Monthly Archives: August 2004

Politicizing Intelligence: Why Wait for the Czar?

In a blatant attempt to subvert the whole point of the CIA’s Iraq Survey Group’s final report on Saddam’s weapons capability, acting Company Director and Cheney sock-puppet John McLaughlin has ordered the group to concentrate on speculations of what ‘might have been’.

WASHINGTON — Having failed to find banned weapons in Iraq, the CIA is preparing a final report on its search that will speculate on what the deposed regime’s capabilities might have looked like years from now if left unchecked, according to congressional and intelligence officials.The CIA plans for the report, due next month, to project as far as 2008 what Iraq might have achieved in its illegal weapons programs if the United States had not invaded the country last year, the officials said.

The new direction of the inquiry is seen by some officials as an attempt to obscure the fact that no banned weapons — or even evidence of active programs — have been found, and instead emphasize theories that Iraq may have been planning to revive its programs.

The change in focus has angered some intelligence officials and at least one key Democrat in Congress and has brought charges of political motivation.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) protested the decision in a sharply worded letter to acting CIA Director John E. McLaughlin last week. Trying to forecast Iraq’s weapons capabilities four years into the future would be, “by definition, highly speculative” and “inconsistent with the original mission of the Iraq Survey Group,” Harman wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Times.

Such an effort would be a significant departure for a survey group whose primary mission when it was established last year was to locate and destroy stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons that the CIA and other agencies believed were hidden across Iraq.

‘Significant departure’? It’s a complete reversal. McLaughlin’s going to give B/C’04 some cover if he has to reach into FantasyLand with both hands to do it. ‘If this/then that’ speculations can be helpful in intelligence analysis but only as guides for where and when to look for what. As after-the-fact ‘projections’, they’re pointless, nothing more than an exercise in re-writing history. No legitimate intelligence analysis would include such poppycock, and no legitimate intelligence official would ask for it. Two seconds’ worth of thought will tell you why:

Scenario 1: What if Saddam had secret plans to develop nuclear weapons in giant underground labs operated by Pakistani physicists and kidnapped Japanese engineers? Why, by 2008, if he sold every drop of oil in his reserves, he could have enough to RULE THE WORLD!

Scenario 2: What if Saddam had discovered a way to harness the energy of the sun by using thousands of trained Brazilian timors with magnifying glasses focusing on the window of the Oval Office? Why, by 2006 they could be burning a hole right through Bush’s skull!

Scenario 3: What if Saddam was capable of developing a race of mutant lizards who could shoot laser-beams from their eyeballs?

The problems are obvious. The real problem is that the report was supposed to focus on what was found, not what might have been found at some indefinable point in the future by some unknown or undreamt of means.

[S]ome officials familiar with the CIA’s plans for the final report said they thought it was politically motivated and designed to focus the public’s attention on hypothetical future threats.”The case made by the Bush White House was that [Iraq] was an imminent threat that must be dealt with today,” said a senior congressional official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Coming out later and saying [Hussein] would have had the weapons in 2006 or 2008 … is basically a way to justify preemption.”

Bingo. A bullseye first shot out of the box.

It’s yet another Bush/Cheney scam, but that won’t stop the corporate media from wasting endless space and TV time pretending to take it seriously. What the hell–it’s NEWS!

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Yah gotta love the headline:

Bush Opening Social Security Debate Without Saying Much

So at least one major US paper has finally caught onto the act and isn’t afraid to say so. Dig:

Bush is promising to protect existing benefits for current retirees and others who will soon retire, while holding the line on the paycheck deductions that finance Social Security. But he is reiterating his desire to let younger workers begin using for private investment some of the money they pay to the government for the program.Purposefully left unanswered are the most divisive questions — such as what fraction of a worker’s payroll taxes could go into a private investment account instead of the Social Security trust fund, how the government would pay the estimated $1 trillion in transition costs, and how the government would protect retirees whose investments did not turn out well.

Many experts, including some conservatives, also think any meaningful privatization plan would eventually involve some combination of reduced benefits and higher worker contributions. Bush is expected to continue to skirt that issue as well.

Confronting such matters, Republican strategists fear, could make Bush and other GOP candidates vulnerable to attacks in key states such as Florida, where senior voters have a history of punishing candidates who talk of changing Social Security.

“What they’re afraid of is that they’d embrace a particular idea and the other side will demagogue the hell out of it,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has introduced legislation to create private accounts based largely on the recommendations of a commission appointed in 2001 by Bush. Graham is working closely with the White House on the issue. (emphasis added)

Bullshit, Lindsey. What they’re afraid of–what they know–is that if the people ever figure out what they’re really planning to do, the people will have a goddam fit and throw them out faster than Bill O’Reilly can say ‘loony liberal traitors’. The flat fact is, they don’t dare. The seniors would raise hell, the soccer moms would KarPool for Kerry on election day, and 2/3 of the country would react with stunned disbelief followed by outrage. The only reason they’ve survived this long is because they’ve been governing by secret fiat and a lazy corporate press let them get away with it.

What happens if the lazy corporate press wakes up? Curtains, baby, curtains. It’s all over but the wailing and gnashing of conservative teeth.

All Hail the Los Angeles Times!

(Now if only the NYT, WaPo, and the major networks would get a clue….)

They Never Quit

Two summers ago, California’s deregulated electricity market proved to the whole country how unscrupulous corporate operators could–and were perfectly prepared to–take advantage of the lack of govt oversight to extort $$$Billions$$$ by manipulating that market. And what is the CA state govt’s response? Ahnud wants more deregulation, of course. Not surprisingly, there is opposition.

SACRAMENTO — Consumer groups said Wednesday that they might push for a ballot initiative that could close the door on attempts to deregulate California’s electricity market should Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger veto a key power bill making its way through the Legislature.The initiative would ask voters to permanently prohibit manufacturers, big-box stores and other major energy consumers from buying electricity at unregulated prices — a key feature of deregulation scenarios favored by the Schwarzenegger administration, which has said consumers should be allowed to “choose their energy providers.”

“If we can figure out a way to bring this directly to the people of California, I think the response would be overwhelmingly favorable,” said Bob Finkelstein, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco ratepayers advocacy group also known as TURN. “After the [deregulation] experiment blew up in their faces in 2001, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, we’re not going to do that again.’ ”

TURN’s threat to try to decide the future of the state’s electricity market in the voting booth came after a news conference on the statehouse steps aimed at increasing pressure on Schwarzenegger to support a bill by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles).

Nuñez’s bill, AB 2006, represents the first major attempt by lawmakers to revamp California’s electricity generation, transmission and marketing system since a 1996 deregulation law led to rolling blackouts and spiking prices in 2000 and 2001.

Nuñez and his allies say AB 2006 would protect against shortages by requiring that utilities have more than enough electricity on hand to handle demand on the hottest days — either from their own power plants or through long-term contracts with private generating companies. The bill would ensure that utilities such as Southern California Edison Co. could charge their customers rates that were high enough to pay for the cost of building power plants.

The now-rescinded 1996 deregulation took utilities largely out of the power-generating business and forced them to obtain all their electricity on a daily spot market that turned out to be prone to manipulation by traders and private generating companies.

In its current form, the Nuñez bill contains no provisions for a free market for electricity, and Schwarzenegger has telegraphed that he would veto it if it made it to his desk before the Legislature adjourns this month.

The governor has said that he wants lawmakers to pass a deregulation bill and leave other restructuring of the state’s electricity market to the California Public Utilities Commission, whose members are appointed by the governor. Nuñez counters that the issue is so important that it must be fully vetted by elected legislators, not the governor’s appointees, to ensure that small-business and residential customers aren’t hit with sky-high utility bills.

