Mother Jones Daily


WAR WATCH
The Peace Movement Springs Forward
Meet the Movement
Signs of the Times
War Cries
DAILY BRIEFING
Bush, King of Campaign Cash
Corporate Lesson Plans

War Watch
The Peace Movement Springs Forward

Leave it to San Francisco. On a crisp, fogless Saturday afternoon, city residents — joined by others from as far as Colorado — transformed a noisy peace rally into an antiwar Carnival by the Bay. Not that anyone in the crowd was taking the business of war with Iraq lightly. Not by a long shot. But, buoyed by the presence of nearly 50,000 like-minded demonstrators, the beats of danceable drums, and the occasional strains of Dixieland, there was a heady taste of optimism in the air, not to mention the cathartic buzz that comes from whooping exactly how you feel about the Bush administration.

A gagged Lady Liberty, an oily-mouthed commander-in-chief, and a number of Halloween-worthy costumes peppered the crowd. And then there were the signs, running the gamut from the deadly earnest to the tastelessly ironic. Marchers created such a forest of pickets and banners that the pre-march speakers at Justin Herman Plaza were hidden from the view of all but the most committed members of the choir they were preaching to.

And that’s for the best, because this wasn’t a day for the radical Left. They were out in force, to be sure, but the crowd was more Patagonia than patchouli. Izods were giving dreadlocks a run for their money. Up and down Market Street, soccer moms, bike messengers, and webmasters marched alongside the Quakers, massage therapists, and megaphoning socialists. Palestinian, Filipino, and vegan activists stood shoulder to shoulder with garbage men, World War II veterans, and white Giants fans from the suburbs.

A wry, heavyset woman of perhaps 40, having claimed a spot near Fifth Street, seemed to best capture the day’s spirit: Costumed in a pink granny nightgown, avocado-hued facial cream, and curlers with patriotic ribbons, she said nothing, but held up a sign that yelled: “Wake Up America! Don’t Sleepwalk Into War!”

Meet the Movement

For anyone seeking signs of a broad and burgeoning movement, the most heartening part of Saturday’s march was never knowing whom you might bump into next. Tape-recorder in hand, War Watch set out to meet the movement, and came back with this quick cross-section:

• Philip Miller, a loquacious 78-year-old WWII veteran who traveled from Telluride, Colorado, just to participate in the march. Looking trim in his remarkably preserved olive dress uniform, Miller described his experience as a young soldier in the Pacific, witnessing bodies strewn in the streets of Manila, and occupying a bombed-out Tokyo at the close of the war. “If Bush could experience what I did,” he says softly, “I just don’t believe he would be clamoring for war.”

• Sophie O’Shaughnessy, 39, a nurse practitioner wearing a baseball cap and clutching a copy of Thomas Friedman’s book, Longitudes and Attitudes. “There’s a lot of blaming this decision to go to war on oil,” she says. “But I think it’s a lot bigger than oil. The Bush administration are trying to be ‘pre-cogs’ — looking at a crime before it happens. And that’s just morally bankrupt. I’m here to protest the hypocrisy and duplicity of it all.”

• Carwil James, an African American human rights researcher who helped form a “radical cheerleading” troupe that performs on the Bay Area protest circuit. He wears a red miniskirt, and when he jumps, his shoulder-length hair bounces with his pom-pom.

• Becky Johnson, another cheerleader, 23, from Cincinnati, Ohio. “I love radical cheerleading!” says the bob-haired brunette, flashing a blue tongue stud. “I’m just a little bit perky and that’s what I do.” When asked what she does when she’s not cheerleading, she replies, “This is what I do; I’m sort of a freelance activist.”

• John Holden, 42, a garbage man for San Francisco, carrying his 2 year old son Julian, and walking with his father, Ed. John marched with his father on Market Street 30 years ago to protest the Vietnam war, but hasn’t been to many protests since then. “This one seemed really important to me.”

• Stephen Hunt, a lab-coated 25-year-old M.D./PhD student at Stanford, marching with a group from Physicians for Social Responsibility. “As Doctors,” he says, “we don’t think that war is the answer.”

• Sasha Peterson, a shaggy-haired 6-year-old from Oakland wearing a yellow and green soccer uniform. He holds a sign reading: “Another Giants Fan for Peace.”

• A mustachioed 42-year-old restaurateur who would only give the name ‘Mano.’ “I supported the Gulf War,” he says. “This one is different. Can you imagine if North Korea had the world’s second largest oil reserves, how we’d be treating them?”

• Monty Sher, 64, a kindly clinical psychologist. “I think this is stunning — a grand turnout. I’m particularly impressed by how many home-made signs there are. It shows that people are taking this issue seriously and thinking about it individually. There’s probably an inclination to discount Californians,” he adds, “but with this turnout, I don’t think it can be overlooked.”

• A 25-year-old poet with dark skin and braids entwined with pink sparkly ribbon, holding a sign that reads: “Fuck Apathy.” When asked what the sign means to her, she seems unsure, telling me to ask her friend:

• Lisa Burke, a bandana-ed 19-year-old student at UC Santa Cruz, sporting no fewer than 10 earrings and a black “Vegan Action Wear” T-shirt. Sweet-faced and energized, she says the sign is a message to students on campus who are backlashing against the peace movement. “Fuck that,” she says, “get into the streets and do something.”

• Albert Wiebe, 36, an unemployed webmaster, carrying his one-year-old daughter, Anika, on his back. “The most important part it just being out here,” he says. “Every body counts.”

• Paul Nixon, a retired 65-year-old with gray hair and bifocals. He is holding a banner that reads, “No War Without UN.”

• Marko Greenfield, 51, a curly-haired tax accountant who says he’s from the “independent commonwealth of Santa Cruz.” He flashes a sign that says: “Wellstone Wanted Peace.”

• His female companion, who tells Greenfield not to trust the media. She holds a sign reading “Thou Shall Not Kill! –God”.

• Jack Lundin, 76, a Lutheran Pastor from Sonoma, with his wife Marty, 69. “We’ve been through the Vietnam War,” says Marty. “This is the first time since that crisis that we’ve protested like this.”

“This is very, very serious,” says Jack, “much more serious than Vietnam. This has got to get thinking people starting to think.

• Alexandra Hyde, 43, who “does music and art with higher consciousness.” “It’s time to give peace a chance,” she says, “since it’s the one option we haven’t tried yet.”

• Judy Grever, a 63-year-old writer wearing a polar-fleece from the Pacific Stock Exchange. The sweatshirt came from her husband — the ex CEO of the Exchange, who Grever says, “wanted to be here today.”

And last, but not least:

• Stan Sluas, 67, a retired farmer with a straw-like beard, holding a five-foot-tall American flag. It hangs upside down from a 12-foot pole he supports with his belt. “I’m trying to let the world know that the country is in serious trouble,” he says. “That’s why I’m flying this flag upside down.” Hardly a serial protester, Slaus says he drove 150 miles from his home in Laytonville. “I’ve voted all my life — but I don’t think my voice is being heard. I don’t think our representatives in Congress are representing the people any more. I wrote my letters, wrote my emails. But now it’s time to be a little more emphatic about it.”

Signs of the Times

The protest signs, really, tell you everything you need to know about the day– the passionate pleas, the ironic touches, the too-frequent refusal to stay on message, and above all, the rambunctious exercise of First Amendment rights:

WHO WOULD JESUS BOMB?

REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME — VOTE

UNITED WE STAND:
AGAINST BOMBING CIVILIANS

BUSH’S POLICIES:
ENDANGERING AMERICA,
ENRAGING THE WORLD

TRANSEXUAL VEGAN
LESBIAN EPIDEMIOLOGIST
PUNK FOR PEACE

FREE PALESTINE!

