stance on VX nerve agent, which UNSCOM was unwilling to take at face value. The Aberdeen lab report threw a monkey wrench into Butler’s tightly scripted plan, and he decided to keep the report under wraps for the time being in order to let diplomacy take its course.

The UNSCOM chemical inspectors were furious. Over the years they had uncovered one lie after another about Iraq’s VX nerve agent program. Initially, the inspectors proved that a VX program existed when Iraq claimed it did not (in order to prove that point, inspectors had to burrow down inside bombed-out buildings to recover buried documents the Iraqis thought lost). Later, the inspectors were able to force the Iraqis to admit that the VX nerve agent effort was in fact larger than the laboratory-scale research and development program they tried to peddle once their denials had been proved false. The chemists had already contradicted the Iraqis on the issue of stabilized VX, by finding traces of VX stabilizer in VX agent recovered from containers the Iraqis had thought had been thoroughly sanitized. This discovery forced the Iraqis to admit having attempted VX stabilization. But in the end, the Iraqis maintained that all of their efforts had failed, and that VX agent had never been “weaponized,” or loaded into a warhead or shell. Now, with the Aberdeen lab report, this last lie seemed to have been uncovered.

Over lunch in the U.N. cafeteria, I listened while the UNSCOM chemical weapons inspectors vented their anger and frustration. Butler was selling out, they speculated. Why else wouldn’t he make use of this material? I asked the chemists how certain they were of the lab results. One hundred percent, they said. The lab results had discovered incontrovertible proof of the existence of specific chemicals on the warhead fragments, which could be explained only as the result of the degradation over time of VX stabilizer. “What would be the ideal situation vis-à-vis this information?” I asked. Everyone at the table believed that Butler was being pressured by the Clinton administration not to provoke a major crisis with Iraq over the issue of disarmament, so as not to break the existing Security Council consensus on maintaining economic sanctions. As such, the best scenario would be to have this information made public, published in the press so that neither Butler nor the Clinton administration could ignore it. Several of the inspectors around the table had served as background sources for some of the world’s leading journalists. “Why not slip a copy of the report to one of these press contacts?” I asked. The lab report, they responded, was tightly held. If it was leaked out of New York, suspicion would automatically gravitate toward them, a situation none of the inspectors wanted to deal with. “What if,” I asked, “I could get the lab report released in Washington, D.C., with no UNSCOM fingerprints?” The chemists liked this idea, and slipped me a copy of the lab results.

I was scheduled to fly down to Washington to meet with the CIA about ongoing intelligence support programs then underway. In my desk I had a business card for Randy Scheunemann, the national security adviser to Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who was at that time the Senate majority leader. Scheunemann had been part of a congressional staff delegation that had visited the United Nations earlier in 1998, and had met with Butler and some of the UNSCOM inspectors to discuss the situation in Iraq. I dialed the number listed and told Scheunemann I would like to meet with him while I was in Washington to discuss some new developments. He agreed to the meeting and threw in a twist of his own: Would I mind meeting with Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi expatriate who headed an opposition group called the Iraqi National Congress, or INC? Chalabi maintained offices in London and Georgetown, Va., and he shuttled back and forth between the two carrying out his various political intrigues. He was, at the time, in residence in Georgetown, and Scheunemann thought that Chalabi might be of assistance in any matter regarding Iraq.

I had previously met Chalabi in January 1998 in London, where we had discussed various matters pertaining to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and how the INC might be able to assist UNSCOM in gaining access to new sources of information about Saddam’s past proscribed programs. Butler had authorized the London meeting, so I justified any subsequent meeting organized by Scheunemann as a legitimate follow-up. Scheunemann said he would have someone meet me at the airport in Washington.

I landed at National Airport early in the morning. In the terminal I spotted a man in a black suit holding a sign with my name on it. I assumed he was a driver of a car sent to take me to the Senate offices of Scheunemann. I was partly right. The driver was for me, but my destination was not Capitol Hill. “Mr. Chalabi sends his greetings,” the driver said as he ushered me to an awaiting town car. “I will take you to meet Mr. Chalabi now.” Ahmed Chalabi’s Washington headquarters was in a posh red-brick Georgetown town house. Chalabi himself was there to greet me.

I was ushered into Chalabi’s home, where he set out an ambitious program, including briefings to senators and their staffs. The meeting went on well into the next day. I had an open return air ticket but had not planned on spending the night, and as such had not made any hotel arrangements. “Not to worry,” Chalabi said. “You are welcome to stay with me as my guest. We’ll have dinner here tonight, and you can sleep in one of my guest rooms.”

Chalabi’s driver, who turned out to be a Shiite refugee from southern Iraq, drove me to the State Department, where my meeting with the CIA was held. Afterward, I took a cab to Capitol Hill and then made my way to the Senate office building where Randy Scheunemann had his office, right across from Sen. Lott’s. Once there, I got down to business. I handed Scheunemann a copy of the Aberdeen lab report and explained the background of the document. He immediately grasped the importance of what he was holding in his hand. “What would you like me to do with this information?” he asked. I explained the desire to get this data into the public eye, which meant bypassing both Richard Butler and the White House because I and the inspectors I had met with believed that both were seeking to suppress the data. “If it could find its way into the press in a way that removed any UNSCOM fingerprints, this would be ideal. That way the data remains uncompromised, and yet politically Butler and the White House can’t ignore it.” Scheunemann was smiling. “I think we can manage that.”