You gotta admire the way these guys can turn their backs on reality, no matter how stark the lesson. What kind of a jackass could live through the deregulation fiasco of 2001 and come out of it proclaiming the need for more deregulation? A Republican, that’s what kind.

Flexibility is not a Republican value. Neither, it would appear, is the most basic recognition of fact. Explains a few things, doesn’t it?

Puppets of Paranoia

The Mighty MIC and the Neoconservatives: What Happened to the ‘Peace Dividend’?

Jim Lobe of the Asia Times in a review of America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order, argues that oil wasn’t the primary reason for the Second Gulf War–neoconservative ideology was.

Big Oil, to the extent it took any position at all on the war, opposed it. As evidence, they cite the unusually public opposition to a unilateral invasion voiced quite publicly by such eminent oil and ruling class-related influentials as former president George H W Bush’s national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and secretary of state James Baker.While they do not deny that some economic interests – construction giants, such as Halliburton and Bechtel, and high-tech arms companies – may have given the push to war some momentum, the decisive factor in their view was ideological, and the ideology, “neo-conservative”.

Powered by both Jewish and non-Jewish neo-conservatives centered in the offices of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney and by White House deference to the solidly pro-Zionist Christian Right, the neo-conservative world view – dedicated to the security of Israel and the primacy of military power in a world of good and evil – emerged after September 11, 2001, as the driving force in President Bush’s foreign policy, as well as the dominant narrative in a cowed and complacent mass media.

He–and the authors–may have a point, though both seem to have interpreted Big Oil’s silence as opposition when it was most probably nothing of the sort. If they were opposed to it, why were representatives of Chevron, Shell, British Petroleum, and other international oil corporations in Dick Cheney’s office in October ’03 pouring over maps and divvying up Irag’s oil fields?

If it’s too simplistic to say the SGW is about oil alone, it’s way too simplistic to say it’s about ideology alone, but Lobe and the authors have nevertheless done some necessary work to redress an imbalance and give the neocons more of the responsibilty they’ve earned for the mess we’re in. The authors–Stefan Halper, a Scowcroft Reaganite, and Jonathan Clarke, a retired British diplomat now at the libertarian Cato Institute–detail the history of neoconservatism from its roots in a reaction to the Holocaust to its development as the most fear-ridden and militaristic world view since Naziism itself.

To Halper and Clarke, the neo-conservative world view revolves around three basic themes: that “the human condition is defined as a choice between good and evil”; that military power and the willingness to use it are the fundamental determinants in relations between states; and that the Middle East and “global Islam” should be the primary focus in US foreign policy.These core beliefs create certain predispositions: analyzing foreign policy in terms of “black-and-white, absolute moral categories”; espousing the “unipolar” power of the United States and disdaining conventional diplomacy, multilateral institutions or international law; seeing international criticism as evidence of “American virtue”; regarding the use of military power as the first, rather than last, resort in dealing with the enemy, particularly when anything less might be considered “appeasement”; and harking back to the Ronald Reagan administration (1981-89) as the exemplar of “moral clarity” in foreign policy.

While all this is true, what it overlooks is the rather neat way the neocon ideology fits into the needs and goals of both Big Oil and the MIC–the Military-Industrial Complex. Eisenhower warned us of its power, its ruthlessness, and its determination to keep the world in turmoil in order to keep itself in business and its profits high in his famous Farewell Speech, but he was talking mainly about the MIC of the late 50’s–a mostly American phenomenon centered on controlling the US govt’s foreign policy in ways that would keep the money flowing from our Treasury to theirs. Since then, the MIC–like every other big corporation–has gone global.

Why the Great ‘Peace Dividend’ Wasn’t Allowed

With the collapse of the Soviet govt in ’89, the end of the Cold War was supposed to mean the end of massive defense budgets in the Free World, defense budgets that were eating up Western treasuries, and a subsequent reapportioning of that money to domestic priorities that had gone begging–literally–in order to feed the MIC. But when Clinton tried to take advantage of that opening, conservatives–and not just the neo kind–started wailing and gnashing their teeth, claiming that Clinton was ‘weakening our military’ and endangering the country. The defense budget was cut somewhat the first two years of his first admin, but when the Republicans–led by arch-neocon Newt Gingrich–took control of the House in ’94, they made bringing the defense budget back up to previous levels a top priority.

They did better than their promise–they increased it over previous levels, mainly by championing large-scale and incredibly expensive-to-develop-and-build military hardware of dubious value that even the Pentagon didn’t want. $$$BILLIONS$$$ were pissed away on white-elephant projects like Star Wars and the B1 bomber. The latter took 20 years before we even saw a prototype; the former has taken a full quarter-century and experts are saying the same thing they were saying 25 years ago: ‘It’s a pipe-dream. It can’t be done.’ Yet Star Wars is still in the budget and a few B1’s have rolled off the assembly line at a cost of a cool $1Bil per copy despite the fact that the USAF has yet to find a legitimate use for them.

As late as last march, Lobe was writing of a study just released by the Center for Defense Information that concluded that more than 20% of the US military budget could be cut without any undue harm whatsoever to our military preparedness.

The report charges that some of the most expensive items in the budget have little or nothing to do with the threats the US confronts in the world today, and calls for a much more integrated approach to determining defense priorities that would include non-military – such as economic assistance and peacekeeping – as well as strictly military programs.The report, “A Unified Security Budget for the United States”, concludes that some US$51 billion of the proposed $230 billion 2005 budget could be saved by reallocating funding within military accounts, while the savings could be used on non-military initiatives that could substantially boost overall security.

“Cutting the Comanche [helicopter] program was a good start,” said Marcus Corbin, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information (CDI), citing one weapon the administration has already said it will cut.

“But our report identifies 10 other programs, including the F-22 fighter and DDX destroyer, that could be safely cut or reconfigured to free up resources for other neglected security priorities, such as diplomatic operations, weapons of mass destruction [WMD] non-proliferation and port container inspection,” he said.

The 23-page report, co-sponsored by CDI, Project for Defense Alternatives (PDA), the Center for Arms Control and Proliferation (CACP), and Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF), among others, comes amid growing public concern over build up of unprecedented fiscal deficits and the impact on them of the rapidly rising defense budget.

From 2000 to 2004, the Pentagon’s budget ballooned by more than 50 percent, bringing it to a level comparable to that of the world’s next 25 biggest military spenders combined, according to the CACP. Moreover, its current proposal for 2005 does not include expenditures for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Pentagon is spending nearly $70 billion this year alone. (emphasis added)

The ‘peace dividend’ got turned over to the military anyway, despite an almost surreal lack of identifiable enemies. Why? The answer is complicated, involving political realities, recent and not-so-recent history, economic imperatives, and imponderable intangibles like fear, anger, and guilt, but the major strands can be identified fairly simply: WWII and the MIC.

The neocons aren’t the only ones whose ideological dogma comes straight out of a response to Germany’s treachery. Much of the hysteria over the Soviets’ imaginary desire for ‘world domination’ stems from a pathological need, mostly of conservatives, to never again be caught napping while a threat builds. The MIC has proven to be extraordinarily adept at exploiting that latent paranoia and aiming it toward concrete objectives: weapons. For 50 years, their most powerful argument has been as bare and as bald as this: ‘Your enemies are everywhere. Buy this weapon and you’ll be safe from them.’

In the same way that African and South/Central American dictators could count on and manipulate US support no matter what heinous crimes they committed, up to and including mass murder, as long as they claimed to be ‘anti-Communist’, the MIC could frighten and bully the US govt into funding their weapons no matter how many ‘cost overruns’, accounting scandals, pricing outrages ($400 for the same hammer that you could buy in a hardware store for $20), or convictions for corruption tainted their record as long as they claimed that what they were doing made the country ‘safer’.

