Political MoJo

Cheney to Lamont: The Terrorists Have Already Won

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 11:08 AM EDT

As if being kissed by Bush weren't enough, now Senator Joe Lieberman feels himself in the clammy embrace of Vice President Dick Cheney. Yesterday Cheney held a teleconference with reporters in which he bemoaned the fact that Democrats would "purge a man like Joe Lieberman."

"Purge"? Uh, isn't it called a "primary"? But then the Vice President always chooses his words for maximum fear factor. As the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne points out: "that word 'purge' has a nice Stalinist ring, doesn't it?"

Cheney then told reporters:

"The thing that's partly disturbing about it is the fact that, [from] the standpoint of our adversaries, if you will, in this conflict, and the Al Qaeda types, they clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task."
[Is] "the dominant view of the Democratic Party"…"the basic, fundamental notion that somehow we can retreat behind our oceans and not be actively engaged in this conflict and be safe here at home."

And they're all on message. Yesterday GOP chair Ken Mehlman called the DNC "the Defeat-ocrat Party" … "that once stood for strength now stands for retreat and defeat."

And Tony Snow said: "It's a defining moment for the Democratic Party, whose national leaders now have made it clear that if you disagree with the extreme left in their party they're going to come after you."

And, speaking in his first public appearance since losing the primary, Lieberman used the U.K. terror arrests to call Ned Lamont's goal of withdrawing American troops from Iraq by a fixed date a "victory" for terrorists.

"If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them, and they will strike again."

Low blow, Joe.

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Is the U.S. really being short-changed by the U.N.?

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 11:16 PM EDT

The United Nations has an annual budget of $1.8 billion, of which the United States pays 22%. U.S. deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Mark P. Lagon, says that UN member states, especially large contributors, want to know if they are getting their money's worth. He also says that those who look to the U.N. for assistance want to know whether the world is getting the best possible value for U.N. contributions.

Thalif Deen, writing for Inter Press Service News Agency, believes that Lagon is asking this question with his fingers crossed behind his back. The reality, says Deen, is that the U.S. has gotten quite a bit for its 22%. According to the latest U.N. figures, the U.S. has consistently held the number one spot in obtaining procurement contracts, averaging over 22.5% of all U.N. purchases annually.

Russia, which has the next highest average--10.36%--pays only 1.1% of the U.N.'s annual budget. Several western European nations average 4.8% and 8.6%. The European Union contributes a total of 37% of the U.N.'s budget and therefore claims that it is the largest contributor and not the U.S.

According to former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, the U.N. and its agencies contributed about 3.2 billion annually to the city's economy during the late 1990s. Deen points out that that figure is bound to be higher now; however, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton has complained that "the United States doesn't get value for (its) money."

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, has pointed out that "what the United States spent to violate the U.N. Charter with the invasion of Iraq could have funded the entire budget of the United Nations for decades."

Wal-Mart: "The goal of China's unions is to build a harmonious society."

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 10:09 PM EDT

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Wal-Mart added insult to injury to its 1.3 million U.S. employees yesterday when it announced it would allow its workers in China to unionize. Wal-Mart has fiercely opposed American workers' attempts to unionize—-in one case, closing a meat-cutting division after ten butchers voted to unionize. Nu Wexler, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Watch, says the company "is applying an inconsistent double standard. In the U.S., they aggressively fight unions in their stores. But if unions are a barrier of entry to an emerging market, Wal-Mart is willing to flip-flop on its position."

Labor experts Oded Shenkar of Ohio University and Richard W. Hurd of Cornell both suggest, in Bloomberg News's coverage of the announcement, that the retailer probably agreed to allow unions under pressure from the Chinese government. "Part of getting along with the government in China is accepting government-sponsored unions," says Hurd. Wal-Mart's own statement strikes a similar note, pitching the move as a way "to further strengthen its ties to China and our associates."

Back home, Wal-Mart has cast unions as "desperate and divisive," not to mention bad for the bottom line. But Chinese unions are "different from unions elsewhere," company spokesman Jonathan Dong told Bloomberg. "The goal of China's unions is to build a harmonious society."

