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Rushdie on Regime Change
Unchecked Plans for War
Dividing the (Expected) Spoils
War and Capitalism
Ailing Afghanistan
Franco’s Tests
Blowing the Whistle on Salmon Kill

War Watch

Rushdie on Regime Change

Saddam Hussein needs to go — not to please the Bush administration or because he represents a global threat, but because he is a brutal dictator whose reign of terror must end. So argues Salman Rushdie in a Washington Post commentary.

“Saddam Hussein and his ruthless gang of cronies from his home village of Tikrit are homicidal criminals, and their Iraq is a living hell. This obvious truth is no less true because we have been turning a blind eye to it — and “we” includes, until recently, the government of the United States, an early and committed supporter of the “secular” Hussein against the “fanatical” Islamic religionists of the region. Nor is it less true because it suits the politics of the Muslim world to inveigh against the global bully it believes the United States to be, while it tolerates the all-too-real monsters in its own ranks. Nor is it less true because it’s getting buried beneath the loudly made but poorly argued U.S. position, which is that Hussein is a big threat, not so much to his own people but to us.”

Rushdie frets that this ‘liberal’ argument for regime change is being drowned out by the Bush administration’s war talk and the growing opposition to it. While Bush’s plans for a preemptive strike remain dangerous and misguided, Hussein should not be allowed to find support among those fighting Washington’s folly, Rushdie argues.

“This is the hard part for antiwar liberals to ignore. All the Iraqi democratic voices that still exist, all the leaders and potential leaders who still survive, are asking, even pleading for the proposed regime change. Will the American and European left make the mistake of being so eager to oppose Bush that they end up seeming to back Saddam Hussein, just as many of them seemed to prefer the continuation of the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan to the American intervention there?”

Unchecked Plans for War

Washington is expected to submit yet another resolution on Iraq to the UN Security Council this week, one which may or may not address Russian and French diplomats concerned that the US would use the document to justify unilateral military action. But, as Peter Beaumont and Gaby Hinsliff of the London Observer report, military officials in the US and Britain haven’t allowed the diplomatic maneuvering to delay their frenetic planning for such action:

“As more details of the military preparations have emerged on both sides of the Atlantic, what has also become apparent is that President Bush and his closest ally Tony Blair have been working to a tight timetable for military action that not even the long-winded deliberations of the UN Security Council have derailed.”

Beaumont and Hinsliff suggest that military brass in both countries expect to be fighting a war in Iraq within months — reporting that all the evidence on hand, “points to US forces being readied for war by mid-December at the latest.”

” ‘There are a lot of very active preparations for war under way,’ said one defence official. ‘Everything is being moved rapidly into place so that the US and its allies can strike almost immediately should Bush decide that time has run out for the UN and its inspectors.'”

Michael Gordon of The New York Times reports on one such example of ‘active preparations.’:

“Navy pilots are conducting mock strikes against airfields, towers and other military sites in Iraq, acquainting themselves with targets they may be called on to strike as the Bush administration prepares for a possible military campaign to topple Saddam Hussein.”

In fact, Gordon writes, the patrols over southern Iraq “have grown into a low-grade war.”

In another indication of the unabated war planning, Esther Schrader of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Pentagon is now equipping select units in the US and Europe with “state-of-the-art river-crossing equipment capable of moving large numbers of troops and heavy materiel across the Euphrates.”

“Military planners at the Pentagon are analyzing a broad range of options for an invasion of Iraq, but all call for advancing significant ground forces deep into the country and for crossing the wide, slow-moving expanse of the Euphrates to take control of nearby Baghdad, defense officials said.”

Dividing the (Expected) Spoils

A chorus of critics has questioned whether Washington has a coherent plan for Iraq post-Saddam. Well, as Peter Beaumont and Faisal Islam of the London Observer report, the same cannot be said of the country’s oil executives:

“The leader of the London-based Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi, has met executives of three US oil multinationals to negotiate the carve-up of Iraq’s massive oil reserves post-Saddam.”

The talks could prove diplomatically dicey for Washington diplomats trying to convince France, Russia, and China to support a new UN resolution on Iraq. As Beaumont and Islam report, the three countries not only hold veto power on the UN Security Council, they also have existing oil deals with Iraq — deals which could be scuttled by Chalabi’s new negotiations.

Of course, Chalabi is in no position to deliver on such deals — yet. But, as Robert Dreyfuss makes clear in a compelling profile in The American Prospect, there is little mystery behind the INC leader’s emergence as a favorite of the Bush administration’s regime-change-minded hawks.

“Chalabi would hand over Iraq’s oil to U.S. multinationals, and his allies in conservative think tanks are already drawing up the blueprints. ‘What they have in mind is denationalization, and then parceling Iraqi oil out to American oil companies,’ says James E. Akins, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Even more broadly, once an occupying U.S. army seizes Baghdad, Chalabi’s INC and its American backers are spinning scenarios about dismantling Saudi Arabia, seizing its oil and collapsing the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). It’s a breathtaking agenda, one that goes far beyond ‘regime change’ and on to the start of a New New World Order.

What’s also startling about these plans is that Chalabi is scorned by most of America’s national-security establishment, including much of the Department of State, the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is shunned by all Western powers save the United Kingdom, ostracized in the Arab world and disdained even by many of his erstwhile comrades in the Iraqi opposition. Among his few friends, however, are the men running the Bush administration’s willy-nilly war on Iraq. And with their backing, it’s not inconceivable that this hapless, exiled Iraqi aristocrat and London-Washington playboy might end up atop the smoking heap of what’s left of Iraq next year.”

War and Capitalism

Never mind the talk of war, never mind the talk of regime change. The lure of profit, it seems, can overcome just about anything.

The Associated Press reports that representatives from more than 1,000 companies touched down in Baghdad this weekend for the city’s annual trade fair, all hoping to secure lucrative contracts once UN sanctions on the country are lifted. In fact, more companies are in attendance this year that at any point since the 1991 Gulf War, the AP reports.

Daily Briefing
Ailing Afghanistan

If only the US media’s lack of coverage of Afghanistan reflected an actual lack of happenings. In fact, one year after US forces entered the country, Afghanistan remains as divided and desperate as ever.

Steve Komarow reports in the USA Today that a “Taliban mentality” still persists for many and that “the surge of tolerance that followed the war has been replaced by caution and growing signs that fundamentalists are making a comeback.” Komarow observes that the Kabul government, caving to conservatives’ demands, has even resurrected the notorious Ministry of Vice and Virtue, which enforced the Taliban’s unbending interpretation of Islamic law.

Women have become a favorite target for the country’s resurgent fundamentalists. In central Afghanistan this week, pro-Taliban groups carried out a series of “well-coordinated” attacks against girls’ schools, reports Luke Harding in The Guardian. The attacks, in which several buildings were damaged by rockets, arson, and grenades, represent only the latest in a rash of violence directed against female education. Each attack, Harding writes, is normally preceded by the distribution of pamphlets warning parents against letting their daughters go to school and warning them not to appear in public without the burka.

Nor has there been an appreciable lessening of the ethnic tensions which have long divided Afghanistan. In just one example of the continued conflict between Afghan tribes, Agence France-Presse reports that harassment of minority groups — especially the nomadic Gujurs — in the northeast of the country has developed to such an extent as to prompt the UN to set up a commission to protect the victims.

The country’s economy remains in ruins. Though reissued only last month at 1,000 times the value of the previous currency, the new afghani has already become nearly worthless, reports Liz Sly in the Chicago Tribune. In Kabul’s currency markets, familiar scenes are played out featuring “hordes of Afghans hauling their life’s savings in sacks and wheelbarrows, desperate to unburden themselves of notes they fear will soon be worthless.”

The only industry that’s really thriving, reports The Economist, is the drug trade. In 2001, the last year of Taliban rule, Afghanistan produced 185 tons of poppy resin, according to a British study. Production for 2002 is expected to reach between 1,900 and 2,700 tons (incidentally, Europe receives 80 percent of its heroin supply from Afghanistan).

Franco’s Mad Marxist Tests

At last, definitive proof that leftists are degenerate. Or not.

In the sort of mad experiment that ideologues might embrace even today, psychiatrists employed seven decades ago by the Spanish dictator Franco set out to scientifically “prove” that the Generalissimo’s republican opponents were either stupid or crazy, Giles Tremlett reports in The Guardian.

Combining highly dubious science with a messianic sense of moral superiority, Fascist researchers in the 1930s performed batteries of mostly psychological tests on captured Republican volunteers, recently unearthed documents show. The goal? To prove that leftists were intellectually inferior and morally lacking. As far as Franco’s chief psychiatrist was concerned, the results were never in doubt:

“‘A priori, it seems probable that psychopaths of all types would join the Marxist ranks,’ he reasoned before starting the project. ‘Since Marxism goes together with social immorality … we presume those fanatics who fought with arms will show schizoid temperaments.’