We have fallen so far down the rabbit hole that we allowed the neocons to drive their paranoid fantasies right into the heart of American policy, and we did so because we have been hearing so many different versions of the MIC’s doomsday scenarios over the past half-century that it hardly registers any more who exactly the enemy is, only that there is one. It didn’t matter to us that Saddam had norhing to do with 9/11 or that he was a US ally before the First Gulf War–an ally that we supported with money and, of course, arms, including chemical weapons–only that yet another ‘enemy’ had been identified.

The MIC’s need for enemies and the neocons’ unreasonable fear of them worked together to produce the atmosphere that allowed, encouraged, even required our intense over-reaction to the 9/11 attack, an over-reaction that the neocons and the MIC then channeled into the bogus war that they’d been promoting since the early 90’s. The SGW has two primary directives:

1) To position us to protect Israel;
2) To position us to control and protect the Middle East oil supply.

Those prime directives, fueled ideologically by the neocons and for purely practical purposes by the MIC and Big Oil, have resulted in our now having the largest military budget in our history by any measure you care to use.

NEW YORK – After declining in the post-Cold War era of the early 1990s, global military spending is on the rise again – threatening to break the US$1 trillion barrier this year, according to a group of United Nations-appointed military experts.The 16-member group estimates that military spending will rise to nearly $950 billion by the end of 2004, up from $900 billion in 2003. By contrast, rich nations spend $50 billion to $60 billion on development aid each year.

The 2004 estimates would be “substantially higher if the costs of the major armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were included”, the experts say in a 30-page report released in New York. The US Congress has authorized spending of about $25 billion for Afghanistan and Iraq in 2004, but that is expected to more than double by the end of the year. US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate in May that war spending in Afghanistan and Iraq was approaching about $5 billion a month. He predicted that total costs for 2005 would be $50 billion to $60 billion.

“With the end of the Cold War, global military expenditure started to decrease,” the report said. “Many expected that this would result in a peace dividend as declining military spending and a less confrontational international environment would release financial, technological and human resources for development purposes.”But that never materialized, say the experts, who included retired Brigadier Richard Baly of the UK Department for International Development; Friedrich Groning, deputy commissioner of Germany’s Arms Control and Disarmament Department; Catharina Kipp, director of the Department for Global Security in Sweden; and Prasad Kariyawasam, director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka.

“Despite decades of discussions and proposals on how to release resources from military expenditure for development purposes, the international community has not been able to agree on limiting military expenditure or establishing a ratio of military spending to national development expenditure,” they write.

At the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1970s, global military spending rose above $900 billion. But with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it kept declining, to about $780 billion in 1999. The recent increases are due primarily to a significant rise in the US military budget.

“The United States now accounts for about half of world military spending, meaning that it is spending nearly as much as the rest of the world combined,” said Natalie J Goldring, executive director of the program on global security and disarmament at the University of Maryland. “This is difficult to justify on the basis of known or anticipated threats to US national security.” (emphasis added)

Not ‘difficult’. Impossible. This reckless spending isn’t about ‘known’ or even ‘anticipated’ threats; it’s about threats that have been specially and specifically created out of whole cloth to justify the continued domination of the MIC and the imperial dominance of American hegemony which the neocons insist is the only path to ‘safety’ for both Israel and the US–safety from Islamic terrorists, safety from threats to the oil supply.

As long as we insist on reacting with fear instead of common sense when manipulators and psychopaths try to sell us their nightmares, there will always be another ‘enemy’. If we don’t have any real ones, they’ll make some up. As long as we’re consumed with fighting the last war, whether it be WWII or Viet Nam (itself a reaction to WWII), instead of realistically asssessing the dangers that face us now, not 50 years ago, we will be nothing but puppets of the paranoia and greed that have been leading us by the nose for their own enrichment for the past five decades.

Hussein isn’t Hitler, GWB isn’t FDR, Paul Wolfowitz isn’t Winston Churchill, the neocons aren’t entirely sane, and the MIC cares about nothing but its profits. It’s time to shake the sand from our eyes and wake up.

Federal Bureau of Intimidation

There’s nothing new about this administration (and its cronies at the state level) using institutions of state power for political intimidation, but I have the impression that such actions have been carried out more blatently of late. Recent articles point out that:

(1) Potential visitors to this summer’s political conventions were visited by FBI agents and asked three questions: “…were demonstrators planning violence or other disruptions, did they know anyone who was, and did they realize it was a crime to withhold such information” (emphasis added).

(2) Porter Goss, Bush’s nominee to head the CIA (which Stansfield Turner described as “the worst appointment that’s ever been made”), introduced legislation on June 16 that would allow the president to order the CIA to monitor and arrest American citizens within the United States.

“This language on its face would have allowed President Nixon to authorize the CIA to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters,” Jeffrey H. Smith, who served as general counsel of the CIA between 1995 and 1996, told NEWSWEEK. “I can’t imagine what Porter had in mind.”

Somehow I don’t share Smith’s difficulty imagining that.

(On a related topic, check out Atrios’ very interesting comment.)

(3) Jeb Bush’s Florida cops are intimidating elderly black activists who help friends and neighbors get to the polls. This short article will make your blood boil. Take two minutes out of your day and read the whole thing.

Rummy Don’t Come’Round Much Any More

Since his disgraceful, unsatisfying, and downright spooky appearance before the 9/11 Commission, Donald Rumsfeld sightings have been scarce as hen’s teeth. A devotee of the Sunday news/talk shows who used to make their rounds so often that his easily-skewered habit of asking himself questions he would then go on to answer while his interviewer struggled to get a word in edgeways had become a comedic staple, Rummy in the last few weeks has been noticably absent. Calls for his resignation were followed by Junior’s ludicrous statement that he wouldn’t fire Rumsfeld because he was ‘one of the best Secretaries of Defense this country has ever had’, an endorsement so far over the top that even without Capitol Hill Blue one would have reason to wonder what he was on.

Gail Sheehy, one of our last few real investigative reporters, doesn’t have an answer as to why that might be but she sure does have a lot of questions about his behaviour on 9/11 that she’d like to have answers to. Like where was he for 2 hours while the planes were crashing into the towers?

“Two planes hitting the twin towers did not rise to the level of Rumsfeld’s leaving his office and going to the War Room? How can that be?” asked Mindy Kleinberg, one of the widows known as the Jersey Girls, whose efforts helped create and guide the 9/11 commission. The fact that the final report failed to offer an explanation is one of the infuriating holes in an otherwise praiseworthy accounting.Rumsfeld was missing in action that morning — “out of the loop” by his own admission. The lead military officer that day, Brig. Gen. Montague Winfield, told the commission that the Pentagon’s command center had been essentially leaderless: “For 30 minutes we couldn’t find” Rumsfeld.

For more than two hours after the Federal Aviation Administration became aware that the first plane had been violently overtaken by Middle Eastern men, the man whose job it was to order air cover over Washington did not show up in the Pentagon’s command center. It took him almost two hours to “gain situational awareness,” he told the commission. He didn’t speak to the vice president until 10:39 a.m., according to the report. Since that was more than 30 minutes after the last hijacked plane crashed, it would seem to be an admission of dereliction of duty.

At the very least. In point of fact, the behaviour of everybody in the Bush Admin who was responsible for reacting to news like this was shockingly lackadaisical. Junior sat in a classroom reading a children’s book for almost 10 minutes, Cheney was on the phone but doesn’t seem to have felt pressed to do anything much, and Rummy was out to lunch. He has never offered any explanation of where he was, what he was doing, or why it took so long for him to respond. Why didn’t he know what the rest of us knew? Why didn’t he do his job?

