Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Impunity and Jack D. Ripper

Bolton's Beit Hanoun Veto-Bad for Israel, Bad for the World.

If an Israeli soldier runs over a protestor like Rachel Corrie with a bulldozer, or shoots a British journalist like James Miller, he is unlikely to suffer any consequences. So we should not be too surprised that the culture of impunity covers the killing of mere Arabs.

It seems that any trigger-happy Israeli private is guaranteed a chain of exculpation all the way through the ranks, through the politicians in Jerusalem, and through Washington to the UN, where John Bolton once again vetoed a much watered down resolution condemning the killings at Beit Hanoun.

It is a much better deal than the fetishes that the Lords Resistance Army believe protects the bearer from harm

Unlikely as it seems, it may even be possible that the slaughter of a sleeping family in Beit Hanoun was simply an accident, a mis-targeting of the artillery. But when you add up the chains of misfirings, the massacre on the beach, the shelling of the UN compound at Khyam, the targeting of Qana-twice, it really takes rapid onset amnesia to make it feasible. The chain of incidents is getting so long that it is stretching the logistics of the IDF's excuse supply to breaking point.

Israeli inquiries regularly and promptly exonerate the IDF from any blame with a series of "dog ate homework" excuses that would be laughable if the subjects were not so tragic.
This time, it was a misfiring targeting system.

On the Gaza beach massacre earlier this year, they announced that yes, well five of their shells fell in the area, but none of them killed the Ghalia family. Their excuses should have been laughed out of court, not least when the HRW reporter discovered fragments of IDF 155mm shells at the site. The Guardian dissected that one as thoroughly as the shell vivisected the family.

At Khyam this year, repeated shelling all day, on clearly marked permanent site, in the face of repeated calls from the UN at local and international level, was just a mistake. As Kofi Annan said "This coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long established and clearly marked UN post at Khiyam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that UN positions would be spared Israeli fire. Furthermore, General Alain Pellegrino, the UN Force Commander in south Lebanon, had been in repeated contact with Israeli officers throughout the day on Tuesday, stressing the need to protect that particular UN position from attack."

At Qana, in 2006, IDF sources claimed that the building had been used by Hezbollah, and even that Hezbollah had blown it up themselves. Human Rights Watch reported, "None of the dozens of international journalists, rescue workers and international observers who visited Qana on July 30 and 31 reported seeing any evidence of Hezbollah military presence in or around the home. Rescue workers recovered no bodies of apparent Hezbollah fighters from inside or near the building."

In 1996, at Qana, the UN had videos of a drone artillery spotter and helicopters hovering above the target at the time of the massacre, which was, remember, yet another clearly marked and mapped UN compound, to which civilians had fled for protection.

That was "due to incorrect targeting based on erroneous data." The IDF claimed that the shells hit the base not because Israeli gunners used outdated maps of the area- the base had not moved for a long time- and that the gunners miscalculated the firing range of the shells.

Incident after incident implies that the IDF either has lousy discipline or lousy training–or both. The evidence suggests that IDF personnel are behaving like brownshirts and are being allowed to get away with what effectively are anti-Arab pogroms. Faced with the levels of incompetence or indiscipline that these incidents reveal, a real professional military would have been cashiering officers and disciplining men. There is no sign of that in the IDF, unless someone refuses to do occupation duties.

Kofi Annan accepted Olmert's assurances that he did not know about the Khyam firings (not, as misreported in some media, that he exonerated the IDF). But it really raises the question of how much control the politicians have over the Israeli military. Several disastrous invasions of Lebanon suggest that if anything the control is the other way.

One only has to look at recent events where IAF planes have gone on bombing runs against French troops in Lebanon and German ships off the coast. It took a French threat to shoot them down before someone restrained the military from their dangerous provocations.

This has serious consequences for Israelis, as well as their neighbors. In Dr Strangelove General Jack D. Ripper described what seems to be the current Israeli political doctrine. "War is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought."

A state with two hundred nuclear warheads hanging about and a seemingly limitless supply of Jack D. Ripper style officers with free use of artillery practicing for the big day, is even more frightening than a state where a few well-aimed shells or rockets can and do regularly sabotage any bold politician's peace plan.

Monday, November 13, 2006


I was on WBAI/Pacifica at the crack of dawn this morning
and this is the link to the show if you want to hear my pre-caffeinated take on events at the UN.


I thought I was rather restrained about Bolton, but then I was half asleep!

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Change of Tone, Not of Direction

Asia Times November 11

The US's new Democratic way

By Ian Williams

NEW YORK - Despite the results of this week's election, US President George W Bush, and of course Vice President Dick Cheney, will still largely have their own way, albeit with some frustrations. Between them Bush and Cheney have raised executive power, already fearsome, to impressive heights, aided by a Congress that has failed to oversee the White House - and media that have largely failed to oversee Congress.

Chastened by the results in which both the House of Representatives and the Senate went to the Democrats, the president may, for a short time at least, try to work in a consensual way with the changed Congress, whose composition is clearly a reflection of the popular verdict on his administration. One suspects that he will only be kidding, however. The real aim will be to split centrist Democrats from their colleagues as Bush seeks to divide and rule.

Previously, that would have been easier, but by a demographic accident, the Democrats with the seniority to move into the crucial committee chairs are mostly old-school liberals, rather than some of the new input who fought their elections by being more conservative than their Republican opponents.

Many of the Democratic incumbents excluded and marginalized by the rampant Republicans over the past decade may not be very merciful in return. At national and at state level, where they also won some significant victories, such as the Massachusetts and New York governors' races, there will be pressure to reverse Republican measures designed to gerrymander seats and suppress votes.

In the Senate, the Democrats, with their paper-thin majority of one, will face problems, as a party generally needs a 10-seat majority for effective control, and US senators are notoriously independent. Just as sufficient Republicans defied their party to prevent the confirmation of John Bolton as United Nations ambassador (Bolton was appointed ambassador in August 2005 during a congressional recess), it only takes the defection of a few quasi-Democrats such as Joseph Lieberman to break the party's strength on key security issues.

