Archive | May, 2007

Issue V: P.S.

17 May

If you really give a shit
Here are links to ACLU and Amnesty International campaigns on torture and civil liberties. I didn’t get to discuss Guantanamo Bay and the Supreme Court rulings on that, but you see the ACLU link for that. (BTW, once I heard about the phone spying scandal, I got so mad I up and went and joined the ACLU. So you can do that too you know.) And I didn’t even touch the Patriot Act this issue. This is declassified documents on civilian deaths in Iraq that I haven’t read at all.

Issue V: Civil Liberties, Torture, and the Constitution

17 May

In case you missed it
The French Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election, 53% – 47%. The common law-wife of former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin (they, ahem, never got married despite 4 kids between them) she was the mainstream candidate of the left while the winner, Nicolas Sarkozy, catered to the hard-right. The banileaus may catch fire again under this great guy.
So in my enlightened opinion, let’s not support Hillary if we want the Democrats to win the White House. And even if she wins it all, I don’t think it would be a win for progressive values at all. More mushy pro-corporate centrism will flower again from the White House. Yuck.

And if you don’t associate the words “Chiquita banana” with “right-wing paramilitary death squad” that is because you probably haven’t read this. It seems that Chiquita Banana paid the Colombian United Armed Self-Defense Forces (a right-wing paramilitary group and declared terrorist organization by the State Department) $1.7 million. This was presumably used to kill anyone suspected of being associated with the left-wing terrorist group FARC and, oh while they were at it, any union leaders in the area trying to get a better deal for Colombian workers. Too crazy to be true? They were probably copying Coca-Cola who did the same thing against a Colombian union organizing a bottling factory.

If you judge a man by his friends, I don’t think the fact the Colombia is our strongest ally in South America reflects well on the United States given that the president is a murderous, right-wing narco-trafficker with fat ties with the AUC. Oh yeah, and Colombia is the number 1 recipient of American aid in the Americas (third in the world after Israel and Egypt).

And right-wing terrorists are A-OK with U.S, especially when they kill Cubans.

My opinion
If you’ve read anything I have written about the news, it’s probably no secret that I am not a fan of the current president. I am a man of the left, and the president is a man of the far-right. Though I do disagree very strongly with the president’s social and economic policies, I want to state clearly that the main reason (besides Iraq) I consider George W. Bush one of the worst presidents in American history will be because of his attacks on separation of powers, the judiciary, civil liberties, the separation between church and state, federal law, and the independence of career civil servants in the federal government. In short, I believe that the President is a threat to the rule of law and the Constitution.

Does that sound extreme? You tell me after I tell you my reasons (and maybe check out the 10 steps for a fascist America for more info). I am going to focus on torture and signing statements for this round.

To quote Bill Maher, “He put his hand on the Bible to swear to uphold the Constitution. He didn’t put his hand on the Constitution to sweat to uphold the Bible.”

My most unfavorite airline, Air Torture

The most disturbing thing about this Administration is the fact they are want to increase presidential power at the expense of Congress, the judiciary, and the law. And what do they do with that power? Torture people.

Secret detention centers were broken by the Washington Post in 2005. However, I knew about this even earlier from the Guardian of London when they wrote about a German citizen who was kidnapped-deported from Yugoslavia by the CIA and tortured for months in Afghanistan. He pleaded that he was innocent, and his family thought he was dead after that long. Finally, pleading from the German embassy and Condaleeza Rice’s personal request got him back.

This practice of kidnapping suspected terrorists (emphasis on suspected) and taking them to secret prisons was suspected by the Red Cross. The Red Cross is more famous for its efforts in disaster relief, but one of the other things it does is monitor the status of prisons around the world and write confidential reports on prison conditions to the governments that run the prisons. However, a Red Cross prison report was leaked that said that the Red Cross suspected that the United States not telling them where all their prisons where and that there were, in fact, secret prisons off the books that no one knew about and were not monitored. These secret prisons are called “black sites” because people basically drop off the face of the earth, and no one hears from them again. Thousands of people are being kept in these secret prisons. People are being disappeared. Some of them are killed under questioning.

This practice of kidnapping suspects and torturing them in friendly countries (Poland and Afghanistan) and dictatorships (like Jordan) is called extraordinary rendition. One of the kidnappings occurred in Italy, and Italian judge has issued warrants for the arrests of the CIA officers who kidnapped the suspects. We have extradition treaties with countries, and by God we SHOULD FOLLOW THEM.

In case you weren’t aware, torture is sort of banned by the Eighth Amendment and federal law and by treaty. Outsourcing the torture to another country is also illegal under federal law. George Bush thinks he is above the Constitution, federal law, and international treaties because his little weasel lawyer, Alberto Gonzales, wrote some memos saying otherwise. And that makes him the threat to the Constitution I say he is.

Presidential Power
Dick Cheney thinks the president can do whatever he wants . The Boston Globe won a Pulitzer this year for its series on presidential power and how the current administration thinks it can go back to the good ol’ days of the imperial presidencies of JFK, Johnson, and Nixon. To quote:

The Constitution empowers Congress to pass laws regulating the executive branch, but over the course of his career, Cheney came to believe that the modern world is too dangerous and complex for a president’s hands to be tied. He embraced a belief that presidents have vast “inherent” powers, not spelled out in the Constitution, that allow them to defy Congress.

I know someone who said something like that, emperor-president Nixon who said, “when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Dick Cheney also believes a president can go to war without the approval of Congress. This about the first Gulf War when Cheney was the secretary of defense:

But Bush rejected Cheney’s advice and asked Congress for a vote in support of the war. The resolution passed — barely. Had Congress voted no, Cheney later said, he would have urged Bush to launch the Gulf War regardless.

“From a constitutional standpoint, we had all the authority we needed,” Cheney said in the 1996 documentary. “If we’d lost the vote in Congress, I would certainly have recommended to the president that we go forward anyway.”

Call me a prude, but I find that pretty shocking that the president can override Congress even on the matter of starting a war. I remember before the present war that the Administration tried to pretend they didn’t need authorization for the Iraq war because they had it in the Afghanistan/9-11 authorization. THEN when they went to Congress with a proposal, it was initially worded to say the “Middle East” and not “Iraq” so they could invade anywhere they wanted to. They had to take that part out, but it gives you an idea of the mindset these people have.

Signing Statements
Now I am going to combine these two threads by showing how Bush claimed authority to break the law. When the torture scandals broke out, Sen. John McCain made a very big deal about how he thought the United States should not torture people. Being a victim of torture in Vietnam, he felt that the United States belittles itself when it stoops to the level of torture and that torturing others will allow our enemies to justify torturing our own soldiers.