Why wasn’t Rumsfeld able to see on TV what millions of civilians already knew? After the Pentagon was attacked, why did he run outside to play medic instead of moving to the command center and taking charge? The 9/11 report records the fatal confusion in which command center personnel were left: Three minutes after the FAA command center told FAA headquarters in an update that Flight 93 was 29 minutes out of Washington, D.C., the command center said, “Uh, do we want to, uh, think about scrambling aircraft?”FAA headquarters: “Oh, God, I don’t know.”

Command center: “Uh, that’s a decision somebody’s going to have to make probably in the next 10 minutes.”

But nobody did. Three minutes later, Flight 93 was wrestled to the ground by heroic civilians.

How is it that civilians in a hijacked plane were able to communicate with their loved ones, grasp a totally new kind of enemy and weaponry and act to defend the nation’s Capitol, yet the president had “communication problems” on Air Force One and the nation’s defense chief didn’t know what was going on until the horror was all over?

And one more question Sheehy didn’t ask: Why hasn’t the press been all over this? Why is our media so breathlessly riveted to how ‘French’ Kerry is supposed to look when we have a Defense Secretary who doesn’t seem to understand what the word ‘defense’ means? He understands the words ‘pre-emptive strike’ alright. He understands how to start a war that doesn’t defend us from anything, and he knows how to do it on a matchbook cover. But he doesn’t know enough to go to the command center and make decisions that need to be made when the country is actually attacked? And the press couldn’t care less?

This is two scandals in one.

Halliburton Loses $$2B, Shrugs

Halliburton, the Veep’s former corporate incubator, appears to have simply lost almost $$2Bil that it can’t account for–$$$1.8BIL$$$ to be precise, almost exactly 10% of the $18.2 Bil it has in contracts for work in Iraq, and–get this–almost half the $4.2Bil they collected so far. This corporation has lost not a tenth or a quarter or even a third of what it’s been paid. They lost HALF OF IT.

WASHINGTON — Pentagon auditors have found that Halliburton Co. cannot properly document more than $1.8 billion worth of work done under its contracts in Iraq and Kuwait, Army officials said Wednesday.The latest setback for the Houston oil services company came in an audit by the Defense Contract Auditing Agency, which also found that the firm’s system for generating cost estimates used in negotiations with the government was “inadequate.”

The agency recommended that government contracting officials demand fixes within 45 days and seek more detailed information during negotiations with Halliburton, which has contracts worth as much as $18.2 billion in Iraq to feed and house troops and restore the country’s oil infrastructure.

Army contracting officials said they were studying the auditors’ recommendations but had not decided how to proceed, leaving open the question of how the audit would affect the bottom line of Halliburton, which was run by Vice President Dick Cheney from 1995 to 2000.

“What the final outcome will be, I can’t speculate. It’s under review now,” said Dan Carlson, a spokesman for the Army Field Support Command in Rock Island, Ill., which oversees Halliburton’s largest contract in Iraq and Kuwait.

The cost estimate system is used to come up with a price that the government agrees to pay Halliburton as it performs work in Iraq. Later, auditors try to reconcile the estimates with actual costs and determine whether the government has paid too much or too little.

It is important because the government does not want to pay too much to a contractor and have to seek reimbursement later. The audit found that Halliburton’s estimating systems suffered from “a lack of current, accurate and complete cost and pricing data.”

Halliburton defended its system and said it disagreed with the results of the audit, which were first reported Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal.

Oooo, that’s a good one.

So kids, in BushAmerica when you flunk a math test because you’re hopelessly unprepared, you can just tell the teacher you ‘disagree with the results’ of the test. After all, the questions ‘What does 2+2 equal?’ or ‘How much is $18.2 Bil minus $1.8Bil?’ are subject to interpretation. They’re not cut and dried at all. Why, there may be several answers, depending on whether or not the principal of the school used to work for your parents and may want to work for them again.

Company officials said they were working with the government to address issues raised in the report, including the inadequate accounting for work done under the so-called Logcap contract, which supplies logistics aid for U.S. troops.The $1.8 billion amounts to about 42% of the $4.3 billion the company has billed to the U.S. government under the contract. In the past, the company has acknowledged that its work in a war zone has made paperwork difficult.

And for you kids who may live in gang-infested areas where drive-by shootings are a common occurrence and you wake up to gunfire every morning, just say it’s too much for anyone to expect you to keep accurate figures when you’re scrunched down in the bathtub or laying on the floor to do your homework in order not to get hit by stray bullets. Finally, point out that the teacher is really just ‘an advisor’.

Halliburton said it did not expect its financial liquidity to be affected by concerns about the estimating system, or by the possibility that the government could withhold as much as 15% of its payments because of problems with arriving at fixed prices within the contract.The Pentagon audit “is just an opinion,” said Wendy Hall, a Halliburton spokeswoman. “The [auditing agency] is advisory only. They do not have the authority to make final decisions.”

You can always go over the teacher’s head and appeal directly to the principal, who actually secretly still does work for your parents and won’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.

Remember: a failing grade is just a basis for negotiation. Try that–it works for the Vice President’s friends and it will work for you, too.

It’s ‘Morning in America’. Be optimistic. Steal the lunch money from the cafeteria cash register while you’re at it–we’ve got lots more excuses where those came from.

RIP, NOTA: Going Gently Into That Good Night

For those of you who became addicted to the fine writing and even finer level of thought and discussion at Notes on the Atrocities, this does not come as welcome news, and you probably already know it, but Jeff Alworth has decided to close NOTA down. For good. His reasons (given here) are inarguable, but there’s no question that he will be missed even as we respect his choice.

Jeff was always reaching for the truth behind the truth, trying to understand how this or that political or social development/event impacted our lives, where it had come from, where it was going, and how the pieces fit together. He was never content simply to sift the day’s happenings into this or that category, like so many of us. Instead, he worked to pull meaning out of chaos and connections out of isolationism.

Long before I found my own voice as a blogger, Jeff’s NOTA was one of the few blogs I eventually used as a template for my own, sort of. I wanted to do some of the same things he was trying to do. I was–am–not as widely knowledgeable as he is, nor as patient, so I fail more often than I succeed, but his example is always before me and I live up to it when I can.

I’ve said several times–and I’m going to say it again now so get ready to hear something you’ve heard before–that Jeff’s Daily Link was the inspiration for both the Women Blog, Too series and, eventually, LitBlogs‘ attempt to recognize talented bloggers and, hopefully, widen their audience if only a little. His generosity in sharing his success with those struggling to establish a small beach-head in a sea of blogs was extraordinary, and those of us lucky enough to have made his list are grateful for it.

He could be brilliant, he could be maddeningly obtuse, he could be startlingly perceptive or remorselessly pedestrian, but whatever he was at any given moment, he always wrote like an angel, and you gotta admire that in a blogger. Any one of us would be proud to manage half as well during our time in the ‘Sphere.

The death of NOTA is going to leave a gaping hole of good sense, rational discussion, and outstanding writing that isn’t going to be easy to fill. We can try–we owe it, in a sense, to the pioneering example he set, along with some others, that proved blogs could be something more than structureless diatribes and partisan whining–but whether or not we will succeed is a question I wouldn’t even attempt to answer. NOTA set the bar pretty goddammed high and most of us don’t jump all that well.

In the meantime, raise a glass to the death of an old friend and keep an eye on The American Street and Blue Oregon for new posts by the old friend’s creator. May his pen never waver and his ink never dry up.

Emma, we hardly knew ye.

The US Isn’t Behind Chalabi’s Arrest

An article in todays LAT wastes a lot of space airing the hysterical charges of one of Chalabi’s minions.

Mithal Alusi, a member of Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress party, said arrest warrants issued by an Iraqi court over the weekend were part of an international plot that is “bigger than anyone could imagine” to strip Chalabi of his popularity.