BUSH: SEND INSPECTORS
NOT BOMBS

FEED THE POOR,
NOT THE WAR

NO BLOOD FOR OIL

DICK+BUSH=FUCKED

MICHAEL MOORE
FOR PRESIDENT

I WANT YOU —
TO DIE FOR ISRAEL

FREE MUMIA

U.S. OUT OF
THE PHILIPPINES

REAL MEN
WORK FOR PEACE

QUESTION THE CORPORATE MEDIA

LAKE MERRITT NEIGHBORS
ORGANIZED FOR PEACE

BICHONS AGAINST BUSH

SOCIALIST REVOLUTION
WILL END IMPERIALIST
WAR AND EXPLOITATION

HAVE SOME MORE PRETZELS (FUCKER)

WAR WON’T MAKE US SAFER

CONSTITUTION? WE DON’T NEED NO STEENKING CONSTITUTION

War Cries

Aside from a sonic version of that stadium favorite ‘The Wave’ — which would start as a roar at the base of Market Street and sweep uproariously through the crowd up toward City Hall — there was little that united the chants, cheers, and jeers of the day. But amid the cacophony on Market Street, a few sound-nuggets stood out: “If The GDP Is Hurting, Bomb Iraq… If Noelle Gets Caught With Crack, Bomb Iraq…”; “Bush Is A Moron, Don’t Let Him Get His War On”; “We Refuse To Kill For You…We Refuse To Die For You…”; “Drop Bush Not Bombs”; and, War Watch will never forget the lonely, only-in-San-Francisco cry: “Defend North Korea Against Capitalist Counterrevolution!”

-Tim Dickinson

Daily Briefing
POLITICS
Bush, King of Campaign Cash

The White House may be obsessed with invading Iraq, but that hasn’t stopped President Bush from crisscrossing the country recently, stumping for favored candidates and raising money for Republican causes. In fact, reports Linda Feldmann in The Christian Science Monitor, the president has broken all previous fundraising records, raking in an astonishing $140 million this year alone.

“It is a feat of political derring-do unprecedented in America, even by President Clinton, who was pummeled by critics — including Mr. Bush — for being too political. What makes Bush’s achievement more extraordinary is that it comes largely below the public radar and apparently at no cost to his approval rating, which remains above 60 percent.”

USA Today‘s editorial board, meanwhile, noting that most of Bush’s fundraising orgy is being carried out on the taxpayer’s dime, reprises the now-familiar call for public financing of election campaigns:

“While the hypocrisy isn’t new, it exposes a broader contradiction. Lawmakers of both parties frequently ridicule calls for publicly financing election campaigns to curb the clout of special-interest money in politics. But as incumbents, much of their political activity is already subsidized by taxpayers.

Public funding of campaigns can break candidates’ addiction to big-bucks donors, the reason why five states have gone that route. Just as important, the approach fully discloses taxpayer costs, instead of hiding subsidies for incumbents who decry campaigns paid for by the public.”

GLOBAL ECONOMY
Corporate Lesson Plans

We’ve all heard about corporate advertising in public schools, and soda companies paying to become exclusive vendors within a particular school district. But Alternet‘s John Borowski argues that the greatest threat to public education is the rise of corporate-sponsored curricula.

Large industries are spending millions on national campaigns to indoctrinate students against the lessons of environmentalism, and organized opposition is largely absent, Borowski writes. Financially-strapped public schools have become the feeding ground for industries that are “trying to justify everything from deforestation to extinction of species,” suggests Borowski, and these efforts are made in concert with “a well-funded attack on genuine environmental education” carried out by “some of the most prominent conservative think-tanks in America.”

“[M]ultinational corporations now view our children’s schools as convenient locations for the dissemination of propaganda debunking environmental concerns, and as the tip of an unbelievably profitable marketing iceberg.”

WAR WATCH
Protesters on Parade
Anti-War Brownout?
Dangerously Unprepared
All About Israel?
No Fox in the White House
DAILY BRIEFING
Paul Wellstone’s Legacy
A Softer, Gentler Hezbollah?
Zimbabwe’s Press Under Siege

War Watch

Protesters on Parade

Opposing war in Iraq is serious business. But, as this exclusive War Watch photo essay shows, for those attending this weekend’s demonstration in San Francisco, there was no rule against mixing business with pleasure.

Anti-War Brownout?

Last weekend’s massive anti-war demonstrations “proved that opposition to the war on Iraq is broad and deep in America,” writes Michelle Goldberg of Salon.com. But Goldberg seems to be one of the few national journalists paying much attention to the protests. In the same article, she takes the daily papers and the nightly news to task for their meager coverage of the rallies:

“The mainstream media did a shamefully inadequate job of reporting on [the protests]. A small New York Times article merely said there were ‘thousands’ of demonstrators, adding, ‘Fewer people attended than organizers had hoped for.’ That’s misleading — while the group that called the rally, the ANSWER coalition, probably exaggerated by saying that 200,000 people turned out, the crowd was indeed massive, at least in the tens of thousands. Add that to the estimated 42,000 people who marched in San Francisco, the 2,000 who converged on Donald Rumsfeld’s house in New Mexico, and the thousands of other people who protested nationwide, in Europe, Mexico and Japan, and it’s clear that the new peace movement has a demonstrable momentum.”

Goldberg doesn’t mention another anti-war protest that did catch the eye of the Times editors. The nation’s paper of record devoted exactly 476 words to Saturday’s domestic protests — on page 8 (!) — but carved out 782 words for the story of 12 American protesters who staged an anti-Bush rally in Baghdad. Now, War Watch willingly grants that it’s a great story. But that it should receive nearly twice the coverage of the largest anti-war protests on American soil since the 1960s strikes this columnist as an outrage.

Admirably filling New York City’s protest-coverage vacuum is Esther Kaplan of The Village Voice, who succinctly captures both the slipperiness and spontaneity of the emerging anti-war movement, as evidenced by the demonstration in Washington:

“Saturday’s D.C. march against war on Iraq…was not really an assembly of unions and community groups, of mosques, churches, and campuses – it was not a march of contingents at all. Rather, it was a sprawling mass of 100,000 individuals, families, and batches of friends who, to paraphrase Spike Lee, just got on the bus.”

Dangerously Unprepared

Amid the wall-to-wall coverage of the sniper endgame, you may have missed the Council on Foreign Relations’ report card for America’s terrorism preparedness. Although no actual grade was given, the report’s title alone leaves no doubt that we’re failing: “ America Still Unprepared–America Still in Danger.” The council’s investigation, led by former Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, concluded:

“A year after September 11, 2001, America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil. In all likelihood, the next attack will result in even greater casualties and widespread disruption to American lives and the economy. The need for immediate action is made more urgent by the prospect of the United States going to war with Iraq and the possibility that Saddam Hussein might threaten the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in America.”

In his New York Times column, Frank Rich deftly weaves last week’s major media obsession together with the week’s most important story. Justifying the blanket coverage of the sniper hunt, Rich writes:

“What made the story both scary and substantial was the mercilessness with which it exposed our permeability to a terrorist attack at home more than a year after 9/11 ‘changed everything.’ Whether this Muhammad was an Atta sympathizer or not, the fact remains that one or two gunmen were able to paralyze the capital of the most powerful nation in the world for three weeks….

The Council on Foreign Relations…found that the nation’s 650,000 local and state police still have no access to federal terrorist watch lists. They found minimal surveillance of the potentially explosive cargo containers transported to and within the U.S. by ship, truck and train…. Though President Bush told the nation this month that a single ‘Iraqi intelligence operative’ could with one ‘small container’ wreak havoc with chemical and biological weapons, we are largely defenseless against such an attack.”

All About Israel?

