View from the Loft 

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


Friday, June 20, 2003


Beautiful weather here is expected to continue through the weekend, so it's likely I won't be blogging--so much to do outdoors!

In some good news on a personal level, James and I became the proud caretakers of three baby red-eyed tree frogs yesterday. When they're all folded up, sleeping on the glass sides of the vivarium, they're only an inch long! We feed them 10-day-old crickets and, most likely, soon, flightless gnats (10-day-old crickets can be hard to come by in these parts).

I'm a little nervous about raising them, never having had baby ones before, but also excited. We've wanted some red-eyes to keep our other one, Elf, company after we lost two frogs over the past year or so. They're not easy to find around here. A visit to a herp show didn't pay off, nor did calls to pet stores. Then, out of the blue, we got a call from the store where we'd purchased our first frogs, alerting us to the fact that they'd gotten about 25 babies.

These were born and raised in captivity, which is a real plus. If they make it safely to adulthood, these frogs will live longer than frogs that are taken from the wild, and they won't have the diseases and parasites that can plague wild frogs. We'll be watching and caring for these little ones extra solicitously in the hope that we'll soon have a total of four grown, healthy frogs.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Cultural Sensitivities R Us

No doubt it seemed, to the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) a straightforward enough loyalty oath, as these things go: "I will obey the laws of Iraq and all proclamations, orders and instructions of the Coalition Provisional Authority."

The trouble is that the Iraqis fear that the document is "paving the way in order for the Americans to abolish [their] Iraqi and Islamic identity." Some refuse to sign the forms, and protests have been organized. To this, Bremer and his aides have turned a deaf ear, saying that the issue is just being used by those who want to provoke conflict.

As Bremer moves to de-Baathify Iraq, he has set down certain conditions that must be met if Iraqis expect to have any role in the governing of their country. No wonder the Iraqis feel like wards of the United States. Yet Bremer and his ilk seem to have no awareness of--or no concern for--how these various edicts and rules sound to the Iraqis. Here's as patronizing a quote as you could hope to find in a 19th-century handbook for British colonial administrators:
"They are quite capable intellectually," said Lt. Col. P.J. Dermer, who is working with the civil administration to develop grass-roots democratic practices in Baghdad. "The assets are there. The mentality doesn't exist. They need us. They know it's up to us to walk them through this."
As Iraq Democracy Watch points out,
The American psychology in Iraq is transparently one requiring the infantilization of the people we are occupying. It is as if most Iraqis are not aware that the Americans are not intending to cede real power to them, and as though sporadic gifts of teddy bears, soccer fields, and school renovations will charm and distract them. But this sort of perspective is required to justify the occupation -- as it was with the British, when Kipling wrote his paean to the selflessness of imperialism.
Clueless, heavyhanded, patronizing, the U.S. goes on with its occupation, feeding itself fantasies about bringing liberation and democracy to the Iraqis even as it censors their media, forces them to sign loyalty oaths, creates massive unemployment, tells them what can and cannot be said within their mosques, and drives around in armored luxury cars while the mass of people suffer without adequate electricity or clean water.

We are asking for trouble, and we are going to get it.

"Iraq Sinks into Postwar Morass"

I suppose I could run a "tell me something I don't know" feature every day.

Was this predictable? Yes. Was it inevitable? Again, yes--given the proclivities and blindness of this administration. This was an administration that insisted on believing, against the advice of many, many Middle East experts, that the U.S. would be seen as liberators, that we'd have the country up and running in no time, that we'd be popular, and that we'd instantly lay a little democracy on the Iraqis.

Instead, as a high British official says, "Washington had been caught out by the discovery that Iraq was no longer a functioning country" after the invasion. Ministries were looted, salaries have gone unpaid, and Iraqi officials used to an oppressive regime are unable to make decisions on their own. The British official "said that the chaos at the heart of the coalition was seriously hampering its ability to deliver vital services, such as salaries, electricity and security, to the Iraqi people."

Yet Paul Bremer has a staff of only 600 "to run a country the size of France but with a civil infrastructure on the point of collapse."

Not that he seems too worried, as long as the money's about to flow to the U.S. companies who will be reconstructing Iraq. Naomi Klein asks of Bremer's de-Baathification efforts,
Is he working only to get rid of Baath Party members, or is he also working to shrink the public sector as a whole so that hospitals, schools and even the army are primed for privatization by US firms? Just as reconstruction is the guise for privatization, de-Baathification looks a lot like disguised downsizing.

Similar questions arise from Bremer's chainsaw job on Iraqi companies, already pummeled by almost thirteen years of sanctions and two months of looting. Bremer didn't even wait to get the lights back on in Baghdad, for the dinar to stabilize or for the spare parts to arrive for Iraq's hobbled factories before he declared on May 26 that Iraq was "open for business." Duty-free imported TVs and packaged food flooded across the border, pushing many stressed Iraqi businesses, unable to compete, into bankruptcy. This is how Iraq joined the global "free market": in the dark.