Little surprise, then, that he classified almost a third of the English prisoners as ‘mental retards.’ Another third were deemed to be suffering degenerative mental illnesses that were turning them into schizoids, paranoids or psychopaths. Their fall into Marxism was, in turn, exacerbated by the fact that 29% were also considered ‘social imbeciles.'”

As Tremlett notes, “the results, predictably concluding that Marxists really were mad, tell us more about the mindset of those who, with Franco at the helm, would run Spain for the next 40 years” than about the prisoners.

Blowing the Whistle on Salmon Kill

Filing a complaint under the Whistleblower Protection Act against both the Bush administration and his own National Marine Fisheries Service, federal biologist Michael Kelly claims that officials knowingly disregarded threats posed by farmland irrigation to endangered fish in the Klamath River Basin, resulting in the deaths of over 30,000 salmon, writes Laura DeFrancesco in The Scientist. In what would constitute a violation of the Endangered Species Act, Kelly claims in his complaint that the Bureau of Reclamation manipulated research data to support an inadequate and politically-motivated 10-year plan to divert water from Klamath River.

After Interior Secretary Gale Norton declined to meet with him to discuss the issue, Democratic Congressman Mike Thompson called the government’s response to the salmon kill “pathetic,” and told the Eureka Times-Standard: “if what the whistle blower told is accurate, they absolutely violated the law.”

Riding on the coattails of Kelly’s report, ten conservation groups have filed a lawsuit demanding that the Department of Interior stop the irrigation of commercial farms in drought-stricken wildlife refuges, The Wilderness Society reports.

The Real Cost of War
Reading Iraq
A New Turkish Equation
California’s Antiwar Candidate
Spy Games
Races to Watch
Dumping Pitt
Politics and Poverty

War Watch

The Real Cost of War

With much of the mainstream media transfixed by the diplomatic maneuvering at the United Nations and the Bush administration’s increasingly feverish wartime rhetoric, Bill Moyers offers a poignant reminder of the awful reality that rhetoric obscures.

“Mr. Bush is amassing a mighty American armada in the Middle East – incredible firepower. He has to know that even a clean war – a war fought with laser beams, long range missiles, high flying bombers, and remote controls – can get down and dirty, especially for the other side.”

Moyers, of course, was White House press secretary during Lyndon Johnson’s administration. As with the current administration, the Johnson White House “didn’t talk very much about what the war would cost,” Moyers writes. “We weren’t sure, and we didn’t really want to know too soon, anyway.”

Now, Moyers suggests, that same self-deceiving spirit has found a home in the Bush administration:

“Ah, the glories of war; the adrenaline that flows to men behind desks at the very thought of the armies that will march, the missiles that will fly, the ships that will sail, on their command. Our Secretary of Defense has a plaque on his desk that says, ‘Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords.’ I don’t think so.

To launch an armada against Hussein’s own hostages, a people who have not fired a shot at us in anger, seems a crude and poor alternative to shrewd, disciplined diplomacy.

Don’t get me wrong. Vietnam didn’t make me a dove; it made me read the Constitution. That’s all. Government’s first obligation is to defend its citizens. There’s nothing in the Constitution that says it’s permissible for a great nation to go hunting for Hussein by killing the people he holds hostage, his own people, who have no choice in the matter, who have done us no harm.

Unprovoked, the noble sport of war becomes the murder of the innocent.”

Peter Bouckaert, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, picks up where Moyers leaves off. In a Los Angeles Times commentary, Bouckaert bemoans the limitations of the national debate, which describes as “focused on polarizing questions about the propriety of preemption, the wisdom of forcing regime change and the strength of the evidence concerning Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.” Missing from the discussion, he suggests, is any consideration of how the Iraqi people will fare before, during, and after a US assault.

“Whether one favors or opposes war (my organization, Human Rights Watch, is neutral on that issue), it is equally important to consider the grave dangers the Iraqi people could face once war starts, and to develop workable strategies to minimize those dangers.

In Iraq, civilian casualties caused by U.S. military actions would probably be only a part of the picture. The greatest threat to the Iraqi people could well come from the Iraqi army. The direct civilian death toll of allied military action during the Gulf War, Kosovo and Afghanistan combined is dwarfed by the estimated 30,000 who died during Hussein’s repression of the 1991 uprisings, or by the estimated 100,000 Kurds killed in his genocidal Al Anfal campaign in the late 1980s. Hussein is the only known head of state who has used chemical weapons against his own people — as he also did against Iranian troops — and he is likely to do so again in any battle for his life.”

Reading Iraq

Less than a year has passed since the Bush administration made its intentions clear concerning Iraq. But the debate over those intentions has already sparked endless inches of newspaper commentary and given birth to several books. Writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Andrew Cockburn considers three such books — and the national mindset that has shaped them:

“The gassing of the Kurds was greeted with barely more than a bleat of protest from Washington, as was his earlier use of chemical weapons in the war with Iran, but we were allies then. It took Hussein’s apparent bid for control of the world oil market by invading Kuwait to turn him into “Hitler,” capable, as was faithfully reported in the propaganda buildup to the last Gulf War, of tossing Kuwaiti babies out of hospital incubators. That myth, dreamed up by the PR firm Hill and Knowlton, was exposed soon after it had served its purpose. Others, such as the notion that Hussein is both ready and able to unleash some super-weapon on the United States, have proved more enduring.

Now more than ever, myth looms larger than reality when it comes to Iraq, which may be why Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan has suggested that the dispute be settled in an OK Corral shootout between Bush and Hussein, flanked by their respective veeps and umpired by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.”

Two of the books Cockburn reviews — Con Coughlin’s ‘Saddam: King of Terror,’ and Kenneth Pollack’s ‘The Threatening Storm,’ lay out the case for war. The third, ‘What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know,’ by William Rivers Pitt and Scott Ritter, lays out the case against it. Cockburn neatly picks apart the arguments made by Coughlin and Pollack, and offers faint praise for Pitt and Ritter, who he notes “is now vilified, when he is not ignored, because of his assertions, backed up by detailed information from his days as a star weapon inspector, that the former U.N. inspection effort effectively destroyed all Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction as well as his means for constructing them.”

In the end, however, Cockburn suggests that the books are less individually convincing than they are illustrative.

“The very fact of Ritter’s relative obscurity nowadays, compared to people with more palatable messages, such as (exiled Iraqi nuclear physicist, Khidhir Hamza), points to the lack of any real debate on the official justifications for the proposed invasion.

But then, who needs justifications? In December 1989, the U.S. attacked Panama on the flimsiest of pretexts and overthrew its government, killing more than 300 Panamanians in the process. The invasion was officially code-named ‘Operation Just Cause.’ But, inside the Pentagon, cynics dubbed it ‘Operation Just Because.’ As a former defense official said to me recently, ‘we invaded Panama just because it was there and we could.’

Perhaps the same will be said of Iraq.”

A New Turkish Equation

Turkey’s voters have rejected the country’s political establishment. The party long associated with the powerful military and its demands for a secular society has been shunted aside in favor of populist Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his once-Islamist Justice and Development Party.

All of which might have Washington concerned. Turkey, the only Muslim nation in NATO, remains a vital ally for the US in the case of an attack against Iraq. Erdogan has said he strongly opposes such an attack — although he has said Turkey would abide by any UN decision. Robert Fisk argues in The Independent that a US-led war against Baghdad could serve to widen the gap between Istanbul and Washington.

“Muslim Turkey will not tolerate the breakup of Iraq, and it will sympathise with the thousands of Iraqi Muslims likely to die in Washington’s invasion. President-General Pervez Musharraf’s participation in Mr Bush’s ‘war on terrorism’ has already been hobbled by the Islamists’ victory in Pakistan – in a poll originally billed by the White House as ‘an important road map’ on the return to Pakistani democracy. Now Turkey has produced another ‘wrong’ result as it practises the democracy so touted by the Americans.

This adds another dangerous equation to President Bush’s forthcoming adventure in Iraq – and yet another reason why the Americans, despite their public demand for democracy in the Middle East, will secretly hope that the contagion of democracy doesn’t spread any further in the region.”

Of course, Erdogan’s victory had little to do with the Bush administration’s plans in particular. As The Christian Science Monitor‘s Ilene R. Prusher reports, the election result was driven by domestic concerns.

“Still, analysts say, there were 16 political parties to chose from in Turkey … and yet voters chose the one that was known for its Islamic foundations. Perhaps most voters for [Erdogan’s] Party were motivated by Turkey’s internal economic issues. But some observers say that the war in Afghanistan and US plans for military intervention in Iraq, have had an impact on how many Muslims – Turks included – view their place in the world.

‘Many people in Turkey and elsewhere in the Islamic world are watching Muslims suffering around the globe,’ says Ozdem Sanberk, an analyst with the Turkish Economic and Social Foundation, a think-tank in Istanbul. ‘The masses in the Islamic world don’t have parties, don’t have parliaments, and they feel besieged in their own countries. Many of them can’t change their leaders – and yet they see that the US is supporting those regimes.'”