On the other hand, Lieberman's centrism is countered by the remarkable but little remarked-on election to the Senate of a self-confessed socialist, Bernie Sanders from Vermont, who will certainly caucus with the Democrats, but could counter any tantrums from Lieberman with his own threat to break ranks.

Even so, among the things that are certainly not going to happen immediately despite the dreams of the fervent grassroots Democrats are an immediate impeachment of Bush and a hasty withdrawal from Iraq. After all, most of these legislators voted for the invasion, and in their often-temporizing way complain about the conduct of the war rather than the invasion itself. Many of the Democratic leadership are considering presidential bids next year and so will impale themselves on their own statesmanship to avoid offending key voting blocs.

For example, John Conyers, who will probably chair the House Judiciary Committee, wants Congress to censure Bush and Cheney for misleading members over the decision to go to war in Iraq, and he has mentioned impeachment. But a newly centered Nancy Pelosi (incoming House Speaker), backed by centrist Democratic leadership types such as Rahm Emanuel, have already pulled him back.

In foreign affairs, on many issues the differences will be in tone rather than substance. Both sides of Congress are fundamentally America-firsters, but the Democrats see sweet-talking and stroking as more effective means of achieving those ends.

In general, the incoming Democrats will be pro-Israel like those they succeed, but probably much more pragmatic about it. While Republicans tended to march to the massed bands of evangelical Christians and Likudniks, the Democrats have customarily had closer ties to the Labor wing of Israeli politics, which is, arguably, marginally more inclined to a genuine peace settlement.

But they will be better informed than their predecessors. For example, New York Congressman Garry Ackerman, tipped to chair the Middle East and Asia Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee, speaks Korean, and shows an educated interest in Asian affairs.

In that sense, the rest of the world can certainly welcome the new Congress, the majority of whose members actually know that other countries exist and have their own ideas about how to do things.

On other issues, the major Democratic figures want a run-down, rather than an immediate withdrawal, of the US presence in Iraq. They support direct talks with North Korea and Iran, and also support India as a counterbalance to China. They are likely to be tougher, to the point of xenophobia, than the Republicans on investment and trade issues.

This they demonstrated over a Dubai firm's failed bid to to run some US ports and the abortive bid by China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) for control of Unocal, the California-based oil-and-gas group. Democrats are deeply concerned about the trade deficit with China, both as a strategic threat to the US and as a source of unemployment for their constituents.

Now that the Democrats have assumed control of the Senate, the most likely chair of the Foreign Relations Committee is Senator Joe Biden, who is on record advocating direct talks with both North Korea and Iran. Like many of his wing of the Democratic Party with close union ties, he is unlikely to nod through free-trade agreements that risk US jobs, so there may well be some bumps in China-US ties as a result.

Biden is also in favor of giving India a pass for its nuclear program, as indeed is his counterpart Tom Lantos, almost certain to become the chair of the House International Relations Committee. A Holocaust survivor, Lantos is, of course, pro-Israel, but not to the point of taking lobby dictation. After initially supporting the war in Iraq, Lantos has called for an exit strategy and is highly critical of the Bush administration's conduct of the war. Lantos has demurred at Japanese hedging on war guilt, which may lead to problems with the new administration in Tokyo, albeit tempered by impatience with China's amassing dollars.

In the House, with a clear Democratic majority, a whole slew of committees will stand in the way of much of the Bush agenda, and their chairs have pledged themselves to roll back many of the steps of the past few years, notably those that have reduced taxes on the affluent. They will push for an increased minimum wage, more access to health care, and curbs on powerful pharmaceutical companies.

Charles Rangel, the New York veteran, will inherit the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which will bring the power of the purse to reverse the years of Republican domination of the government's social and economic agenda. However, no one is envisaging a Democratic attempt to cut funding for the Iraq war, which would be the most direct way of overcoming presidential authority.

Instead, the buzzword from the centrist Democrats has been "oversight" and the use of the congressional subpoena power to uncover how the Bush administration has mismanaged the war, and to whose benefit. In that context, even while in a minority, Henry Waxman of California has turned the spotlight on the murkier corners of the administration's operations in an admirably dogged way. Recently, he forced disclosure of details of the looting of the Development Fund for Iraq with no-bid contracts by such companies as Halliburton.

Sadly, more often than not, the media were not there when he did it, but as incoming chair of the House Government Reform Committee he can use the bully pulpit to ensure significant attention.

A small cloud on the horizon is the reaction of the financial markets. Rationally, they should be glad that the days of Republican fiscal profligacy are dated. But just as the markets went up on "irrational exuberance", in former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan's memorable phrase, they can be equally irrational in their despondence.

With a falling housing market, a rising deficit and a soft dollar, it may not take that much of a catalyst to have them waving their sell orders. A nose-to-nose with China would do it. Of course it would be in no one's interest. But neither was World War I. An unstable situation, like the present US economy, does not have the resilience to take much of a push.

Ian Williams is author of Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past, Nation Books, New York.

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bolton hangin' in there.

Dead Man Talking?

Today's Bush administration decision to nominate Bolton to the lame duck Senate answered my question, "What legal rabbit would they pull out of a hat to keep Bolton there?"

Senator Lincoln Chafee, still a man of integrity despite his defeat, promptly announced that he had not changed his mind about opposing Bolton. Senator Chris Dodd equally promptly threatened a filibuster.

So one cannot help wondering whether they know something we don't or are just afflicted with an Alamo complex.

In some ways the nomination is almost reassuring. After the White House shoehorned in their candidate in as head of the World Food Programme, I woke up in the middle of the night wondering whether there would be a move to twist the Secretary General's arm to appoint Bolton as Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping (now there's a contradiction!) or to replace previous presidential patronage appointee Chris Burnham as USG for Management.

It is surprising that like some hot gospelling preachers are so obsessed with sin that they can't tear themselves away with it, Bolton's obsession with the UN keeps him wanting to get close to it. So while he says that all Kofi Annan's appointees lose their mandates at the stroke of midnight, he, who never had an official mandate from the US government anyway, wants to eke one out after an election in which the American public overwhelmingly rejected the policies that he has represented so vociferously.