Michael Kinsley is at his clear-eyed best in his most recent Slate offering about oil, Israel, and Iraq. In his Emperor-Has-No-Clothes commentary, Kinsley has the temerity to question whether the Bush obsession with Iraq really does boil down to Israel and oil.

“The idea that oil is a factor in official thinking about Iraq shouldn’t even be controversial. Protecting oil supplies from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait was an explicit — though disingenuously underemphasized — reason for Bush War I. After all, we couldn’t claim to be fighting to restore democracy to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, let alone Iraq…. Even a sensible opponent of [this] war ought to register a steady oil supply as one of the better reasons for it.

The lack of public discussion about the role of Israel in the thinking of President Bush is easier to understand, but weird nevertheless. It is the proverbial elephant in the room: Everybody sees it, no one mentions it. The reason is obvious and admirable: Neither supporters nor opponents of a war against Iraq wish to evoke the classic anti-Semitic image of the king’s Jewish advisers whispering poison into his ear and betraying the country to foreign interests. But the consequence of this massive ‘Shhhhhhhhh!’ is to make a perfectly valid American concern for a democratic ally in a region of nutty theocracies, rotting monarchies, and worse, seem furtive and suspicious.”

No Fox in the White House

One of the most unlikely casualties of the Bush administration’s born-again unilateralism is the president’s once-fraternal bond with Vicente Fox of Mexico. Reporting from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Los Cabos, Mexico, the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung serves up great color of the two former compadres butting heads over immigration and Iraq:

“Mexicans privately described the meeting as a virtual dialogue of the deaf. Fox talked about immigration and trade. Bush talked about Iraq, and his desire — still unfulfilled — to secure Mexico’s vote on the U.N. Security Council for a U.S.-sponsored resolution against Baghdad.

Mexico believes Bush has broken virtually every promise he made during those early days. Far from regularizing Mexican immigration to the north, Bush has tightened the borders. There has been no guest-worker program, no adjustment in the status of any of the estimated 3 million Mexicans living illegally in the United States, no regularization in transport rules. Instead of making it easier for Mexican agricultural exports to cross the border, the Bush administration has made it harder.”

How Not to Write a One-Line Eulogy

In contrast to the many heartfelt goodbyes to Senator Paul Wellstone (see below) comes this faint-praise offering from The Wall Street Journal: “Paul Wellstone: Not a Faker, Just Plain Honest.”

-Tim Dickinson

Daily Briefing
POLITICS
Paul Wellstone’s Legacy

As news of Senator Paul Wellstone’s untimely death settles into the national consciousness, voices from across the political spectrum are mourning the Minnesota Democrat and evaluating his legacy as a principled, progressive lawmaker who was respected by friends and enemies alike.

In a thorough and elegant eulogy, The Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Dane Smith and Patricia Lopez note that Wellstone, more than any other politician, fought for the “little fellers, not the Rockefellers”:

“From the moment he arrived in the Senate, Wellstone was a crusader for the poor, the disadvantaged, workers, struggling family farmers, the environment and human rights causes. Wellstone’s was the voice of the true left.”

In a similar vein, Elizabeth Sherman, writing in Tom Paine.com, praises Wellstone for his commitment to progressive causes — whether fighting for health care reform or his lonely opposition to making war on Iraq. Now, Sherman wonders who might replace Wellstone’s singular voice:

“Wellstone could be counted on to ‘be there.’ Now one wonders how much we took his idealism, his convictions, his tireless dedication for granted.

With his passing, we mourn not just the man, but what he represented — unapologetic advocacy for democratic principle and genuine compassion — in a political world all too tainted by cynicism and self-interest.”

Even Fred Barnes, executive editor of the arch-conservative Weekly Standard, has kind words for Wellstone — not for his politics, of course, but for his unswerving dedication to principle:

“But why would conservatives express admiration? The answer is he was an honest liberal, a rare breed in Washington. He occasionally called himself a “progressive” but never a “new Democrat” or “moderate.” Nor did he insist, as many liberals do, that political labels mean nothing. He was not a faker.”

Finally, in an attempt to sum up Wellstone’s legacy, The Washington Post‘s E.J. Dionne Jr. lionizes the late senator for being not just a politician, but an activist as well:

“The Wellstone promise was of a new politics, or perhaps a new-old politics. I couldn’t say this of any other public official, but I think I know what Wellstone would say about what’s happened: ‘Don’t mourn, organize.’ That’s what he did, that’s who he was, and that’s why he’ll be so hard to replace.”

FOREIGN NEWS
A Softer, Gentler Hezbollah?

As relations with the West have significantly shifted over the past few years, Lebanon’s Hezbollah party, the Iranian-financed terrorist organization, is preparing to update their manifesto, which has remained unchanged since 1985. Nicholas Blanford reports in Beirut’s Daily Star that the group’s new Open Letter will outline a “less antagonistic relations with the West, in particular France,” as well as closer ties to Lebanon’s dominant right-wing Christian party, the Phalange. Still, Hezbollah leaders stress that the party’s “core belief” has not changed: “[T]he struggle against Israel remains the central rationale of Hizbullah’s existence,” says Sheikh Naim Qassem, the party’s deputy secretary-general. Qassem also says that the struggle to drive Israel from Lebanon remains “a prelude to its final obliteration from existence and the liberation of the venerable Jerusalem from the talons of occupation.”

Zimbabwe’s Press Under Siege

Under the supposed aegis of strict new media and security laws, police in Zimbabwe have filed new charges against the editor of the country’s only independent newspaper. Geoff Nyarota, editor of the Daily News, was charged with “undermining confidence” in the police after his paper published testimony from an activist who claimed to have been tortured by police.

Nyarota is a favorite target for the regime of President Robert Mugabe, as William Orme told Mother Jones readers last spring, and the editor’s latest arrest comes as the government launches a new assault on opposition media in Zimbabwe, which was recently ranked 122d out of 140 nations surveyed by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. Perhaps most troubling is the government’s demand that all journalists apply to the new Media and Information Commission to be accredited. As Nyarota’s Daily News reports, the commission is demanding that applicants provide extensive personal information while remaining vague about what qualifications journalists must exhibit. When asked about the qualifications, Dr Nathan Shamuyarira, the country’s minister of information, is of little help. “You only need to be honest, truthful, objective and able to express yourself and be patriotic,” Shamuyarira says. Based on Nyarota’s arrest, authorities in Zimbabwe seem inclined to a rather subjective interpretation of that final quality on Shamuyarira’s list.

WAR WATCH
Hussein Is No Hitler
Policy Putin-esca
What You Want to See is What You Get
Guantanamo Diaries
Reality Check
DAILY BRIEFING
Snoring to the Polls
Handicapping Lula
Bear Farms and Bile Poaching

War Watch

Hussein Is No Hitler

If history repeats itself, so, it seems, do flawed historical analogies. The Inter Press Service’s Jim Lobe digs up a juicy quote from J. William Fulbright’s apt 1966 book, The Arrogance of Power, that reads:

“We Americans are severely, if not uniquely, afflicted with a habit of policy-making by analogy: North Vietnam’s involvement in South Vietnam, for example, is equated with Hitler’s invasion of Poland and a parley with the Viet Cong would represent ‘another Munich’.

The treatment of slight and superficial resemblances as if they were full-blooded analogies –as instances, as it were, of history ‘repeating itself’–is a substitute for thinking and a misuse of history.”

Returning to the present day, Lobe then ruthlessly quotes a passel of present-day hawks making comparisons between Saddam Hussein and Hitler and arguing that “anything less than destroying the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein now will amount to ‘appeasement.'”