California’s Antiwar Candidate

A recent poll of California voters found that a majority would rather not vote for either Democratic Gov. Gray Davis or Republican challenger Bill Simon. Duncan Campbell of the London Guardian suggest — quite logically — that the situation should “make the state a natural for a Green candidate, particularly when there have been complaints that both the major parties are backing a war on Iraq.”

As Campbell notes, Peter Camejo, the Green Party candidate for governor in California, would seem to fit the bill:

“He is regarded as a candidate with the sort of platform that should appeal to liberals disenchanted with the Democrats: opposition to a war in Iraq, support for a $10.50 minimum wage, decriminalisation of cannabis and an end to the ‘three strikes’ law.”

Still, despite the voter disenchantment, and despite the “disillusionment on the left and complaints that the Democrats have not challenged the Bush administration enough,” Camejo is unlikely to even break out of the single digits in today’s polling, Campbell writes.

Spy Games

When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced the creation of a special Pentagon office to review intelligence on Iraq, several critics suggested the move was little more than a premeditated effort to concoct evidence supporting a US-led war. That criticism continues, highlighting a growing rift “between hard-liners long distrustful of the U.S. intelligence community and professional military and intelligence officers who fear the hawks are shaping intelligence analyses to support their case for invading Iraq,” writes Leona C. Bull in the Journal of Aerospace and Defense Industry News.

“A major source of contention is the Pentagon’s heavy reliance on data supplied by the Iraqi National Congress. The INC, the largest group within the divided Iraqi opposition, has a mixed reputation in Washington and a stake in whether President Bush makes good on his threat to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by force. Its leader, Ahmed Chalabi, sees himself as a potential successor. Chalabi has strong backers among senior civilian officials in the Pentagon, and in Congress and the White House. But the group, and Chalabi in particular, are viewed with suspicion by many CIA and State Department officials.”

As Bull notes, the CIA has reason to be skeptical of Chalabi and the INC. After all, the agency severed its relationship with the Iraqi opposition group more than five years ago after the INC was unable to account for millions of dollars in covert aid.

“‘Our guys working this area for a living all believe Chalabi and all those guys in their Bond Street suits are charlatans. To take them for a source of anything except a fantasy trip would be a real stretch,’ one official said.”

Daily Briefing
Races to Watch

When the polls finally close this evening, the national punditry machine will kick into high gear. Columnists and commentators will sift through the electoral remains, seeking some slightly novel spin on the outcome. With most expecting the Republicans to retain control of the House — if only by a slight margin — electoral analysts are devoting most of their attention to the Senate. And a few races have emerged as national attention-grabbers:

South Dakota: President Bush has visited the state twice in the last five days, stumping for Republican challenger John Thune, while Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has actively campaigned for incumbent Democrat Tim Johnson. “The race probably will be decided by the slimmest of margins, and it could determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years,” write Mike Madden and David Kranz in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

North Carolina: Erskine Bowles, former President Bill Clinton’s chief-of-staff, is taking on Elizabeth Dole in the contest to fill the seat vacated by Jesse Helms. Bowles is campaigning as a civil rights champion in an effort to woo black votes, and the Raleigh News & Observer reports the effort appears to be working. “After 30 years of suffering in North Carolina, it’s time for a major change… We do not want a Jesse Helms clone in female clothes,” exclaims the chairman of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

Colorado: Incumbent Republican Wayne Allard and Democrat Tom Strickland are locked in a dead-heat, reports Susan Greene of the Denver Post. Strickland has campaigned hard to win Hispanic votes, lately conducting a slew of Spanish-language interviews for radio and TV. The tactic may be paying dividends — the latest poll has Strickland surging ahead of Allard by nine percentage points.

Arkansas: Incumbent Republican Tim Hutchinson is trailing Democratic challenger Mark Pryor. Pryor, the state’s Attorney General, has been billing himself as a “pro-business centrist,” notes Noelle Straub in The Hill. Not one to tread lightly, Pryor “appears in ads dressed in camouflage and totes a hunting rifle,” Straub writes.

Georgia: Democrat incumbent Max Cleland is leading Republican Saxby Chambliss by five percentage points. Or they’re exactly tied. It all depends on whose poll you believe. Either way, the outcome will likely be determined by turnout among the state’s black voters, 80 percent of whom support Cleland, report Jim Tharpe and James Salzer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Missouri: With polls showing incumbent Democrat Jean Carnahan barely inching ahead of Republican Jim Talent, this race is certainly too close to call. Deirdre Shesgreen and Jo Mannies report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Carnahan, the pro-choice widow of former Senator Mel Carnahan, has gained an edge by securing strong support among the state’s female voters. Again, however, the outcome will likely swing on whether the state’s women vote in large numbers.

New Hampshire: Also too close to call is the race between Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen and Republican John E. Sununu. The Concord Monitor‘s Lisa Wangsness observes that Bob Smith, who is waging a write-in campaign since losing the GOP primary to Sununu, could be the deciding factor in a Sununu defeat.

Dumping Pitt

The knives are out. In the wake of SEC chief Harvey Pitt’s latest blunder, voices from across the political spectrum are calling for his immediate ouster.

Since his appointment to the commission’s top job, Pitt has made one gaffe after another. Last week’s disclosure that Pitt buried damning information about the man he picked to head the SEC’s new accounting oversight board, however, might be the final straw.

Dismissing Pitt’s tenure at the SEC as a bad joke, The Baltimore Sun‘s editors argue that his continued presence at the agency’s helm will only damage the economy:

“His job was to restore confidence in the equity markets that has been badly shaken by the debacles of Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen and all of the other companies that have imploded over the past year.

Instead, Mr. Pitt’s actions are undermining investor and consumer confidence at a time when the economy is teetering on the brink of recession.”

Slate columnist Daniel Gross writes that Pitt, with his corporate background and his well-publicized sympathies for the accounting industry, was fundamentally unsuited for the job in the first place.

“There’s a case to be made that Pitt, who is neither corrupt nor stupid, was condemned to failure by his experience as a D.C. lawyer and lobbyist. He has stumbled because he is behaving like a corporate lawyer in a political job … ”

As Gross sees it, Pitt never really understood his role, which is to represent ordinary investors rather than the Wall Street powers he once worked for: “More than a year into his tenure … it’s clear that Pitt doesn’t quite grasp that he now represents a different set of people.”

Even conservatives are calling for Pitt’s head. Writing in USA Today, The American Enterprise Institute’s James Glassman urges Washington to give Pitt the boot. In typically laissez-faire fashion, however, Glassman recommends that Pitt’s replacement adopt a light-handed approach to regulating the kind of activity Pitt has failed to stem.

“The alternative? An SEC chair whose top priority is to educate the 50 million USA families that own stock – as Pitt’s predecessor, Arthur Levitt, recognized. Use the bully pulpit. Name names. But do something few Washington regulators of any sort have done: Encourage investors and clients, not central planners, to punish the miscreants. Markets are delightfully brutal and fast.”

Politics and Poverty

Sometimes, it takes a foreign eye to see America clearly. While the domestic media has been dominated by death and destruction — most notably the impending war against Iraq, the rampage of The Sniper and the deadly theater raid in Moscow — Ed Vulliamy of the London Observer takes a painfully hard look at the America that will take the polls today.

Vulliamy casts his eye on New Haven, Connecticut, which he suggests is “a metaphor for the America which on Tuesday elects its Senate and House of Representatives.”

“It is the country’s fourth poorest city, where the ghetto laps at the walls of a university worth $11 billion (£7bn) in tax-exempt endowments, educating America’s next generation of rulers. A sign at the freeway turn-off advertises New Haven as the birthplace of President George Bush.

It is a city with the same infant mortality rate as Malaysia and a terrifying rate of deaths from Aids – one day care centre alone commemorated the loss of 600 clients at a memorial service on Wednesday. But it is located in America’ richest state, Connecticut, which has, proportionally, more millionaires than any other.

This is the super-rich New York hinterland for those too wealthy even to feel the pinch on Wall Street. It is called the ‘Zebra Coast’, laid out in strips of black/white, black/white; poor/rich, poor/rich. And in New Haven the polarity is underpinned by the history of Yale University’s engagement in the slave trade – currently being excavated by some of its own students.”

Connecticut is a unique barometer of how Americans are faring, Vulliamy writes. The Bush administration’s tax policies have delivered huge payoffs to the state’s wealthy, causing the region to be the only in the country in which mean income has not declined. But the price for that windfall can also be found in Connecticut, Vulliamy writes, particularly in New Haven’s poor neighborhoods.

“There is now a brutally simple barometer of poverty in modern America: HIV.

