View from the Loft 

war and peace, politics, books, rants, the passing parade ...


Saturday, May 31, 2003

Coming Soon: Bush, the Movie

This has been all over the blogs, but for any of my faithful readers (all three of you) who might have missed it, here it is: Bush, the Movie.

Trapped on the other side of the country aboard Air Force One, the President has lost his cool: "If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me! I'll be at home! Waiting for the bastard!"

His Secret Service chief seems taken aback. "But Mr. President . . ."

The President brusquely interrupts him. "Try Commander-in-Chief. Whose present command is: Take the President home!"

Was this George W. Bush's moment of resolve on Sept. 11, 2001? Well, not exactly. Actually, the scene took place this month, on a Toronto sound stage.

The histrionics, filmed for a two-hour television movie to be broadcast this September, are as close as you can get to an official White House account of its activities at the outset of the war on terrorism.

The Globe and Mail, privy to a copy of the script, says that it "reveals a prime-time drama starring a nearly infallible, heroic president with little or no dissension in his ranks and a penchant for delivering articulate, stirring, off-the-cuff addresses to colleagues."


Lionel Chetwynd, the film's creator, felt that he had to rescue the Presiden't image from the "belittling" he saw going on.

Perhaps the most hilarious of the lines so far revealed has Bush saying, "I won't be seeking a declaration of war. With a shadowy enemy, specificity makes that problematic."

Hahahahahaha! Bush saying "specificity"? It beggars belief. (Remember "strategery"?)

For the real Bush, try this.

Who Is Salam Pax? Rory McCarthy of the Guardian Finds Out

Those of us who got hooked on the blogging of Salam Pax before the war on Iraq were relieved to see him resurface after the war. Read about him, and be sure to check the Guardian for his blog every two weeks.

TIA for Airports?

Proposals by the Transportation Security Administration would establish what Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) calls "TIA Lite."

A notice in the Federal Register reveals that the TSA has proposed an “Aviation Security Screening Records” database that would be exempt from several provisions of the 1974 Privacy Act. It also plans to use commercial and governmental databases for passenger data that could screen out potential terrorists before they board commercial flights. Passengers would then be color-coded according to their level of risk. Higher levels of risk would entail increasingly more searching scrutiny.

But the TSA has not made public which databases would be used, what criteria would determine the risk levels, or how a passenger could have himself or herself removed from the "high-risk" category. In addition, inaccuracy and lack of due process have already shown themselves to be troublesome features of CAPPS II, the Computer-Assisted Pre-Screening Program's latest avatar. These are among the problems that worry groups like the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the ACLU.

Already peace activists and government watchdogs have been detained and strip-searched under the CAPPS program because they were on a "no-fly" or "selectee" list. In many instances, the federal government refused to admit that such lists even existed.

For an explanation of the uses and abuses of this kind of government power, read the excellent article by David Jones in In These Times.

Keeping Space Off-Limits--To Everyone But US

Part of the National Security Strategy of the United States calls for U.S. unilateralism in space, and now the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has created the Offensive Counter-Space program to ensure that only the United States will have access to near-Earth space.

The program will have two components, the Counter Communication System and the Counter Surveillance Reconnaissance System. The first will be designed to disrupt other nations' communications networks from space; the second will prevent other countries from using advanced intelligence-gathering technology in air or space.

Needless to say, our allies aren't too happy with the prospect, but Air Force secretary James Roche says our allies will have "no veto power," and Maj. Gen. Judd Blaisdell, director of the Air Force Space Operations Office, says, "We are so dominant in space that I pity a country that would come up against us."

This is scary. Not only do the neocons want to rule the earth, they want to rule space as well. The hubris is almost too much to take in. Apparently no scheme is too grandiose for these guys, nor do they give a damn about alarming and offending our allies. And it is outside the bounds of credibility to think this gang cares one whit about violating yet another treaty, the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Explortion and Use of Outer Space.

Is our Congress aware of this stuff? Maybe we should find out. And maybe we should write letters to newspaper editors and inform people of this incredibly arrogance.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Tell Me Something I Don't Know

"The war has not ended."

Yes, Dubya did land on that aircraft carrier and he did tell us on May 1 that the war was over. But guess what? Since May 2, 32 U.S. troops have died, along with 3 UK soldiers--more deaths than the period from April 10 (the day Baghdad fell) through May 1.

At first we were told that the violence against U.S. troops in the past week was random--unconnected events carried out by one or two angry Iraqis. Now at least some in the military are taking a different line. Says Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of Coalition Joint Task Force-7, "These are not criminal activities, but combat activities." McKiernan believes that the past week's attacks on U.S. troops have come from Saddam Hussein loyalists.

And Gen. William Wallace agrees, saying that we've entered a phase of urban guerilla warfare.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

After all those weeks, nay, months, of insisting that Saddam Hussein had such a huge cache of such lethal weapons, both Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are now singing a different tune.

"It is possible that they decided they would destroy [WMD] prior to a conflict," Rummy said.

No kidding. But if this is true, then didn't Iraq obey the UN resolution?