So Mr. McCain wrote an amendment to be added to the Defense Department budget banning torture by the CIA by making them follow the same guidelines as the United States Army which forbids torture. Dick Cheney went fucking ballistic and did everything he could to keep the Senate from adopting the amendment which couldn’t be vetoed without vetoing the whole Pentagon budget. When McCain refused to back down because he had over 90 votes for his amendment, Cheney gave up. The amendment was added and the budget went to Bush for signing.

Now pop quiz ladies and gentlemen. When a president receives a bill, according the Constitution, what can he do? The correct answer is A) Sign it into law or B) Veto it (which can be overridden by 2/3 of Congress, which McCain had). Very good children. And what do we do if we are George W. Bush, the threat to the American Republic?

We sign the bill into law, and then add a “signing statement.” These signing statements add WHATEVER THE PRESIDENT WANTS to the law passed by Congress (and presidents don’t write laws last time I checked). Which is what George Bush did. And what did his signing statement say? It said that torture is illegal, unless the president doesn’t feel like it. George Bush basically took a piss on Congress, the rule of law, and the anti-torture amendment by adding “a waiver” to the torture ban.

Isolated incident? The President has been signing hundreds of laws with “signing statements” including most outrageously, a signing statement to a routine post office bill saying that he can spy on your mail without a warrant despite the fact that bill SPECIFICALLY FORBID THIS. The American Bar Association said that the practice was dangerous and unconstitutional and an affront to separation of powers.

I agree. I kinda like the Constitution the way it was. Must be nostalgia mixed with that old-fashioned American hatred of tyranny.

Phone Spying! Ker-pow! With a dialtone!
The president is also point-blank breaking the law by monitoring the phone conversations of of Americans without a warrant from the secret FISA court which issues warrants for phone taps. This story came from the New York Times in 2005. However, they had known this since 2004 and SAT ON THE STORY for a year because the Bush Administration told them not to publish it. How nice of them!!! It’s so cute when the “liberal media” plays footsie with the President. They probably didn’t want to hurt his feelings…. or I dunno…. that thing that happened in 2004…. some sort of election. I forget.

USA Today (yeah I know) actually broke a story for once in its life when it revealed in 2006 that the National Security Agency was making a database of millions of long distance calls with BellSouth, Southwestern Bell, and Verizon (so everywhere but the Northwest, which has Qwest). The American Civil Liberties Union sued saying that the program was unconstitutional. The program was been ruled illegal by a judge who wrote, “There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution .”

Damn straight.

The new news this week, though, is that Attorney General Ashcroft (AG during Bush’s first term) thought the NSA program was illegal and refused to sign off on it. So Alberto Gonzales (the current attorney general, then just a White House lawyer) waited until Ashcroft was in the hospital after gallbladder surgery to get Ashcroft to sign off on it hoping he’d be woozy from the surgery. And Ashcroft (who I totally hated for his anti-freedom agenda) SAID NO! That tells you something when John Ashcroft thinks anti-terrorism is gone too far in bending the laws, and that tells you what kind of weasel our current idiot attorney general is. And btw, that’s how Newt Gingrich got divorced…. he brought the papers to his wife’s hospital room.

Why you should give a shit
Because the Constitution matters. And because freedom matters. And because freedom can’t defend itself. And because of what was done before these anti-snooping laws existed.

Once upon a time, there was a racist transvestite who didn’t believe in the Mafia and had the largest stash of pornography in the United States. You may know him as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover ran the FBI from when it was founded until his death in the 1970s. When he died, and after that little thing called Watergate, people became sort of interested in the organized crime known as government. And this is what they found out.

J. Edgar Hoover kept files on everybody. Anybody who he thought was a threat to America or anti-American. I’m talking John Lennon, Albert Einstein, John Kerry, the Black Panthers, and Martin Luther King. Oh yeah, and the Doors too. One of the things found out by the Church Committee (named after Sen. Frank Church) was a program of massive spying on peaceful Americans involved in the antiwar movement, civil rights, and the counterculture (see this about the spying at UT-Austin). Movements would be infiltrated with cops and soldiers and people wouldn’t know who was a real activist and who was a cop. Most famously, the FBI wiretapped Martin Luther King’s phones and taped him having sex. They sent the tapes to all the major media and told them to publish the story of his affair (nobody did). Then they sent a letter to his wife with the tape, and a letter to MLK saying, “we suggest that you kill yourself.”

COINTELPRO is another program (counter-intelligence program) that spied on the Black Panthers and Martin Luther King and other “communist front groups.” If you care enough, you can look up the declassified documents of this program on the Internet. If I remember correctly, some of the documents mention “neutralizing” King (politically or mortally is not said). This is probably were the rumors (or truth?) of the FBI being involved in Martin Luther King’s assassination. See the Church Committee on King.

These anti-spying laws were passed for a reason. Political protest and organization is protected under the Bill Rights, and we have a right to not be kept from using that right. Spying and subversion of protest cuts at the heart of our democracy. Bush and his old Nixon hands (like Cheney) working in his Cabinet want us to return to those days of the 60s and 70s. They want to return us to the days of the imperial presidency. And that, my friends, is why they are a threat to the Constitution.

Issue IV: Israel/Palestine

17 May

**Unfortunately this issue will not contain many links because most of what I know about Israel has been read in print: magazines, newspapers, and books. I will try to put some references in there, but I don’t think there is too much controversy over most of the history I am going to say. The point is that you should be able to use my issues to understand the basics so that you can follow up on these on your own and not be taken for an intellectual mugging by stupid TV talkshows. Also there is no way I can detail everything I’d like to without writing a book.**

Today’s point of departure will be the public demand for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign over the disasterous invasion of Lebanon last year, a call his own foreign minister, Tzipi Livni publicly agreed with. The current government of Israel is extremely unpopular (13% approval rating) and is facing the largest breakdown in public confidence since Israel was founded in 1948. The ceremonial President of Israel faces charges of rape from which he has had to step down as president, and the elected government faces other corruption scandals.

Just a short year ago, I was feeling hopeful for the situation with Israel in Palestinians for the first time in years. Now I feel that nothing will be gained in the short term, and much has already been lost. Why do I feel that way, and what has happened recently may need some explaining.