Now, in a sign that our politics really have been turned on their head, Lobe finds a voice of reason in the unlikely personage of Pat Buchanan:

” ‘Hitler conquered all of Europe from the Arctic to the Aegean and from the Atlantic to Stalingrad,’ [Buchanan] wrote recently. ‘And Saddam? He invaded Kuwait, a sandbox half the size of Denmark, and got tossed out after a 100-hour ground war. His country has been over-flown 40,000 times by US and British planes and he has not been able to shoot a single plane down. He has no navy, a fourth-rate air force, a shrunken, demoralized army. His economy is not one percent of ours.’ ”

Policy Putin-esca

The tragedy the Russians made of their bid to rescue hostages held in a Moscow theater this weekend is earning Vladimir Putin unfavorable comparisons to his Soviet forefathers. Amy Knight of the Toronto Globe and Mail, in just one such rebuke, writes:

“Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking less like a decisive democratic hero and more like one of his hard-line, yet ineffectual, Soviet predecessors….It was like the 2000 Kursk submarine disaster (or better still, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident) all over again: confusion, chaos and cover-up, reflecting the traditional Kremlin obsession with secrecy and disregard for individual lives.”

Yet much of this anti-Putin buzz strikes War Watch as knee-jerk — many members of the press seem positively pleased to have their worst fears about the former KGB man confirmed by this deadly debacle. But lack of transparency surrounding a deadly government goof is hardly unique to the Russians. And just imagine if the gas attack had been uniformly successful — Putin would have been a global anti-terrorist hero.

Weighing in with a more insightful historical parallel, the St. Louis Post Dispatch sees similarities between Moscow’s standoff with the Chechen hostage-takers and another well-intentioned law enforcement disaster:

“There is no doubt at all that Mr. Putin’s Spetsnaz special forces were guilty of poor judgment, shoddy preparation and gross negligence in invading the theater. This is…a Russian version of the FBI’s attack on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, a domestic terrorist siege met with overwhelming force and huge casualties among the innocent.”

The St. Louis paper’s editorial also soberly puts Putin’s declaration of a Russian war on terror in a global context:

“Mr. Putin, who came to power on a get-tough-with-Chechnya platform, is a former KGB spymaster who knows how the game is played…. Like his friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Putin would be wise to prepare well and explore the limits of diplomacy before loosing the dogs of war. Not all terrorists are international terrorists. Not all weapons are weapons of mass destruction. Not all wars that can be won are worth the fighting.”

In a similar vein, David Satter, writing in the National Review, notes the dangers inherent in pushing the Chechen conflict from a localized, political conflict into a more nebulous, and potentially more deadly, terror war:

“In the Moscow theater crisis, Putin demonstrated his oft stated intention to ‘wipe out the terrorists in their outhouses.’ The consequences of the theater crisis for Russia and the world, however, may become increasingly serious. The crisis was an example of the frightening potential of modern terrorism. But it was also perhaps the last chance for a resolution of the Chechen crisis. The Chechens have taken hostages in the past but they have done so in order to press demands that were essentially political. Now, having lost hope of a political solution and with a ready supply of money from the Middle East, the next step may well be an abandonment of political objectives in favor of a campaign of indiscriminate terror.”

What You Want to See is What You Get

Drawing what to War Watch’s eye is a sound historical comparison, Slate’s Fred Kaplan likens the Pentagon’s turf war with the CIA over intelligence gathering to similar intelligence squabbles over Soviet nukes during the Cold War. The centrality of Paul Wolfowitz to both cases is eye-brow raising, to say the least:

“In the mid-1970s, a group of well-known hawks…started clamoring that the Soviets were acquiring a first-strike capability and that the CIA was gravely underestimating their prowess and might. President Gerald Ford…succumbed to what seemed a modest demand — to let a team of their analysts examine the same data that the CIA had been examining and come up with alternative findings. It was sold as an ‘exercise’ in intelligence analysis, an interesting competition — Team A (the CIA) versus Team B (the critics)…. Paul Wolfowitz was one of the 10 senior staff members on Team B….

The Team B report read like one long air-raid siren: The Soviets were spending practically all their GNP on the military; they were perfecting charged-particle beams that could knock our warheads out of the sky; their express policy and practical goal was to fight and win a nuclear war…

Almost everything in the Team B report turned out to be false…. None of this history is meant to suggest that hawks are always wrong or doves always right…. But when the members of Team Rumsfeld tie together their loose strands…keep in mind that they are not ‘just trying to get another angle on this'”

Guantanamo Diaries

The Associated Press carries several quick comments from the prisoners repatriated to Afghanistan from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay:

” ‘They kept us in cages like animals,’ one of the men, 35-year-old Jan Mohammed, said of the chain-link open-air cell he says he spent months in at Guantanamo. ‘We were only allowed out twice per week, for half an hour.'”

“‘My family has no idea where I am, and I’ve not had any word from them,; [Mohammed Hagi] Fiz said. ‘I don’t even know if they’re still alive. All they know is that I went to a doctor for treatment, and disappeared.'”

“‘There are still many of us left in that prison,’ Mohammed said. ‘They think they’ll die there.'”

The Israeli paper Ha’aretz, meanwhile, runs the story of a detainee named Jan Muhammad, who “told the newspaper that he was completely cut off from the outside world for 11 months and did not receive a letter from his family, stamped in June, until three days before his release.”

” ‘I wrote a letter to my family that said, ‘I’m half an animal now’,’ he reportedly said. ‘After a month I’ll be a full animal and then I’ll come back’.'”

Reality Check

Howard Kurtz reports in the Washington Post that a senior executive of Fox News, with the blessing of network owner Rupert Murdoch, has proposed to Kofi Annan that the cable channel make any UN weapons inspections in Iraq an international television event..

We inspect, you decide?…

” ‘This is a serious proposal,’ Senior Vice President John Moody told U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in a letter sent Friday. Having broadcast crews along ‘would make it easier for U.N. inspectors to do their work and would underscore the credibility of the U.N. mission in Iraq. . . . Viewers could decide for themselves if the inspectors are being allowed to do their jobs.’…

[A spokesperson for the network] insists there could even be benefits for Hussein: ‘If he is serious that they don’t have weapons of mass destruction and want to cooperate with the U.N., there’s no better way to demonstrate that than to open it up to cameras.'”

-Tim Dickinson

Daily Briefing
POLITICS
Snoring to the Polls

Democrats have worked hard to make the nation’s economy the dominant issue in next week’s midterm elections. Republicans have countered by encouraging the nation to keep its collective eye on national security concerns.

Depending on whom you listen to, both are failing.

Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times reports that Democrats “are despairing of their chances of winning control of the House of Representatives this fall.”

“As of now, the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan publication that scrutinizes every congressional contest, counts 217 House seats as likely or certain to go Republican, and 202 likely or certain to go Democrat. That leaves 16 as tossups. And that means Democrats would have to win every tossup race to eke out the 218 seats needed to claim the majority.”

Meanwhile, the National Review‘s Quin Hillyer suggests that Republicans are “drifting” through campaigns final weeks, and could lose control of the House as a result.

“As recently as October 10, the GOP looked poised to regain control of the Senate and at least maintain its six-seat edge in the House. Now, though, the Senate contest looks like an even battle, and the House majority itself may yet slip away.

The problems are the same ones that plagued Republicans in 1998, when the consensus of pundits predicted a 15-to-20 seat GOP House gain but I correctly forecast a five-seat loss: Heavy-handedness, tin ears, and a lack of backbone.”

So, who’s right? Both. Or so David Corn suggests on Working for Change. Despite the stakes — control of the House, control of the Senate, control of the entire congressional agenda for the second half of President Bush’s first term — Corn suggests that both parties have allowed the campaign to completely slip off the national radar screen.

“So the nation is politically divided on a razor’s edge, essentially 50-50 in the House and Senate, with the Republicans needing one seat in the Senate to return to power there, and the Democrats requiring seven seats to reclaim the House, and as we hit the home stretch in a neck-and-neck race, the campaign is… pretty boring.”