Yeah, yeah, blah blah blah. Poor persecuted little Ahmad. The LAT reporters, Henry Chu and Paul Richter, spent so much time on this foolishness that they missed one of the two more important stories around this arrest and buried the other at the bottom of the column.

The story they missed altogether has to do with Chalabi’s successful attempt to burrow into Iraq’s blossoming bureaucracy like a tick into a hound. Ahmad has spent the year-and-a-half since the invasion putting his followers, employees, family and friends in positions that control the everyday life of Iraqis, and while a lot of them will probably use this arrest as an excuse to dump him, a lot won’t. How are they going to handle it? Will they tie up the life of the city even more than it is with red tape and baksheesh? Will they make a concerted attempt to undermine Chalabi’s trial or Allawi’s govt or both? How are they going to respond?

By all accounts, Chalabi has been very shrewd, placing his most valued and trusted employees deep into the Finance Ministry, the Defense Ministry, and the legal system (that’s how Salem got to be in charge of Saddam’s trial), among other vital govt agencies. Yes, Ahmad made enemies in the process of doing that; he was riding high at the time, with the US wind at his back, and he wasn’t any too gentle in his maneuvering, apparently. There were reports that he stepped on a lot of toes, and that he may have used the old Iraqi secret police files that we gave him after the invasion (another untold story: Who ordered that and why?) to blackmail members of the IGC and others coming into the new puppet govt. Chalabists are now located in many of the key chokehold points on the govt grid, and if they worked together, they could bring the activities of the nascent govt to a grinding halt.

Chalabi’s arrest almost certainly has more to do with Allawi trying to break that power than it does with counterfeiting. Not that I think Ahmad is innocent of the charges (it’s just the sort of thing he would try if he was in the position to get away with it) but the evidence appears to be awfully thin.

Ahmad Chalabi is accused of counterfeiting old Iraqi dinars. But Alusi said only about 3,000 counterfeit dinars, worth approximately $2, were found in Chalabi’s office, and they were marked as forgeries with a red stamp from the Iraqi Central Bank. Chalabi, who headed the Finance Committee of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council, has said he was engaged in an effort to stem counterfeiting. Alusi said Chalabi held the forged dinars as part of that effort.A Central Bank official said his agency never sought the counterfeiting charges.

“The Central Bank has not lodged a complaint against any individual regarding money counterfeiting and never requested that such charges be brought,” Sinan Shabibi, the bank’s governor, told the French news agency Agence France-Presse.

And just whose boy is Shabibi?

The political reality is that Allawi has to break Chalabi’s stranglehold or he won’t be in control of his own govt, and he knows it. They have been rivals, jockeying for position as the New Puppet Potentate-in-Waiting; Chalabi chose to burrow into the govt infrastructure, Allawi decided to use his heavy CIA and CPA connections to strike directly for the top. Allawi won, but now he has the problem of cleaning out Chalabi’s die-hard button-men. The best way to kill a poisonous snake is to chop off the head. Allawi’s sword is the countertfeiting charge.

Then there’s the little matter that Ahmad has been running around trying to make a ‘coalition’ out of all the Shi’ite tribes that don’t think they’re represented by the new puppet regime and are looking for a champion. It was a last-ditch act of desperation by a Chalabi looking to build some kind of powerbase, but it could have worked well enough to make him a player and a major thorn in Allawi’s side.

No, the idea that the US is behind Chalabi’s arrest is strictly for the domestic market. The occupation is increasingly hated by more and more of the population, and blaming us is a convenient tactic, nothing more. From the US side, Chalabi is still being defended by Bush Admin neocons and their home-away-from-home, the American Enterprise Institute. While Poor Paul (Wolfowitz) hasn’t made any public statements since Michael Moore showed him wetting his hair down with his own spit, as recently as May he was defending Ahmad, ‘saying that intelligence he had provided saved American lives and helped troops.’ Sure. It killed a lot more, but we’re emphasizing the positive in BushAmerica. In any case, Poor Paul has adopted the BA’s new hands-off policy with regard to Ahmad–he ain’t talking.

[A] Wolfowitz spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

“His future will be decided by the people of Iraq, if he wants to continue to be involved in Iraq ‘s future,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. “This latest investigation, that is a matter for Iraqi authorities to handle.”The State Department, never as close to Chalabi as the White House or Pentagon, also distanced itself. Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, said the charges “are certainly new to us. This is a question of the Iraqi justice system at work. And we are going to play the appropriate role, which is to let that process take its course.”

That cautious distancing does not, however, extend to his other neocon backers. Perle the Pearl, for example, has been actively defending Chalabi every chance he gets.

Richard N. Perle, a former top advisor to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and a leader of the so-called neoconservatives who embraced Chalabi and the war, said in an interview that he believed the warrants were part of an effort against Chalabi undertaken by the Iraqi government with the support of the U.S. government.”I’m sure it’s been encouraged by the U.S.,” Perle said in an interview from Europe.

He said CIA and State Department officials have long opposed Chalabi and have convinced others in the government to move against him. Now officials in the White House oppose Chalabi as well, Perle said.

“It was those reports that led to a decision to destroy him,” Perle said, adding that he believed there was no basis to the reports that Chalabi passed classified information to Iran.

And, of course, the AEI, avid Laurie Mylroie supporter and the place where Gingrich gave his famous speech proposing the stovepiping of raw data to get around the CIA’s pickiness about needing to have actual proof before they’d believe anything Ahmad said, has been in there pitching.

Michael Rubin, a former advisor to the U.S.-led occupation authority in Iraq now at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, said the judge who issued the warrant was unqualified, and that the Bush administration and government of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi wanted to keep Chalabi from gaining influence.Rubin said the Allawi government had moved against Chalabi to prevent him from gaining a role in the upcoming conference

Maybe, but as usual with the NWB’s, Rubin asserts facts without offering either evidence or compelling analysis. Here’s mine: nobody in the BA is smart enough or knowledgable enough about internal Iraqi politics, particularly in their present chaotic state, to predict how this is going to shake out, much less take control of the shaking. The Admin that started a war with ‘plans’ that could have been written on the back of an envelope is not an Admin so canny in the ways of the maze/minefield of Arabic politics that it would dare to pick a winner, much less plot the strategy to get him there.

It’s much easier and safer to do what they’re doing: foster the illusion of Iraqi sovereignty by sitting back and letting the battle play itself out. Chalabi could still become a power–if the trial doesn’t result in a conviction, Ahmad has the right to stump the country as a persecuted victim of US manipulation who successfully beat the Superpower at its own game. He becomes a hero to a certain segment, and can no longer be ignored. Allawi’s taking a helluva gamble, but if he wants to run Iraq without Ahmad nipping at his heels all the time, he doesn’t have much choice.

Read Robert Scheer’s column, ‘One More Chalabi Black Eye’.

Bush’s Got the Bad-Boy Vote Sewed Up

Jim Sleeper in the LAT–

I am looking at a photo of the George W. Bush that you’ve probably never seen before. It’s a sports-action close-up of him at Yale, over a caption written prophetically by a fellow undergraduate more than 30 years ago: “George Bush delivers illegal, but gratifying right hook to opposing ball carrier.”

Never mind that this is a rugby game, alien to most Americans, and that the caption writer’s assessment wasn’t political. I think it explains one reason why Bush hasn’t slid in the polls since John Kerry reported for duty: He owes more than a little something to the “bad boy” vote that no pollster captures as well as this photo and caption do.

Read the rest.

Government by Cronyism

The Carson National Forest in New Mexico is home to alpine meadows, ‘200 species of birds and 60 types of mammals, including one of the state’s largest elk herds’, and is located right next door to the largest Boy Scout wilderness camp in the country. But all of that is less important to the Bush Admin than the fact that a Texas energy corporation that has given $2.3 million to Republican candidates and political action committees.