Maybe the UN Association of the USA should offer him a job to keep him out of harm's way while he indulges his fantasies.

One Person, one vote, but how many fixes?

Books I am Reading.
Review from Tribune 3 November

One person, one vote, but how many fixes?
Ian Williams

You Can buy these books here - and help the site
Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit polls, election fraud and the official count. Steven Freeman and Joel Bleifuss, Seven Stories Press

Stealing Democracy: the new politics of voter suppression, Spencer Overton, W.W. Norton.

What counts is not who votes -it's who counts them. That was old saw of Tammany Hall, whose spirit is alive and well in the US.
Last week, New York's Sullivan County responded to my attempt to register to vote with a demand for a photocopy of my driving license, or the last four digits of my social security number, before it would put me on the electoral roll. The experience gives some hint of why only some 70% of Americans eligible to vote are actually on the electoral registers. A driving license, access to a photocopier, even the motivation to get a 39 cent stamp and stick it on the envelop, all help winnow out poor and disadvantaged voters.

Spencer Overton goes on to detail how many of those who make it onto the register do not make it to the polls, while Steve Freeman and Joel Bleifuss show that even if they do, their opinions may well end up being ignored.

These books deal with two sets of problems with American democracy. One is the question of access to the polls-and the second dealt with by Freeman and Bleifuss is what happens if and when the votes are cast. Interestingly, neither of them bother with the third, the financial barriers that now make it almost impossible for anyone not a multi--millionaire, or at least backed by multimillionaires, to become a successful candidate.

But even without dealing with the money that is at the root of much of the feebleness of American democracy, these authors tell chilling tales. Federalism in the US means that there are over 4,600 sets of election regulations nationwide - and many of them were drawn up with Jim Crow

There are great traditions of making voting difficult for political undesirables, and many of the skills honed during the years of Tammany Hall and Jim Crow have been adapted to the modern age of computers and statistics. Spencer Overton considers them all, in a very low-key way. Like many Americans, he assumes the democratic infallibility of the Constitution. He does not mention the Senate, which gives two seats each to huge states like California, and New York, and also to tiny patches like Wyoming and Rhode Island, let alone the Electoral College with its similar bias against large industrial states.

His concern is obstacles to voting, which are indeed a big enough subject in themselves. In Florida and other states, a sentenced felon is off the rolls for ever, a relic of the days when being Black was an arrestable offence in the old Confederacy, and still effective in cutting down the Democratic vote. Across the country, local governments torn between keeping incumbents in office indefinitely, and eliminating as many of the opposition's seats as possible, draw up electoral districts epitomizing the great traditions that added gerrymander to English. Using paranoid-but almost completely unsubstantiated fears of fraudulent voters-mainly Republican local governments make it hard to register and then to vote, knowing that those they repel will be poor, uneducated - and Democratic supporters.

Poor and black districts get few voting booths and machines, and voters face intimidating challenges, ranging from voting day police spot checks on drivers in Florida to lawyers in New York. In the 2004 elections in Ohio, the state that won the election for George W. Bush, black voters had to wait hours in the rain -- only to discover that their ballots would not be counted for a variety of spurious bureaucratic excuses invented by the Republican official responsible for conducting the vote. Poll hours and locations are determined by partisan officials, who will adjust them to deter or encourage whichever groups will give the results desired. And then there the mysterious spurious phone calls and leaflets cancelling the election or moving the polling station that are part of the Republican apparatus of "voter suppression."

When the votes are counted is where Overton overlaps with Freeman and Bleifuss. Without the stridency of the conspiracy theorists, but with considerably more assiduity than many in the media, they examine the evidence of the 2004 elections. As Woody Allen said, just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean that someone isn't following me. There is an immense amount of paranoia, from both the left and the right, in the US, but there is also much more dangerous amount of complacency and deference from the media.

Although on election day exit polls showed a clear lead in key states for Kerry, as the official count was tabulated, it was converted into a lead for Bush. The exit polls are not common or garden opinion polls. Thousands of voters in each state are approached on their way out of the polling booths and asked who they voted for. Paid for by a consortium of media outlets, they are highly accurate, not least since they do not assess intentions, but record facts. The US has used exit polls o challenge election results in places like Ukraine and Georgia. Because of three hour time difference between East and West coast, the pollsters have a moratorium on releasing their findings, since it was claimed that calling the results based on East Coast results would stop westerners voting.

Later on election night in 2004, the exit poll figures were "adjusted" to coincide with the declared results, but accidentally the unadjusted poll numbers were posted on CNN's website and downloaded as the day went on. The authors, perhaps wisely, do not go deeply into the motivation - whether the pollsters were conscious abettors of fraud, or just trying to cover their professional rears in the face of an unprecedented discrepancy. In any case, they skewer the official excuses made later.

Freeman and Bleifuss and others subjected the discrepancies to exhaustive statistical analysis. The states where the biggest discrepancies occurred were those under Republican control, and where electronic voting machines had been used. The makers of these machines, coincidentally, were in many cases Republican donors themselves, and refused to allow scrutiny of their software. They do not usually leave any kind of paper trail, so a recount will always produce whatever count has been programmed in.

There is plenty of ground for suspicion, but as the authors say, the US media has a Catch 22, it will not investigate without proof - handed on a plate, and anyone who investigates is ipso facto a paranoid kook. Why didn't the Dems make more fuss? Well for one, they were not entirely innocent themselves - JFK's victory scarcely bore scrutiny. Sadly, America's chattering classes are shocked, shocked, at the very thought that anyone could question the integrity of a government that lied its way into Iraq, runs secret prisons, has done away with judicial process on wiretaps and tortures people kidnapped from around the world. Trust in a government is stretched to credulity when it is extended to a party which staged riots in Florida to stop the vote being counted in 2000, and then used a packed Supreme Court to discard the Republican shibboleth of states rights to declare Bush the winner, without counting the Florida votes.