Paul Bremer is, according to Bush, a "can-do" type of person. Indeed he is. In less than a month he has readied large swaths of state activity for corporate takeover, primed the Iraqi market for foreign importers to make a killing by eliminating much of the local competition and made sure there won't be any unpleasant Iraqi government interference--in fact, he's made sure there will be no Iraqi government at all while key economic decisions are made. Bremer is Iraq's one-man IMF.
So what if Iraq's economy can't get on its feet? So what if the country's infrastructure is on the verge of collapse? At least the likes of Halliburton will make its enormous profits. For Bremer, war is a business opportunity.

How about "so this"--our troops being shot at by snipers, violence continuing, massive protests against the U.S. being held by both Sunni and Shi'a, and security being so hard to come by that rebuilding efforts can't even really get started. How about American families who are still getting bad news from the front and Iraqi children who are still being blown up by cluster bomblets?

Can you say quagmire?

CIA in WMD Hunt

Is it just me, or is there some irony in having the CIA hunting for WMD in Iraq?

Is there some reason we should trust the CIA? If Sen. Carl Levin is right, U.S. intelligence officials withheld some information from UN weapons inspectors. Also, we don't know at this point to what extent, if any, the CIA doctored, spun, or exaggerated intelligence reports so they'd say what the Bush administration wanted them to say about WMD in Iraq.

So excuse me if I don't get too excited about the switch from the Pentagon to the CIA in assigning the search for WMD. Either this will be simply one more exercise in futility, or perhaps we'll see them come up with some weapons they themselves planted. It's hard to imagine that any weapons or weapons systems or weapons programs capable of constituting a dire threat to the U.S. can have gone undetected so long.

Well, Which Is It?

Two stories today would seem to contradict each other. The Guardian carries the headline "Straw warns against interference in Iran," while the Evening Standard declares "Special forces 'prepare for Iran attack.'"

On the one hand, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw "gave Washington's hawks notice that Britain would not back interference in Iran," according to the Guardian, while on the other we read that, in the words of reporter Robert Fox, "British and American intelligence and special forces have been put on alert for a conflict with Iran within the next 12 months." Of course, these statements need not be contradictory at all; "interference" might be read as public interference, whereas covert operations (already begun with CIA attempts to establish the scope of the Iran nuclear program) can be undertaken by a government that has no wish, for whatever reason, to make its efforts public.

Straw is talking tough on inspections in Iran but, like the EU, is apparently using a carrot-and-stick approach, with trade agreements hinging on Iran's willingness to bow to UN inspections. Straw reiterated that the UK's approach to Iran differs from that of the U.S., in that "it is one of constructive and conditional engagement with the government of Iran." Conspicuously absent from British pronouncements are the aggressive words of U.S. officials who say repeatedly that Iran's regime must fall.

Still, it would be no surprise if Blair's government continued its sycophantic role with Washington and sent special forces into Iran in the next several months. And it would be in keeping with the Bush administration's policies to use covert operations against Iran, despite the fact that, as Chalmers Johnson, author of Blowback, says, "The Central Intelligence Agency has an almost unblemished record of screwing up every 'secret' armed intervention it ever undertook." The hype on terrorism goes on, with daily calls from neocons like Michael Ledeen for "winning the war against the terror masters," while U.S. policy guarantees in almost every way that the motive for terrorism continues.

With U.S. forces overstretched at the current time, one would hope that Bush and his cronies would think twice about committing forces to Iran, but I'm not counting on it. This is an administration driven by ideology at the expense of common sense and logic, and very little coming out of Washington these days speaks of thoughtfulness and caution. Blair seems to be willing to follow Washington's lead regardless of the national and personal costs involved.

Riots in Benton Harbor

This morning I opened my mailbox to find that the lead CNN story was of rioting in Benton Harbor, MI. Residents set fires, pulled people from cars, and fired gunshots. The crowd was estimated to be around 300 last night, the second night of rioting. An emergency has been declared in the city. Such a declaration would allow the National Guard to be brought in.

The immediate cause of the anger? A high-speed chase, which reached over 100 miles per hour at times, that ended in the death of Terrance Shurn, a 28-year-old motorcyclist. Long-standing tensions with the police department arising from charges of police harassment form the background of this story. And it's not the first time that a high-speed chase has resulted in death. In September 2000, an 11-year-old was struck on a sidewalk and killed during a pursuit by Benton Harbor Township police, the same department responsible for early Monday morning's chase.

Two issues here. One, Benton Harbor is an impoverished, heavily black city (92% of the population is African-American), so it's not hard to imagine a racial component to the tensions between the populace and the police department.
"They harass us, they pull us over for nothing," Evette Taylor said of Benton Township police. "We fed up. When do you say 'Enough!' "
Second, the entire issue of high-speed chases needs to be examined. Such chases are dangerous for police, those fleeing the police, and innocent bystanders who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. A child on a sidewalk does not deserve to be killed because of a high-speed chase. Police are all too willing to use their authority to pursue, at dangerous speeds, suspects who leave their jurisdiction, even when no felonious conduct is suspected. Such chases have occurred over something as minor as expired license plate tabs. As someone who taught community college students majoring in law enforcement, I can tell you that there is more than a little machismo involved in police defense of the high-speed chase.

Combine the mentality that justifies any and all high-speed chases with racism and you have a recipe for disaster.

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