I thought my mission complete, but Scheunemann picked up the phone, speaking in hushed tones to someone on the other end. Hanging up the receiver, he rose. “Please follow me. Sen. Lott would like to have a chance to speak with you.” We made our way across the hall and into the Senate majority leader’s suite. Lott was meeting with constituents but broke away and ushered me into a side conference room, where we sat around a large wooden table. Scheunemann briefed Lott on the nature of the information I had provided, but withheld any suggestion of leaking it to the press. Lott thanked me for my “service.” “I understand you will be in town for a little while, and that you’re staying at the home of a mutual friend.” Neither Scheunemann nor I had mentioned my arrangements with Chalabi to the senator. “I hope you take some time to talk with him, and some other interesting people I think you will be meeting with. Exchange ideas. See if you can help him in any way. We’re all on the same side here, and we have to start finding ways to break down some barriers others have constructed between us.” I told the senator that I had met with Chalabi previously and saw no reason why we couldn’t engage in an exchange of ideas.

Scheunemann and I left Lott’s office, and I took a cab back to Chalabi’s town house in Georgetown. Chalabi was out when I arrived, but I was met at the door by Francis Brooke, an American from Atlanta who was Chalabi’s principle adviser. Brooke was also a guest at Chalabi’s apartment. I changed out of my suit and made my way downstairs to relax while I waited for dinner. No sooner had I sat down than the doorbell rang. Brooke answered it, and in walked Dr. Max Singer, a noted independent consultant on public policy and a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute who specialized in what was known as “political warfare.” Singer was a busy man, but he had been asked by Scheunemann to prepare a paper titled “The Chalabi Factor,” which outlined the importance and viability of Chalabi and the INC as a realistic opposition to the rule of Saddam Hussein. “Ahmed asked me to drop this off for you to look at,” Singer said, handing me the document. “I will be interested in what you think of it.”

Singer left and I sat down with his paper. The document outlined a political scenario that had Chalabi and the INC exploiting the weakness of the regime of Saddam in northern Iraq (Kurdistan) and southern Iraq, among the Shiites, to install himself as a viable political alternative to the Iraqi dictator. The main thesis centered on gaining a physical foothold in southern Iraq and taking control of the oil fields surrounding Basra, enabling the INC to become economically viable, which in turn created the conditions for political viability. Chalabi, the paper held, was ideally suited for this role since he already had a large following inside Iraq and was widely recognized outside Iraq as a legitimate contender for the helm of post-Saddam Iraq. I was somewhat taken aback by the content of the Singer paper. I was on dangerous political ground here, a U.N. weapons inspector charged with the disarmament of Iraq, suddenly dabbling in the world of regime change. Far from advising me on issues of intelligence regarding Iraqi WMD, Ahmed Chalabi had turned the tables and had me advising him on how to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Within the hour Chalabi returned to his apartment, accompanied by a tall man in a gray suit, Stephen Rademaker. Rademaker was the husband of Danielle Pletka, the senior professional staff member for Near East and South Asia affairs on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Rademaker was the legal counsel for the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and, like his wife, an unabashed member of the right wing of the Republican Party, along with being a champion of Chalabi. Rademaker joined Francis Brooke, Chalabi and me in the comfortably laid-out living room of the town house, where we discussed not arms control but regime change. I started off with the premise that the best way to achieve regime change in Iraq was to hold Saddam accountable for his requirement to disarm, and that the focus of our discussion should therefore be how to get the U.S. government to take more seriously the work of UNSCOM, and to put the weight of America behind such smoking-gun evidence as the VX nerve agent lab report from Aberdeen. Rademaker interjected at that point. “We agree. But we all know Saddam is cheating, and that his days are numbered. What we don’t have is a plan on what we are going to do once Saddam is out of office. Mr. Chalabi represents our best hopes in that regard, which is why we’re delighted that you and he are meeting like this.”

The discussion moved on to the matter of Singer’s Chalabi paper. In the kitchen, Chalabi’s driver had put on an apron and was busy putting together plates of appetizers and beginning preparations for dinner. I had spent the better part of the last three years investigating the inner workings of Saddam’s government, and how the Iraqi president shaped his internal domestic constituencies. “The premise of gaining support among the Kurds and Shi’a I can’t take issue with,” I said, “except to note that my experience with both groups is that neither represents a homogeneous movement that can be treated as a singular element. Things will be much more complicated than that. The key to me is what is missing here: any discussion of the Baath Party or the Sunni tribes. The Baath Party is the only vehicle that exists in Iraq today that unites Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds alike. It makes modern Iraq function. How do you plan on dealing with the Baath Party in a post-Saddam environment? And what is your plan for winning over the Sunni tribes? How will you bring the tribes that represent the foundation of Saddam’s political support into the fold with your Kurdish and Shi’a supporters?”

Steve Rademaker and Francis Brooke stared blankly. Chalabi was grinning ear to ear. “We have a plan. First, we will do away completely with the Baath Party. Those minor members who were forced to join out of survival, of course, they will be allowed to retain their jobs. But anyone who profited from Baathist rule will be punished. As for the Sunni tribes, we are already in contact with their representatives. We feel that the best way to negotiate with them, however, is to make them realize that there is no future with Saddam. Once they realize that, they will come over to our side.” Chalabi’s “plan” struck me as simplistic at best, and entirely unrealistic.

“What about defeating Saddam’s military?” I asked as the hors d’oeuvres were laid out. “Not just the Iraqi army, but the security forces closest to Saddam, the Special Republican Guard and others?” Chalabi said a few words to Brooke, who got up and returned with a three-page paper entitled “The Military Plan.” Chalabi handed me the document. “This was written for me by Gen. Wayne Downing. I believe you know him from Operation Desert Storm.” Downing commanded U.S. commandos operating in western Iraq who were tasked with interdicting Iraqi Scud missile launches against Israel. I had participated in that effort.