First some background

Israel was founded in 1948 by Jewish Zionists in the British Mandate of Palestine. The British had taken Palestine from the Ottoman’s after World War I (you know, the whole Lawrence of Arabia thing). The Zionist movement to have Jews move back to the “Holy Land” had been going around since the 1800s, but really didn’t get a boost until Lord Balfour in 1917 issued the Balfour Declaration making British Palestine a national homeland for Jews. Many Jews emigrated from Europe to Palestine and came into conflict with the Arabs and the British with fighting on all sides. A future Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, was in a Jewish terrorist group called Irgun that bombed the King David Hotel during the Mandate. Underground Jewish groups prepared for invasion when independence was to be declared. A quote from Ariel Sharon, the previous prime minister about those days

“Traditionally, commanders and pilots and special units came from farm country. Danger was a part of life there. You know? In the evenings – this was during the British mandate, so weapons were illegal – we used to dig in the stable and take out the gun from under horse manure. I remember that from a very early age. I did it many times.”

At the time of Independence, (I’ve read) that only 20% of the population of the British Mandate was Jewish. However, the United Nations decreed to split the Mandate 50-50 between the Jews and the Arabs living there. In the War of Independence (“The Catastrophe” al Nakba for the Palestinians), Israel fought off Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia and took 2/3 of the land of the British Mandate, leaving the Arabs the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This was the first of FIVE Arab-Israeli wars (the fifth being the invasion of Lebanon in 1982). I don’t know if the second Lebanon invasion last year will be counted as the Sixth Arab-Israeli War, but it just might. The current disagreements and fighting between the Palestinians basically has to do with the Third Arab Israeli war in 1967, also known as the Six-Day War. In it, Israel beat the shit out of all of its neighbors really quickly and then took the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Jordan and Egypt respectively and East Jerusalem. The United Nations Security Council, which includes the United States as a permanent member, unanimously passed Resolution 242 which says that all territories acquired in the war must be returned to their respective nations and sovereignty respected. This eventually was done with Egypt by returning the Sinai Peninsula, but has never been done for the Golan Heights for Syria or the occupied territories to the Palestinians. And if you don’t know, UN Security Council resolutions are binding, and that would make Israel in violation of international law. And supposedly, George W. Bush believes in enforcement when they apply to Iraq under Saddam but not to Israel.

Quick politics check

Here is a brief political party history of Israel. The original founders of Israel were not really religious but instead secular leftist Zionists like the first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Israel was dominated until the 1970s by the Labour Party and its allies until Menachem Begin became the first conservative Prime Minister with his group of conservative and religious parties that became known as the current Likud Party. Likud has mostly dominated Israeli politics until the 2006 elections where it fell into third place behind the new party Kadima and Labour.

What is this Kadima Party? Kadima was the brainchild of General Ariel Sharon , the longtime Likud politician and defence minister during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Sharon aka “the Bulldozer”, it should be noted provoked the current intifada as a member of Parliament by marching to the mosque where the Temple of the Mount used to sit with 100 policemen in 2000. DURING THE PEACE NEGOTIATIONS. Fears that the Jews were finally going to destroy the mosque and build the Third Temple there started the violence.

Sharon went on to win the elections as a law-and-order prime minister who would teach the Arabs their place. Super-hawk Sharon was famous for his antipathy to settlement and peace: he voted against every peace deal with the Arabs, even the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. He also engineered the disasterous invasion of Lebanon and sat on his hands while Lebanese Christians massacred Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. In short, not the kind of guy who would give back what is rightly owed to the Palestinians. I always viewed him as the biggest obstacle to peace in those days.

In 2003, he won big against Labour’s peace candidate, General Amram Mitzna who wanted to completely withdraw from Gaza and start a settlement for the West Bank. Ironically, Sharon ended up following Mitzna’s plan for unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza despite the fact that his own party Likud opposed it. Sharon’s speech saying that the occupation needed to end was history the moment it was spoken. But it mostly remained just that, spoken not done.

However, this led Sharon to make a historic split by leaving his party and forming the centrist Kadima Party with former Labour giant, Shimon Peres, who also left his party after losing the leadership role to union leader Amir Peretz. Amir Peretz won on a peace platform and a pledge to work on reducing social inequality which has skyrocketed to become the second-worst in the First World (numero uno being the USA). Benjamin Netanyahu (and outrageously right-wing ultrahawk in my opinion) now led Likud since his main opponent Sharon was gone. Netanyahu does speak pretty good English though.

Kadima was just the Sharon party, it was all about him. Too bad he had a stroke before the elections and went into a coma which he is still in. His replacement was Ehud Olmert, a widely unpopular mayor who had no military experience. Despite this, Kadima won the 2006 elections and allied with Labour to form a center-left government for the first time since 2000. Olmert was made prime minster, and Peretz was made defense minister. Two relatively young non-military people who, on paper, said they wanted to work for withdrawal from the occupied territories.

I was feeling hopeful.

I was stupid.

Lebanon’s aftermath

After Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by terrorist group Hezbollah in south Lebanon, Olmert decided to bomb and invade Lebanon to wipe out Hezbollah. The United States kept the United Nations from passing a cease-fire resolution for weeks to wait for Israel to “win.” Too bad Israel never did. The Lebanese people certainly lost, and Hezbollah is stronger than ever. Lebanon is tottering at the edge of another civil war right now, and Israel has nothing to show for its idiotic, immoral war against Hezbollah except more international scorn and the shattering of its invincible army mystique. Ariel Sharon knew better after burning his hand in ’82.

Peretz, who was supposed to bring peace, instead invaded an innocent country and killed innocents over a group Lebanon had no control over (one Lebanese Christian told me that the Lebanese Army fighting Hezbollah would be like a frog fighting an elephant). The Olmert/Peretz duo is widely despised and now totally shredded its ideas of settlement by taking in the far-right Avigdor Lieberman to keep their majority in the Knesset. Grasping onto power seems to be their only belief now.

Olmert is apparently corrupt and incompetent and now refuses to resign now that part of the Winograd Report about the Lebanon invasion has been released showing their foolishness. If you are going to start bad-idea wars, you should at least pull them off properly ( et tu Mr. President and Iraq). And now the rot has set in, and no one is happy. Least of all the Palestinians who still suffer the daily humiliations of the Israeli state.

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Wow. I still didn’t get to talk much about the Palestinians and what has been happening to them, or about human rights abuses or the other Arab-Israeli wars. Palestinians using ambulances for bombings or the Palestinian elections where Hamas, a Muslim fundamentalist group won. The continuing theft of land in the West Bank and E. Jerusalem wasn’t covered either. I didn’t get to cover the Lebanon war either. You kids have a lot of reading to do.

Try these human rights reports on Israel/Palestine:

Try not to hurt yourself after reading them. Your tax dollars at work you know.

I like this quote
“I like to deal with rightists,” Mao said of Nixon. “They say what they really think — not like the leftists, who say one thing and mean another.”
And I hope you didn’t miss this
Bush vetoed the military budget for Iraq because it had a deadline to start withdrawing troops. Irony? The veto was 4 years to the day that the President stood on an aircraft carrier with a sign saying, “Mission Accomplished.” What a sick fucking joke that is.