CARSON NATIONAL FOREST, N.M. — Overriding the opposition of the U.S. Forest Service and New Mexico state officials, a White House energy task force has interceded on behalf of Houston-based El Paso Corp. in its two-year effort to explore for natural gas in a remote part of a national forest next door to America’s largest Boy Scout camp.Forest Service officials discouraged efforts to drill in the Valle Vidal at least three times since the agency acquired the land in 1982, citing concerns about water pollution, wildlife and recreation if a large-scale energy project were approved.

But last week, the agency took the first step toward approving the giant energy company’s proposal to tap into 40,000 acres of alpine meadows in the Carson National Forest. The agency released a report that forecast a high probability of recovering gas from the area and laid out a scenario in which 500 wells could be drilled on the forest’s east side.

The Forest Service’s action has sparked angry opposition from many groups and officials, including New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat who was U.S. secretary of Energy during the Clinton administration. Such disputes are increasingly commonplace in Rocky Mountain states as critics of Bush administration energy policies accuse the White House of repeatedly targeting some of the most cherished wild places for development.

What, the ‘cowboy rancher’? How can that be? Hey, money talks, the environment walks.

[W]hen the Forest Service, in consultation with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, rejected El Paso Corp.’s request in 2002, the company appealed to the administration.”In this environment, we need new natural gas supplies more than ever,” wrote El Paso’s federal government affairs director to Robert W. Middleton, the director of the White House Task Force on Energy Project Streamlining. “We believe that the Valle Vidal Unit could be a vital new source of such supply. Consequently, we would very much appreciate anything you could do to help move this process forward in a timely manner.”

Copies of correspondence made available to The Times show that after El Paso representatives met with Middleton, he instructed the Forest Service to revisit the project.

According to Forest Service staffers at the agency’s Taos office, the [WH Council on Environmental Quality energy] task force began making calls almost every week, beginning in 2003, to inquire about the progress of the Valle Vidal project.”The task force came down through the channels. The change was based on ‘Let’s see what we can do for El Paso Energy,’ ” said Benjamin Romero, public affairs officer for Carson National Forest.

“The overall thought was they are forcing us into expediting it,” said another staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Joanna Prokup, New Mexico’s secretary of energy, minerals and natural resources, said the task force’s message to the Forest Service left little room for interpretation. “El Paso called [Washington] D.C., D.C. called the Forest Service. They’ve put it on the fast track.”

Prokup, whose agency oversees oil and gas operations in the state, opposes any drilling in the Valle Vidal, “both personally and professionally,” she said.

Tough luck, Joanna. The fix is in: a Bush Buddy and major contributor wants the US govt to give him 40,000 acres worth of national forest to turn into ‘an industrial landscape of roads, power lines, pipelines, wells, generators, compressors and waste-water ponds’? Well, he’s going to get it and that’s that. $$$2.3Mil$$$ gets you some consideration, you know. I guess that’s the going price for national forests in the Bush Admin. The country’s for sale to the corporations, didn’t you know that? Especially Texas corporations, most especially Texas energy corporations, and mostest especially of all, Texas energy corporations that contribute over $2Mil to Junior and the GOP. What’s 40,000 acres of pristine wilderness and a little ol’ Boy Scout camp compared to that? Get real.

Oil and gas are important, BIG BUCKS, get it? So the elk and the Boy Scouts can damn well go someplace else (until we decide there’s oil or gas there as well, in which case a few more measly $$Millions$$ will change hands and then they’ll have to move out of there, too). You people just can’t get your priorities straight, can you? It’s simple. All you gotta remember is this:

PROFITS FIRST! Everything else comes last…if at all. You better explain that to the Boy Scouts, because all that hooey they’re feeding them over there in Philmont–

Berger, the former Philmont Ranch staffer, described the Valle Vidal as a vivid outdoor classroom. He said that at a certain point on each backpacking trip, group leaders teach campers the Wilderness Pledge.”We tell them, ‘With a right comes a responsibility.’ With the right to use the land comes a responsibility to protect it.

–is giving them the total wrong idea about values in Bush America, completely bass-ackwards. The only responsibility anybody has to America is to make money, and it don’t much matter who pays the price as long as it’s not the corporations. ‘Get rich however you can or get the hell out of the way of the people who are’, that’s what you should be teaching them. That’s the American Way, and it’s about time they learned that.

‘Responsibility.’ Ptui!

And Another One Bites the Dust

Our old buddy Ahmad Chalabi is about to be arrested by the Iraqi ‘govt’ for–wait for it!–counterfeiting. Is there no end to this man’s talent? Embezzler, swindler, con-artist, double agent, and trouble-maker extraordinaire, Chalabi, the NWB Pin-Up Boy, just can’t seem to keep his hand out of the till or his ass out of a sling. He may have fooled the Neocon Wonder Boys (‘fooled’ them? he wrapped duct tape around his little finger and sold it to them as ‘gray gold’) but the Iraqis know him for what he is and they’re not having any.

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s interim government announced arrest warrants Sunday for special tribunal head Salem Chalabi, on murder charges, and former Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, on counterfeiting charges.Ahmad Chalabi, a longtime opposition leader, was a Pentagon favorite in the years leading up to the Iraq war but fell out of favor in the spring over allegations that his political faction gave flawed intelligence to U.S. agents and leaked American secrets to Iran.

Um, guys? We’re waaaay past the ‘allegations’ phase at this point. If conning gullible idiots like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz was a crime, Ahmad would be in Leavenworth right now.

Ahmad Chalabi and interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi also have frequently clashed over issues such as Allawi’s move to partially reverse the U.S.-sponsored “de-Baathification” process.Salem Chalabi, Ahmad’s nephew, has been in charge of the effort to try ousted President Saddam Hussein on war crimes charges. “They should be arrested and then questioned, and then we will evaluate the evidence, and then if there is enough evidence, they will be sent to trial,” Zuhair Maliky, Iraq’s chief investigating judge, said Sunday.

Spokesmen for the White House and the State Department said the charges were up to the Iraqis to deal with.

Supporters like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz were not available for comment.

Really? Well, they wouldn’t be, would they? They’re all in the basement of Cheney’s new bunker with the doors locked and the blankets pulled up over their heads and ear plugs so they can’t hear the questions, chanting ‘Ahmad is a hero, Ahmad is a national treasure, Ahmad is King’ in unison while they whap each other blindly with rolled-up copies of the 9/11CR. Chalabi, of course, says it’s all a frame.

“I’m going to go back to confront those lies,” Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress party, told CNN, speaking from Tehran. “There is no case here. I will go back to meet those charges head-on…. This judge should recuse himself because he went on many times in the American press attacking me personally on political grounds.”Ahmad Chalabi also accused Maliky of trying to derail Hussein’s trial. “He attacked the court, he attacked the trial of Saddam Hussein in the press,” Chalabi said.

The warrant against Ahmad Chalabi reportedly accuses him of counterfeiting old Iraqi dinars. But Chalabi told CNN that the former Governing Council’s Finance Committee, which he had headed, had been trying to stop the circulation of fake currency and had been in possession of counterfeit bills.

“All this was done under the auspices of the Finance Committee to stop the forgeries and to put a stop to the theft,” he said. “Without a doubt, I’m being set up…. They think they can hurt me by doing this, politically.”

Now that’s vintage Ahmad. He was trying to stop counterfeiting when he was circulating all those counterfeit bills. He’s really just a poor govt clerk who was simply doing his job and now he’s caught up in the middle of a ‘political’ fracas. Pity poor innocent him. They call that gall where I come from; in the next neighborhood over they call it chutzpah.