Downing’s paper outlined a plan that had the U.S. military training and equipping a force of several thousand INC soldiers who would operate out of bases in western Iraq. These forces would be equipped with light vehicles armed with anti-tank missile launchers, which Downing believed would be more than a match for any armored force the Iraqis might muster. The plan postulated support from the local tribes in western Iraq, especially the al-Duleimi in and around Ramadi and Anbar. I thought this somewhat fanciful, since the al-Duleimi were among the tribes that provided manpower for some of Saddam’s most elite units. I said as much, but Chalabi dismissed my concerns with a flick of his wrist. “My people have already had discussions with the tribal leaders of the al-Duleimi, who are ready to join us once we get situated on the ground.”

Downing’s plan called for the presence of U.S. military advisers on the ground and U.S. warplanes overhead. “We don’t operate like that,” I said. “If we have forces on the ground, then we’ll need to have a base, with a base support element, and base security, and a quick-reaction force in case some of our boys get in trouble. The U.S. presence would have to be much greater than what you’re saying here.” Again, Chalabi smiled. “That may be so,” he said. “But we don’t have to highlight it at this time.” The “Downing Plan” was a nice bit of trickery, plotting what was ostensibly an Iraqi opposition military force with minor U.S. military involvement, but masking what was in reality a much larger U.S. military effort with a minor role played by Chalabi’s INC “army.”

There was a knock at the door, and Chalabi’s butler answered. In walked Rademaker’s wife, Danielle Pletka, accompanied by none other than James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA. They found seats around the table, and it became clear that this was where we would be eating. The discussion moved from the flawed military planning evident in Gen. Downing’s paper and onto the issue of Chalabi’s political future. Jim Woolsey was an unabashed supporter of Chalabi, something I found strange since Chalabi and the CIA were at odds over many aspects of the INC’s past operations. “This [criticism] is all bunk,” Woolsey said. “Chalabi is an Iraqi patriot and visionary who intimidates many lesser thinkers in Langley [CIA headquarters]. My friend Ahmed is a risk taker who understands the reality of Iraq, unlike the desk-bound analysts and risk-averse operators at the CIA. Chalabi scares these people, so they have created false accusations in order to denigrate him and ultimately destroy him.” Danielle Pletka chimed in. “We cannot allow this to happen. Ahmed Chalabi has many friends in Congress, and it is our goal to make sure Ahmed Chalabi gets the support he needs to not only survive as a viable opposition figure to Saddam Hussein but more importantly to prevail in Iraq.”

And so the night went. Dinner with Ahmed had turned into a political strategy session, the primary topic of interest being how to breathe new life and legitimacy into Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress so that a viable, and thus politically supportable, opposition to Saddam Hussein might be formed. According to Chalabi, this viable opposition already existed; all that was needed was funding and political support (not to mention military assistance in the form of advisers on the ground and fighter-bombers overhead). Personally, I doubted whether Chalabi could muster the forces he claimed inside Iraq. But my doubts were not shared by my dinner companions that evening, and as we sat afterward, sharing drinks and conversation, it was clear that Chalabi was being groomed for another run at power.

He had been embraced by the CIA in the early 1990s, only to be abandoned following halfhearted coup attempts the U.S. government failed to support, and accusations of financial mismanagement. But Trent Lott and the Republican Party were gunning for Bill Clinton and the Democrats, and they believed that with Iraq they had discovered a chink in Clinton’s armor. Chalabi was being resurrected before my eyes. They had picked their cause and selected their champion. Now all they needed was a springboard issue from which to launch their program. And that, apparently, was where I came in.

I rose early the next morning and went downstairs for breakfast before heading back to Capitol Hill and another round of meetings with senators that Pletka had arranged. Chalabi was already up, and we chatted a bit while I ate. “You see, Scott,” he said, “I have many friends here in Washington. With what you know about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, you can be of invaluable assistance to our cause. The VX story is but the tip of the iceberg.” I was taken aback, as I had not shared the VX lab report information with Chalabi. Clearly, one of our co-diners of the previous evening had spoken out of school. “Well, I am just a simple weapons inspector,” I replied. “In any event, it wouldn’t go over well back at the U.N. to have an UNSCOM inspector plotting regime change down in Washington, D.C.” I looked at Chalabi directly. “This is why you must be very discreet about the VX lab report. It simply won’t do for you to have your fingerprints on this information.”

Chalabi smiled and nodded. “I understand completely. As for your status as a weapons inspector, you must understand that those days are nearly gone. The inspection process has run its course. You need to think about what you are going to be doing in the future. I would like you to work for me.” I looked over at him. “How would that work? As an American citizen I can’t be working for you while planning the overthrow of Saddam. I believe there are laws against that.” Chalabi laughed. “Of course. You wouldn’t be working for me, but for the U.S. Senate. My friends would create an advisory position for you, and you would in turn advise me. It wouldn’t pay much upfront,” he said. “But don’t worry. One day I will be the president of Iraq, and will be in control of Iraq’s oil. When that day comes, I will not forget those who helped me in my time of need. Let’s just say that my friends will be given certain oil concessions that will make them very wealthy.” I remained silent.

Chalabi’s butler drove me to the Senate office buildings, where I met up with Pletka. She escorted me to the office of Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican. He had been fully briefed on the VX story. He was also interested in my description of how the Clinton administration was balking at fully supporting the work of the UNSCOM inspectors. “This will not stand,” he said when I was finished. “Believe me when I say you and your colleagues have friends here in the U.S. Senate who will make sure America honors its commitments and obligations, especially when it comes to disarming a cruel tyrant such as Saddam Hussein.”