Reading these books, one cannot help feeling that if Venezuela ran an election like this, the US would be calling for international teams to monitor them. Of course, even British politicians, whether it was by building council homes - or selling them, tried to influence elections with the type of social gerrymandering, that I often suspect motivated Margaret Thatcher more than ideology. The poll-tax meant that many natural (old) Labour voters made themselves scarce when the electoral registers were drawn up, and one cannot help but wonder at the effect of expensive ID cards if they are demanded before voters can cast ballots.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Buying off a Landslide

This article is from this week's Tribune in London, where I try to dissect the mysteries of Mid-Terms for British readers.

Well Done Bernie Sanders!

Joe Kennedy supposedly told his son "Don't buy a single vote more than necessary. I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for a landslide." Karl Rove and the Republicans seem to have bought off the prospect of a Democratic landslide with their disciplined and well-financed campaigns to drive away voters, but such is the strength of public feeling against them that they could not buy off an actual defeat.

Only one third of the Senate was up for election, as opposed to the entire House of Representatives, hence the Democratic victory in the latter. It is interesting that while TV and agency commentators gloried in the victory of pro-war Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman who had lost the Democratic nomination in the primaries to anti-war Ned Lamont, they scarcely mentioned Bernie Sanders (once interviewed for Tribune), an avowed Socialist, who won the Senate seat for Vermont from the Republicans with a comfortable majority-a landslide in fact.

Lieberman's victory depended on Republicans voting for him, and more of them did than Democratic supporters. Interestingly, in the House seats in Connecticut, there were Democrat gains in the slipstream of the Lamont campaign. Also among the surprise gains was the first Muslim in the US Congress Democrat Keith Ellison who won a House seat from Minnesota.

In the House contests, it was the unctuous piety and "social conservatism" of the Republicans that did for them. A whole slew of incumbents lost because of domestic disputes, mistresses, gay lovers and dipping the till, which, while normal behaviour for many Americans, was hardly consonant with the Republicans' vigorous profession of evangelical pulpit values. The sleaze factor underlay the Iraq war to lose many of the seats.

Almost as shocking was the loss of Rhode Island moderate Republican Lincoln Chafee, who was to the Left of many Southern Democrats on many issues. He had for example opposed the confirmation of John Bolton as UN Ambassador. But he was thrown out by a surprisingly large margin because he was in George W. Bush's party. Indeed canny Republican candidates had ducked and dodged to avoid a supportive campaigning visit from the President.

The election also accentuated the regional divide that was apparent in 2004. Democrat gains were mostly in the East and West Coasts, and on the band along the Canadian border leading to the striking divide that led some facetious souls such as myself to call for secession from the Confederacy and unification with the Dominion to the North.

The removal of moderate North Eastern Republicans from places like Vermont and Rhode Island, concentrate the party of Lincoln to its new and ahistorical core in the old Confederacy. It will be interesting to see whether this makes it more or less radically conservative. Rick Santorum, the Senator for Pennsylvania was resoundingly defeated. He was third ranking Republican, despite having views that would have put him with the lunatic fringe anywhere else in the world.

Will Republican strategists learn the lesson from their defeat and shake off their intense conservative radicalism, or will their retreat to the redoubts of the Confederacy cement them as the successors of the Ku Klux Klan, a more sophisticated version of the Old Southern Democrats?

Often forgotten, but crucial to frustrating the Republican consolidation of power are the state and local elections that were on the same ballots. These returned hugely important states such as Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, Arkansas, Colorado and Maryland to Democrat control. In the US, it is the states that control the voting district boundaries, and the voting regulations, so we can expect some reciprocation from new Democratic incumbents to dismantle former gerrymandering practices, and cast down the voter suppression regulations passed by Republican governments, which would help to enhance a Democratic majority in the next elections.

By a happy demographic accident, the new control of the House means that the all-powerful Committee Chairmanships, which go on seniority, will go to a generation of Democrats that precedes the Clintonian New Democrats. They are mostly liberals of the tail end of the FDR generation and onwards, epitomized by the new Speaker of the House (and first woman in the job) Nancy Pelosi, who promised a radical, and designedly vote catching domestic legislative agenda that would begin immediately, and which would challenge the Senate and the White House to risk severe further losses in the future if they disagreed.

The Democratic victory is enough to put the brakes on the White House war chariot – if not enough to stop it in its tracks. Theoretically, the new majority could simply refuse to pay for the Iraq war-but that is extremely unlikely to happen since so many of them voted for it. The best we can hope for perhaps is closer scrutiny of what the White House and Pentagon have been doing, remarkably unchallenged by Congress, which should certainly call some of the dogs of war back to their kennels.

As Henry Cabot Lodge said of the United Nations when it was founded, the election results will not take the US to Heaven, but it will certainly reduce the chances of going to Hell, both for Americans, and for others across the globe who were in the sights of the White House's aggressive overseas agenda.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bolton's last meal? We hope!

It would also be useful to get the deja vue all over again syndrome by checking on Bolton's activities back in 1992
and for more details on Shiner look at the assiduous work of Matthew Lee at Inner City Press