Corn says Democrats are most to blame for the bland campaign — if only because they have the most to gain. Even on their chosen issue — the economy — Democrats have been unwilling to take the fight to the Bush administration, Corn says.

“They whack Bush for turning surpluses into deficits, but they, by and large, refuse to address a primary cause — Bush’s millionaire-friendly tax cuts. They are too scared to call for suspending Bush’s tax cuts, believing that would provide the GOPers an opening to assail them as tax-hikers. That is, they self-emasculate to prevent an Orwellian counter-attack. (Another problem: a fair number of Senate Democrats voted for Bush’s tax cuts.) House minority leader Richard Gephardt did get around to offering somewhat of an economic plan after the war-resolution vote, but the Democrats mostly have been relying on a lousy economy to do their work — waiting for the kind of bad economic news that motivates Americans to vote Democrat.”

Finally, in the absence of any national momentum, with candidates in tight races increasingly focusing on local issues, Liz Marlantes of The Christian Science Monitor reports that some campaigns are changing advertising strategies in an effort to boost voter turnout.

“The focus on grass-roots efforts, in fact, indicates a shift in campaign strategy, driven in part by a consensus that television ads are not necessarily an effective means of motivating voters. And while turnout has always been a key factor in elections, it’s taking on heightened significance in today’s evenly divided political landscape, in which more and more contests are decided by a few thousand or even a few hundred votes.”

FOREIGN NEWS
Handicapping Lula

Proving the naysayers wrong, leftist candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — “Lula” to admirers and detractors alike — scored a landslide victory in Brazil’s presidential elections. With his country on the brink of economic collapse, however, the President-elect must convince suspicious financiers that he is a leader they can trust, not a fire-breathing radical as his opponents claimed.

Lula has already signaled his intentions to stay the course for Brazil set by the International Monetary Fund, and continues to soften his socialist rhetoric as he makes the transition from populist hero to politic statesman. As The Economist notes, however, the financial world remains wary of Lula, and he must act quickly and consistently if he is to pull Brazil out of its economic tailspin:

” … Although the election victor will not take office straightaway — the outgoing president remains in office until the end of the year — how Mr da Silva handles the transition will be of critical importance in determining whether Brazil is heading for a full-blown economic crisis.”

In truth, James Flanigan writes in The Los Angeles Times, Brazil’s economic woes are such that Lula wouldn’t be able to make radical changes even if he wanted to:

“Regardless of his past rhetoric, Lula has no choice but to work with the international financial community to reform the country’s massively distorted economy.

During other eras, perhaps, a labor leader like Lula — a man who rose from poverty by working in the metal trades — might have made the usual socialist promises of pay raises for the lower class, higher taxes on the rich and a heavy government hand in industry. But the basic structure of Brazil’s economy simply won’t allow for such old-fashioned policies anymore.”

As a result, The Guardian‘s editorial board observes, Lula could quickly find himself in a “Catch-22” situation, stuck between his promises to poor constituents and his obligations to the money markets:

“Now that the victory has happened, the vital need to maintain market confidence in an economy handicapped by a $260bn debt, interest rates above 20% and high unemployment and crime is plain. How that can be squared with Mr da Silva’s principal promise to reduce social inequalities and the poverty affecting up to half of Brazil’s 175 million people is a question that finds no ready answer.”

Of course, these facts aren’t dissuading those on the right eager to predict disaster for Lula and Brazil. Myriam Marquez, writing in the Orlando Sentinel, argues that Lula, like populist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, threatens to lead Brazil down the path taken by that eternal boogeyman of the right, Fidel Castro.

“Lula and Chavez worship Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the strongman who has run the communist island’s economy into the ground in 43 years by resisting sensible free-market reforms and blaming the U.S. trade embargo for his failed Marxist experiment. Castro, of course, didn’t need a popular vote to impose his way of thinking. Firing squads in the early years took care of that.”

Finally, sounding a familiar alarmist note, Marquez argues that Lula lacks the “vision” to embrace global capitalism and free trade — which she argues represent the key to unlocking Brazil’s stagnant economy.

“Lula needs to open his eyes to this new world of global partnerships. The European Union is getting richer, not poorer. Lula has said he wants to follow Spain’s model of liberal policies and a market economy, and if that’s so, there’s hope. Because the alternative — the intransigent, hard-left policies offered by Cuba and Venezuela — offer nothing but more poverty and hopelessness.”

ENVIRONMENT
Bear Farms and Bile Poaching

Despite United Nations regulations protecting endangered species, the international trade in bear bile continues to grow. Michael McCarthy of The Independent reports that the product, long used in traditional Chinese medicine, is fueling a £70 million industry in China alone. Now, the World Society for the Protection of Animals has launched a campaign to tighten trade restrictions and outlaw the bile, demand for which is leading to increased poaching. Additionally, hundreds of bear farms have been set up in China, holding thousands of the animals for bile extraction. Using a method first engineered in North Koreans in the 1980s, a tube is inserted into the bile ducts or gall bladders of live bears, McCarthy explains.

“The daily bile extractions can lead to abscesses, septicaemia and inflammation of the gall bladder, which can be fatal. The bears receive a poor diet and veterinary care and suffer severe mental distress from being in such cramped surroundings. They are unable to stand up and some chew their paws to relieve the pain.”

The WSPA offers an extensive report on the bear bile trade and information on the movement against it.

WAR WATCH
Do As We Say…
Iraqthrax?
All In the (Hussein) Family
Conservatives and the Sniper
DAILY BRIEFING
Minnesota’s Memorial Flap
More Harken Hijinks
Will Chafee Pull a Jeffords?

War Watch

Do As We Say…

The US is “developing a new generation of weapons that undermine and possibly violate international treaties on biological and chemical warfare,” writes Julian Borger of the London Guardian’s, citing the authors of an upcoming report in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

“The scientists, specialists in bio-warfare and chemical weapons, say the Pentagon…is also working on ‘non-lethal’ weapons similar to the narcotic gas used by Russian forces to end last week’s siege in Moscow. They point to the paradox of the US developing such weapons at a time when it is proposing military action against Iraq on the grounds that Saddam Hussein is breaking international treaties….

‘There can be disagreement over whether what the United States is doing represents violations of treaties,’ [Mark Wheelis, a lecturer in microbiology at the University of California] told the Guardian. ‘But what is happening is at least so close to the borderline as to be destabilising.'”

Among the U.S. bioweapons projects described in the upcoming report:

• CIA efforts to copy a Soviet cluster bomb designed to disperse biological weapons
• A project by the Pentagon to build a bio-weapon plant from commercially available materials to prove that terrorists could do the same thing
• Research by the Defense Intelligence Agency into the possibility of genetically engineering a new strain of antibiotic-resistant anthrax
• A program to produce dried and weaponised anthrax spores, officially for testing US bio-defenses, but far more spores were allegedly produced than necessary for such purposes and it is unclear whether they have been destroyed or simply stored.

Iraqthrax?

Speaking of Anthrax, Washington Post reporters Guy Gugliotta and Gary Matsumoto published an exhaustive investigation this week, detailing just how hard it would be to produce the fine-grain anthrax powder used in the postal attacks last year. According to their sources, the FBI’s theory about a lone bio-terrorist working out of his basement is fundamentally flawed.

Biological warfare experts “say that making a weaponized aerosol of such sophistication and virulence would require scientific knowledge, technical competence, access to expensive equipment and safety know-how that are probably beyond the capabilities of a lone individual.”

One scientist contacted by the Post team speculates that you’d “need half a dozen, I think, really smart people” to carry off such an attack.