Issue III.5, Iraq again

17 May

Okay, so I know you spent the last few weeks without my e-mails tossing and turning in bed between refresh clicks in your inboxes. I am here to say that I am back from finals and a country called Venezeula to re-start the issues of issues. I had some scraps about Iraq that I had left out of last time’s huge e-mail, and I want to cover that. Plus some news broke right after the e-mail that needs to be run through.

Also I was told by my Iranian readers that not all Shi’ites are backwards and uneducated. And not all of them beat themselves every year during Ashura. “Only fundamentalists do that,” said one. So I apologize for generalizing Shi’ites without specifying Arab Shia versus Iranian ones. And for that matter, there are secular Shi’ites in Iraq, they just don’t seem to have much clout as far as I’ve seen. The secular Shi’ite and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi only got 12% of the vote for his ticket in the 2005 elections.

Iran and Iraqi culture links
Time to make things complicated. So remember how I said Arabs and Iranians are not the same thing, and they need to be kept separate in your head? Actually, it’s not so simple.

Iraqi Shi’ites are culturally linked to Iran by religion. Iran being a Shi’ite majority Islamic Republic ruled by a theocracy, it has a strong religious link. Both sides visit each others shrines, and many Iraqi clerics trained and lived in Iran during Saddam’s rule. Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the most important cleric in Iraq, lived in Iran for years and (they say) speaks Arabic with a Persian accent. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (part of the ruling United Iraqi Alliance of religious parties) is supported by Iran.

Apparently, Saddam used to suppress the religious roots between the two nations of Shi’ites by emphasizing how Iraq was an Arab nation. The Ba’ath Party of Saddam Hussein (which rules Syria as well) was an Arab nationalist party. Arab nationalism mixed with socialism (as far as I understand Middle East history) was a huge power after the end of colonialism (see the Italian movie the Battle of Algiers for a good example) until the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Arab nationalists were all about uniting all the Arab countries into one large Arab nation rather than being a bunch of divided countries with artificial boundaries made up by Europe. This dream is still there, but instead of doing it through secular politics and culture, people want to do it through religion (the Ummah, community of the faithful). Arab nationalists still rule a lot of Middle Eastern countries, but they aren’t democratic and are necessarily popular anymore. The torturer Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (a “pro-American”) is an example of what Arab nationalism dreams have degenerated into.

In any case, a lot of this has degenerated in Iraq to name-calling the Arab Shi’ites traitorous Persians. In the United States, stupidly nefarious statements like “Iran’s influence in Iraq grows” make headlines. The truth is that a post-Saddam Iraq with any semblence of democratic aspirations was going to have more relations with its cultural/religiously-linked neighbor. Anyone who didn’t have their head shoved up their neoconservative ass would have known this, but sadly those people don’t make the Bush Cabinet. The Los Angles Times ran an article recently explaining these relations. Too late to stop a fantasy war that ended with a pro-Israel, anti-Iran, democratic and secular Iraq, but I suppose it’s a start.

How does this play out on the streets? I’m glad you asked because my recurring main character, Moqtada al-Sadr, is an Iraqi nationalist who doesn’t know Persian and isn’t tainted by charges that he is an Iranian lackey. He inveighs against the Iranian leanings of the Iraqi Shi’ites who hid in Iran during Saddam’s rule while he and his family stayed in Iraq despite his father and brother being murdered by Saddam. When he called for nationwide protests to drive out the Americans, he insisted that the Iraqi national flag be used rather than any sectarian or religious flags. Take a look at how big the protests were with this picture. Far larger than the celebrations when the Saddam statue came down.
Oh, and al-Sadr pulled his party out of the Iraqi Cabinet and government because they have failed to get the Americans to make a deadline to leave Iraq. I think he means business.

Awesome links to Dilip Hiro
These came out right after I sent last time’s e-mail . This one is basically the same thing as what I wrote in Issue III, but it explains the relationship between Sistani and al-Sadr. This makes me wonder (and probably the wondering is from something I read) whether al-Sadr is Sistani‘s stage man. Sistani wants to look apolitical and only intervene on big matters (like the demand for elections instead of caucuses). Al-Sadr is not tainted with the Persian links and has street cred with the Sunnis because he fought the Americans in 2004, that Sistani doesn’t have. Yet the media reports Sistani to be “moderate” while al-Sadr is a “radical.” I figured soon after the war that Sistani wasn’t really moderate, but just waiting for the opportune moment to turn the knife on the Americans. In any case, the Iraqis want us out, and we’ve no right to be there.

Fall in sectarian violence?
Remember when I called bullshit on “the surge”? It looks like the fall in violence that was reported was because the United States wasn’t counting car bombs. Car bombs blow up…. and kill people. Usually terrorist-related. But what do I know. Also al-Sadr pulled his militias off the street to wait till the surge ends; he knows he can’t fight America directly since his surrender in 2004.

http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/04/26/764/

Family Planning
Random odds and ends I thought were interesting.
Mexico City to legalize abortion

http://www.alternet.org/rights/50841/?page=1

http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/04/19/636/

Civil Liberties
I want to do a civil liberties issue and why I think the president has started dangerous precedents with his extraordinary views of what a president can do with the “unitary executive” idea. I don’t have time for that here, but here is a petition to be delivered on June 26th to restore habeas corpus and repeal the disgraceful Military Commissions Act passed last year by the laziest, most worthless Congress in history. And if you don’t read Matt Taibbi, you should.

ACLU petition

I got a request to do an issue about globalization. I’m going to say that that is going to be very, very hard, but I’ll try. If you wanna read what I read, there is the awesome “How the World Works” blog on globalization. . This is the author’s first post, which I just read for the first time. We’ll chat next time.

Issue III: Iraq, in a post

17 May

Iraq
With what little I know, I am going to try to explain and summarize everything that is happening in Iraq in one e-mail. So let’s go. Our point of departure is going to be the big news that on the 4th anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr announced that all Iraqis should resist the American occupation of Iraq and drive them out of the country. What does that mean and why that is important is going to need some splainin’.

What is Iraq? Iraq basically is a fictitious country invented by the British when they and other victors of the First World War carved up the Middle East from the Turks. A lot of the problems in the Middle East and Third World can be ascribed to colonialism. India/Pakistan was under British rule and so was Israel/Palestine. Iraq’s borders were arbitrarily defined and do not have much of a link to history nor ethnicity. Borders that don’t make sense also happened in the Partition of India and in Central Asia during Stalin’s crushing of the Basmachi rebellion, so it’s a theme alright.