Afterward, Pletka and I met with her husband, Steve Rademaker, in the Senate office building cafeteria. Rademaker had been hard at work briefing influential congressmen, especially Ben Gillman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, about the VX lab report. “We’ve got their attention,” Rademaker said, “and I think you’ll find that serious pressure will be brought on the Clinton administration to better support your work.” Pletka then took me back to where I had started, the office of Randy Scheunemann. Once again I was ushered in to see Sen. Lott, who thanked me for my service. “This is very important, and we’re very glad you brought the lab report to our attention. Be assured that this matter will be handled with the utmost discretion.” As I got up to leave, Scheunemann brought up the issue of future collaboration. I said that my being a weapons inspector made such collaboration difficult. Lott intervened. “Well, maybe we can find a way to bring you down here working for us. That might be the most useful thing to do.” Chalabi’s schemes seemed to have some substance behind them.

Armed with that potential job offer, I left Washington and returned to New York. Richard Butler was due back at the U.N., where he was planning to announce a “major breakthrough” regarding Iraq’s approach to disarmament. There was to be no mention of the specific details of the VX lab report findings, although Butler had alluded to their existence, and the Iraqi rejection of these findings. Butler was to make a presentation to the Security Council on June 25th. However, my visit to Washington produced results that dramatically altered his planned presentation.

On June 23rd, The Washington Post published a front-page story headlined “Tests Show Nerve Gas Agent in Iraqi Weapons.” The article made the main gist of the Aberdeen lab results public. It also reported on the political work undertaken by Lott and the Republicans based on that information. According to the Post story, “The new indications of Iraqi deception also are likely to reverberate in U.S. politics, where conservative Republicans are increasingly critical of what they see as a failure by the Clinton administration to support strongly either aggressive UNSCOM inspections for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or efforts to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.”

Senate Majority Leader Lott was quoted in the article as being “deeply disturbed” by reports that the administration had not acted on the VX information. “The latest example of a failed policy toward Iraq will not be swept under the rug,” the Post quoted him as saying. I was just about to conclude that my visit had been a tremendous success when I caught a line in the middle of the article. “The Washington Post obtained a copy of the U.S. Army lab report from officials of the Iraqi National Congress, the principal Iraqi exile opposition group.” After watching the Republicans build up Chalabi, I should have known that they could not have passed up this opportunity to interject his name into the limelight. “This is a smoking gun,” Chalabi said to The Washington Post. “It shows that Saddam is still lying, and that this whole arrangement based on his turning his weapons of terror over to the United Nations is not workable.” The Post then quoted a “Republican Senate source” who echoed Chalabi’s concern: “This report means that they have VX out there now, and can use it. They have lied from the start.”

Today, in the aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq, I think back on my visit to Washington and my dinner with Ahmed Chalabi and his friends. The ramifications of that visit were many.

Butler’s report to the Security Council, delivered in late June of 1998, was dramatically revamped in order to take into account the need to discuss the VX findings. The “major breakthrough” in disarmament work with the Iraqis was, as a matter of course, pushed to the sidelines. The Clinton administration, caught off guard, had to come out with public statements proclaiming its support for the work of UNSCOM at a time when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger were lobbying hard behind closed doors for the U.S. to pull back from blanket support of the inspection process.

The Republicans, led by Lott, had a new cause around which to rally in their effort to confront the Democrats: the failure of disarmament and the need to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Randy Scheunemann used the impetus created by the VX nerve agent scandal to draft legislation, the so-called Iraq Liberation Act, which was passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate in October 1998. This legislation solidified regime change in Iraq as the official policy of the United States, and certified Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress as the American choice for replacing Saddam. The Chalabi machine was on a roll, and was not to be stopped until the overthrow of Saddam in April 2003.

Ahmed Chalabi remains a controversial figure today. The U.S. case for war with Iraq was built around the notion of Iraq retaining stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Much of the case was built around so-called intelligence provided by Chalabi’s INC. All of this intelligence proved flawed. Chalabi and the INC have been singled out as the scapegoats for this failure, accused of deliberately misrepresenting data and even fabricating intelligence reports to shore up the U.S. government claim that Iraq did indeed possess proscribed weapons.

As for the Aberdeen VX lab report, the Iraqi government in the end had been telling the truth. It had not succeeded in stabilizing VX nerve agent, and it had never filled any weapons with the agent. Far from representing “incontrovertible evidence” of Iraqi duplicity, the Aberdeen lab results were flawed. Even under ideal circumstances, laboratory analysis conducted at approved facilities operating under strict protocols established in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention had an incredibly high rate of misidentification, and this occurred in known test samples. Detection of a specific chemical agent simply wasn’t a slam-dunk proposition. The Aberdeen samples were taken from metal fragments that had been subjected to explosive demolition and buried in the ground for many years. Subsequent retesting done by French and Swiss labs proved inconclusive. In the end, I was wrong to have pushed so hard to have the lab results made public.

Chalabi’s bid for the leadership of post-Saddam Iraq has stalled, but not stopped. In the aftermath of the Jan. 30, 2005, elections in Iraq, a new Iraqi government was formed, and Chalabi emerged as deputy prime minister responsible for energy policy. In this role, he was given interim responsibility for overseeing the Iraqi Ministry of Oil in April-May 2005 and December 2005-January 2006, which meant he had control over Iraq’s vast economic resources. Chalabi had told me that this had always been his goal. He also told me that he would use his access to Iraq’s riches to “take care” of those of his friends who had supported his rise to power.