The high level of sophistication involved — whoever did this really pushed the envelope of aeresol weapons technology, the Post reports — increases the possibility that a foreign government might have been involved in the attack. The reporters seem inclined to finger Iraq — though if that were a real possibility, you’d think Donald Rumsfeld’s intelligence lackeys would have told us by now. “That Iraq had the wherewithal to make the anthrax letters does not mean it is the guilty party,” write Matsumoto and Gugliotta. “Still, the FBI’s early dismissal of the possibility may have prematurely closed a legitimate line of inquiry.”

The Associated Press, meanwhile, revisits the nation’s short-lived Cipro craze. The drug’s popularity waned quickly — especially among those for whom it was prescribed. The AP reports that of the some 10,000 folks put on the antibiotic in the wake of the anthrax attacks, only 44 percent actually finished treatment. Thankfully, failing to follow doctors’ orders didn’t kill anyone.

“‘I’m gratified by how effective the [treatment] seemed to be,’ said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Infectious Diseases. ‘No one put on it developed anthrax.'”

All In the (Hussein) Family

In an intriguing pair of articles, the Wall Street Journal reports that, despite UN sanctions, US cigarettes are still reaching Iraq , where they are actually making Saddam’s eldest son, Uday, a wealthy man.

Covering the possibility of illicit cigarette sales by RJ Reynolds, the paper reports:

“The European Union is considering filing a civil lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., that would accuse the former RJR unit and related companies…of sanctions-busting by shipping huge quantities of American cigarettes to Iraq via Cyprus and Turkey from 1990 through this year. Separately, federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan recently opened an investigation into possible cigarette smuggling into Iraq by American companies in violation of federal laws.”

On Uday Hussein’s riches, the paper adds:

“In the late 1990s, Uday Hussein’s annual take from imported cigarettes averaged about $10 million a year…. ‘The truth is,’ [says a former assistant] ‘he keeps all of it for himself. He never shares anything.'”

Of course, not sharing can stir up sibling rivalry:

“One Middle East exporter…says Saddam Hussein’s younger son, Qusai, who controls Iraq’s…security service, lately also has been collecting cigarette taxes, causing confusion among exporters about whom they’re supposed to pay.”

The Orlando Sentinel, meanwhile, runs a wild profile of the two brothers, describing Qusai as a stuttering recluse, and Uday as a flamboyant, Porsche-driving sadist who “allegedly has maintained a private torture chamber, known as the Red Room” where he supposedly tortures under-performing Iraqi athletes.

The paper goes on to quote former CIA chief James Woolsey as saying that the two sons “differ only in that Uday kills people for fun, and Qusai kills people in a very businesslike fashion.”

In another odd (and seemingly too-good-to-be-true) Hussein story, Wired News claims to have hacked Saddam’s government email account:

“Among the hundreds of messages marked as unread in Saddam’s inbox … were several junk e-mails and messages infected with computer viruses. Numerous e-mails — including some from Americans — offered advice and assistance to Saddam.”

Conservatives Learn From the Sniper

The Weekly Standard, sniffing a liberal bias, wants to know why “journalists focus more on the military background of John Allen Muhammad than on his conversion to Islam?

“On Thursday afternoon, websites for each of the major news networks prominently reported Muhammad’s status as an Army veteran while ignoring or burying his conversion to radical Islam. MSNBC was typical: ‘A former soldier and a teenager arrested in connection with the sniper hunt were expected to be arraigned Thursday…’

Is the ‘former soldier’ part of Muhammad’s personal history relevant? Possibly. More relevant than his conversion to Islam, his reported defense of the September 11 attacks, and his sympathies with al Qaeda? Please.”

The National Review’s Frank Gaffney seems just as convinced that Muhammad’s religion was a key factor in his alleged killing spree. In an if-yer-not-with-us-yer-with-the-terrorists commentary, Gaffney calls on law enforcement to start playing tough and stop worry about ruffling the feathers of pro-tolerance groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“Law-enforcement officials will…have to get inside the mosques and Islamic centers where the murder suspect lived, and conduct a thorough investigation of the imam and others who mentored his conversion. In short, the investigators will have to stand up to CAIR and the other apologists for terrorist organizations and their operatives who claim to represent Muslims in the United States–even as they work to impede law enforcement efforts to protect all Americans.”

Lastly, in a screed at the conservative news site Town Hall.com, Cal Thomas simply goes beyond the pale:

“It is past time to stop worrying about political correctness and the names we might be called–such as intolerant bigoted Islamophobes–and start telling the truth. America’s enemies are among us. They are here to kill us. The two men arrested in Maryland are the first wave following the 9/11 airplane hijackings. Surely others will follow, because their religion and history commission them to kill all infidels. Anyone who is a Christian or a Jew, or insufficiently fundamentalist, is fair game. They intend to hunt us down like deer in their scope sights.”

-Tim Dickinson

Daily Briefing
POLITICS
Minnesota’s Memorial Flap

In addition to the taped tributes and tearful farewells, Tuesday night’s memorial for Minnesota’s late progressive Senator Paul Wellstone featured a parade of Democratic bigwigs, a bit of Republican bashing, and a spirited get-out-the-vote appeal in advance of next week’s elections.

In the eyes of some — including Slate columnist William Saletan, it was less a memorial than a campaign rally — and an inappropriate one, at that.

” … As the evening’s speakers proceed, it becomes clear that to them, honoring Wellstone’s legacy is all about winning the election. Repeating the words of Wellstone’s son, the assembly shouts, ‘We will win! We will win!’ Rick Kahn, a friend of Wellstone’s, urges everyone to ‘set aside the partisan bickering,’ but in the next breath he challenges several Republican senators in attendance to ‘honor your friend’ by helping to ‘win this election for Paul Wellstone.’ What can he be thinking?”

Not surprisingly, conservative commentators such as Jonah Goldberg of The National Review, are even more critical, accusing Democrats of trying to play the Wellstone tragedy for political gain:

“…the Democrats on display at Paul Wellstone’s memorial service represented everything I personally find distasteful, disagreeable, and downright disgusting about the Democratic party …

That is what was so offensive about that rally: It shamelessly used Wellstone’s death for partisan advantage while its organizers cynically accused their opponents of doing precisely that.”

The voters in Minnesota may not be as inclined to vitriol, but the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that even some Wellstone supporters were put off by the evening’s partisan flavor.

“Carol Pegelow of Forest Lake, who watched the service on TV, said she sells funeral urns for a living and knows a little bit about grieving and what memorials are supposed to look like. And she didn’t like what she saw.

‘It was just too dragged out. It should have been for Paul’s death, not for these people to get votes. This wasn’t a memorial,’ Pegelow said.”

The Nation‘s John Nichols, however, sees nothing wrong with using the memorial to rally the Democratic faithful, and writes approvingly of the same speeches that others are condemning.

“‘We will carry on the fight. We will carry on the struggle,’ was the booming promise of Mark Wellstone, the senator’s son, who recalled a note his mother had given his father shortly before they died that concluded with the line: ‘We will win!’ ‘I’ll tell you what, mom, you’re right,’ shouted Mark Wellstone, as raucous cheers filled the cavernous auditorium. ‘We will win! We will win! We will win!'”

More Harken Hijinks

Administration officials have been steadfast in their defense of President Bush’s controversial 1990 sale of Harken Energy stock, insisting the president did nothing to violate insider trading rules. But now Michael Kranish and Beth Healy of The Boston Globe report that, one week before the president sold shares worth $848,000, Harken was notified by its lawyers that Bush and other company directors “faced possible insider trading risks if they unloaded their shares.”

“The warning from Harken’s lawyers came in a legal memorandum whose existence has been little noted until now, despite the many years of scrutiny of the Bush transaction. The memo was not received by the Securities and Exchange Commission until the day after the agency decided not to bring insider-trading charges against Bush, documents show.”