Iraqis are generally divided into three groups: Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds (who are not Arabs). Kurds are actually Sunnis, but for political and reporting purposes, “Sunnis” in Iraq is shorthand for Arab Sunnis. Kurds live in the northern part of Iraq and are fighting to retake the oil-rich city of Kirkuk from which they were ethnically cleansed out of in the 1970s. Kurds have lots of oil in their area. Sunnis live in the broad middle of the country (or the Sunni Triangle). Saddam Hussein was an Arab Sunni and came from the town of Tikrit, where he was found in that spider hole. This area has very little oil. The Shi’ites live in the southern part of the country and have a lot of oil. One of their large cities is Basra which is being run by the British. Baghdad is a mixed city in the middle with both religions.

**And in case you didn’t know, Arab is just anyone from an Arabic-speaking country. You can be a Christian, Sunni, Shi’ite, Druze, or whatever, it just means you speak Arabic. Kurds speak Kurdish. And… IRANIANS ARE NOT ARABS. They are Persians who speak Farsi.**

Sunnis and Shi’ites are two branches of Islam that split due to an argument and war over the succession of Muhammed in the Caliphate (leader of Islam). The Shi’ites lost the civil war within Islam, and only represent 15% of Muslims in the world. However, they are a majority in Iraq and Iran. Since Lebanon hasn’t taken a census in decades, no one knows if they are a majority there. The Caliphate was disestablished (it was in Turkey/Ottoman Empire) in the 1920s by the British; the Caliphate was seen as a unifier of Sunni Islam. (I am working with very limited knowledge of Muslims, anyone who knows more be sure to tell me). Incidently, it is widely believed that al-Qaida and bin Laden want to re-establish the Caliphate for Muslims and make bin Laden or someone like him the head. Shi’ites have a centralized religion (soooorta like Catholics) with hiearchies of imams and ayatollahs. Shi’ites, from what I read, tend to be backwards, rural, and uneducated. They haven’t run Iraq in centuries either even though they are 60% of the population. Iraq has been run by the 20% Sunni Arabs. Until the fall of Saddam, that tended to be Sunnis from his hometown of Tikrit. The elite was mostly Sunni Ba’athists (the name of Saddam’s political party).

Shi’ites (from what I understand) are really into martyrdom and remorse. In particular, they have a holy day called Ashura where they flog themselves for failing to protect their prophet/leader Ali from assassination. The story of Ali’s bloody death and all the Shi’ite martyrs is always repeated and remembered in Shi’ite Islam. Marytrdom is a big thing. And Saddam provided them lots of martyrdom.

After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Saddam got paranoid that a religious Shi’ite revolution would overthrow his minority government. Iraq fought with Iran in the 1980s in a bloody war in which Iraq was supported by America; in fact, Saddam met Donald Rumsfeld and shook his hand and was given chemical weapons for the war. The Ba’ath Party was an Arab nationalist party that was socialist and secular. Iraq was possibly the most liberal Arab country for womens rights…. they went to law school and medical school and had government jobs. Now they hide in their apartments and cannot leave unveiled with the religious fervent unleashed by Saddam’s downfall.

Saddam did not ever try to associate with religion until after the Gulf War and used to kill religious fundamentalists on a regular basis. Religious opponents were a threat to his power. And it just so happens that some of them had the last name al-Sadr.

To understand the significance of [Moqtada’s announcement], it’s worth reminding oneself of who Sadr and his supporters are. While generally portrayed as violent anti-Sunni and anti-American extremists (the first charge is certainly true of many of them and the second is silly – being anti-American in Iraq is not extreme), Sadr and his supporters were also among the biggest victims of Saddam Hussein. Sadr’s great-uncle, great-aunt, father, and two elder brothers were murdered by Saddam’s regime. His followers, largely the poor, uneducated and downtrodden among Iraq’s Shi’a majority, were, along with the Kurds, Saddam’s biggest victims – especially in 1991, when Saddam put down their uprising with the aid of our current president’s sainted – or perhaps merely beatified — father.

So what happened when America brought “democracy” to Iraq? The angry, suppressed majority would take power after centuries of mistreatment.

“Liberation
After the fall of Saddam 4 years ago, the United States set up a puppet government called the Coalition Provisional Authority that later one became the “Iraq Governing Council.” Paul Bremer, the “Director of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance”, was for all intents and purposes the Viceroy of Iraq. Viceroy Bremer was appointed after the first Viceroy Garner, said he wanted immediate elections and then a withdrawal. Paul Bremer’s reign was amazing in its corruption, stupidity, and theft. The information is all out there, I don’t want to bother looking it all up. It is worth noting that Bremer and the CPA could not account for (working from memory here) $8-10 billion of UN Oil For Food money that was turned over…. that’s right, we can’t account for the Iraqi’s own oil revenues.

Anyway, Bremer didn’t want real elections to occur. His idea was to have a series of regional caucuses to have more caucuses to make up the first Iraqi government. Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the most important Shi’ite priest in Iraq, demanded democracy and elections and started massive protests until Bremer buckled and allowed real elections. (If you don’t believe America was avoiding elections in Iraq, you can look around on the Internet. I’m pretty sure I got that from a Financial Times of London editorial.)

Bremer turned over “sovereignty” in June 2004 to the Iraqi transitional government. According the agreement, laws in effect Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi’ite, was the transitional Prime Minister. When elections came around in 2005, Allawi was wiped out by the Sistani-backed United Iraqi Alliance of Shi’ite religious parties. The two biggest parties were the Dawa Party and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Not exactly the sort of secular liberal democrats the President thought would take control and promote a non-Islamic state. One of those parties was Moqtada al-Sadr’s (I dunno its name).

Enter Moqtada al-Sadr
Moqtada al-Sadr is a religious cleric not known for his great religious thinking, but for his man-on-the-street populism and nationalism. He also has an excellent religious pedigree coming from a family of religious scholars, including his father.

In 2004, he was the only major Shi’ite leader to fight against American troops. The insurgency at this point had been Sunni Ba’athists. He saw America as a terrible foreign occupier that must be driven out. After battles in the holy city of Najaf, al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army announced it would stop fighting and enter into politics.

In politics, the fractured United Iraqi Alliance fought over whether to drop Ibrahim al-Jafaari, the first Prime Minister. Al-Sadr’s support in the UIA caucus kept Jafaari up for a bit longer than was expected. He is still supporting the murderous government of Nouri al-Maliki (who replaced Jafaari) in Parliament.