Bush Crony to Head UN's Food Program
Ian Williams
The Nation 8 November

As Americans voted Tuesday in what may well be a referendum on Bush Administration policies at home and abroad, US Ambassador John Bolton once again breached UN protocol in New York, this time by prematurely announcing the appointment of former Washington Times editor Josette Shiner to head the World Food Program. Shiner, currently under secretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs, is tasked with pushing American business interests abroad. (A longtime member of Washington Times owner Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, Shiner left the paper in 1997 and the Church in 1996.)
The Bush Administration's practice of favoring of ideological and dynastic loyalty over competence was responsible for FEMA's abysmal performance during Hurricane Katrina; with Shiner's appointment, it may well contribute to similar debacles worldwide. Shiner's main qualification for the Bush appointment was the many years she spent insuring that Moon's Washington Times flew the flag for the most atavistic brands of conservatism in the nation's capital. The other main candidate for the position was another American, the experienced and competent Tony Banbury, head of WFP in Asia.
Americans have long regarded the World Food Program as their own--and with some justification. It was conceptualized by the Eisenhower Administration in 1960 and launched in 1962 as a means of recycling American agricultural surpluses, and because the Kennedy Administration was at loggerheads with Dr. Binay Ranjan Sen, then director of the Food and Agricultural Organization.
The WFP has done some good work, regardless of the marred altruism of its origins, but Oxfam and other critics have raised serious questions about the economic effects on local agricultural viability of throwing free subsidized US food surpluses into countries. Those questions are likely to remain unanswered as Shiner advances the interests of US agribusiness.
Technically, the UN Secretary General makes all these appointments, but until recently, the international body always appointed whomever the US President wanted. Another Bush appointee, Christopher Burnham, who is UN under secretary general for management, overlooked the oath that an international civil servant such as himself takes on appointment to give up national loyalties and actually thanked Bush for his appointment in 2004. "I came here at the request of the White House....My primary loyalty is to the United States of America," Burnham told the Washington Post.
As conservatives in Congress have complained about managerial reforms at the UN, the one issue on which they stay resolutely silent is the patronage system by which the five permanent members of the UN Security Council control the UN's senior positions, setting the customary low standards for all other countries seeking nepotistic appointments for their nationals. Britain and France have generally named technically competent and often, for them, disappointingly independent people for the positions. But the United States has largely considered UN posts to be an extension of the presidential spoils system. These positions are not subject to senatorial confirmation, so the White House can appoint anyone it likes.
Last year, somewhat belatedly--and only after confirming an American, Bush nominee and former US Secretary for Agriculture Ann Veneman, as the head of UNICEF--Kofi Annan had a burst of independence. Annan and his deputy, Mark Malloch Brown, announced that merit and competence would be the measure for candidates for future high office, in place of the traditional "permanent five" nominations for his high-ranking officials. He replaced the British under secretary general for political affairs with a Nigerian, Ibrahim Gambari in a gesture greeted with a little cynicism by African diplomats who had waited nine years for their time in the sun.
The Shiner appointment is an abrupt reversal of this short-lived independence. It is a political disaster in its implications for the United Nations and reform, although it does us the favor of revealing the hypocrisy of John Bolton's earlier insistence that every Annan nominee should be fired as soon as his term finishes at the end of 2006. Bolton has made it plain that such limits do not apply to the Shiner appointment.
With an election that may break the Republican lock on the US government, his own tenure ending and John Bolton's unrenewable term as ambassador about to finish, it is intriguing why Annan should bow to American pressure.
He has always realized the importance of trying to keep Washington engaged in the United Nations for the organization to function, but on the face of it, if ever there was a propitious time for a declaration of independence, this was it.
In a recent interview with The Nation, Annan addressed the issue of appointments. "It is the new Secretary General's responsibility. He's the one who will have to put together his team and the people he has to work with. Obviously in doing that I am sure he will consult member states where it is necessary, but the appointment of senior staff should be the responsibility of the Secretary General without interference. He is the one who will determine whether everyone leaves or he keeps some of them for continuity while he's pressing for change." Technically the WFP job is filled by the Secretary General after consulting FAO director Jacques Diouf, but the Secretary General has the trump card.
Annan did consult his successor, Ban Ki-moon, about the Shiner appointment, who seems to have approved, but Annan's people insist that this was his own decision, which UN staff say was made in the face of strong administration pressure. One only hopes that there was some unwritten trade-off with the White House to make it worthwhile for the organization.
The issue goes beyond Shiner's competence. Washington is pushing for a US general to take over peacekeeping operations, which would destroy the political credibility of UN peacekeeping as a neutral force. Ban may use the Shiner appointment to fend off American demands--or this appointment could be a precursor of many more successful conservative infiltrations into the world body.

No Entry to Heaven - But Bar the Gate to Hell

The prospect of breaking the Republican stranglehold on American government is heartening but we should bear in mind what Henry Cabot Lodge said about the UN in its early days. With the Democrats the way they are, we may block the road to Hell-but there are a lot of dead ends on the way to Heaven!

A Congress with a softer touch

Asia Times November 8
By Ian Williams

NEW YORK - The latest Gallup Poll suggests that the Democrats will take control of the US House of Representatives on Tuesday, and possibly even the Senate. The non-partisan Cook report suggests 30 to 36 Democratic gains in the House, four to seven in the Senate and six to eight governorships.

But there is a lot of small print attached to the prognosis, and even more to prognostication about its effects on the world.

Among the millions of voters, many will be deterred. The Republican Party not only has a finely honed machine for getting out what it considers its own natural voters, stock-owing, sport-utility-vehicle-driving, gun-owning white Christians who shop at Wal-Mart, it also has a viciously effective machine for driving away potential Democratic voters, Latins (except Cubans in Florida) and blacks, and finding ways to prevent them from voting.

The mechanics of voter suppression, purging voter rolls, moving and under-equipping opposition-area polling booths, challenging voters from the wrong racial group and insisting on identification despite court orders, make US democracy seem very fragile. There are times when one wonders whether victory should be handed to the side with the most money, or the most lawyers.

Although it would be a foolhardy Democrat who started the victory party before the last vote was tabulated, the party's success in the elections would be even more of an achievement in the face of Republican tactics that, to be fair, are refined versions of what the old southern Democrats practiced for more than a century.

Balancing the dubious gains of the impending execution of Saddam Hussein are the oozing mudslides of scandal over the Republican Party, both financial and sexual, finalized this weekend when Ted Haggard, the former president of the evangelicals who had called frequently and loudly for anti-gay legislation, was outed as a frequenter of a male prostitute. This may inhibit the enthusiasm of the normally enthusiastic evangelicals for voting. But what may matter is who does the counting, not who does the voting.

So what will change? It will not only be the federal legislature that is changing hands. The signs are that the Democrats could gain control of many state capitols. As many as six to eight governorships could go to the Democrats, which could be deeply significant in the long run.

It has been Republican local government that has gerrymandered congressional seats and practiced voter suppression. The question is whether the loose and fissiparous Democrats have the spine and the discipline to emulate what their predecessors did in office, to re-district Republican seats out of existence and practice voter encouragement to cement their power.