Danger of Mass Suicides Among Detainees in Britain

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 8:13 PM EDT

There is a real danger of "mass suicides" among more than 20 foreign terror suspects held in maximum security prisons in Britain awaiting deportation. An Council of Europe investigation found that the mental and physical health of the suspects had deteriorated sharply since their arrest last August. (Guardian)

"The delegation shared its concerns with the UK authorities that serious mental disorders, coupled with the situation in which the detainees found themselves, increased the likelihood of a major crisis, including the possibility of multiple suicide. The delegation's findings suggested that such a scenario was real and should be addressed accordingly."

As we're now used to hearing, the decline in detainees' health was put down to the indefinite length of their detention, the lack of charges leveled, and the prospect of being deported to home countries, like Algeria, where they might be tortured.

Given the other news from Britain today, any bets on whether this report will lead to improved conditions for these detainees (whose guilt or innocence have not been established)?

iPod Listeners to Be Profiled?

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 7:15 PM EDT

ipod.jpgAs noted below, the first plot to blow up airliners with liquid explosives was foiled in 1994. That particular scheme used a cheap Casio watch as a timer, a detail that might have remained a footnote if not for the, um, thoroughness of American counterterror officials. Fast forward 10 years, and now more than a dozen Guantanamo detainees have been held in part because they were caught wearing what the government has called "the infamous Casio watch." We recently printed some excerpts from their military tribunal hearings, in which the incredulous detainees tried to understand the logic of wristwatch profiling:

Detainee 651, Usama Hassan Ahmend Abu Babir: I have a Casio watch due to the fact that they are inexpensive and they last a long time. I like my watch because it is durable. It had a calculator and was waterproof, and before prayers we have to wash up all the way to my elbows.

Detainee 298, Salih Uyar: If it is a crime to carry this watch, your own military personnel also carry this watch. Does this mean they're just terrorists as well?

Detainee 228, Abdullah Kamel Abudallah Kamel: When they told me that Casios were used by Al Qaeda and the watch was for explosives, I was shocked…. If I had known that, I would have thrown it away. I'm not stupid. We have four chaplains [at Guantanamo]; all of them wear this watch.

Detainee 154, Mazin Salih Musaid al Awfi: Millions and millions of people have these types of Casio watches. If that is a crime, why doesn't the United States arrest and sentence all the shops and people who own them? This is not a logical or reasonable piece of evidence.

Today's plot reportedly involved MP3 players as timers. Air passengers in Britain have already been told not to bring their iPods on board. Earbud wearers, you've been warned.

Liquid Explosives: Easy to Find, Make, Hide

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 5:37 PM EDT

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The BBC has a good Q&A on liquid explosives. Here's a key snippet:

How are they made?

There are such things as liquid explosives that are high explosives and they behave in exactly the same way as solid explosives, such as TNT.


But there are also explosives that are made by mixing a solid and a liquid - one being the oxidant and the other being the fuel. Unlike most high explosives, they do not contain the fuel and oxidant in the same molecule but they do contain them in sufficiently close contact to cause a blast.

Are the components difficult to get hold of?

No, it is very easy. Ordinary household substances could be used.

Specialist knowledge or equipment needed to make?

If someone wanted to obtain a solid high explosive in a liquid form, it would not be difficult for a trained chemical technologist.

But if someone was using a backyard laboratory it is more likely they would go for the two component approach.

Not a lot of experience is needed, the principles are quite simple but it would be a hazardous process of trial and error.

I would not want to be messing about these things. It has been known for schoolboys to go home and attempt this and blow their house up.

Could an explosive device be carried on to an aeroplane?

The size of a device necessary could be carried in hand baggage. Explosives in a toilet bag, certainly inside a shoulder bag would be enough to meet the terrorists' needs.

They could be quite hard to detect because I do not think any of the things we have mentioned would respond to x-rays. For example, a liquid hydrocarbon fuel could pass as mineral water.

The question is how do you get something packed into a bag so it does not look suspicious?

More here.

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Neocon Hubris and Chaos in the Middle East

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 5:00 PM EDT

Mark Levine, last seen deftly unmanning David Horowitz on Hannity & Colmes, has a counterintuitive take over at Tomdispatch on the troubles convulsing a certain part of the world. Call it the Chaos Theory of the Middle East. He argues that political and military leaders are especially prone to the illusion that they control events. "[A]nd perhaps the most hubristic version of this illusion is the belief that they can use chaos itself to further their control, to strengthen their situation. Our world today reminds us constantly that you ride that tiger at your peril." Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon -- we don't lack for reminders.