The charges against Salem are much more serious.

Word of the investigation against Salem Chalabi in connection with the May slaying of Haitham Fadhil, a Finance Ministry official who was delving into the Chalabi family’s real estate holdings, was first reported by The Times last week. Iraq’s top criminal court has been looking into allegations that Salem Chalabi threatened Fadhil days before he was killed.Fadhil, who was shot on May 28, had been preparing a report on reclaiming government-owned real estate. According to the source who spoke earlier with The Times, the document stated that members of the Chalabi family and the Iraqi National Congress had illegally seized hundreds of properties after the U.S.-led invasion last year. The property, the source said, included government offices, mansions and agricultural land.

Salem Chalabi, 41, denied involvement in the slaying and said the allegations were aimed at removing him as executive director of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which will try top officials of Hussein’s government for crimes against humanity.

Well, he’s got his uncle’s way with an excuse, anyway. It’s all a plot to keep him from trying Saddam. Right.

I have been waiting almost a decade to see Chalabi’s inevitable fall from grace. I thought he was going to be outed, finally, five or six years ago when the CIA exposed the INC as a fraud and their ‘intelligence’ as either useless or a pack of lies. But then Newt Gingrich, Laurie Mylroie’s Champion Defender of the Faith and a man who has less experience with intelligence than your Aunt Millie’s cat, began using the American Enterprise Institute as a platform to attack the CIA as a bunch of incompetent hacks who wouldn’t know good intel if they fell in it. In early 2000, he made a speech at AEI in which he proposed the stovepiping of raw data that acolyte Doug Feith would later set up C-TEG to handle, zipping unconfirmed reports that fit the NWB’s preconceptions straight to the Veep’s office without the annoyance of checking to see if anything in them was accurate.

Junior’s ‘election’ and selection of the NWB All-Stars as his Defense Team saved Ahmad’s butt that time. Suddenly he was rehabilitated. Suddenly his lies weren’t lies any more, his unverified Fairy Tales became Holy Writ, not to be challenged, and Ahmad had conned the US Govt into invading Iraq (which wasn’t hard since that’s what they wanted to do anyway) with the idea that he and his intrepid band of expatriate liars–um, Freedom Fighters–would become the new Iraqi govt and hand control of the oilfields over to Chevron (Condi deserved a perk, I guess). It was all going to be so easy, so simple, a walk in a flower-strewn park.

It didn’t work out that way because fantasies never do when you try to make them real. Ahmad, the old chiseler, knew that. The overgrown boys in charge of the US Govt, who’d been shielded from harsh realities all their lives, didn’t have a clue. They were so pampered, so used to getting everything they wanted, that it never dawned on them that what they dreamed about was just that–a dream. But even if it had, in their privileged world Dreams Come True, so why not in Iraq?

Well, now we know. And may it be a lesson to us: Never expect Boys to think like Grown-ups. And for gawd’s-sake don’t give them the keys to the house when you’re gone, to the car on Saturday night, or to the govt anytime. They’re not mature enough to handle them responsibly.

Women Blog, Too! #10: Cyclopatra

Between the Iraq blogs and LitBlogs, I’ve sort of bailed on WBT the last couple of weeks, so to make up for it (a little, anyway) I’ve got a real tasty one for you this week. Cyclopatra is one of those blogs where everything is on the table, from family news to complaints about her work to politics to philosophy to– Well, you get the idea. I’ve seen dozens like this but rarely are they as well-written, as honest, as funny, or as perceptive as this one.

Cyclopatra (the blogger’s handle is the same as the name of her site) is a free-lance programmer with a client-list that is from Hell, and some of my favorite posts are the ones where she vents on this or that management style/technique/ploy designed to drive her nuts and give them an excuse for not paying her at the same time. Perhaps that’s because it warms the cockles of my working-class heart to know that these bozos don’t treat the professionals they deal with any better than they treat us, but it might also be because Cyclopatra is rarely in better form than when she’s ripping their entrails out by the roots and stomping all over them.

He disapproved of my database design, despite not knowing what it is or how to design a database, and despite my assurances that I could report on the data therein in any format he pleased, if he would only deign to whisper that format to my eager ears. He rejected one almost-invisbly-changed screen as too ugly, despite the fact that he designed it himself and demanded the change that I made. And he accused me of not testing my code (for the 15 millionth time; you would think this man had never enountered Windows before, considering his expectation that he should never encounter so much as a hiccup in his software usage, even of beta software) without ever describing a single bug he had enountered – apparently I was too breezy in my description of moving new code to the beta site. Now, I’ll grant that ‘let’s hope nothing explodes’ was a fanciful construction, and that my intended joshing tone was probably not adequately conveyed by the too, too stark screen-text that it was printed in, but is it too much to ask that he wait until he actually finds a bug before he excoriates me for failing to test the code that I write?

Sarcasm as beautifully placed as the knife of an expert between the fourth and fifth ribs at an upward angle is always a pleasure to read, let’s face it; we can dream about saying such things to our own private Nemesis and watching them wilt. It’s as satisfying as a hot fudge sundae on a hot summer day, and one settles into the fantasy with a long, happy sigh. ‘If only I could say that and get away with it….’

But her talent and her interests go further than slicing her enemies up in pieces so small you could feed them to Japanese tourists on a bed of brown rice, pleasant as that is to behold. She is remarkably candid in discussing her life and relationships, even for an anonymous blog. In a post titled ‘Everything is catching, yes, everything is catching on fire’, she gives a riveting account of her grandmother’s recent injury.

Last week my grandmother had to take a letter down to the mailbox. She’s eighty-six, but she’s healthy, and while she doesn’t drive anymore, she’s still fairly spry – she gets tired easily, but she can get around and take care of herself, and she can still cook dinner for the whole family when she gets a yen to.But my dad had had the dogs out last weekend, tied to a lead that gave them plenty of room to run and frolic around while he mowed the lawn. And he didn’t roll up the lead and put it away when he brought the dogs back in. And my grandmother tripped on that lead, and tumbled down the driveway. She broke both her wrists – not just broke them, but fell to the concrete with bloody, white shards of bone poking out just under each hand.

My mother heard her scream as she went down, and she dropped the load of laundry she had been carrying out to the laundry room, and ran out to find out what had happened to my grandmother.

As much of a bad grandchild as it makes me feel, I am glad I wasn’t there at that point – I don’t deal well with other people’s blood and injuries, and I probably would have had hysterics or fainted. My grandmother was trying to sit up, nearly passing out from the pain, with her hands dangling at the ends of her wrists, the bone poking up over the unnatural angles her limbs were making. I know this because my mother told me the story later, in a tone of quiet horror that made it obvious, even over the phone, that she was still seeing the woman who gave birth to her and raised her greying out on the driveway with blood running down her wrists and her skeleton exposed to the air.

This is vivid writing that has you standing on the driveway next to a badly wounded woman, wondering what to do. And even when you’ve finished reading, you find yourself thinking later on: ‘What would I have done if it were my grandmother? Would I have been able to keep it together?’

That kind of ability as a storyteller is a gift, and Cyclopatra is good enough to bring it to subjects not ordinarily thought of as ‘stories’. Sometimes it seems she can make a compelling story out of no more material than what’s inside her head at any given moment. In a post called ‘Epiphany’, she brings that skill to one of those small moments in life when the curtains part and the Wizard is revealed to be in the one place we weren’t looking. One night, while dealing with a coding problem, she had such a moment.