While the memo does not mention Bush or his planned sale of stock, Kranish and Healy suggest that its existence “raises questions about how thoroughly the SEC investigated” Bush’s sale of stock.

“The SEC cleared Bush after looking into whether he had insider knowledge of an upcoming quarterly loss at Harken. But the SEC investigation apparently never examined a key issue raised in the memo: whether Bush’s insider knowledge of a plan to rescue the company from financial collapse by spinning off two troubled units was a factor in his decision to sell.”

The Center for Public Integrity has released minutes of Harken board meetings from just before and after Bush’s sale, which indicate the president definitely knew of the plan — and in fact chaired a committee reviewing the scheme.

“May 17, 1990. The special committee, chaired by Bush, discussed the terms of the rights offering. Michael Eisenson, one of two representatives of Harvard Management Company on Harken’s board of directors, offered the major shareholders’ plan for a rights offering. The special committee decides that elements of the plan need to be further evaluated to determine whether they are fair to the company’s other investors.”

“July 13, 1990. Letter to the Board of Directors from [Harken President] Faulkner. Updates the board on recent developments. ‘The Special Committee, Chaired by George Bush has received positive response from [rights offering manager] Smith Barney with regard to the fairness of the ‘major Shareholder’ transactions.'”

Molly Ivins is less shocked by Bush’s shameless decade-old bail out, however, than his unabashed current duplicity in claiming to champion corporate reform, only to eviscerate the legislation.

“So intense did the pressure for corporate reform grow last summer that the Congress actually passed the Sarbanes bill, including a new board to oversee the accounting industry and $776 million for the SEC, a 77 percent increase. Bush signed the bill amidst great fanfare and later took credit for solving the corporate corruption problems (even though he had opposed the bill almost until the moment he signed it). And everyone agreed, ‘What a good first step.’

Oops. Bush and his man Harvey Pitt at the SEC have already gutted the new accounting oversight board, and the other day he urged Congress to appropriate 27 percent less, $568 million, than the agreed-upon increase for the SEC.”

Will Chafee Pull a Jeffords?

The battle for control of the Senate remains painfully close, with some pundits even suggesting next week’s election may result in an even partisan split. If that happens, some are now predicting that Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chafee could jump the party ship, giving control of the Senate back to the Democrats.

Stephen Dinan suggests in The Washington Times that Republicans are already preparing for the eventuality of another Jim Jeffords-like defection. “Republicans will be waking up the day after the election on Chafee watch,” says one unnamed Republican strategist.

Noting that Chafee is more politically attuned to Democratic values, Mary Lynn F. Jones writes in The American Prospect that he has frequently opposed the administration on issues such as “President Bush’s tax cut, campaign finance reform, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and, most recently, authorizing military action against Iraq.” In 2000, Jones reports, Chafee voted against his own party 63 percent of the time.

Jones cites one political analyst who believes that Chafee’s allegiance to the GOP is too strong for him to switch — and that he’s simply not liberal enough for the Democratic Party. But, she suggests the tide may be turning:

“Many Republicans at local levels of government are now leaving the GOP because they feel its philosophy no longer fits their own, especially on social issues; Jeffords made that clear last year.”

WAR WATCH
Terror War or Dirty War?
The Quotable Khatami
The Arab Sheets
DAILY BRIEFING
Pitt’s Poor Accounting
Electoral Eyes on Florida
Who Needs Fuel Economy? Not Us.

War Watch

Terror War or Dirty War?

By advocating an international crackdown on terror suspects, the US has become complicit in a global “dirty war” carried out by thuggish partners in crime-fighting — most notably Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf — writes Peter Maass in The New Republic:

“Due process is a rarity in most Muslim nations; police and courts are rotten with ineptness, corruption, torture, and meddling by political and religious authorities. When the White House urges a crackdown, as it frequently does in public statements and private meetings, it knows–and does not mind–that terrorism suspects are far more likely to face summary executions than fair trials.

Earlier this year, in a report titled ‘Rights at Risk,’ Amnesty International warned that ‘the `war on terror’ may be degenerating into a global `dirty war’ of torture, detentions, and executions.’…”

Maass suggests that the official repression, “carried out by unloved governments at the bidding of the unloved United States,” can breed instability, with unpopular regimes being replaced by ones that support terrorists instead.

“The election in Pakistan in early October was a warning sign: A coalition of religious parties, which had never before fared well at the voting box, won a shocking 45 out of 272 available seats, making them the third-largest group in the National Assembly.”

The Quotable Khatami

In Spain to promote better understanding (and trade) between his country and the European Union, Iranian president Mohammad Khatami spoke out clearly about the dangers of extremism — as it applies to both Islam and the West. The reformist leader cautioned against American militarism and said that the Bush administration’s foreign policy is undermining efforts at democratization in the Islamic world.

In a speech to the Spanish Senate (quoted by Middle East Online,) Khatami declared:

“One cannot and one should not resort to violence in the name of religion, just as one cannot deploy military forces throughout the world in the name of human rights and democracy.”

The Tehran Times quotes Khatami calling for a united approach “toward all state and non-state manifestations of terrorism all over the world.”

“Any approach that advocates extremism, animosity, revenge, unilateralism, disregarding morals and international protocols, and resorting to war and violence,” he added “would merely expand the danger of terrorism.”

During a news conference with Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar, Khatami described what he saw as an increasingly polarized world:

“I hear one discourse from two opposing poles … one is the voice which comes from bin Laden in Afghanistan, saying ‘who is not with us is an infidel and must be eliminated’. The other voice rises from America which says ‘whoever is not with us is against us’ and ‘since we have power, we have the right to repress him’. This is a logic which could lead to the most violent and horrible form of terror as well as the worst war under the pretext of opposing terrorism.”

The Iranian leader also expressed frustration at Washington’s refusal to recognize Iranian overtures of goodwill:

“Iran’s last goodwill was indicated during the Afghan crisis, and if there was no Iranian cooperation, the problem would not have been resolved with a low cost … Unfortunately in recent years, Iran’s every goodwill step has been met with unhelpful response of the American side.”

In a Q&A with Spain’s El Pais, Khatami explained why he believes his country was included in President Bush’s axis of evil:

“You would have to ask Mr. Bush that question…. In order to wage a war it is necessary to have a concrete enemy and, when there isn’t one, it is necessary to create one…to justify an intervention. The ‘axis of evil’ is being used to justify a militaristic atmosphere in the world… The opposition of all the countries of the world to the inclusion of Iran in that axis demonstrates that it has been a mistake.”

The editors of Spain’s paper of record, apparently agree. In an editorial that, among other things calls for European support of Iranian reforms, they write that Khatami is mistaken to suggest any equivalency between Bush and Bin Laden, but add: “Equally, the president of the United States is mistaken in including [Iran] in his phantasmagoric Axis of Evil.”

The Christian Science Monitor’s Michael Theodoulou, reporting from Tehran, provides a timely snapshot of an Iranian society making steady strides toward real democracy. While young, reform-minded Iranian masses are growing impatient with the pace of reforms, he reports that Khatami has finally put forth legislation that may force the country’s hardline clerics to share more power, and allow the president to pursue his democratic goals.

“Five years after Mohammad Khatami was propelled to a landslide victory on a platform of liberalizing Iran’s Islamic system, the charismatic president is losing his sheen. There is widespread frustration over the pace of his reforms. Few doubt his decency or sincerity or blame him personally. They know his efforts have been thwarted by an unelected hard-line minority that still controls key institutions such as the courts, the armed forces, and the broadcast media…

The president has finally thrown down the gauntlet: Last month Khatami presented two bills to the Iranian parliament that would end his opponents’ stranglehold on power….If the bills are passed undiluted, Khatami would emerge enhanced to forge his vision of an Islamic democracy. Abroad, he would have the power to pursue détente with the United States. A recent poll showed most Iranians favored talks with the US. But for the hard-line establishment, even suggesting that dialogue with the ‘global arrogance’ should be resumed after a 22-year break is a serious offense.”