Exploiting Iraq’s oil resources for his own benefit has always been a Chalabi goal. Prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Chalabi took a leading role in planning how the Iraqi oil sector would be managed in post-Saddam Iraq. He chaired a meeting of oil executives at London’s prestigious Royal Institute of International Affairs, the title of which was “Invading Iraq: Dangers and Opportunities for the Energy Sector.” Chalabi also took a leading role in advising the State Department’s Oil and Energy Working Group; in a conference of the group held in December 2002 he pushed for using a revitalized Iraqi oil industry to pay for the cost of the U.S. invasion (former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz relied heavily on Chalabi’s input when he testified to the U.S. Congress that Iraqi oil would more than offset the cost of invading Iraq). Chalabi argued that the best way forward for Iraq’s oil industry was to privatize as quickly as possible, and seek to free it of OPEC-imposed production quotas. Many of Chalabi’s policy positions are reflected in the stalled National Oil Law of Iraq, still pending ratification by the Iraqi parliament.

Chalabi no longer sits as Iraq’s oil czar. In the twists of fortune that mark the instability inherent in the disastrous American occupation of Iraq, Chalabi was compelled to step aside from the Oil Ministry in January 2006, replaced by former nuclear weapons scientist Hussein al-Shahristani. Chalabi’s political aspirations had fallen short in Iraq’s national elections, with his party failing to win even one seat in the Iraqi parliament. Down but not out, Chalabi continues to this day to operate on the fringes of Iraqi politics. In the fall of 2007 he was appointed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to be the chair of a so-called services committee, helping coordinate the provision of health care, electricity, education and other governmental services to Baghdad neighborhoods in coordination with the American military “surge.” Chalabi’s link to the ongoing “surge” is no accident, since it maintains the connection between him and those in the neoconservative establishment in American politics who have consistently advocated for him in any post-Saddam Iraq.

One of the most visible, and vocal, of these advocates was Randy Scheunemann, the former national security adviser to Trent Lott, who left his job as a Senate staffer. In 2000 he served as the foreign policy adviser to Sen. John McCain’s unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination. In 2001 he served a short stint as a consultant to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In November 2002, Scheunemann helped form a political advocacy group known as the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, whose membership included McCain, who was an honorary co-chair. With Scheunemann guiding him, McCain said in 2003 that Ahmed Chalabi was “a patriot who has the best interests of his country at heart.” Scheunemann is a key figure behind McCain’s unabashed support for staying the course in Iraq, and helped shape the “surge” strategy currently being pursued in Iraq. Today, once again, he serves as a senior foreign policy adviser to a McCain presidential campaign.

Danielle Pletka left her job with the Senate to take a position as vice president of the neoconservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, where she continues to be a vocal and unapologetic advocate of Ahmed Chalabi. In 2006, Pletka helped form AEI’s Iraq Planning Group, which authored a report released in January 2007 that advocated surging 50,000 troops into Iraq as a remedy to the ongoing impasse. This report took precedence over the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group findings, which articulated a more nuanced approach inclusive of diplomacy and reduction of forces in Iraq. She is an avid supporter of Sen. McCain’s presidential aspirations. Pletka’s husband, Stephen Rademaker, served in the Bush administration as an assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation and disarmament issues before leaving in 2006 to join the high-profile Washington, D.C., lobbying firm Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, where he actively operates in support of undermining the current Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki and advocating for Iraqi Kurdish oil autonomy. Another Pletka associate, former CIA Director James Woolsey, has been the pro bono counsel for Chalabi over the years. Woolsey, who openly advocated for the invasion of Iraq prior to March 2003, today is an adviser to McCain’s election campaign, with a primary focus on oil security policy.

Ahmed Chalabi no longer directly controls Iraq’s oil. But at one time he did, and it will be interesting to see how he chose to distribute this largess to his friends and allies. Even more interesting will be how Chalabi leveraged his control of Iraq’s economic wealth to support his continuing claim to the ultimate position of power in Iraq. With the Shiite fundamentalists in Baghdad stumbling in their effort to form a stable government, and with the U.S. balking at Maliki’s theocratic tendencies, rest assured there are many in Washington who continue to look upon Chalabi as the go-to guy to bring secular stability to Iraq. Whether he can accomplish this task is questionable. But, in the meantime, Chalabi is in a position to write many checks, a factor that today makes him so attractive to so many, especially those in the neoconservative establishment with whom he has maintained a relationship over time. Just how attractive will be determined once there is a better understanding of when, and to whom, Chalabi writes his checks, or, more important, who is writing the checks on his behalf.

Scott Ritter was a Marine Corps intelligence officer from 1984 to 1991 and a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of numerous books, including “Iraq Confidential” (Nation Books, 2005) , “Target Iran” (Nation Books, 2006) and his latest, “Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement” (Nation Books, April 2007).

© 2008

(Thanks to Tim S. for forwarding this article.)

"Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan"

Virtually ignored by the mainstream media, this four-day conference has just concluded in Silver Spring, Maryland. It featured the spoken and written testimonies of over 100 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

They speak about the side of these wars that our leaders, public and private, civic and corporate, would rather we never hear. Illegitimate wars cannot be prosecuted when the citizenry is fully informed.

This event follows in the vein of the original "Winter Soldier" testimonies of 1971, as the Vietnam War was becoming increasingly unpopular.

See excerpts of this powerful testimony on Democracy Now! and on the website of "Iraq Veterans Against the War".

Monday, March 17, 2008

"Eliot’s Mess"

(Drew passed on this article. It is especially interesting when juxtaposed to the assertions in the third part of the film Zeitgeist, linked below. See March 14th post.)

The $200 billion bail-out for predator banks and Spitzer charges are intimately linked

By Greg Palast
Reporting for Air America Radio’s Clout

March 14th, 2008

[To hear it, click on this link.]

Bernanke Explains why the 200 Billion is good for YOU.

