Sunday, December 31, 2006

Pure (low-budget) Hollywood


As the Angry Arab points out, the New York Times' "Defiant Despot" retrospective on Saddam's reign avoids making any reference "to the support that Saddam was getting from Gulf governments and from Western governments for much of the 1970s and 1980s. "

Chris Floyd gets more specific:
[W]hat you will not find is any detail or examination whatsoever of the prominent, direct and continuing role the United States government played in bringing Saddam to power, maintaining him in office, underwriting his tyranny, and rewarding his aggression. This decades-long history -- beginning with the CIA's assistance in not one but two coups that first brought the Baath Party to power then cemented the hold of Saddam's internal faction on the country through the journey to Baghdad by the obsequious Donald Rumsfeld who came bearing words of support, bags of cash and military high-tech for Saddam's chemical weapons attacks on Iran down to the delivery of money, WMD technology and other goods of war by George Herbert Walker Bush up to the very day before Saddam's long-threatened invasion of Kuwait, which Bush's personal representative had told the dictator was of no concern to the United States -- does not appear in McFarquhar's mountain of prose.

You'll find damning reference to Saddam's gas attack on Iraqi Kurds during the Reagan-Bush-supported war with Iran; but you will find not a single word of how the Bush I administration, which included Powell and Cheney, fought hard to kill off Congressional condemnation of the gassing. Nor does McFarquhar see fit to inform the public how Bush I signed a presidential directive mandating that U.S. government agencies forge ever-stronger ties with Iraq, despite the caveats of his own intelligence apparatus. And although McFarquhar finds space to quote from Saddam's ludicrous novels, he cannot quite squeeze in any reference to the Congressional investigations and other probes that revealed how Bush I secretly financed Saddam and, with British help, secretly supplied him with advanced weaponry through a series of corporate cut-outs and funneling cash through the bowels of what the U.S. Senate described as "one of the largest criminal enterprises in history" (until Junior Bush's gang came along), the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).
Nope, the Paper of Record's paints a portrait of the dead tyrant (or his double) as the opposite of a deus ex machina--an "evil" man who came out of nowhere to oppress his own people. Whatever that is in Latin...

Robert Fisk points out there are others who might be held responsible for today's Iraq:
In the aftermath of the international crimes against humanity of 2001 we have tortured, we have murdered, we have brutalised and killed the innocent - we have even added our shame at Abu Ghraib to Saddam's shame at Abu Ghraib - and yet we are supposed to forget these terrible crimes as we applaud the swinging corpse of the dictator we created.

Who encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, which was the greatest war crime he has committed for it led to the deaths of a million and a half souls? And who sold him the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds? We did. No wonder the Americans, who controlled Saddam's weird trial, forbad any mention of this, his most obscene atrocity, in the charges against him. Could he not have been handed over to the Iranians for sentencing for this massive war crime? Of course not. Because that would also expose our culpability.

And the mass killings we perpetrated in 2003 with our depleted uranium shells and our "bunker buster" bombs and our phosphorous, the murderous post-invasion sieges of Fallujah and Najaf, the hell-disaster of anarchy we unleashed on the Iraqi population in the aftermath of our "victory" - our "mission accomplished" - who will be found guilty of this?
And what do the Iraqis think of this "closure"? Is everything better now? Riverbend, God bless her, has, as usual, a few choice words:
A day in the life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses, avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been detained, which ones have been exiled and which ones have been abducted.

2006 has been, decidedly, the worst year yet. No- really. The magnitude of this war and occupation is only now hitting the country full force. It's like having a big piece of hard, dry earth you are determined to break apart. You drive in the first stake in the form of an infrastructure damaged with missiles and the newest in arms technology, the first cracks begin to form. Several smaller stakes come in the form of politicians like Chalabi, Al Hakim, Talbani, Pachachi, Allawi and Maliki. The cracks slowly begin to multiply and stretch across the once solid piece of earth, reaching out towards its edges like so many skeletal hands. And you apply pressure. You surround it from all sides and push and pull. Slowly, but surely, it begins coming apart- a chip here, a chunk there.

That is Iraq right now. The Americans have done a fine job of working to break it apart. This last year has nearly everyone convinced that that was the plan right from the start. There were too many blunders for them to actually have been, simply, blunders. The 'mistakes' were too catastrophic. The people the Bush administration chose to support and promote were openly and publicly terrible- from the conman and embezzler Chalabi, to the terrorist Jaffari, to the militia man Maliki. The decisions, like disbanding the Iraqi army, abolishing the original constitution, and allowing militias to take over Iraqi security were too damaging to be anything but intentional.

The question now is, but why? I really have been asking myself that these last few days. What does America possibly gain by damaging Iraq to this extent? I'm certain only raving idiots still believe this war and occupation were about WMD or an actual fear of Saddam.

Al Qaeda? That's laughable. Bush has effectively created more terrorists in Iraq these last 4 years than Osama could have created in 10 different terrorist camps in the distant hills of Afghanistan. Our children now play games of 'sniper' and 'jihadi', pretending that one hit an American soldier between the eyes and this one overturned a Humvee.

This last year especially has been a turning point. Nearly every Iraqi has lost so much. So much. There's no way to describe the loss we've experienced with this war and occupation. There are no words to relay the feelings that come with the knowledge that daily almost 40 corpses are found in different states of decay and mutilation. There is no compensation for the dense, black cloud of fear that hangs over the head of every Iraqi. Fear of things so out of ones hands, it borders on the ridiculous- like whether your name is 'too Sunni' or 'too Shia'. Fear of the larger things- like the Americans in the tank, the police patrolling your area in black bandanas and green banners, and the Iraqi soldiers wearing black masks at the checkpoint.