[W]hen I was in Iraq only a year into the American occupation, among the first things most Iraqis I met, particularly Sunni and Shiite leaders, would bring up were their fears of onrushing factional/sectarian violence and possible civil war and their desire to avoid it at all costs (unless it involved the Kurds, held in disdain because of their close relations with the U.S.). Then they would almost invariably state their belief that the Bush administration was encouraging sectarian differences and tensions in pursuance of a classic imperial strategy of divide and rule -- or at least, divide and make sure no one asks you to leave.

[...]

The problem is, in the world of occupational politics, one rarely gets to eat one's cake and have it too. At some point, the ripples from the chaos you generate, whether purposely or by accident, converge into the kind of perfect wave of horror that you just may not be capable of riding out. Ask Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the top brass of the Israeli Defense Forces about that. Thanks to Matthew Kalman of the San Francisco Chronicle, we now know that the current Israeli air campaign against, and invasion of, Lebanon had been planned out perhaps two years ago; that, more than a year ago, "a senior Israeli army officer" was giving "off-the-record" PowerPoint presentations about just such a "three-week campaign" to influential figures in Washington; and that Hezbollah's July 12 capture of Israeli soldiers was the pretext that the government had been waiting for to launch its campaign.

More at Tomdispatch.

Milk? Prove It. Liquids on Planes

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 4:19 PM EDT

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Wow, we really do live in a new world.

Liquids for children are allowed on board, as are liquid prescription medicines with the traveler's name on the bottle and non-prescription medicines like insulin. Parents were being asked to take a sip of the juice or milk to prove it is what they say it is. (NYT)

Neocon Max Boot: Current Bush Strategy in Iraq Isn't Working

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 2:39 PM EDT

Whoa! Not quite on the level of Francis Fukuyama's showy disavowal of neoconsersavative groupthink, but not far off: Max Boot (a neoconservative who has long pushed for more US troops in Iraq and who recently argued that we should "let Israel take off the gloves" -- what gloves?) has this to say in the Los Angeles Times:

But there's another course short of withdrawal: reducing U.S. forces from today's level of 130,000 to under 50,000 and changing their focus from conducting combat operations to assisting Iraqi forces. The money saved from downsizing the U.S. presence could be used to better train and equip more Iraqi units. A smaller U.S. commitment also would be more sustainable over the long term. This is the option favored within the U.S. Special Forces community, in which the dominant view is that most American soldiers in Iraq, with their scant knowledge of the local language and customs, are more of a hindrance than a help to the counterinsurgency effort.

Make no mistake: This is a high-risk strategy. The drawdown of U.S. troops could catalyze the Iraqis into getting their own house in order, or it could lead to a more rapid and violent disintegration of the rickety structure that now exists.

Which path should we take? My preference remains deploying more soldiers, not fewer. A couple of divisions in Baghdad, if skillfully led, might be able to replicate the success that Col. H.R. McMaster's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment had in pacifying the western city of Tall Afar, where the troops-to-civilians ratio was 10 times higher than in Baghdad today. But at this point, I am also open to a substantial reduction in troop numbers because the current strategy just isn't working.

Next up...?

Astroturf Telecom Groups Exposed

| Thu Aug. 10, 2006 2:32 PM EDT

New from the media reform team at Common Cause:

Back in March, Common Cause released its first "Wolves in Sheep's Clothing" report, detailing the activities of nine groups masquerading as think tanks and public interest organizations, but controlled by telephone and cable companies. Since then, we've gotten the dirt on five more.

For example, Hands off the Internet sounds like activists wanting to protect the Internet. Actually, it's a telecommunications industry-backed organization that was spending $20,000 a day on television commercials aimed at eliminating long-standing net neutrality protections so that telephone and cable companies can maximize profit and minimize competition on the Internet.

These groups have managed to convince some members of Congress (with, just possibly, a nudge and a wink) that they enjoy public support. The Common Cause website allows people to go on the record and tell their Senators they oppose the telecom reform bill, which is, to quote CC, is "riddled with giveaways to the phone and cable companies."

See the new report here.