Nationally (and thus internationally), will there be a change in foreign policy as a result of the change in the complexion of Congress? The answer has to be that there will probably not be nearly as much change as many people hope.

First, White House sources are busily leaking that, in between claiming complete confidence that they will maintain control, they will fight "to the death" any attempt by mere elected legislators to frustrate presidential will. Indeed, even with his own party in control, President George W Bush has unconstitutionally usurped authority to declare, even as he signs a bill, that he will not implement it.

The Senate, which may well stay in nominal Republican hands, has recently been much saner than its Republican majority would suggest - and it is the Senate that has more power over foreign affairs, on treaty ratification, confirming ambassadorial appointments and so on. Even with a nominal Republican majority, it has not yet confirmed John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, for example.

The more reality-challenged Republicans have tended to be in the House, and may well lose there. But sadly, on foreign affairs, their Democratic opponents have often gone along with xenophobia. On the key issue of the Iraq war, there is certainly unlikely to be a majority for an immediate withdrawal. The House, both sides, tends to do what the pro-Israel lobby wants, up to a point.

The clear test will be whether that point marks a spot before military action is taken against Iran, or even North Korea. Most Democrats know that the voters who put them into power would not be happy with this, so it may well be that the chances of war are reduced.

Much of the difference will be in degrees rather than acute changes of direction. The Democrats will be less likely to think that China trade is necessarily good for their voters, but that did not stop Bill Clinton being a major proponent of free trade. With an ear to Israel, the Democrats have not always had much time for the United Nations, but even if their views are often every bit as America-first as their rivals, they do tend to be more aware that the rest of the world does not always share that position and see that water-boarding, whether on a national or personal level, is not always the best way to win people or countries around.

That may dampen some of the wilder plans of the White House, but it is difficult to see any striking initiatives coming from Congress, and even more difficult to see them succeeding.

However, even dampening wilder plans will be a major step forward, and it will be interesting to see the dynamics of the relationships within the administration if Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were to use the leverage of Congress to get her allegedly more pragmatic way in the cabinet. Will tension with Iran and North Korea be relaxed? Possibly. But once again, it will not be a major change in policy, more a change of emphasis, with the interventionists in the White House continually pushing to get their way and create facts that would demand Democrat support.

In the end, as Franklin D Roosevelt showed in action and Bill Clinton showed in inaction, the big difference is what a determined president in the White House can push through. Whatever one thinks of the effect or the intent, Bush, scorned and despised by many, has introduced tremendous and unprecedented changes in US government and society. Two more years could still see a lot of changes, but perhaps fewer if his congressional base is captured.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Sinning, Preaching, Hypocrisy and the Saddam Verdict

Let Him Who is Without Sin Tie the First Noose.

As Bush welcomed the news of Saddam's impending hanging, one could almost suspect that his fervour against the Iraqi leader is motivated by the same fears that led Ted Haggard to preach Hellfire so strongly against homosexuality-to expunge the guilt of his White House cabal.

Civilized countries no longer execute criminals-not even someone like Saddam Hussein who is indeed guilty of the most heinous crimes, Ramsey Clark and similar apologists notwithstanding. Even less do they engineer the timing of a death sentence in order to win a Mid-Term election.

If the Iraqi prosecutors had tried and found Saddam guilty of the much bigger massacres using poison gas at Halabja rather than the token case of the mass murder in Dujail in 1982, it would have raised some very interesting questions. Instead, Iraqi prosecutors, backed by American legal brains, showed singular restraint. Of all his crimes, and all his hundreds of thousands of victims, they chose this one incident with 148 dead. That is rather fewer than Palestinians accuse Ariel Sharon of killing in the Sabra and Shatila two months later.

It is of course horrendous, but in scale far less than Saddam achieved in later years, and indeed far less than George W. Bush alleged against the Iraqi leader when he was trying to spur the UN General Assembly into supporting invasion in 2002.

Even so this verdict does firmly establish that the hand that Donald Rumsfeld shook in 1983 was already blood-soaked. But subsequent events show the active complicity of the White House cabal. Following that massacre, and while Saddam was waging a war of aggression against Iran, the US extended billions in agricultural credits, which amounted to a "War for Food" program, to Baghdad. Indeed, in 1984 Washington sold Iraq the Bell helicopters used later in 1988 to spread the poison gas.

The Republican administration and its chums in London sold the fixings for weapons of mass destruction to rain on the Kurds and Iranians, in the war that the UN later (albeit somewhat shamefacedly in the teeth of Washington's displeasure) declared that Saddam Hussein had started.

In the context of the prosecutors' decision to hang the whole case on Dujail, the refusal to refer the case to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, or to a special international tribunal, or even to allow a hybrid international tribunal as in Sierra Leone, acquires a new significance.

When the trial began, John Bolton's pathological opposition to the UN in general and to the International Criminal Court in particular looked like sufficient motive not to internationalize the trial. Rationally of course, the Iraqi legal system was hardly experienced in conducting fair trials on such matters, and the social implications of Sunni perceptions of Shi'a vengeance should have raised alarms. However, the Bush administration ran the Occupation, as their British allies at the time complained, and almost everyone now agrees, with FEMA-like incompetence and ignorance.

In legal matters we know the Bush administration has the A-team. (Just check with the Supreme Court in re Bush vs. Florida in 2000!). They would have realized that if the case had gone to an international tribunal, with an independent prosecutor, then the case would almost certainly have been much more voluminous and extensive, and would have covered crimes committed during the honeymoon initiated by Rumsfeld's visit.

How could the Bush administration applaud the hanging of a man whom they supported when he was carrying out his crimes? He did not become a murderer when he invaded a Kuwait: he was already a recidivist aggressor, murderer and torturer when US diplomats effectively stopped the UN reviewing both his invasion of Iran and his use of poison gas.

In any real justice system, the severity of the former Iraqi leader's crimes after 1982 is in no way diminished by the support that the British, American and even Russian governments offered him while he was carrying out some of the worst of them.