The militias and the Insurgency
If I can give you one link to read to understand Iraq’s insurgency and civil war, I recommend this interview on Salon.com (note, this is before al-Sadr’s announcement to drive out the Americans). “The insurgency” is essentially Sunni. Originally the insurgency was composed of nationalist Sunnis and former Saddam loyalists. Now the movement has become more religious and taken over by al-Qaida (which didn’t exist prior to the American invasion of Saddam-controlled Iraq. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are a dirty liar.) Groups with al-Qaida ideas and al-Qaida clones also dominate the Sunni insurgency.

As order broke down during the incompetent reign of Paul Bremer, and the Iraq Army was disbanded and all public officials with Ba’ath Party ties (mos, and most Sunni) were fired, the one organized force in Iraq replaced the absent State. The religious fundamentalists, their mosques, and their private militias. As the police disappeared, Shi’ite militias began policing the street, proclaiming and enforcing Islamic law, and murdering political opponents. Symbolic of the transition, the Shi’ite slum of Saddam City became renamed Sadr City, in honor of Moqtada al-Sadr’s father.

Because Saddam persecuted the Shi’ite and their political parties, each party had it’s own militia to protect itself. Now that the Shia parties were represented in government, each party took different ministries. The Kurds got some, but most importantly, the Interior Ministry went to the Shi’ites. Due to de-Ba’athification, most Saddam era law-enforcement could not take the jobs (they are only now talking about undoing de-Ba’athification, possibly the biggest reason for the cause of the insurgency). The Shia parties then integrated their militias into the national police and Interior ministry police. Basically then, there was no difference between the police and Shi’ite militias/death squads. Interior ministry police would then go about the city, murdering Sunnis in retaliation for terrorist attacks, and bury them into mass graves. It is so bad, the transitional Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (the one we PICKED!) said that human rights were worse now than under Saddam.

Last year around March, a big Shi’ite mosque was blown up (I can’t remember the name). After that happened, the civil war really began. The death squads were first holding themselves back to killing suspected terrorists while the Sunnis would indiscriminately bomb marketplaces and innocents. After that attack of their prized mosque, Shi’ites began to ethnically cleanse mixed neighborhoods of Sunnis in retaliation. The militia/death squads didn’t feel any reason to hold back, and shit hit the fan. Mass graves for everyone.

In possibly the most shocking thing I have read about the sectarian violence, I read that the Interior Minister told the Health Minister (both Shia) to only report to the media how many people died from terrorists attacks ( i.e. from Sunnis) and to not report murders that happened execution style by the death squads (Shia). So we don’t even know how many people the death squads have been killing. And who knows how many are buried out in the desert.

Basically, that has been the story so far. American soldiers have only been getting attacked from Sunnis except for that early fight in Najaf in 2004 with Moqtada al-Sadr. This bullshit “surge” is supposedly supposed to keep the militias off the streets and stop Sunni insurgents. Good luck to that. Reports I’ve read say that American soldiers mostly stay in FOBs (forward operating bases) where fobbits (people who never leave the FOB) tell them to go out and patrol the streets. They do “shows of forces” every once in a while where they either patrol unmolested because the militias/insurgents are waiting for them to leave or until they get shot at. Then they go back to the base and wait for their next death patrol that doesn’t improve security.

And this is just 20% of Iraq hating our guts and killing our soldiers. Now with al-Sadr saying he wants to drive us out with his 60% of Iraq, it’ll be a real shitstorm when 80% of Iraq is actively killing Americans. And the Iraqi government is a joke; they can’t even protect their cafeteria.

Links

  • Here’s a rundown of Iraq Shi’ite clerics
  • Moqtada announces opposition to American presence
  • The best on-the ground reporting I have seen comes from Christian Parenti at the Nation from 2003-2005. These reports just blew my mind with their minimal commentary, talks with actual Iraqis and actual soldiers. He was with the Mahdi Army during the 2004 battles in Najaf.
  • The other great war reporting I saw was by the hilarious Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone here.
  • Great commentary April 9th commentary by Raul Mahajan at www.empirenotes.org. Since he has actually been to Iraq, I read his stuff. He was an anti-war activist in Austin when the war started. And he has a PhD in physics for some reason.

For all you wannabe working Mothers
New York Times Magazine article about falling birthrates in First World countries. I found this via a feminist column by feminist Katha Pollitt. For all the pro-family rhetoric (I learned about this in middle school), the United States is the only first world country with no paid parental leave after the birth of a child. Other countries have public support for daycare and make it easier for working women to have kids and, well, work.

I find this stuff interesting because I “minored” in demography at UT. And also because I’m a huge nerd.

And this is Just weird.
Snoop Dogg thinks Ireland is just like LA
Will Smith on Indian TV singing in Hindi

Issue II: Texas, etc.

17 May

The War (an update)
I want one day to discuss the underlying dynamics of the war (namely, who is killing whom), but I thought I wanted to mention to everyone that the House of Representatives and the Senate have both voted now to withdraw troops from Iraq by March 2008. The vote was narrow in both houses (a few antiwar Democrats voted against it because they thought it was not strong enough; they may be right). The vote ended up being 51-48 in the Senate after Sen. Mark Pryor returned to the party position and Republicans Chuck Hagel and Gordon Smith broke with Republicans. So if you are antiwar, there is zero reason to vote Republican because in the House also, the vote was almost all Democrats and only TWO Republicans for the deadline. President Bush has said he will veto the deadline, but the deadline is attached to the Iraq war budget of $124 billion, which is more than he requested. Vetoing the budget would not be smart because the Defense Department will run out of money by around June 1st. Can anyone say constitutional crisis? This is a big, big story.

(BTW, want to know what the state of Texas budget is for the next TWO years? $150.1 billion. The war is almost as much as the state’s two year budget. Fuck the war, it’s time to end it and spend that at home. Or at least spending it on foreign aid or something else.)

A big debate in the anti-war community is whether or not the war funding should be cut off. I have read that during the Vietnam War, even after an anti-war Congress was elected, repeated repeals of the Gulf of Tonkin Bay resolution passed, while the war went on and on under Nixon. The theory goes that as long as the Congress provides money for the war, the President can still carry it out anyway. The budget for the war is considered “implied consent.” Goals and deadlines placed in this current budget have been criticized as vague, and the president could easily lie and say conditions are being met that are not. As long as he as the money, he will fight as long as he can. Junior will never, ever learn unless he is forced to.