At the Immanuel Baptist Church on Chapel Street, a few blocks from fancy restaurants where the young elite go for dinner, there was a service with a difference on Wednesday. The Aids Interfaith Network was commemorating the lives of 600 of its clients who have died of the disease since it was established 15 years ago.

Project director Joyce Poole says: ‘AIDS has become the disease of the poor – 80 to 90 per cent of our clients are living below the poverty level; 15 per cent are homeless; most have not worked in years. Half are dually diagnosed with HIV and hepatitis C. If you can’t support yourself, you do it by other means, and those means are often criminal. Most of our clients have had at least one encounter with the Department of Corrections.’

Yet Connecticut’s AIDS prevention budget has just been cut by 30 per cent – due, says America’s richest state, to the economic downturn. ‘This is a discourse,’ says Poole, ‘about poverty.’ And as America prepares to go to the polls, the gap between rich and poor is widening by the day.”

‘Soft’ Resolution, Hard Rhetoric
First Baghdad, Then Tehran
Overt Operations
Exhuming the News
Democrats With No Direction
Peace in Sri Lanka?
No Immunity for Protest-Busting Police

War Watch

‘Soft’ Resolution, Hard Rhetoric

The White House may have softened its UN resolution on Iraq — making slight adjustments to gain the support of key Security Council members France, Russia and China — but the Bush administration’s rhetoric remains as hard as ever.

Suzanne Goldenberg, writing in the London Guardian, notes that Secretary of State Colin Powell made a point of declaring that Washington “will show zero tolerance to any hesitation from Iraq” once the resolution is approved. Even as UN diplomats put the final touches on the new resolution, Goldenberg writes, Powell told international journalists that the administration has “no patience for a long drawn-out battle between Baghdad and the UN weapons inspectors.”

“His comments on an early reckoning for President Saddam Hussein’s regime were a nod to the hawks in the Bush administration who have chafed at the time Mr Powell has spent trying to overcome resistance from France, Russia and China over the US-British resolution. The resolution would strengthen weapons inspections and threaten “serious consequences”, presumably military action, if Baghdad fails to cooperate with the inspectors.”

While the inspection process is expected to take several months, Powell says that Washington will decide “within a few weeks” whether Iraq is cooperating. And Powell’s threats aren’t directed only at Baghdad. Goldenberg writes that the Bush administration continues to insist it will not wait for UN support before launching an attack.

With early versions of the new resolution circulating among UN diplomats, David Usborne of The Independent reports that Saddam Hussein has once again “hinted that he would submit to a UN resolution and assist in weapons inspections.” Bush administration officials quickly dismissed the report, claiming that the Iraqis will have to demonstrate — not declare — their submission.

Of course, the stated goal of the UN resolution is the destruction of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction — if they exist. James Carroll, writing in The Boston Globe, suggests that Washington’s belligerent language underscores the degree to which the administration remains committed to something far more drastic.

“Perhaps the contrasting notes being struck by Washington – Rumsfeld ‘total and severe,’ Powell relatively flexible – represent a deliberate blurring of national purpose at the service of obtaining the UN Security Council endorsement this week. Once a resolution passes – any resolution will do – ‘regime change’ will surely resume its place of primacy.”

Carroll further suggests that we consider earlier instances when Washington commitment to a drastic military goal — the unconditional surrender of Japan in 1945 — led the country to take a terrible step. Unwilling to entertain Japanese demands that Emporer Hirohito remain in place, and unwilling to stray from the defined aim of total victory, the US authorized the use of nuclear weapons — only to subsequently grant many of the surrender conditions Japan had been seeking, including Hirohito on the throne.

“We maintained the mental and spiritual absolutism required to incinerate two entire cities – but only long enough to accomplish the incineration. Was the shock of what we had done the source of our sudden – and humane – flexibility? Was even Washington aware that Hiroshima and Nagasaki had tipped a moral scale?”

Now, with Washington hawks still suggesting that ‘regime change’ in Iraq remains the ultimate goal, Carroll worries that we are again heading for a tragic collision of exclusive war purposes. As in 1945, Carroll worries that Washington “will hold to its stated purpose until the momentum of war trumps everything else, until even the White House, the Pentagon, and our shamefully pliant Congress are at last appalled by what such rampant absolutism actually costs in human life.”

Suggesting it’s already evident that the White House will accept nothing short of regime change, Steve Chapman morosely ponders the likely reaction outside the US, where many are already dismayed by the administration’s flirtation with preemptive war.

“Most of our fellow inhabitants of planet Earth think Mr. Hussein can be kept in check. What they fear is that the United States can’t be. To a lot of people, President Bush brings to mind Titanic director James Cameron after he won an Oscar: ‘I’m king of the world!’

It’s a dangerous delusion to think, as many conservatives do, that our Iraq policy is unpopular abroad only because everyone else in the world is cowardly, knavish or blind. The Bush administration ought to realize that if even your friends disapprove of what you’re doing, maybe you’re doing something wrong.”

If Chapman is looking for more critical voices, he needn’t seek them in Russia, Boris Kagarlitsky suggests in The Moscow Times. In the wake of the deadly Moscow theater raid, the Kremlin has discovered that it likes Washington’s approach — or at least that it cannot effectively oppose the Bush administration’s calls for war while pursuing a campaign to wipe out Chechen separatists now referred to as terrorists.

“The war in Chechnya and support for America’s Middle East policy are two sides of the same coin. The more the Russian authorities cover themselves with gore and grime in the Caucasus, the less they are able to conduct an independent foreign policy. The critics of Washington’s planned military operation against Iraq are now European moderates and leaders of the Arab world. Both groups condemn the war in Chechnya.”

First Baghdad, Then Tehran

Forget worrying about Washington’s real aim in Iraq … Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is already thinking about the next place to demand a regime change.

In and interview with the London Times, Sharon insists that Iran should be next on the Bush administration’s hit list.

“He asserted that while Washington was inevitably focusing on Saddam Hussein — whom he called ‘insane’ — the White House shared his concern that Iran was also seeking weapons of mass destruction, and developing missiles capable of striking Israel and even Europe.

‘One of the things I mentioned is that the free world should take all the necessary steps to prevent irresponsible countries from having weapons of mass destruction: Iran, Iraq of course, and Libya is working on a nuclear weapon.'”

Of course, Israel already has nuclear weapons, and Sharon told the Times that Israel will consider all retaliatory options if it comes under attack by Iraq.

“‘If Israel, and I made it very clear, is attacked by weapons of mass destruction . . . Israel will react. Is it clear? I believe that they understand that Israel will not be able not to defend itself.'”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, quickly dismissed Sharon’s call, Reuters reports, calling an attack on Iran the “gravest possible error.”

Overt Operations

Few people are registering surprise at the news that CIA agents have assassinated an alleged al-Qaeda leader and five others in Yemen by firing a missile at their car from an unmanned aircraft. This despite the fact that, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports, the attack “clearly placed the Bush Administration outside the bounds of actions that previous US administrations have acknowledged taking to defend American interests overseas.”

“‘Where we have refrained from doing this in the past, it’s been the judgement of the US that killing our enemies abroad is a very foolish thing to do,’ said Alfred Rubin, a former Pentagon counsel and a professor of law and diplomacy at Tufts University, Massachussetts.

‘After all, the Soviets killed their enemies abroad, and the Iranians have tried to do the same thing against [author] Salman Rushdie. We decided a long time ago that this was not a wise thing to do. It was not consistent with our vision of where the world should be going. But now we apparently have changed our minds.'”

Indeed, as David Isenberg suggests in the Asia Times, the Bush administration is pursuing a drasticly more aggressive approach to so-called covert operations like the one in Yemen. Citing a summer report by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board, Isenberg reports that the administration’s hawks are urging an approach that will grant the military a greater role in the sort of overseas activities usually handled by the CIA.

“Although the study is filled with lots of the usual buzzwords and phrases that Pentagon planners love, such as “robust connectivity, agile ground forces, adaptive joint command and control and discriminant use of force”, one thing that does stand out is its call for ‘preemption/proaction/interdiction/disruption/quick-response capabilities’.

This is consistent with the administration’s new National Security Strategy, which called for preemption; indeed, since the DSB study preceded the release of the strategy, it is possible that the strategy was written to incorporate some of its aspects.”

The study, Isenberg writes, would push the military into unfamiliar territory, but may screen such missions from the legal restraints and official scrutiny imposed on CIA activities. The CIA, Isenberg notes, is required to report all its secret activities to Congress. The military is under no such obligation.

Exhuming the News

Last week, War Watch cited one media critic’s suggestion that national newspapers underplayed coverage of the massive antiwar marches in Washington and San Francisco. At least one newspaper editor is taking such criticism to heart.

Gina Lubrano, the San Diego Union-Tribune‘s reader representative, chastises her colleagues for failing to give the story the play it deserved — noting that some readers actually thought the paper had ignored the protests.