Weighing in with a nice quote on the pace of reform, Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University, tells the Monitor: “It is too much to expect that just 23 years after the revolution Iran could become a France or United Kingdom… Democratization is a long, tedious process.”

The Arab Sheets

The Beirut paper, Daily Star, carries some thoughtful self-criticism of the Arab world and its failure to show its true colors.

“Political and religious leaders in the Islamic world have spent decades building a reputation for poor judgment, but never has this tendency been nearly as damaging as it has since the terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. With an epic debate raging all around them as to the reasons for the phenomenon of political violence, a process that threatens to shape events and perceptions for years to come, the people who need most to speak up have retreated into their shells. The stage has therefore been left open for others to define Muslims, periodically punctuated by outrageous words and actions committed by extremists that serve only to further the agendas of those who wish us no good.

Arguments cannot be won by people who refuse to speak. The vast majority of Muslims are moderates who deplore murder as a political tactic, regardless of the faith and/or nationality of the victim. Outsiders who remain ignorant of that fact cannot be blamed for knowing so little: Responsibility for that lies with Muslim clerics and politicians who have not only failed but in many cases actually refused to make their case before the court of world opinion.”

Addressing the wrangling at the United Nations, the Gulf News of Bahrain argues that the only reason to have a new UN resolution is to greenlight an American war in Iraq.

“Truth to tell, if a resolution is moved which does not contain the automatic use of force for non-compliance, then there is little point in presenting any resolution to the Security Council at this time. For Russia is correct — there is sufficient authority in the resolutions still standing on Iraq, to enable the weapons inspectors to return. So all the argument that will take place during the coming week in the UN will be geared to trying to answer just one question: How ready is the world to go to war against Iraq? For once America’s resolution is passed, it is merely a matter of time before war breaks out.”

An editorial in the Arab News of Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, commends the French for “ driving the Bush White House to distraction” with its UN posturing. But noting that “altruism is rarely the basis on which nations formulate their foreign policy” the paper explores the question of “why Paris is taking such an uncompromising line on Iraq.”

“If Washington is dissuaded from its dangerous unilateral aggression against Iraq, it will be the French who will be seen to have successfully championed common sense and the legitimacy of the UN…. [But] it is likely that Chirac is thinking several moves ahead, to the point where the Bush regime has flown in the face of all friendly advice and launched its military into Iraq. Give or take the odd chemical counterattack or heroic last-ditch stand by the Republican Guard, Saddam’s defeat will probably be a walkover….

Americans are psychologically ill-equipped to be an army of occupation in an Arab world for which they have demonstrated a complete lack of understanding…. The French government, at the head of European Union mediators [will then step forward] to sort out the mess created by Washington and London and thus earn extensive regional gratitude and standing. Indeed, French diplomacy at the moment approaches the immaculate.”

Daily Briefing
POLITICS
Pitt’s Poor Accounting

Harvey Pitt is back in the scandal spotlight, and the issue is painfully familiar. The Securities and Exchange Commission, of which Pitt is the chairman, has announced that it will investigate Pitt’s handling of the appointment of William Webster to head a new accounting industry oversight board. The inquiry comes after The New York Times reported that Pitt failed to tell other commissioners that Webster had led the auditing committee of a company facing fraud accusations.

“The small publicly traded company, U.S. Technologies, is now all but insolvent and it and its chief executive, C. Gregory Earls, are facing suits by investors who say they were defrauded of millions of dollars. The suits contend the misconduct occurred in late 2001 and this year. That was after the three-person audit committee, headed by Mr. Webster, had voted to dismiss the outside auditors in the summer of 2001 after those auditors raised concerns about internal financial controls.”

As The Economist reports, Pitt’s handling of the Webster nomination had been the source of controversy even before the Times disclosure. Webster was approved in a party-line vote last week, with both Democratic commissioners voting no.

“After the vote, the SEC’s two Democratic commissioners, Harvey Goldschmid and Roel Campos, said that if Mr Pitt was not actually under the thumb of the accounting industry, he certainly gave the impression of being so, bringing discredit not only to the SEC but to the new board as well.”

Already, the new scandal is reviving calls for Pitt to be replaced. Sebastian Mallaby of The Washington Post notes that even Sen. Paul Sarbanes, the Democrat whose oft-criticized reform bill authorized the new accounting oversight board, is calling for Pitt’s head. And Mallaby says Sarbanes has good reason for doing so.

“In his bungled effort to implement the post-Enron accounting reform, Pitt has not merely been incompetent. He has not merely bowed to the accounting lobbyists whom he is meant to regulate. He has been very nearly dishonest.”

Tom Jacobs argues on The Motley Fool that both Pitt and Webster must be dumped, citing the latest scandal as reason enough to be rid of the embattled chairman:

“Pitt lacks the ethical standards and judgment to serve as the leader of the governmental body charged by law to ‘protect investors and maintain the integrity of the securities markets’ (taken from the SEC’s web site, by the way). He is either incompetent or evil. This is far, far beyond politics.

He must go. Immediately. Sooner would be better.”

Electoral Eyes on Florida

Russia and Albania may not be known for electoral efficiency or democratic protections, but both countries apparently have something to offer Florida. In an unprecedented step, next week’s election in the Sunshine State will be monitored by a team of 10 international observers, including representatives from the two former east bloc states, reports Andrew Gumbel of The Independent.

“Certainly, the Russians and Albanians know a thing or two about flawed, rigged or fraudulent elections. After receiving a decade of lectures from Western democracies about overhauling their own systems, they also have a good idea how to overcome them. It remains to be seen whether Florida isn’t too tough a nut to crack, even for them.”

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is sponsoring the team, which will observe and analyze how electoral laws are applied in the state, but won’t be present at individual polling stations.

The European group will not be the only team taking a hard look at Florida’s polling. Armies of monitors from the US Department of Justice, independent watchdog groups, and legal teams working for the candidates themselves will be widely deployed at polling sites across the state, ready to catch every inefficacy and electoral ambiguity, writes Steve Ellman in the Miami Daily Business Review. And both Gov. Jeb Bush and Democratic challenger Bill McBride have vowed to send “squads of lawyer-observers and litigators who will be prepared to fight for every vote,” Ellman writes. Given the unprecedented number of observers to be dispatched across the state, Ellman suggests that “Election Day in Florida may seem more like an election in Haiti or Bosnia or some other international trouble spot.”

ENVIRONMENT
Who Needs Fuel Economy? Not Us.

Never mind the environment, never mind America’s dependence on foreign oil; a new EPA report suggests that America’s love affair with the gas guzzler remains strong. In fact, average fuel economy ratings for new car models and trucks is at a 15-year low, the study finds.

The news is prompting some observers to again question America’s driving habits. The editors of The San Jose Mercury News, while noting that some of the blame rests with the automakers, point out that no one is forcing Americans to buy gas-hogging SUVs:

” … The cars Americans drive are not simply a function of the cars Americans are offered. Carmakers didn’t decide, a decade ago, that Americans were going to drive gas-guzzling SUVs whether they liked them or not. Carmakers found out that Americans seemed to like SUVs, and that they didn’t really worry much about how much gas they needed to put into them and what that meant for the environment.”

For further proof — if any was needed — of this “What, Me Worry” phenomenon, Jason Carr of Mid-Michigan’s WJRT-TV set out to ask SUV owners if they’d trade their behemoths for a smaller car. The answer? An almost unanimous “No”:

“People can buy the kind of car that they can afford the gas for. I choose this,” answered one SUV driver. When asked if she felt guilty for driving an SUV, another said: “No, not at all, because I like it. It’s convenient. It’s practical.”