While New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was paying an ‘escort’ $4,300 in a hotel room in Washington, just down the road, George Bush’s new Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Ben Bernanke, was secretly handing over $200 billion in a tryst with mortgage bank industry speculators.

Both acts were wanton, wicked and lewd. But there’s a BIG difference. The Governor was using his own checkbook. Bush’s man Bernanke was using ours.

This week, Bernanke’s Fed, for the first time in its history, loaned a selected coterie of banks one-fifth of a trillion dollars to guarantee these banks’ mortgage-backed junk bonds. The deluge of public loot was an eye-popping windfall to the very banking predators who have brought two million families to the brink of foreclosure.

Up until Wednesday, there was one single, lonely politician who stood in the way of this creepy little assignation at the bankers’ bordello: Eliot Spitzer.

Who are they kidding? Spitzer’s lynching and the bankers’ enriching are intimately tied.

How? Follow the money.

The press has swallowed Wall Street’s line that millions of US families are about to lose their homes because they bought homes they couldn’t afford or took loans too big for their wallets. Ba-LON-ey. That’s blaming the victim.

Here’s what happened. Since the Bush regime came to power, a new species of loan became the norm, the ‘sub-prime’ mortgage and its variants including loans with teeny “introductory” interest rates. From out of nowhere, a company called ‘Countrywide’ became America’s top mortgage lender, accounting for one in five home loans, a large chunk of these ‘sub-prime.’

Here’s how it worked: The Grinning Family, with US average household income, gets a $200,000 mortgage at 4% for two years. Their $955 monthly payment is 25% of their income. No problem. Their banker promises them a new mortgage, again at the cheap rate, in two years. But in two years, the promise ain’t worth a can of spam and the Grinnings are told to scram - because their house is now worth less than the mortgage. Now, the mortgage hits 9% or $1,609 plus fees to recover the “discount” they had for two years. Suddenly, payments equal 42% to 50% of pre-tax income. The Grinnings move into their Toyota.

Now, what kind of American is ‘sub-prime.’ Guess. No peeking. Here’s a hint: 73% of HIGH INCOME Black and Hispanic borrowers were given sub-prime loans versus 17% of similar-income Whites. Dark-skinned borrowers aren’t stupid – they had no choice. They were ‘steered’ as it’s called in the mortgage sharking business.

‘Steering,’ sub-prime loans with usurious kickers, fake inducements to over-borrow, called ‘fraudulent conveyance’ or ‘predatory lending’ under US law, were almost completely forbidden in the olden days (Clinton Administration and earlier) by federal regulators and state laws as nothing more than fancy loan-sharking.

But when the Bush regime took over, Countrywide and its banking brethren were told to party hearty – it was OK now to steer’m, fake’m, charge’m and take’m.

But there was this annoying party-pooper. The Attorney General of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who sued these guys to a fare-thee-well. Or tried to.

Instead of regulating the banks that had run amok, Bush’s regulators went on the warpath against Spitzer and states attempting to stop predatory practices. Making an unprecedented use of the legal power of “federal pre-emption,” Bush-bots ordered the states to NOT enforce their consumer protection laws.

Indeed, the feds actually filed a lawsuit to block Spitzer’s investigation of ugly racial mortgage steering. Bush’s banking buddies were especially steamed that Spitzer hammered bank practices across the nation using New York State laws.

Spitzer not only took on Countrywide, he took on their predatory enablers in the investment banking community. Behind Countrywide was the Mother Shark, its funder and now owner, Bank of America. Others joined the sharkfest: Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup’s Citibank made mortgage usury their major profit centers. They did this through a bit of financial legerdemain called “securitization.”

What that means is that they took a bunch of junk mortgages, like the Grinning’s, loans about to go down the toilet and re-packaged them into “tranches” of bonds which were stamped “AAA” - top grade - by bond rating agencies. These gold-painted turds were sold as sparkling safe investments to US school district pension funds and town governments in Finland (really).

When the housing bubble burst and the paint flaked off, investors were left with the poop and the bankers were left with bonuses. Countrywide’s top man, Angelo Mozilo, will ‘earn’ a $77 million buy-out bonus this year on top of the $656 million - over half a billion dollars – he pulled in from 1998 through 2007.

But there were rumblings that the party would soon be over. Angry regulators, burned investors and the weight of millions of homes about to be boarded up were causing the sharks to sink. Countrywide’s stock was down 50%, and Citigroup was off 38%, not pleasing to the Gulf sheiks who now control its biggest share blocks.

Then, on Wednesday of this week, the unthinkable happened. Carlyle Capital went bankrupt. Who? That’s Carlyle as in Carlyle Group. James Baker, Senior Counsel. Notable partners, former and past: George Bush, the Bin Laden family and more dictators, potentates, pirates and presidents than you can count.

The Fed had to act. Bernanke opened the vault and dumped $200 billion on the poor little suffering bankers. They got the public treasure – and got to keep the Grinning’s house. There was no ‘quid’ of a foreclosure moratorium for the ‘pro quo’ of public bailout. Not one family was saved – but not one banker was left behind.

Every mortgage sharking operation shot up in value. Mozilo’s Countrywide stock rose 17% in one day. The Citi sheiks saw their company’s stock rise $10 billion in an afternoon.

And that very same day the bail-out was decided – what a coinkydink! – the man called, ‘The Sheriff of Wall Street’ was cuffed. Spitzer was silenced.

Do I believe the banks called Justice and said, “Take him down today!” Naw, that’s not how the system works. But the big players knew that unless Spitzer was taken out, he would create enough ruckus to spoil the party. Headlines in the financial press – one was “Wall Street Declares War on Spitzer” - made clear to Bush’s enforcers at Justice who their number one target should be. And it wasn’t Bin Laden.