“In fact, the Union-Tribune carried both a story and a photo, but it’s not a mystery why some people were unable to find them. They were buried deep in the newspaper. We should have done better.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re pro-or anti-war, when thousands and thousands of people in this country come together on the same day to protest administration policy in a foreign land, it is news.”

War Watch is pleased to know that we weren’t alone in reaching that conclusion.

Daily Briefing
Democrats With No Direction

The Republicans have retained control of the House and regained control of the Senate. Let the post-election Democratic autopsy begin.

Joe Conason of Salon argues that in the blame game which is sure to follow the Democratic flop, party leaders have only themselves to blame.

“Unlike the debacle in 2000, the Democrats have no one but themselves to blame for this defeat. The Republicans had much more money, but they always do. Their schemes to intimidate voters were appalling, but didn’t provide the margin of victory in places like Florida and Texas. The Green Party had a will to spoil, but lacked the capacity to make any real difference. Across the country, from California to New York, bland and compromised Democratic candidates were unable to motivate their own base, let alone attract the independents required to win close races. Only where the issues were predominantly local, as in the campaigns for governor, could the Democrats prevail consistently.”

For the past year, voters have been listening for “a powerful Democratic message about global security, the faltering economy, employment, education and healthcare,” Carnason writes. They never got one.

Alexander Cockburn takes similar aim at the Democratic leadership on Working for Change. Calling the Democrats “a party of ghosts and revenants,” Cockburn argues that the failure of 2002 was created in the ’90s, when the Democratic leadership pushed the party further to the right.

“The problem is, the Democrats have no credibility because they haven’t earned any. No one believes they have an economic strategy, and as we hunker down amidst the rubble of the bubble, we can ask, what were the Democrats doing as that same ’90s bubble swelled? Led by Senator Joe Lieberman they destroyed the regulatory apparatus put in place in the ’30s, after the ’20s bubble, and burst into ecstatic applause every time the federal watchdog of the markets, Alan Greenspan, ambled along to the Hill to tell everyone what a fine job he’d been doing.”

Slate‘s William Saletan joins the critical chorus, hitting the same sore spots: lack of leadership, lack of message, lack of appeal.

“Democrats had a story in the 1990s: Bill Clinton balanced the budget, lowered the debt, drove down interest rates, grew the economy, created jobs, and used government to spread the wealth and help people help themselves. Maybe that story was true; maybe it wasn’t. Either way, Clinton repeated it constantly in the hope that people would begin to think of the Democratic Party as the party of good economic management.

Two years into the Bush administration, the stock market has collapsed, unemployment is up, and the economy is stagnant. The out party — particularly an out party that was the in party during the boom — ought to do well in these circumstances. But as polls have shown, voters don’t think Democrats would handle the economy any better than Bush is handling it.”

Peace in Sri Lanka?

After almost two decades of warfare and tens of thousands of deaths, the warring sides in Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war might finally be headed for peace.

By most accounts, recent peace talks between the rebel Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government have been a rousing success. The IRA-style Tigers have declared their willingness to settle disputes through ballots rather than bullets, and the government has reciprocated by removing the Tigers’ political party from the banned list. As the editors of The New Straits Times note with relief, Sri Lanka seems to have finally come to its senses:

“The road ahead may be bumpy. But at least, the parties’ desire not to be trapped in a deadly no-win game has raised the peace process to a new level.”

Other observers, however, are adopting a “wait-and-see” approach. In Asia Times, G H Peiris cautions that many of the toughest issues still haven’t been addressed, and some of the major players — including sizable factions in the government — still haven’t signed on to the peace process.

“Basic contradictions in the entire approach, ignored for a time in the initial euphoria of peace, have begun to affect public perceptions and impact on the negotiation process. The difficulties of converting slogans and cliches into concrete action have become increasingly apparent. Divisions within the ranks of each negotiating party have become more pronounced. And the opposition to the peace process, though still fairly muted, has gathered momentum, acquiring the potential capacity to disrupt the entire process.”

Still, hopeful signs abound, Barbara Crossette writes in The International Herald Tribune, suggesting that the process which appears to be working in Sri Lanka might be a blueprint for settling other seemingly intractable conflicts worldwide.

“The achievement may offer some lessons in how to bring the right mix of national and international pressures to bear on both a blinkered, culturally insensitive national army and rebels who engage in horrific levels of violence.”

No Immunity for Protest-Busting Police

The Surpreme Court has ruled that two California police officers cannot be shielded from a suit alleging they “used pepper spray on the eyes and faces of environmental activists at three peaceful protests in 1997,” Reuters reports.

The justices rejected an appeal by lawyers for Humboldt County, who argued that the two Sheriff’s Deputies were protected from legal action because they did not use unreasonable force. Nine activists sued after the officers used pepper spray to end several protests over logging in California’s Headwaters Forest.

“The officers confronted protesters who chained themselves together and refused to disperse. After several warnings, the officers applied pepper spray to the protesters’ faces, using a Q-tip to swab it on the corners of their closed eyes. In one instance, the officers sprayed the chemical into the faces of the protesters, according to the lawsuit.”

The decision represents a legal victory for the nine activists and a potentially significant setback for law enforcement. As lawyers for Humboldt County argued, the decision “will force officers to either abandon alternatives such as pepper spray and use ‘hands-on techniques’ that pose risk of injury or give up their duty to make a lawful arrest and simply walk away from the scene.”

A Vote for War?
Remote Control Killing
The Oil Under Iraq
The ‘War on Terror’ in Mauritius
What Next?
Redistricting to Defeat
The Dawn of (Slight) Reform

War Watch
A Vote for War?

Conservatives are crowing following the GOP’s election-night gains. But do the results represent an outright endorsement of war against Iraq? Few pundits on the right are willing to come right out and say something so grandiose — but they’re doing everything they can to suggest it.

Even the editors of The National Review, reveling in the result, shy away from such a fateful claim. But they do assert that the larger issue of national security was an electoral winner for the GOP.

The most obvious interpretation of the election results is probably the correct one: Voters were concerned about national security, and they trusted President Bush and the Republicans on the issue.

On Iraq, the Democrats offered clever and shifting positioning where the voters wanted a clear pro-security stand. On homeland security, they obstructed the president’s proposals to curry favor with their public-sector union supporters. The natural Republican advantage on the issue was augmented by the Democrats’ frittering away of their credibility.”

Also writing in The National Review, Dick Morris plays a similar semantic game. Rather than saying that the vote was an endorsement of Bush’s war plans, Morris suggests that it was an endorsement of the president’s reductionist world view:

“Bush has emerged as a strong wartime leader and Americans have come to count on his steadiness, coolness under fire, and determined resolve to conquer the forces of evil. Uncomplicated, Bush sees the world as black and white — and most Americans agree with him.”

David Brooks of The Weekly Standard is even more oblique, qualifying his analysis of the vote by declaring that Republicans “Republicans should not read a radical ideological mandate into the results.” But Brooks quickly moves on to suggest that the nation has endorsed the Bush team’s stance on terror and defense — a stance which includes the decidedly ‘radical’ doctrine endorsing preemptive attacks.

“[Americans] know that the most important problem facing the country right now is terrorism and security. They know that George W. Bush is basically right on how to approach this problem. They know it is important to send people to Washington to support the president. In key states, they are doing that.”

In fact, while the rampant Republicans dance around the issue, the most unflinching comments are coming from pundits on the left, among them James Ridgeway of The Village Voice.

“The war against Iraq is now a done deal. Casting ballots last night, the voters showed virtually no opposition to attacking Saddam Hussein, instead reinforcing the congressional approval for President Bush’s military aims and sending yet another signal to the United Nations to move or get lost.”

That signal is certainly being received by leaders in Europe. Even as France and Russia mull Washington’s latest revision of its UN resolution on Iraq, Reuters reports that European diplomats are privately concerned that the election “could take the Bush administration further down the path of unilateralism.”

“‘This is not going to make transatlantic relations easier because we have many issues on the table which could be complicated to handle with a Republican president and Congress,’ one diplomat said, citing Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular.

America’s relationship with Europe is hardly alone on the list of likely diplomatic casualties if the administration reads the election as license to harden its approach, Harlan Ullman argues in the Washington Times.

“People worry about possible war with Iraq. But mostly they are worried about issues such as the economy, job and retirement security, health care and education that directly affect them. If Americans do not increasingly come to understand that this nation is at risk because of the international animosity and disdain building against us, then, ultimately, those reactions and conditions are likely to reach back and do further damage to the domestic issues that so dominate politics.”

Remote Control Killing

Did Washington cross a legal and military Rubicon when an unmanned CIA aircraft killed a suspected al Qaeda operative and several others in a car in northern Yemen? Not according to the State Department. As the BBC reports, officials at Foggy Bottom insist that the US remains opposed to ‘targeted killings,’ of the sort the Israeli government has engaged in.