There is a very good case for the ending of impunity for sovereign leaders that international jurisdiction now offers, and to that extent, it is satisfying to see Saddam Hussein brought to justice. But that cause is diminished when the illegal invaders and occupiers of a country set up a court and manipulate a trial and execution for political advantage at home.

That picture of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein should be on every Democratic candidate's web site and election material to remind voters of who not only started the disastrous current war in Iraq, but gave such a hands-up to the murderous career of the current fall-guy.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Memo to Kerry: Criticize, Don't Apologize

Launch the Swift Boats!
Senator John Kerry's recent comments to a group of college students that they could work hard in school or risk getting "stuck in Iraq," put the draft-dodgers in the Bush Administration Republican in paroxysms of predictable rage. Kerry, who first responded with anger at the GOP's criticism and later apologized, should stop being nice about the Deserter-in-Chief. He should be reminding voters that the President who has sent almost 3,000 allies and untold thousands of Iraqis to their deaths deserted his post during the Vietnam War.
Kerry should be reminding voters that while he himself served honorably in Vietnam, a war he disagreed with, almost the entire Bush team dodged the war that they supported. Similarly few if any of the legislators now calling for " staying the course" have any family members out there in Iraq.
He'd also do well to bring to voters' attention the continuing arrogance of the President, as revealed to Bob Woodward in Bush at War: "I'm the commander--see, I don't need to explain--I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
Finally, he should consider drawing public attention to Bush's own conduct during the Vietnam era, drawn from my 2004 book, Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Own Past.


When the government was drafting his contemporaries and sending them to Vietnam, George W Bush joined the Air National Guard in Texas, and ticked the box saying "no" to overseas service: a choice denied most of his contemporaries then, who did not have the Ivy League connections to enter such units. More importantly, such choices are denied now to the National Guardsmen who were not only called up for service in Iraq, but have found their terms extended while they were out in the desert.
All over the world, men and women are now dying and being maimed because George W. Bush had lived through "the war of his generation," without hearing a shot fired in anger, And perhaps because "Little Googen" as his indulgent parents called him has been trying to emulate his genuinely heroic father, without actually risking his life. His father had left school at 18 and used his family connections to become the youngest pilot in the Navy.

Soldier of Fortune

Since he has persuaded the vast majority of Americans, if not the citizens of any other country in the world, that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center, perhaps we should not be surprised at George W. Bush's success in passing himself off as a veteran with so many Americans, including many who are actually combat-seasoned veterans themselves.

As the Tet Offensive was winding down, family, friends and his own faith in his entitlement slid him into 111th Tactical Recon Texas Air National Guard. Having plotted the course, young George had taken the aptitude test for air force officers on 19 January 68 in New Haven. The test showed him with a grade of 25% for pilot aptitude, 50% for navigation, and 95% for "officer quality." There were 500 applicants. Bush was accepted immediately.

One suspects that you get 75% for "officer quality" by simply answering yes to questions like, "Is your family rich, politically connected, and did you go to Yale or Harvard. Indeed, the tests could not be too hard because he scored an impressive 85% on verbal aptitude. It must have been a multiple choice test, since one cannot really see him getting that if he had had to write a sentence.

Texas circles knew this unit specifically as "Air Canada," since joining it had all the advantages of fleeing North of the Border as far as service in Vietnam was concerned and none of the political or meteorological downside. It was a "champagne unit" since its personnel was so rich and well-connected. Another comrade out of arms was the son of Lloyd Bentsen, which is one reason why the Texas Dems have now pushed this issue over the years.

In the unlikely event of the ghosts of Santana and Zapata ever rising on the Texas border to reclaim the Lone Star State for the United States of Mexico, then the Texas National Guard may have seen some tough fighting. But there was no way they were going to Vietnam, hence its popularity.
As Colin Powell said in his memoirs before joining Bush's cabinet, "I can never forgive a leadership that said, in effect: These young men, poor, less educated, less privileged, are expendable (someone described them as 'economic cannon fodder'), but the rest are too good to risk."

Powell added, presciently and inconveniently, "I am angry that so many of the sons of the powerful and well placed... managed to wrangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units. Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to their country."

Bush's first solo flight was hymned by the PR office of the unit, "George Walker Bush is one member of the younger generation who doesn't get his kicks from pot, or hashish or speed...As far as kicks are concerned, Lt Bush gets his from the roaring afterburner of the F-102." One cannot help wondering about the significance of the omissions in that press release. Did the PR drafter know something, since booze and cocaine are conspicuously absent from the pilot's alternative kick list?
Certainly, Helen Thomas, the veteran correspondent reduced the White House spokesman Scott McClellan to incoherent evasion in February 2004 when she asked him if the President had been ordered to do community service. McClellan wriggled, squirmed, tried counter-attacking, and was being so obviously evasive that the rest of the press corps joined in trying to get him to either say yes, or no or that he would approach the President to answer the question. The failure to respond should perhaps be set next to the refusal to deny categorically the use of illegal drugs before 1974, and perhaps also his sudden conversion to charitable work in inner cities at a time when he was supposed to be flying with the Guard.
One does not have to be too partisan to smell a fish here. We do not know its size, or its species, or even where it is lurking, but you do not need the nose of a conspiracy theorist to smell it.

Was George W. Bush a deserter? Almost certainly in the legal sense, but certainly in the moral sense. He took active and multiple steps to avoid physical risk in "The War of his Generation," to which he lent political support.

Absent without leave? Certainly. He went missing in Alabama when he asked to be posted there so he could campaign for a family friend. He failed to report for duty and defied a direct order to attend a medical examination. In doing so he made himself unfit for his duty, flying, every bit as surely as if he had "let off a shotgun next to his ear," as he complained other people did to avoid conscription. The only credible person who saw him on a base for a year was a dentist who examined his teeth. Once. Contemporary National Guardsmen are now in custody for refusing to return to Iraq. Sergeant Camilo Meija served a year in military prison for refusing to return to war. Bush never went.