Meanwhile, Wolfie tells us that WMD wasn't the real reason for the war at all; it was settled on for "bureaucratic reasons" because it was "the one issue that everyone could agree on." One "huge" reason for the invasion of Iraq, according to Wolfowitz: we needed to move our troops.

That's right. At least 5,000 Iraqi civilians killed and over 200 U.S. and UK forces, all so we could get our troops out of Saudi Arabia and put them in Iraq.

Bush continues to defend the idea that there are significant stores of weapons of mass destruction. But two trailers lacking any evidence whatever of biological weapons do not add up to a reason for the invasion of Iraq. Powell told us, and the UN, that Iraq had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax, materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent, and upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. All that, and we haven't found a trace of anything?

Mobile Weapons Lab: Bush's idea of WMD

UPDATE: Slate casts doubt on so-called mobile weapons labs.

Cooked Intelligence

Well, we said it all along, didn't we? And now "a growing number of U.S. national security professionals are accusing the Bush administration of slanting the facts and hijacking the $30 billion intelligence apparatus to justify its rush to war in Iraq." These intelligence professionals include Patrick Lang, a former head of worldwide human intelligence gathering for the Defense Intelligence Agency, which coordinates military intelligence; Vince Cannistraro, a former chief of Central Intelligence Agency counterterrorist operations; Greg Thielmann, who retired in September after 25 years in the State Department, the last four in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research working on weapons; and David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector who is president of the Institute for Science and International Security and who deals with U.S. intelligence officers. In other words, these aren't low-level disaffected hacks.

As if that weren't enough, a leaked document making the rounds shows that Colin Powell and Britain's Jack Straw "privately expressed serious doubts about the quality of intelligence on Iraq's banned weapons programme at the very time they were publicly trumpeting it to get UN support for a war on Iraq," according to the Guardian. Powell was particularly concerned about the four-person Pentagon team set up by Wolfowitz, the office of special plans. This group, which jokingly referred to itself as the "cabal," is widely believed bye skeptics of the administration to have picked and chosen carefully among bits of evidence, using only those bits that could be used to support the invasion of Iraq.

Tony Blair has his troubles, too. A top intelligence officer in Britain says that "Britain's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was rewritten on orders from Prime Minister Tony Blair's government to make it look more dramatic" in the months before the war.

"'The classic example,' the BBC quoted the intelligence officer as saying, 'was the statement that weapons of mass destruction were ready for use (by Iraq) within 45 minutes.'"

Bunker Bust

Remember the opening night of the war, when the U.S. had intelligence that Saddam Hussein was hiding in a bunker? That was the rationale for beginning the war on that particular date. We'd all expected to see "shock and awe" on opening night, but what we got was more restrained, and we were told that the U.S. had had the luck to discover Saddam's hiding place.

Guess what? No bunker.

CBS quoted an army officer as saying, "When we came out here, the primary thing they were looking for was an underground facility, or bodies, forensics, and basically, what they saw was giant holes created. No underground facilities, no bodies."

Is our intelligence the best in the world, or what?

Would Saddam Eat KFC?

In an interview, Scott Taylor, a Canadian war reporter, pointed out yet another example of our fabled intelligence expertise. I'm sure we all recall the bombing of a restaurant where Saddam was thought to be. Over a dozen people were killed in the attack, which turned four nearby houses to rubble and blew out windows of buildings up to 300 feet away.

I don't have the link, but I recall reading long after the fact that the U.S. never sent anyone there to look for evidence, such as DNA. They never verified that Saddam had been killed. The article I read did, however, say that a baby's body was pulled from the rubble.

In any case, according to Scott Taylor, "The possibility of Saddam ever having been there is absolutely zero." The restaurant was an American-style fast food place featuring burgers and greasy fried chicken, complete with paper hats and plastic trays, a place frequented by journalists. Taylor says, "I mean, can you imagine Saddam carrying a plastic tray?"

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Take Action!

It's Wednesday, so it must be time to take action!

And now might be a good time to check out Voice4Change's new Legislative Action Center, where you can send e-mails to your representatives and keep track of how they're voting on the issues.


I wrote last week about the FCC's proposed rule change, which would make mega-media-mergers possible for people like Rupert Murdoch and others who can thereby impose on us their view of the world with few challenges. Read William Safire's editorial against the change (free registration required), and then send a free fax and go on record against the abuse of power being attempted by the FCC.

MoveOn is trying to raise money to place ads in the NYTimes, Washington Post, and Daily Variety against the FCC's proposed change. To see the ad and, if you can, donate some money to this worthy cause, please visit the above link. Yesterday, MoveOn was to meet with the two Democratic members of the FCC to present 15,000 pages of comments opposing the change. Says Eli Pariser, "It's an unprecedented meeting: to our knowledge, FCC Commissioners have never before had to resort to bringing opposing viewpoints literally into the FCC headquarters to make their voices heard." Congress is starting to take notice of the public's opposition to this outrage, and Congress has the power to repudiate the FCC. So please--make your voice heard, and make it possible for MoveOn to direct attention to this crisis through ads.

Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has introduced a bill that will require all voting machines to provide a paper trail that will make votes verifiable. Election officials would be able to use such a paper trail in the event of computer malfunction, hacking, or other irregularities.

Many computer experts and election reform specialists believe that a verifiable paper trail is a necessity to ensure accuracy, integrity, and security in computer-assisted elections. According to Holt,

There have already been several examples of computer error in elections. In the 2002 election, brand new computer voting systems used in Florida lost over 100,000 votes due to a software error. Errors and irregularities were also reported in New Jersey, Missouri, Georgia, Texas, and at least 10 other states.

Contact Congress now and let your representatives know you support this important legislation.

Iraqi Women

Women in Iraq are growing increasingly concerned about their lack of representation in the political process and their shrinking rights in areas dominated by Shi'ite Muslims. Elizabeth Goitein points out what many of us have noticed already: in all the photos and videos of Iraqis filling the streets to protest the American occupation, of Iraqis pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein, of Iraqis on a pilgrimage, no women are to be seen--even though they make up 55% or 60% of the population (by various estimates).

Nor have they been included in plans to determine the fate of Iraq. The United States and the Iraqi expatriate groups seem oblivious to the fact that Iraqi women are the most educated in the Middle East and have enjoyed the greatest freedoms in that area of the world. If the fundamentalist wing of Islam continues to consolidate its influence in parts of Iraq, those freedoms will be at risk. Already it's been reported that women in Shi'ite-controlled cities like Nasiriyeh are returning to the traditional veiled garb--women who once wore Western-style clothing.

Iraqi women are very concerned that the new Iraqi constitution may include elements of Shariah law, the fundamentalist Islamic law that severely restricts womena and relegates them to second-class citizenship, at best. Under Saddam Hussein, the rights of women had already begun to be curtailed, but Shariah law would be much worse. Think Taliban and you'll get the idea.

Rahbiya Momad is one woman who is working to assure women a voice in the creation of the new Iraq. President of the Iraqi Women's League, she has taken over a building in Baghdad, put up a sign, and distributed fliers that call for social, economic, and political protections for women. An immediate problem is that women have not been venturing out into the streets of Baghdad because of the violence and crime that the U.S. has so far not been able to stop. In Baghdad neighborhoods, kidnappings, assault, and rape are hardly rare occurrences in the anarchy that prevails. Yet if women do not make themselves seen and heard, they risk losing their chance to be heard in the process of putting together the new government of Iraq.

The new UN special representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, says that "respect for ... the rights of women" is fundamental to peace and security in Iraq. At least he's saying the right thing. Whether he'll act on it--or will be able to act on it--is a different question. All the good will in the world sometimes runs up against a brick wall when it comes to the rights of women.

And it's not as if the lot of Iraqi women is a magnitude of order better than that of other Middle Eastern women. According to Paula Dobriansky of the Independent Women's Forum at the National Press Club, only one-fourth of Iraqi women can read, and 20% can't find work of any kindo outside of the home.

The formation of a new government can be an opportunity for Iraqi women, for their independence, access to education, civil rights, and ability to choose what kind of life they will live. But if the men running the show right now refuse to recognize the claims of women, if the religious leaders (already calling for all Iraqi women to cover their hair and desist from occupations in the theater) have their way, then women will once again find their faith in America betrayed.

Interesting site that I've added to my links: ElectronicIraq.Net. It's a great source for keeping up to date on the situation in Iraq, including aid and development. You can also find articles on art, music, and culture; media; and news and analysis.

Also, catch Iraq Democracy Watch, a "chronicle of the details of what we are doing" in Iraq, for good or for ill.

Had a great weekend and then somehow didn't get back to the blog next day. I was savoring Monday's experience: planting the upper garden. Every year it's the same ritual, one I never tire of, the magic of planting a single seed and then reaping incredible abundance from it. It's a hopeful, life-affirming thing to do, planting that pumpkin seed and, come September, seeing a vine with several round pumpkins snaking across the earth. All from one seed! I never cease to be amazed.

It's an especially good thing to do on Memorial Day, when we are admonished to remember those who "died for our freedom." I dislike the valorization of military action that such admonishment implies. Also, in actuality, many Americans have died in wars that had nothing to do with freedom. And I resent the memorializing of dead Americans, but not the dead civilians of those nations our military fought in. As Dana Briggs asks, "When will we remember and honor all those, whether U.S. citizens or not, who have 'died' or continue to do so as a result of armed interventions, police actions, liberations, wars on 'terror' and 'drugs' and yes, even the occasional officially declared war?" Today, in Iraq, our soldiers continue to die, and Iraqi civilians continue to die. Death is a fact of life, but Memorial Day fetishizes the "glory" of our military endeavors and attempts to make those deaths justifiable. As a pacifist, I just don't buy it.

I would rather celebrate life, and planting a garden every year is one way to do that. If only we, as a society, spent our time, money, imagination, and thought on life and living instead of on killing, what kind of world might we have? I'd like to find out.

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