“‘Our policy on targeted killings in the Israeli-Palestinian context has not changed,’ US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Mr Boucher refused to talk about the Yemen attack, but said that Washington’s reasons for opposing the targeted killings of Palestinians might not apply in other circumstances.”

Adrian Hamilton, writing in the London Independent, has no patience for such slippery rationalizing. While Washington may suggest that the war against terror is a new phenomenon requiring new rules of engagement, Hamilton argues that the Bush administration has simply decided that US can exempt itself from the rules the rest of the world must follow.

“America under President George Bush has rejected such internationalism. It has turned its back on applying any of the normal rights given to a citizen within its own borders to those it counts as terrorists abroad.

Like Ariel Sharon, it believes that unlawful deeds exempt their perpetrators from the protection of the law, that in the “war against terror” any tactic is justified, whatever the “collateral” damage. If we say a man is a terrorist, then that is what he or she is. And if we get it wrong, that’s simply a casualty of war.”

The editorial board of The Washington Post tries to make a case for the killings — and for the State Department’s double standard. While the incident may have all the hallmarks of an assassination, it was actually a military engagement in a global war, the Post declares:

“The Yemen operation did not target political or criminal figures, but trained combatants of an organization that has declared war against the United States, that itself has defined the battlefield as global and that recently has landed its own military blows in Yemen.”

That argument isn’t likely to find favor with Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh. As the London Guardian reports, Lindh told the Swedish news agency TT that Washington’s position is undefensible, declaring:

“If the USA is behind this with Yemen’s consent, it is nevertheless a summary execution that violates human rights. If the USA has conducted the attack without Yemen’s permission it is even worse. Then it is a question of unauthorised use of force.”

Even the editors of the London Times, who have offered little but praise for Bush’s war on terror to date, seem concerned by this new development. The existing legal and political restraints placed on the CIA have “clearly become obsolete,” the Times declares, allowing politicians in Washington to entertain the option of “acting as judge and jury within seconds.” That option carries grave risks, the paper declares.

“Who will have overall command of this new technology? What safeguards are there to stop a hasty commander giving the order to eliminate the target before identification has been confirmed and political sanction obtained? And how much will this technology enable, or even encourage, politicians to ignore the restraints of frontiers and logistics to become involved in military decisions?”

Meanwhile, the logic the Bush administration has employed to defend its options is finding a new home in Moscow. As the Moscow Times reports, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, has announced that the Kremlin will no longer be restrained by the country’s borders or standard rules of engagement in its own fight against terrorism — which is little more than the continuation of Moscow’s protracted war against Chechen separatists.

“‘All this may be stunning,’ Ivanov said. ‘But a war has been virtually declared on us. It has neither fronts nor borders nor a visible enemy. But this is a war.'”

War Watch has to wonder how the Post will respond to Ivanov’s argument.

The Oil Under Iraq

The United States, Britain, Russia, France and China are all permanent members of the UN Security Council, which will soon vote on Washington’s latest resolution on Iraq. As Evelyn Iritani and John Daniszewski of the Los Angeles Times report, they are also home to the world’s largest energy companies — all of which are eager to gain access to, or protect their existing hold on, Iraq’s oil reserves.

Even as the nation’s diplomats haggle over the resolution’s language, Iritani and Daniszewski write that an “equally impassioned struggle” is taking place over how Iraq’s oil concessions will be carved up — provided the Bush administration succeeds in its plan for ‘regime change’ in Baghdad. And, while diplomats at the UN continue to insist that their action will not be clouded by such consideration, the people hoping to claim control in Iraq aren’t so circumspect:

“When asked whether the current bartering at the Security Council will have an impact on future oil deals, Salah Shaikhly, an economist and former deputy minister in Iraq who is a leader of a London-based opposition group, replied, ‘We have to look at who helped to free Iraq and who took Saddam’s side at our time of need. As the saying in the West goes, people should be equal. But some should be slightly more equal than others. The fact that Britain and the United States were there for us should give them some slight leverage.'”

Perhaps the only group as vocal as the Iraqi opposition are the managers of Russia’s oil conglomerates. As Tobias Buck and Charles Clover report in the Financial Times, the Russians have a strong reason to be outspoken:

“At one end of the spectrum are Russian companies such as Lukoil, which in 1997 signed a deal to develop Iraq’s giant West Qurna field. The Russians are adamant their agreement should stand even if Mr Hussein is toppled and Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, is thought to be using his support for US intervention as a bargaining chip to secure Russian oil interests in Iraq.”

The ‘War on Terror’ in Mauritius

Last year, President Bush declared that nations around the world would have to decide — either they were with Washington in the fight against terror, or they were with the terrorists. As Faisal Bodi reports in the London Guardian, the government of the island nation of Mauritius has embraced the US message — and ruling party officials have been hunting down terrorists ever since.

“September 11, of course, has been a godsend for the Mauritian government. It has claimed, without any evidence, on an island that has no history of terrorist activity, that Muslim extremists were plotting to use crop sprayers to destroy the country’s sugar cane plantations. And with the cooked-up threat has come further repression, documented by the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

In December 2000 the Mauritian government arrested the leader of the Muslim opposition party, Hizbullah (no relation to the Lebanese “party of God”). Cehl Meeah, an outspoken Islamic scholar, was charged with instructing party supporters to gun down three activists of the MMM-Labour alliance during the 1996 general elections. The charges are based on the testimony of a single witness who was part of the rogue Hizbullah unit that carried out the murders. Hateem Oozeer, a lifelong criminal and drug addict, turned state’s witness in return for de facto immunity from prosecution. It did not matter that two previous statements he had given exonerated Meeah of the crimes – the authorities had their man.”

Daily Briefing
What Next?

With Republicans controlling the House and the Senate, the prevailing wisdom is that President Bush will now have a free hand to pursue his agenda — particularly those initiatives which the Democratic Senate succeeded in blocking.

Edwin Chen and Maura Reynolds of the Los Angeles Times rattle off the most controversial items on the president’s likely to-do list: tax cuts; an energy bill that opens up some of the Arctic National Wildlife; a Department of Homeland Security with limited labor protections; tort reform aimed at curbing medical malpractice suits; and about 80 nominations to the federal bench.

Conservatives are particularly ecstatic about the final item. Declaring that Bush “has been MIA on domestic policy,” for the past year, Jonah Goldberg of The National Review argues that the president must quickly deliver on his promises to the Republican party’s conservative base or risk the possibility that “the GOP could lose the House, the Senate, and the presidency to Al Gore and the forces of Mordor.”

“The first thing Bush has got to do is move some judges through the Senate. Whether he should lead with the most controversial ones or the least is a tricky question. The Left and the Democrats will paint anybody the Republicans confirm as a hate-mongering, Orwellian goose-stepper. So the question is, does that mean you should put the most palatable ones up first, so the Dems look hysterical for no good reason — or do you put the hard-core guys up first because this may be the GOP’s only chance? I don’t know. But I do know that the conservative base demands, expects, and deserves a lot of good judges to be confirmed by the Senate because of this, and Bush needs to placate them right away.”

While Goldberg dreams of judges that will deliver ideological rulings, James Ridgeway of The Village Voice dreads that the Bush administration won’t wait for new judges to begin truncating civil liberties, particularly as they apply to those caught in the Justice Department’s anti-terror net.

“With a conservative congress, the right-wing administration has the green light to reorganize and rewrite constitutional safeguards of civil rights under the regimen of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Certain federal judges have blocked outright or dragged their feet on letting the administration go ahead with unfettered search and seizure, not to mention imprisonment without a hearing or even charges let alone trial. They’ve tried to force the administration to follow the rule of law in dealing with hundreds of 9-11 detainees. A Republican majority means that kind of safeguard will soon be history.”

The other prevailing post-election wisdom is that the Democrats need a total makeover. David Corn, writing in The Nation, argues that the first step in that exercise is simple: dump Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle.

“If the current Democratic leaders took a powder, could Senator Harry Reid, the Democrats’ number-two in the Senate, or Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority whip, do any better? There is no easy way out for the Democrats. But the flip answer is, can they do worse? Neither Daschle nor Gephardt were able to capture the imagination of the public, at a time when, according to the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, Democratic Party identification is declining faster than Republican Party identification.”

Indeed, it’s clear that Corn will get at least half his wish. Gephardt is expected to announce today that he will step down as House Minority Leader. As the Associated Press reports, Gephardt’s departure will set in motion a fight for leadership which could determine whether the party also ditches the House leader’s centrist agenda.

The presumptive contenders in that fight are Pelosi of California and Martin Frost of Texas, who ranked second and third, respectively, behind Gephardt. Already, the first salvos are being fired:

“‘The country moved to the right yesterday and House Democrats won’t win a majority by moving further to the left,’ said Tom Eisenhauer, spokesman for Frost, attempting to depict Pelosi as too liberal to lead the party back into power.