It was the night of February 13 when Spitzer made the bone-headed choice to order take-out in his Washington Hotel room. He had just finished signing these words for the Washington Post about predatory loans:

“Not only did the Bush administration do nothing to protect consumers, it embarked on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents from the very problems to which the federal government was turning a blind eye.”

Bush, Spitzer said right in the headline, was the “Predator Lenders’ Partner in Crime.” The President, said Spitzer, was a fugitive from justice. And Spitzer was in Washington to launch a campaign to take on the Bush regime and the biggest financial powers on the planet.

Spitzer wrote, “When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners the Bush administration will not be judged favorably.”

But now, the Administration can rest assured that this love story – of Bush and his bankers - will not be told by history at all – now that the Sheriff of Wall Street has fallen on his own gun.

A note on “Prosecutorial Indiscretion.”

Back in the day when I was an investigator of racketeers for government, the federal prosecutor I was assisting was deciding whether to launch a case based on his negotiations for airtime with 60 Minutes. I’m not allowed to tell you the prosecutor’s name, but I want to mention he was recently seen shouting, “Florida is Rudi country! Florida is Rudi country!”

Not all crimes lead to federal bust or even public exposure. It’s up to something called “prosecutorial discretion.”

Funny thing, this ‘discretion.’ For example, Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, paid Washington DC prostitutes to put him in diapers (ewww!), yet the Senator was not exposed by the US prosecutors busting the pimp-ring that pampered him.
Naming and shaming and ruining Spitzer – rarely done in these cases - was made at the ‘discretion’ of Bush’s Justice Department.

Or maybe we should say, ‘indiscretion.’

Friday, March 14, 2008

March 19th: Don't Let the 5th Anniversary of the Iraq Invasion Pass Unnoticed

Now longer in duration than World War II, and (after WWII) this nation’s second costliest military campaign, the Illegal Occupation of Iraq (I.O.I.) must be brought to an immediate end, and our military forces returned home.

This Wednesday, March 19th, marks the 5th Anniversary of the Iraq invasion. (And it is nearly five years since the May 1st, 2003 "Mission Accomplished" photo op pictured above.)

Please join in a march, vigil or other action in your community. If you are unable to do so, please at least write a message to your representatives in Washington. See any of the following websites for details on actions in your area:

United for Peace and Justice

CODEPINK, Women for Peace

Let’s make certain the Administration, present and future, understands the People’s Priorities.

It’s time to “be the words”.


Loose Change Offers a Radical and Troubling Perspective on 9/11

This third iteration of Loose Change - The Final Cut is vastly improved from earlier versions, and makes a compelling case for regarding the The 9/11 Commission Report as a complete whitewash.

Rather than going out to see 10,000 B.C. or College Road Trip, stay home this weekend, as we approach the fifth anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq, and learn a little more about the events that led us to this point.

Part 1:

Part 2:

9-11 Press For Truth

President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Rice should know that The 9/11 Commission Report, that "Cliff Notes" narrative carefully negotiated by an "independent, bipartisan panel" , and impeded at every turn by the Bush Administration, has not, and will not serve to absolve the Bush Administration of its, at best, incompetence, and at worst, duplicity relating to the terrorist attacks upon America.

The outstanding film 9-11 Press for Truth can be viewed in 9 segments on "YouTube" (segment 1 above) or you can visit the official website to order the DVD.

All Americans should study the facts, and decide for themselves. The more you learn, the more you may find the "official" narrative is suspect.

Zeitgeist - The Movie

This film appeared on the internet last June, and has subsequently been updated several times. Click on the above picture to link to the home site. There you can watch the 2-hour film. Perhaps partly to its credit, over the ensuing 8 or 9 months, the subjects presented have been the topic of a lively public debate (at least in my local coffee shop!)

According to its writer and director, the film "was created as a nonprofit filmiac expression to inspire people to start looking at the world from a more critical perspective and to understand that very often things are not what the population at large think they are."

Zeitgeist is divided into three parts, each seeking to prove a particular assertion:

Part 1 attacks the artifice of religion as a means to manipulate populations. Part 2 examines the events of 9/11, claiming this was a "false flag" operation designed to take us to war. Part 3 describes how the international banking elite are manipulating money supplies, profiting from perpetual warfare and steadily moving us toward a "New World Order".

Far from being an academic thesis, Zeitgeist serves more as a thought- and debate-provoking work, clearly targeted at an audience half my age. And these days, I'd say thought and debate are good. Complacency is bad.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

David Ray Griffin on The 9-11 Commission's Omissions

David Ray Griffin expresses many of the points that the "9-11 Conspiracy Movement" has picked up on. Whether judged valid or not, such questions should have been addressed, and they demonstrate the lack of diligence, objectivity and transparency in the Commission Report. The Report is simply a narrative, and not a very comprehensive one at that.

Oh, Gee!

It's time to disregard Al Gore's protests and draft him as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate. The ticket would be unbeatable, and unlike Dick Cheney, who has served as a force for evil and deception in the current Administration, Elder Statesman Gore would be a clear, moral and conscientious adviser to Obama. This is something desperately lacking in the White House these days.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Philadelphia Finds 56 Pharmaceuticals or By-Products in its Water Supply

See this incredible story from the AP: link.

It is one in a series of reports on municipal water supply sampling across the country.

If you think drinking bottled water is the answer, think again: link.

This article discusses AP's comprehensive investigation: link.

"Warfare and Health Care" by Norman Solomon

t r u t h o u t | Perspective

It's kind of logical. In a pathological way.

A country that devotes a vast array of resources to killing capabilities will steadily undermine its potential for healing. For social justice. For health care as a human right.