This week there was a hardening of the Democrats’ position. Nevada Democratic Senate Majority Leader (i.e. most important senator in the country) Harry Reid came out FOR cutting off money for the war by March 2008 if the President vetoes the budget. Bush’s intransigence is hardening the opposition, and everyone knows that Red State boys are dying as much or more than Blue State children. Bush might start hemorrhaging Republican votes on this. The cutoff for money was proposed by Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin. He was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act AND the Iraq war. Personally, I wanted this guy to run for President as the Hillary-slayer, but unfortunately, he dropped out due to the Obama mega-star draw (which I kind of think is a bit bullshit, but whatever). Feingold has consistently been against the war and is someone I would trust to end the war. I saw him in Austin, and he was genuinely concerned about both the Patriot Act/civil liberties and the war while not being some shrieking hippy on the side of the street. This is big news, so stay tuned.

Et tu, Brute?
The knives are always sharper when they come from your friends. Bush may be an imperial president “who wears his crown everywhere but in Rome,” I mean America, but this is the closest stabbing Bush will get from the disillusioned followers.

New York Times : “Ex-Aide Says He’s lost Faith in Bush”

Associated Press : “Iraq Military Victory No Longer Possible, says Henry Kissinger

The South
I saw this, and I thought it was really interesting. The weakest Southern presence in Congress since the Republicans controlled Congress in the 1950s.

Associated Press : “Southern Clout in Congress hits a 50-year low”

If you ever wondered why it took almost 100 years after the Civil War to give civil rights to black people, then one needn’t look further than the Southern senators who would just not die. Locked into Senate chairmanships earned by seniority, the Senate enacted an unending revenge on the North for the “War between the States.” Of all Southern politicians of that era, I would only say I liked Huey Long, Ralph Yaborough, Albert Gore, and J. William Fulbright.
The influence of the South on American politics, I think, has been a generally bad thing. They’ve been for Vietnam, against Civil Rights, and for pork-barrel politics and military adventurism on a grand-scale. Right now is one of the few times since Independence that the South does not control all.

Why Obama Came Last?
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=761775
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/rosnerPage.jhtml

What the hell do Israelis think? I dunno, read their newspapers. Apparently they are running a series rating which American presidential candidate is the most pro-Israel. Obama came in last recently because he is felt to be an unknown commodity. The subtext (finally made explicit) is that Israelis aren’t comfortable with a black presidential candidate because they know that black politicians are virtually in the only federal politicians that ever criticize Israel (support for a Palestinian state was one of Jesse Jackson’s planks running for President in the 80s). Glad to know that the blackness was the issue, but if it gets the world a Palestinian state, I’d look at that low rating as an endorsement.

Christian Zionism
BBC : “Evangelical Christians plead for Israel”

I first heard of this in the Wall Street Journal. Traditionally, Republicans and conservatives were pro-Arab while Democrats were pro-Israel. Republicans went for oil interests while Democrats went for the liberal and socialist dreams of the new Jewish state of Israel (I think). Pat Buchanan, an old-school conservative, is one of these type of Republicans. George Bush’s father was apparently the President most tough on Israel with the Israeli settlements along with his Sec. of State James Baker while this President Bush is the most obscenely pro-Israel President in history. What happened in between?
Newer breeds of conservatives (in a totally perverted meaning of the word conservative) are pro-Israel for religious reasons that have to do with the Book of Revelations. Apparently these people can be just as anti-Semitic, but they want to keep “God’s land” for his “chosen tribe” indivisible. When this San Antonio preacher started out doing pro-Israel rallies in the 1990s, he was laughed at. Why should evangelicals care about Israel? This is why, he said, and this is now the stuff of American foreign policy.

You’d never think that foreign policy was decided on the Book of Revelations, but maybe shaman still whisper into tribal chief ears. Condi is a believer, as is Cheney and Bush.

Who Runs Texas?
It would be pretty brash of me to say that I know who pulls all the levers here in the Great State. I’ve never worked in the Capitol, and I didn’t intern with the governor. I don’t donate big bucks to the bigshots, and I don’t sit in Las Manitas Café in Austin with anyone or thing more powerful than my salsa and enchiladas. So how could I give you a list? Easily, someone already did the work for me.

Texas Monthly (yeah, I know, it’s a doctor’s office magazine) had a “Power Issue” in 2005, and they ran a top 25 of the most powerful people in Texas. The intro to the issue comes from their longtime political editor, Paul Burka, and throws out the names of all the old Texas greats, good ol’ boys, and fixers (the phrase “good ol’ boy” is just integral to the whole Texas power thing as I learned tearing suite tickets for UT football games). What do these people have? According to Burka, “money, institutional knowledge, relationships, and ideas” are the four things that these people have, and we don’t.

So why the hell do I read a rich man’s (or rich Neiman Marcus-shopping River Oaks housewive’s) magazine like Texas Monthy? Am I reaching their median reader age of 48? Actually, a door to door magazine salesman down on his luck in Austin was just begging for a sale, and I thought it might have some decent political coverage, so I bought three years worth (I’m a sucker, I know). I’ve been pleasantly surprised between puff pieces on why trucks and football are just so damn awesome and restaurant reviews for expensive places I would never, ever eat at to find some decent long feature articles, Texas politics/history, and bigshot interviews that the Texas alternative press like the Texas Observer will never get. Plus some of those perfume ads smell good.

My letter to the Editor that got published in Texas Monthly called Burka the court historian of the Texas Establishment. He is just so darn chummy and forgiving of the politicians. Sometimes that is what you need to get a personal feel for the elite (and the exclusive interviews for the recluses and assholes), but always remember that it is just that: The Establishment view and the conventional wisdom. The view of the elite and moneyed (just look at the advertisments! I’m not buying that watch!), and nothing that’ll shake that yacht too much. Paul Burka can just be downright stupid and naive sometimes too. Must be that dumb mustache.

Names
Want a single name? Tom Craddick is the biggest dog in Texas since the downfall of DeLay. The Speaker of the Texas House is from Midland, Texas and the first Republican speaker since Reconstruction in the 1870s. He is also an unmitigated asshole and right-wing nutcase who loves to hold grudges from the action I have seen when living in the capital.

He apparently doesn’t keep many politician friends in Austin, and instead has close ties with the permanent government of Texas: the right-wing financiers and all their quack foundations.

Shall I name names? James Leininger is a San Antonio emergency medicine doctor that made a very large fortune selling hospital beds. His obsession is private school vouchers, and he is good buddies with Tom Craddick. In the 2005 session, vouchers were defeated in the Republican House by Democrats and rural Republicans who felt that the whole program would de-fund Texas schools. Leininger himself found and funded GOP primary challengers to the moderate Republicans who opposed his voucher agenda. 80-95% of the money for these Leninger clones in the 2006 primaries came from James Leninger (Texas has no contribution limitations). Basically, he bought himself five candidates (two of them lost) to enforce the pro-voucher line. Rumor had it that these clones were run with the secret backing of Craddick to enforce GOP loyalty to his hard-right agenda.