James Madison in Political Reflections, in 1799 described two "momentous truths" in politics: "First: That the fetters imposed on liberty at home have ever been forged out of the weapons provided for defense against real, pretended, or imaginary dangers from abroad. Secondly: That there never was a people whose liberties long survived a standing army." One cannot help wondering whether Karl Rove and Bush the Younger may not have read this and taken it as more in the nature of sound political advice than a principled warning!

While the founders envisaged unscrupulous monarchs, chief executives or generals using the army to seize power, it is not so much the actual army, but its prestige that the modern day putschists abuse. They themselves are what Christopher Hitchens calls the "braver sort of Pentagon intellectuals," who are too cerebral to wave flags but quite happy to encourage the habit in others, and their comrades in the White House, such as Dick Cheney and his entourage, not to mention the Civilian-in-Chief himself, George W. Bush.

Between them, in the name of those hyped-up external dangers they have made it almost blasphemous to question the finance, purpose or conduct of the armed forces or of the President who has done so much to destroy the lives and living standards of serving military and veterans alike.

There should be hoots of derision every time he and his Chickenhawk entourage play soldiers. As Peter Ustinov said, most kids play soldiers when young, but most grow up. Thanks to Bush, lots of children across the world are growing up without a parent. And some will never grow up at all.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More Beating about the Bush on elections

Foreign Misadventures Hit home
By Ian Williams
Asia Times, 2 November 2006

For once, foreign policy is a major issue in a US election, and not just the Iraq fiasco. Indeed, it is possible that North Korea's Dear Leader Kim Jong-il may have inadvertently won the US mid-term elections for the Democrats with his nuclear explosion. Until then, there were definite signs that the beleaguered White House was considering military operations against Iran - a new October surprise to concentrate the voters' minds on the "war on terror."

Even this White House crew would have difficulty justifying military action against the ayatollahs - who deny they even want a bomb - while leaving a triumphant Kim boasting and demonstrating that he actually has one.

As a result, the elections could break the long Republican monopoly on federal power, if, as seems possible, President George W Bush's party loses either the Senate or the House of Representatives - or even both.

Of course, the White House has made the major contribution to its own defeat.

North Korean nukes notwithstanding, any White House plan to attack Iran was unlikely to work. Two years ago, the Republicans may have been able to persuade voters that when you are stuck deep in a muddy hole you dig downward to find the exit. Now, despite the best cover that the media moguls can give it, the administration has lost the confidence of the public.

In addition to that domestic distrust, no amount of gloss or conservative talk-show hosts can cover the disaster of the Iraq war, and as the American casualties mount they are becoming less and less easy to hide. Apart from a few neo-conservative ideologues, there is no constituency at all for sending US troops to die in a new Korean war, let alone in Iran. Indeed, the majority of voters think the US should be talking directly to Pyongyang and Tehran on the nuclear issue, which, hidebound by ideology, the White House refuses to do.

The turning point was the fiasco of Hurricane Katrina, when the depths of incompetence, patronage and corruption were revealed to a shocked United States. It has continued with scandal after scandal, as bribery, gay pedophilia and similar issues have chewed away at the Republican pretensions to being the party of "moral values" of the kind espoused by southern and midwestern Americans.

It is not that the Democratic Party is particularly moral or resistant to corruption, but a decade in opposition has not really given it the same opportunities to dip into the till in Washington as its Republican colleagues.

Unprecedentedly, polls now show that the public thinks the Democrats would do better on security issues, and they have always tended to trust them more on domestic issues. Nonetheless, incumbency is a powerful thing in the United States.
The founding fathers, a disparate group of local elites, carefully designed the constitution to avoid any one group or party getting overweening power. For years now, the Republicans have bucked the spirit of those checks and balances.

With an almost Bolshevik discipline, ideology and drive to power, they have used their power to pack the judicial benches, federally and locally, redrawing congressional districts and rewriting the electoral rules in the states that they control. The fruits of that were a Republican majority on the Supreme Court, all nominally pledged to support states' rights, overturning the Florida courts on the 2000 presidential election in one of its most shamelessly partisan judgments since it enforced the return of escaped slaves from the north to the plantations.

They have looted the Treasury to hand over untold billions to their wealthy supporters, who, in return, have poured cash into the fight against most Democratic challengers, either directly or through a shadowy range of foundations, media operations and allegedly independent committees.

We have to remember next Tuesday's election is not just a referendum on Iraq. US elections are overwhelming about local officials and issues. We can guarantee that the Republicans and their surrogates will pull some of the sleaziest stunts imaginable in the next week to take people's minds off the unholy mess in the Middle East. Any party that slimes a paraplegic war veteran for lack of patriotism will clearly stop at nothing, but that is precisely what they did last time to defeat triple-amputee senator Max Cleland of Georgia.

On the positive side, millions of voters who earlier did not want to roll in the mud of a US election have been exasperated and scared into action. If there is a victory, apart from the ineptitude of Bush, a major factor will be the upsurge of grassroots movements such as MoveOn.org, marshaling election workers, cash and enthusiasm to key fights.

Many people watched the last two elections with horror at the oddities of electronic voting machines, changing rules and the exclusion of voters, and lawyers and volunteers across the country are watching carefully.

That raises the perennial question of the Democratic Party, of which it could be said, as Dorothy Parker said of Los Angeles, there's no there there. Control of what passes for a Democratic Party nationally is still firmly in the hands of the more conservative wing. While there is no doubt that a Democratic seizure of either house of Congress would be good news, there is a long way to go for euphoria. Some of the Democratic contenders have triangulated themselves so far to the right that even if they do not follow White House aide Karl Rove's orders, they will vote for reactionary measures of their own accord.

In the long term the dilemma is how those motivated millions can exercise their continuing influence on the Democratic Party machinery in a way to keep it on course, and electable - which is not necessarily the same as pandering to the modern version of the old southern Democrats around the Clintons in the Democratic Leadership Council. In general, American electors are more sensible than the people who buy their way into office with money from vested interests, but even without wobbly voting machines, they have difficulty in controlling their alleged representatives.

Ian Williams is author of Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past, Nation Books, New York.