And then it hit me. It was exactly like every description of epiphany you’ve ever read. A sudden blinding light going on in your brain. Being hit upside the head with a hammer you can’t feel. A feeling like the ground shifting underneath my feet: I had been going about it all wrong the entire time.In retrospect, it seemed unbelievably simple. I was trapped in my own assumptions. I was receiving points, therefore I was storing points. But the points themselves didn’t matter – they were just a way of receiving user input. What mattered were the boundaries of the square I was drawing. Once I started to think of it as four lines instead of two points, everything fell into place. I have to rewrite half my code now, but it’ll be easy, because half the mucking around I was doing before was to translate points into lines.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this sort of instantaneous paradigm shift before, where the whole world just sort of moves a few inches to the left and shows you a new picture. I think I’m glad, because as helpful as it was, it was unsettling. Most of the time I like the earth to stay right where it is when I’m standing on it.

Don’t we all? But how many of us recognize the moment when it’s on us? And how many of those would be able to stand their ground with the earth spinning around them and recognize it as ultimately a Good Thing? Cyclopatra is one of those rare humans who can not only see these small moments and recognize their significance, she can describe them in such lively terms that she takes you right into the heart of them–physically, almost. Take the little post she wrote about frozen grapes.

[A] deathly stillness has settled over the city, bringing with it heat and humidity. We haven’t hit the godawful 100+ temperatures of last summer (yet, knock on wood), but we’re all wilting, opening every window and sliding door in the house, praying for a breeze, and trying to find out how much it would cost to get central A/C (more than we can afford).In the midst of our tribulations, though, L has brought us frozen grapes. A memory from her childhood prompted her to place a bag of seedless red grapes in the freezer, and she brings out little bowls of them in the evenings, when the heat refuses to disappear with the sun. Each one is like a miniature popsicle, bursting with sweetness and an icy bite of refreshment. We’re eating them like popcorn.

Heat or no, she almost makes you wish you were there with her.

That’s the charm and the magic of Cyclopatra. Anybody can make lemonade out of lemons; it takes a real master to make a whole summer come alive with a little thing like frozen grapes.

Note: I have only one small complaint about Cyclopatra, and that is its total lack of visual distinction. She’s not only using one of the earliest and least pleasing of Blogger’s templates, she’s done nothing to individualize it. Perhaps a programmer who specializes in making other people’s sites look good is like the carpenter who never fixes his own house–when the long workday is over, the last thing she wants to do is more of the same.

I can understand that but she’s doing her site and her talent a disservice. A blog this good deserves a look that matches its uniqueness, its depth, and its iconoclastic, highly personal flavor.

PS. Be sure to check out her ‘Kossack Blogroll’ (did she spell it wrong intentionally?). It is one of the longest and most eclectic collections of links I’ve ever seen.

Say Again?

A headline in today’s NYT screams: Diplomacy Fails to Slow Advance of Nuclear Arms!

KENNEBUNKPORT, Me., Aug. 7 – American intelligence officials and outside nuclear experts have concluded that the Bush administration’s diplomatic efforts with European and Asian allies have barely slowed the nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea over the past year, and that both have made significant progress.In a tacit acknowledgment that the diplomatic initiatives with European and Asian allies have failed to curtail the programs, senior administration and intelligence officials say they are seeking ways to step up unspecified covert actions intended, in the words of one official, “to disrupt or delay as long as we can” Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.

I’m sorry? What diplomacy? You mean that half-hearted meeting in Asia where the US let Japan do all the heavy lifting and then refused to back its proposals? Or the gesture that doesn’t even qualify as ‘half-hearted’ to have some members of the EU and one or two of the other Arab nations intervene with Iran? the gesture we made just before we abandoned the whole project?

If what the Bush Admin has been doing qualifies as ‘diplomacy’, then I qualify as a nuclear physicist because once I read a book title with the words ‘Nuclear Physics’ in it. Powell has been trying, I grant you, but he has two crucial difficulties: first, he’s doing it on his own and getting no support from Junior; and second, since the UN speech before the onset of the war has been shown to have been made up almost entirely out of whole cloth, he’s got a massive credibility problem–nobody believes anything he says.

I have a radical suggestion to make:

Could we at least try actual diplomacy before we declare it to be a failure? The results might surprise you.

But then, the neocons aren’t really interested in diplomacy, are they? Only in the appearance of it. If it worked, they wouldn’t be able to go ahead with their plans to invade South Korea and Teheran, and that just wouldn’t do.

The Imperium marches on !


A LAT editorial notes that the process of beginning–not doing it, just starting to do it–of obeying the Supreme Court’s order to let the Gitmo detainees have access to lawyers and courts has been moving at the speed of light. A stop light.

Yagman’s efforts to force Justice Department lawyers to justify Gherebi’s continued imprisonment have provoked a blizzard of paperwork, court motions and foot-dragging. But there’s been little progress toward a face-to-face lawyer-client meeting, let alone a hearing on the merits of his case.Gherebi’s case is hardly unique. Lawyers across the country trying to represent Guantanamo clients report that the government is, as one put it, “trying to neutralize the Supreme Court decision.”

The Pentagon has let a few detainees meet with a lawyer as a goodwill gesture, providing the lawyer agrees to let officials listen in and promises not to ask about conditions of the client’s confinement or if he has been abused. However, the government is contesting almost every motion and writ, tying up the cases as it continues to claim, incredibly, that the Guantanamo detainees have no constitutional right of access. At the same time, detainees are pressured to plead their cases before a military panel without the due process guarantees available in federal court, a move some are resisting. (emphasis added)

Gee, I wonder why. Does the term ‘railroaded’ come to mind?

It has been a full two months since the SCOTUS decision and the military authorities at Gitmo haven’t even begun to comply. What’s happening there takes foot-dragging to a whole new level–the level of paying no attention to it whatever. They are simply going on as before while making a few token gestures here and there. After two months it’s fair to ask: ‘Are the Gitmo authorities ignoring the court order? And do they intend to go on ignoring it until they bully the detainees into accepting military tribunals rather than civilian trials?’

Given that we now know that what’s been going on at Gitmo is even worse than the most cynical and pessimistic among us thought, can it be that the military is trying to drag this out until after the election in order to spare Junior yet another scandal? And since the military is, in essence, the final enforcement arm of the govt, who’s going to make them obey the SCOTUS order if they continue to flaunt it? The Florida State Police? (Not that they have jurisdiction, mind you, but they’re the closest.) The National Guard? Are we willing to make the services discipline each other? If the Army continues to pretend the SCOTUS decision is unimportant and doesn’t apply to them, are we going to send in the Navy to bombard Gitmo from the sea and order the Marines to land in full battle gear to take Gitmo by force? I hardly think so.

The Gitmo authorities clearly believe that by being off-shore they are above the law and can do what they like–or not–and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. Well, isn’t that the reason Bush established Gitmo in the first place? So it would be outside the realm of any possible domestic oversight or intervention? Still, it’s hard to believe, even in BushAmerica, that the military would be so contemptuous of civilian control unless they had orders to do so from civilian authorities like, for example, Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld.

The restrictions on the lawyers are telling: maybe they can see their clients but only if they agree not to ask them about ill-treatment and torture? Almost makes you think the military is afraid of the answers, doesn’t it? Only the naive think that the previous scandal caused the Army to abandon what it euphemistically calls its ‘softening-up’ techniques; scaled them back, possibly, but no more. Army officials continue to defend the techniques by asserting that they’re working, providing reams of ‘intelligence’ we wouldn’t otherwise have. Of course the quality of that intelligence is something they rarely address and only when forced to–it seems it’s been pretty useless overall.

So what we have here is a military that has been engaging in at best dubious and at worst illegal interrogation techniques in an off-shore facility patently untouchable by civilian authority–not even the Supreme Court cuts any ice here–that is protecting its own ass and that of the president by thumbing its nose at a legal order from the Highest Court in the Land and practically daring them to do anything about it.

This is getting uglier by the day and nobody is covering it. So what else is new?