Martin Luther King Jr. described the horrific trendline four decades ago: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

If a society keeps approaching spiritual death, it's apt to arrive. Here's an indicator: Nearly one in six Americans has no health insurance, and tens of millions of others are badly underinsured. Here's another: The United States, the world's preeminent warfare state, now spends about $2 billion per day on military pursuits.

Gaining health care for all will require overcoming the priorities of the warfare state. That's the genuine logic behind the new "Healthcare NOT Warfare" campaign.

I remember the ferocious media debate over the proper government role in health care - 43 years ago. As the spring of 1965 got underway, the bombast was splattering across front pages and flying through airwaves. Many commentators warned that a proposal for a vast new program would bring "socialism" and destroy the sanctity of the free-enterprise system. The new federal program was called Medicare.

These days, when speaking on campuses, I bring up current proposals for a "single payer" system - in effect, Medicare for Americans of all ages. Most students seem to think it's a good idea. But once in a while, someone vocally objects that such an arrangement would be "socialism." The objection takes me back to the media uproar of early 1965.

Today, we're left with the unfulfilled potential of Medicare for all. It could make health care real as a human right. And it could spare our society a massive amount of money now going to administrative costs and corporate gouging. At last count, annual insurance-industry profits reached $57.5 billion in 2006.

On Capitol Hill, lobbyists for the corporate profiteers are determined to block H.R. 676, the bill to create a universal single-payer system to implement health care as a human right.

In the current presidential campaign, none of the major candidates can be heard raising the possibility of ejecting the gargantuan insurance industry from the nation's health care system. Instead, there's plenty of nattering about whether "mandates" are a good idea. Hillary Clinton even has the audacity (not of hope but of duplicity) to equate proposed health care "mandates" with the must-pay-in requirements that sustain Social Security and Medicare.

For Clinton's analogy to make sense, we'd have to accept the idea that requiring everyone to pay taxes to the government for a common-good program is akin to requiring everyone to pay premiums to private insurance companies for personal medical coverage.

A recent New York Times story was authoritative as it plied the conventional media wisdom. The lead sentence declared that an "immediate challenge that will confront the next administration" is the matter of "how to tame the soaring costs of Medicare and Medicaid." And the news article pointedly noted that current federal spending for those health-related programs adds up to $627 billion.

I've been waiting for a New York Times news story to declare that an immediate challenge for the next administration will be the matter of how to tame the soaring costs of the Pentagon. After all, the government's annual military spending - when you factor in the supplemental bills for warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq - is well above the $627 billion for Medicare and Medicaid that can cause such alarm in the upper reaches of the nation's media establishment.

Assessing the current presidential race, the Times reported: "The Democrats do not say, in any detail, how they would slow the growth of Medicare and Medicaid or what they think about the main policy options: rationing care, raising taxes, cutting payments to providers or requiring beneficiaries to pay more."

There are other "policy options" - including drastic cuts in the Pentagon budget. And health care for all.

Norman Solomon, the author of "War Made Easy," is on the advisory board of Progressive Democrats of America. PDA's new nationwide petition for Healthcare NOT Warfare is online.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Teen in Clinton “3 a.m.” Ad Supports Obama

From "Democracy Now!" this morning"

In other campaign news, a seventeen-year-old girl featured in the Clinton campaign’s infamous 3:00 a.m. phone call ad has announced she supports Obama. The ad features images of children asleep and asks viewers who they’d want answering an early morning White House phone call. The teen, Casey Knowles, was eight years old when the footage was filmed. She’s now working as a campaign volunteer for Obama.

Casey Knowles: “Well, originally I felt kind of bad, like I’m being disloyal to Senator Obama, because—I didn’t know, obviously, that this was going to happen, but I felt a little bad that my image was being used in this fear-mongering message. But I don’t think that this ad was the most classy move on her part. I think it was kind of a lowbrow sort of move. I’m not a big fan of the ad and the tactic.”

The show featured a wonderful interview with former Presidential candidate George McGovern. In a candid moment, McGovern admits that he has endorsed Hillary Clinton, as a gesture of support for the work Hillary and Bill did on McGovern's 1972 Presidential Campaign in Texas.

He added:
I have ten grandchildren. All ten of them are working for Barack Obama. That’s an indication of the influence I have in my own family. I’ve got three daughters and one son. They’re all working for Barack. So I’m the old fogey in the McGovern family this year, unlike ’72, when I was way out in front.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

"Well, George, what would Jesus think of your 'jobs program'?"

According to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his co-author Harvard professor Linda Bilmes, the Iraq War is second only to World War II in total cost to this nation for a war.

The authors also claim that while providing tax breaks to the wealthiest constituents, President Bush has funded the war by borrowing from foreign nations. This debt, and debt service, included in the $3 Trillion estimate, will have to be repaid by future generations of Americans.

In the linked interview (click on the book cover), Stiglitz states quite bluntly that there are two main sectors profiting from this quagmire: the oil industry and the arms industry.

Incredibly, President Bush, in a clip taken from a recent interview with "The Today Show's" Ann Curry, states that he does not agree with Americans who say that the Iraq War is harming our economy. With his characteristic smirk, he claims the war is creating jobs. (His candor here is both shocking and a confirmation, that to many, the nature of a "job" is unimportant. Capitalism has its unique morality. "Well, George, what would Jesus think of your jobs program?")

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Twenty years of Bush and Clinton...

And now we're talking about perhaps making it 24? (Shall we just assume that Chelsea or Jenna are next in line?)

We express outrage and contempt at the thought of Russian President Putin hand-picking a successor. And how is this country so different?

Indeed, when do we intend to bring Democracy to "the Homeland"?

Wake up, America!