Bob Perry is a reclusive and secretive homebuilder that is the biggest political donor in the United States . Ever heard of something called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? Possibly the most dishonest, sneaky, and hypocritical untraceable (to the Bushites) attack ad on a presidential candidate in our lives, Bob Perry was the major funder of the 527 organization that put these ads out and sank John Kerry’s presidential boat.

I don’t know if these TX Monthly links work. But see if you can get your hands on that Feb. 2005 issue, I think it would be worth browsing. I also want to go into detail in the future about how Texas is a deadbeat state for its children because we have the most uninsured children and the highest dropout rate in the country. It’s the 50 or 1st state. 50th in anything good, and 1st in anything bad.

And to be fair, the Democrats ran this state for over a century, and didn’t do a blessed thing either. Conservatives, however, have almost always run the state and legislature. It’s just gone from conservative Democrats to far right Republicans now with the GOP takeover in 2002.

Issue I: Who Runs this Place?

17 May

Forty years ago, Nelson Mandela’s biographer Anthony Sampson posed the question “Who Runs this Place?” to the United Kingdom. Amidst the vague “anti-Establishment” mood of the 1960s, Sampson set out to chronicle and describe Britain’s “Establishment.” He found an Establishment of nobility, Church, and old money. Three years ago, Sampson updated his book and saw a new elite no longer bound by social convention, noblesse oblige, or the communities they lived in. The vast change in the mentality of the elite was ascribed to the end of communism, the destruction of the trade unions, and the new worship of money over “class.” I think perhaps that those changes can be ascribed to America’s elite as well.

So in the spirit of the now-departed Anthony Sampson, I want to have a recurring conversation (oh God, I’m channeling Hillary) about who runs this place. My view of governments from simple observation is that a government’s actions will reflect the aims of the most dominant and politically-connected sectors of society; the wheels that squeak will be the wheels that turn. These sectors could be anything, from Rasputin and the Orthodox Church deciding key matters in czarist Russia to temple priests in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. The people, unless organized, vocal, and fighting, will not have a seat at the table.

Although ramblings of apocalyptic shamen into the ears of a tribal chief may seem to be “primitive” and something no longer done for those in charge, I may shock you by showing how few people decide matters of state in this country. For example, the neoconservatives, Christian Zionists, and the Israel lobby are a fairly small group of people (often overlapping). Their word in American foreign policy right now is law. Who are they, who do they represent, where do they come from? I’ll try to point these things out in things I have read over the years to you.

These days, however, the prime mover is business. The business lobby follows foreign affairs constantly. They underwrite foreign studies departments, they have their own business newspapers with foreign bureaus, and they have the massive lobbying coupled with more donations than any other interest group in America combined. For who is buying whom, I recommend the Center for Responsive Politics which follows donations made to all candidates. Take a look at the disgusting energy bill Cheney was trying to ram through Congress that was full of tax breaks and subsidies for OIL AND NUCLEAR ENERGY. The numbers don’t even compare. More than $50 million in donations came from the energy industry while the environmental movement (which represents a whoooole lot more people) contributed less than $2 million. The sacred cow in this country is corporations, and we’ll be talking about that too.

So who runs what place and what part of it? Too many places and too many things, but we’ll start small for right now.

Who Runs Iraq?
Moqtada al-Sadr
Probably the most powerful man in Iraq. He made the cover of Newsweek, so that probably means something. This explainer is by a guy who has been reporting from Iraq for a long, long time now (I may send stuff by his brother in the future).
http://www.alternet.org/story/48087/

Who Runs Middle East Foreign Policy?
Ahmed Chalabi is a very interesting neoconservative rascal. I call him “the man who would be king” of Iraq. His life would make a good movie one day.

A Shi’ite Iraqi exile, he had his Iraqi National Congress in London funded to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars by American taxpayers. This math PhD SOMEHOW convinced the neoconservative cabal/cult/junta that is in complete control of American foreign policy that he could set up a liberal Iraq that would be pro-Israel and anti-Iran. Complete crap if you know anything about the area, but apparently he could convince these idiots.

A convicted embezeller, he screwed a Jordanian bank out of money and escaped the country in the trunk of a car. He was still wanted at the time this article was published, but I read since that he has been pardoned by the King Jordan

Salon.com: “ How Ahmed Chalabi Conned the Necons” (circa 2004)

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States. If you have ever heard about the excessive and untoward influence of the NRA, the comparison with AIPAC will make the NRA look like Congressional pages. I don’t want to write too much about them because this article will show you, and then maybe tell you. Oh yeah, and even bringing this issue up is perceived as insanely controversial by the political classes (not the general public)

Salon.comInside America’s powerful Israel Lobby
Salon.comCan American Jews unplug the Israel Lobby?

My HOLY SHIT quote is from the second piece. It goes like this:

“The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg quoted Steven Rosen, AIPAC’s former foreign-policy director who is now awaiting trial on charges of passing top-secret Pentagon information to Israel, as saying, ‘You see this napkin? In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.'”

It may not be shooting-an-old-man-in-the-face and then-getting-him-to-apologize-powerful, but it is powerful.

Who Runs the Military?
Increasingly, not the military. Military privatization is a very, very scary thing that I’ve been following since I first read a WIRED story about DynCorp in 2002-3. For all you Austin people, the City rented or sold the land to CSC/DynCorp in the 1990s right next to Town Lake. The company was in charge of security for the President of Afghanistan and does aerial spraying for drugs in Colombia. Using military contractors is a way that the military can get around troop limits imposed by Congress (in Colombia’s case 500 troops). Are these contracts being used to undermine the authority of Congress’s ability to regulate and pay for war? Who really calls the shots here? I don’t know, and apparently no one knows. This is a scary interview with a journalist who followed Blackwater USA, a military contractor in North Carolina for the Nation. It most famously had some of its contractors brutally murdered and hung and paraded around in Falluja, Iraq early in the war. After the murders, the United States blew the fuck out of Falluja in a very controversial attack (I don’t know much besides that it was brutal and the British government said it wouldn’t take part). I also have references for a paper I wrote about it in globalization class in college at the end.

NPR Fresh Air Interview about Blackwater USA
The Nation’s cover story book extract about Blackwater (it’s a Nation book and reporter)
WIRED story about DynCorp (which bought Computer Sciences Corporation)

Burnnett, Victoria et al. “From building camps to gathering intelligence, dozens of tasks once in the hands of soldiers are now carried out by contractors.” Financial Times. August 11, 2003.

Catan, Thomas et al. “Private companies on the front line.” Financial Times. August 12, 2003.

So people…. just be aware, and be afraid. And if you’re not outraged, you aren’t paying attention.