Spokesman Brendan Daly responded for Pelosi. ‘It’s not a matter of ideology. It’s a matter of drawing a clear distinction between the Democratic and Republican Party on issues that the Democrats are united about and that the American people strongly support,’ he said.”

Redistricting to Defeat

Republican and Democratic leaders cut a deal last year, redrawing the nation’s Congressional districts to favor incumbents from both parties. Tuesday, that deal came back to haunt Democrats, as only about a dozen of the 435 House races were at all competitive.

Not only did the gerrymandering result in many Republican incumbents running unopposed, but, as Donald Brownstein of The Los Angeles Times reports, it also heightened the Republicans’ financial advantages, allowing the GOP to “pour huge sums into the few targeted races.”

Redistricting to reward incumbents not only manipulates elections, John Farmer opines in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, it also reinforces a two-party system that is totally unrepresentative of the regional political differences the House is meant to represent:

“The House was to be the cockpit of American politics, the place where political upheaval and change would first surface.

That won’t happen this year – nor is it likely to occur any time in this decade. It hasn’t happened for some time, actually. Why? Because Democrats and Republicans, in what’s nothing short of a nationwide conspiracy, have rigged House districts to virtually assure the re-election of incumbents.”

It doesn’t help that the Supreme Court has repeatedly supported the politicization of the redistricting process in recent years, Stuart Taylor Jr. writes in The Atlantic Monthly. In doing so, Taylor asserts, the court has legitimated a system that makes races less competitive, and — by driving candidates to take extreme positions in order to succeed in primaries — alienates voters.

The Dawn of (Slight) Reform

While Republicans celebrate and Democrats lick their wounds, the new law banning big “soft money” political donations quietly goes into effect. Of course, the statute’s low-profile emergence may be a reflection of its long-term effectiveness.

Predictably, both parties are already busy exploiting the new law’s many loopholes, creating brand-new “independent” and local political action groups to handle the flow of campaign cash.

Writing in The Houston Chronicle, John Samples and Patrick Basham warn that the new loophole-ridden rules may actually reinforce the sleazy practices the original legislation sought to limit:

“The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act will certainly change American politics, but probably not for the better. Elections will be less competitive, interest groups will become wealthier and our political system will become increasingly tied up in the courts. That doesn’t sound like the world reformers aimed to create.”

Meanwhile, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune‘s editorial board, noting both parties’ shameful attempts to sidestep the regulations, opines that individual politicians will have to defend the law against the depredations of their own parties. The measure was never expected to take the money out of politics, the Star-Tribune claims, but it should at least succeed in “putting more distance between big givers and federal decisionmakers.”

True to form, the arch-conservative editors of The Washington Times gloat over the bill’s bleak chances for success, following with an emphatic argument for the virtues of soft money.

“This money will not simply vanish, no matter how much the good-government crowd at Common Cause and the other self-appointed guardians of America’s democratic experience wish it would. Nor should it. Soft money indisputably increases political participation above the level that would occur in its absence. And soft money finances political speech, hardly a commodity in oversupply. In both cases, it has played an integral role in America’s elections.”

The editors of The St. Petersburg Post, agree that the soft money limits are unlikely to prove influential, but they aren’t happy about it. Disgusted by the legal contortions aimed at skirting the new regulations, they wonder if any law, no matter how well-intentioned, can effectively limit the influence of big money:

“While the law may be flawed, it is an earnest effort to take the corrupting influences of special-interest money out of political races. Both the Democratic and the Republican parties gave lip service to that effort, yet they wasted no time in finding ways to make it meaningless.

The lesson is this: Perhaps no law can be written that will force the current crop of politicians and party officials to act ethically.”

Reading the Resolution
Stuck on Regime Change
Afghanistan’s Arms
Debating the Democrats’ Future
More Media Muzzles?
Another Swing at ‘Three Strikes’

War Watch

Reading the Resolution

The resolution on Iraq now being considered by the UN Security Council offers those advocating alternatives to war reason to hope and to despair. In fact, the editorial board of the London Independent argues, the declaration is so vague that the expected vote won’t really settle anything.

“When the wording of a UN resolution is ambiguous like this, its meaning depends crucially on what the permanent members of the Security Council say it means when they pass it. France and Russia, therefore, have considerable scope to claim that the resolution does not automatically authorise military action.

In that sense, therefore, the passing of a resolution solves nothing. If the worst comes to the worst, the US will go to war with only Britain by its side, arguing, as it did in Operation Desert Fox in 1998, that the action has been authorised by the UN.”

Still, the Independent asserts that the vague language is at least better than the “impetuous urgings of the war party in Washington,” particularly since the US resolution downplays any consideration of dumping Saddam Hussein in favor of disarming him.

Of course, the resolution also contains strict conditions that Iraq must meet in order to be considered in compliance, most related to its cooperation with UN arms inspectors. Failing to meet any one of those conditions could provide Washington the trigger it needs to justify an attack. As Ewen MacAskill and Oliver Bukeman of the London Guardian point out, the resolution contains “lots of scope for confusion” and, potentially, friction between Baghdad and the arms inspectors.

“The difficulty of the inspectors’ job is highlighted by the difference of opinion between two former inspectors. Scott Ritter and Richard Butler were doing the same work but reached radically different conclusions.

Mr Ritter claims that of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were destroyed by the time the inspectors left and the country was unlikely to have developed new ones without detection.

Mr Butler has consistently warned of the dangers of Iraq having used the absence of the inspectors to develop weapons.”

Ritter, of course, has suggested that the new inspections will be little more than an exercise in manufacturing an excuse for war. “The US will be doing whatever it can to provoke confrontation,” he told the Guardian. “There is a big group of people in the US that want war.”

The resolution’s language on inspections is attracting the most attention, and most pundits predict that any possible confrontation will result over Iraqi intransigence on those issues. But Paul Belden, writing in Asia Times, argues that another of the resolution’s requirements might prove even riskier:

“Throughout all the posturings, little attention has been paid to another important paragraph — one that could, if the US played its cards right, constitute a hidden and nearly unavoidable (for Saddam) “war trigger”: Paragraph 5. This is the paragraph that lays out the UN’s demand for “immediate, unimpeded, unrestricted, and private access to all officials and other persons” within Iraq.”

Even if the Iraqis meet every demand for an interview, even if they allow every scientist to leave Iraq, the interviews will, eventually, produce contradictory reports, Belden predicts.

“At that point, any inconsistency between or among any two scientists’ accounts of their work inside Iraq – be it howsoever small – would mean that somewhere, somebody was lying.

It wouldn’t matter who. The result would be “further material breach”. The trigger would be pulled.

Stuck on Regime Change

The resolution being considered in New York is, at least on its surface, concerned only with disarming Iraq. But that certainly doesn’t mean the Bush administration’s long-stated goal of deposing Saddam Hussein has disappeared from view. Regime may not be on the table at the UN, but it is very much on the minds of pundits from the left and right.

Among the most notable of that group is Christopher Hitchens, whose support for a war has earned the longstanding Nation contributor a black mark in the books of many progressives. Now, Hitchens is making his argument on Slate; that argument being that Iraq and the world will be better off if the US invades, because Saddam Hussein is going to fall with or without our help and we can at least control the ensuing chaos:

“His regime is on the verge of implosion. It has long passed the point of diminishing returns. Like the Ceausescu edifice in Romania, it is a pyramid balanced on its apex (its powerbase a minority of the Sunni minority), and when it falls, all the consequences of a post-Saddam Iraq will be with us anyway.

To suggest that these consequences — Sunni-Shi’a rivalry, conflict over the boundaries of Kurdistan, possible meddling from Turkey or Iran, vertiginous fluctuations in oil prices and production, social chaos — are attributable only to intervention is to be completely blind to the impending reality. The choices are two and only two — to experience these consequences with an American or international presence or to watch them unfold as if they were none of our business.”

Of course the ‘we should dump Saddam for Iraq’s sake’ argument is hardly new. Salman Rushdie made the same point only last week — albeit on slightly more humanitarian grounds. Joining Hitchens in making the pitch this week is Norah Vincent, whose piece in the Los Angeles Times also retreads Rushdie’s ‘liberals don’t get it’ rhetoric.

“There is an admirably principled stand to be taken against the sometimes bellicose Bush administration’s justifications for war in Iraq, especially when it concerns the fate of already imperiled civilians. But in keeping with its habitual anti-establishment posturing, the left has placed the blame for the alleged atrocities against the Iraqi people almost exclusively on the U.S. rather than on the party most directly responsible for them, Hussein.

This has put the left in the odd position of bewailing crimes committed against the Iraqi people while at the same time doing everything in its power to oppose the only means — violence — of toppling the very perpetrator of these crimes.

War alone, however anathema it may seem on principle to the pacifist contingent, can secure a reprieve for the tortured Iraqi people and is therefore justifiable in humanitarian terms.”

Unfortunately for Hitchens, Vincent, Rushdie and others trying to make a humanitarian case for invasion, most of the groups with recognizable track records on human rights — groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International — aren’t exactly jumping on the bandwagon. In fact, as Le Monde Diplomatique reports, Amnesty is still peeved that the Bush administration is now citing Saddam’s unquestionably shoddy rights record in making a case for war:

“‘Once again,’ Amnesty complained, ‘the human rights record of a country is used selectively to legitimise military actions. The US and other Western governments turned a blind eye to Amnesty International reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and ignored Amnesty International’s campaign on behalf of the thousands of unarmed Kurdish civilians killed in the 1988 attacks on Halabja.

As the debate on whether to use military force against Iraq escalates, the human rights of the Iraqi people, as a direct consequence of any potential military action, is sorely missing from the equation. Life, safety and security of civilians must be the paramount consideration in any action taken to resolve the current human rights and humanitarian crisis. The experience of previous armed intervention in the Gulf has shown that, all too often, civilians become the acceptable casualties of war.'”

Afghanistan’s Arms

Recently, reports have suggested that Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, having fled from Afghanistan, are regrouping in Pakistan, particularly in the southern port city of Karachi. Now, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Afghanistan’s guns seem to be following the same route and falling into some familiar hands.

Recently, the Institute reports, officials in Kabul discovered a sizable load of weapons — 30 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, three PK machine guns, two rocket launchers, 20 hand grenades and 70,000 bullets — in a truck heading for the border.

“The haul highlights a frightening new trade in arms smuggled out of Afghanistan into neighbouring Pakistan. So far this year, the defence ministry says it has seized 475 hauls of weapons, including more than 2,000 rockets, 4,000 land mines, and five million bullets. The arms are moved in cars, trucks and even mules through the mountainous border areas. And there are fears that many of the weapons are falling into the hands of former Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters who are known to be active around the frontier.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Human Rights Watch is taking aim at a powerful warlord whose arsenal has been supplemented by the US. Ismail Khan, the governor of Herat province, has been praised by Washington for his support in fighting the Taliban. But, as the Melbourne Age reports, Human Rights Watch contends that Khan’s version of ruling is little different, the only difference being the ethnicity of the oppressed:

“[T]he report says he has in effect created a mini-nation in a nation, paying little heed to the fledgling central government as he targeted the Pashtun minority for torture and abuse, intimidated the media, stifled free expression and closed avenues for dissent.

It says Herat, the province Mr Khan controls, ‘has remained much as it was under the Taliban: a closed society in which there is no dissent, no criticism of the government, no independent newspapers, no freedom to hold open meetings and no respect for the rule of law’.”

Daily Briefing
Debating the Democrats’ Future

The Democrats are reeling, and pundits of all stripes are weighing in which prescriptions for healing the new sick man of Washington.

In a scathing piece on Working for Change, Adrianna Huffington’s advice boils down to a few simple words: throw the bums out. While skewering Congressional leaders Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, Huffington singles out Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe for special scorn:

“Twelve-step programs teach us that recovery can only begin after you’ve bottomed out. If the Democrats are going to bounce back in 2004, they need to stop living in denial and start accepting responsibility for their spectacular crash-and-burn. Replacing Terry McAuliffe is a good first step. Especially now that the pool of available Democrats with time on their hands just got so much bigger.”

Dumping a few figureheads won’t be enough, argue Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair in Counterpunch. Tracing the party’s illness to a slow-but-steady drift to the right during the 90’s, the pair argue the only cure is a sharp ideological course correction.

“Final verdict? We agree entirely with this assessment by Mark Donham, an Illinois environmentalist who sent it along to us the morning after.

‘If the democrats do not see this as a serious repudiation of their strategy of trying to ‘out republican’ the Republicans, then I think we will continue to see the Democrats become more and more irrelevant. Only if the Democrats embrace a new vision based upon real change, change that will mean taking on the status quo in real ways, not just pandering to the status quo, will they return to power.'”

To conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, a Democratic rush to the left sounds like a winning formula — for Republicans. Making his argument in The National Review with trademark light-handedness, D’Souza declares:

“The Democrats could improve their political fortunes by unequivocally embracing the three central principles of the political Left: anti-Americanism, economic piracy, and moral degeneracy … At first glance, this may not seem like a winning political program. But consider: Anti-Americanism is quite a popular notion these days. Lots of people hate America, and some of those people live in America.”

Still, even some who seem to wish the Democrats well spy real political dangers if the party turns sharply to the left — among them Slate‘s William Saletan.

“It’s true that there’s no reason to vote Democratic if the Democratic candidate is identical to the Republican. There has to be a difference. But it doesn’t follow that the more different the Democrat is, the more votes he’ll get. George McGovern was very different from Richard Nixon. Bill Clinton, in terms of policy, wasn’t so different from George H. W. Bush …

If Democrats are going to settle on a message and a leader, the evidence still shows they’re better off in the center, for the simple reason that this allows them to choose the differences that are most favorable to them. If terrorism persists and the economy remains tepid, I’d bet that the most effective Democratic strategy next time around would be to run as the party of collective security: job security, retirement security, public safety, surveillance of guns and explosives, energy technology, fighting corporate crime, and building international security alliances.”

All tactical considerations aside, Salon‘s Scott Rosenberg argues that Democrats first need to take a page from the Republicans’ playbook and figure out what they actually stand for.

“If the Democratic Party today wants to move out of the wilderness it needs to learn from the Republicans of the 1970s. It needs to take most of that ‘soft money’ and stop spending it on worthless campaign ads and instead start building the framework for an intellectual revitalization of their side of the aisle.

The Democrats just lost the Senate because they had no ideas and no program. (Even when Al Gore offered a spirited attack on Bush’s economic policy he failed to put forth any ideas of his own.) Of course the party faithful didn’t rally — there was nothing to rally behind. Voters need to be inspired by a vision, and until the Democrats find one they will continue to get kicked in the teeth.”

More Media Muzzles?

Progressives generally bemoaned the mainstream media’s shoddy coverage of public dissent in the weeks before Tuesday’s election. Now, Steven Rosenfeld worries on that the Republican victory will further stifle critical voices.

“Forget the ‘liberal media’ myth. Political reporters are often criticized, often rightly so, for being well-paid stenographers for those in power. They’re also known for being infatuated with, and drawn to, what’s new or ascendant. That’s human nature. So the GOP gets to set the agenda and control the rhetoric — framing the debate — even more than it did after ’94. To the victors go the media spoils.”

Moreover, once the GOP controls the executive, legislative and judicial arms of the government, Rosenfeld suggests, it may be difficult for even dedicated members of the Fourth Estate to break away from the spin of a conservative news agenda:

“Let’s just hope that when the GOP’s sweep-induced honeymoon ends, the media will overcome its deference to those in power and report on the realities behind the debates and ‘solutions’ that will be offered.

The duty of the press is to serve as the public’s ombudsman, with independence and skepticism. There may be no other institution in America right now that can offer checks and balances to single-party government.”

Another Swing at ‘Three Strikes’

This week, the Supreme Court began debating the constitutionality of California’s “Three Strikes” law, a 1994 measure which has now been reproduced in 25 other states. Many expect the court to uphold the controversial law, one which delivers stiff sentences for three time offenders — in California’s case, a mandatory 25 years to life.

One of the two cases leading to the Court’s review is that of Leandro Andrade, a heroin-addicted petty thief whose most recent offense — stealing children’s videos worth $153 — could cost him 50 years to life behind bars. As the Court decides whether such sentences amount to cruel and unusual punishment, Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor reports that court-watchers are predicting the decision will shape future forays into mandatory-minimum sentencing.

“If the justices decide the sentences in question are unconstitutionally harsh, that could spark appeals of tough sentences across the country. On the other hand, if the court upholds the sentences, that could effectively dash the hopes of defendants who have been sentenced this way.”

Of course, as Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick reminds us, Andrade’s case has reached the Supreme Court because he is so unlike the “violent, recidivist murderer first targeted by California’s statute.”

“The videos [Andrade] stole from Kmart include Casper, Cinderella, Free Willy 2, and The Santa Clause. If these guys are Hannibal Lecters, their tastes run to the Disney end of the psycho-spectrum.”

Particularly incensed by the cases, Earl Ofari Hutchinson argues on Pacific News Service that California’s law is “a prisoner-rights issue that screams for redress,” but worries that the court will remain “granite-like in its opposition to anything even faintly tilting toward civil liberties in prisoner-rights cases.” Hutchinson criticizes the nation’s prevailing law-and-order mentality that insists on linking violent and petty criminals: “[F]ew are willing to make any distinction between someone who robs a bank or sells or possesses a small amount of cocaine. The assumption is that the cocaine dealer or user today could be the bank robber or murderer tomorrow.”


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If you can part with even just a few bucks, please help us pick up the pace of donations. We simply can’t afford to keep falling behind on our fundraising targets month after month.

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