Again, I can't help but ask myself why this was all done? What was the point of breaking Iraq so that it was beyond repair? Iran seems to be the only gainer. Their presence in Iraq is so well-established, publicly criticizing a cleric or ayatollah verges on suicide. Has the situation gone so beyond America that it is now irretrievable? Or was this a part of the plan all along? My head aches just posing the questions.

What has me most puzzled right now is: why add fuel to the fire? Sunnis and moderate Shia are being chased out of the larger cities in the south and the capital. Baghdad is being torn apart with Shia leaving Sunni areas and Sunnis leaving Shia areas- some under threat and some in fear of attacks. People are being openly shot at check points or in drive by killings… Many colleges have stopped classes. Thousands of Iraqis no longer send their children to school- it's just not safe.

Why make things worse by insisting on Saddam's execution now? Who gains if they hang Saddam? Iran, naturally, but who else? There is a real fear that this execution will be the final blow that will shatter Iraq. Some Sunni and Shia tribes have threatened to arm their members against the Americans if Saddam is executed. Iraqis in general are watching closely to see what happens next, and quietly preparing for the worst.

This is because now, Saddam no longer represents himself or his regime. Through the constant insistence of American war propaganda, Saddam is now representative of all Sunni Arabs (never mind most of his government were Shia). The Americans, through their speeches and news articles and Iraqi Puppets, have made it very clear that they consider him to personify Sunni Arab resistance to the occupation. Basically, with this execution, what the Americans are saying is "Look- Sunni Arabs- this is your man, we all know this. We're hanging him- he symbolizes you." And make no mistake about it, this trial and verdict and execution are 100% American. Some of the actors were Iraqi enough, but the production, direction and montage was pure Hollywood (though low-budget, if you ask me).


Friday, December 29, 2006

The end of a beautiful friendship


Chris Floyd on the (probably) soon-to-be-deceased Iraqi leader (or, possibly, his Body Double #7):
The decades-long record of American collusion in the crimes of Saddam Hussein is clear and overwhelming -- and has been documented not only by news organizations like the Los Angeles Times but also by investigations of the United States Congress. Yet not a word of this is breathed in the media or Congress today; it is as if it never existed. And now the American-formed, American-backed government is about to take Saddam from American custody and hang him on an American-built gallows. It's like Al Capone throwing the switch with Frank Nitti in the chair.

Few will mourn Saddam -- a thug enthroned with the help of the CIA and sustained in power for years by the Bush Faction which is now about to kill him. The falling out of thieves ends ever thus. But far more disturbing is the way that the memory of even very recent, very public events can be manipulated and erased for sinister ends: in this case, to justify the mass murder of more than 600,000 innocent people. In the fever dreams of dominance and divine favor that pollute the minds of George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the idea has taken hold that the blood of Saddam Hussein will somehow wash the clotted viscera of dead children from their hands.

It will not. It will lead only to more blood. But this is nothing now to such men. They are each, like Saddam, like Macbeth, "in blood stepp'd so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er. Strange things I have in head, that will to hand."

Strange things indeed are in their heads, and we have yet to sup full of the horrors they are willing into being.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

FDA: Cloned animals safe to eat ... and WON'T have to be labelled!

It only makes sense.

In a nation where 89 percent oppose escalation of the Iraq catastrophe, and yet the government bullies its way forward with nary a whimper of dissent from the media or opposition party, there's a perversely symmetrical logic to the FDA's declaration, in the face of overwhelming public wariness, that cloned meat and dairy products are safe.

So safe that there's no need to identify cloned products as such. And here's betting that alternative producers will be forbidden from advertising their products as NOT cloned.

OK. It's almost too obvious to say. Cloned food is "safe" not because all possible ramifications and side effects have been looked into (they have not), but because big money corporate interests stand to make megabucks off the technology.

The best comment to date I've seen was on a grist message board from one SM Lowry (in fact, it was the ONLY message on the message board. Kinda scary that this announcement didn't have a broad ohmyfuckingod impact) :
This is really no surprise, and activists who oppose cloning have no definitive proof that eating cloned meat poses a problem. On the other hand, those who support it have no definitive proof that it doesn't. No one has eaten cloned meat or slurped milk from cloned cows long enough for there to be statistics one way or another. But, in when the agenda is controlled by those who benefit one way or another, precaution is ignored in favor of profit. Ten years down the road we may discover many problems we didn't know existed today. At least cloned animals aren't going to be spreading their genetically engineered sperm all over the place like the GE pollen from plants.

The thing that gets me with all of this (and with GE foods, too) is no labeling will be required. So once this stuff comes on the market the only thing those opposed to it can do is not buy meat or milk except from small-scale, local farmers who promise not to use cloned animals. (Which isn't such a terrible thing, really). Also the industry will probably try to use legal force to forbid farms and markets from labeling as they did with dairy producers that labeled their products BGH free.

Here's the comment from the Consumer Federation of America:

The Food and Drug Administration today announced it intends to allow cloned
milk and meat in the food supply, imposing these products on a public that
opposes cloning technology and does not want to consume cloned foods.

The Gallup Research Organization reports that over 60 percent of Americans
think animal cloning is immoral. Other respected independent polls report
consumers declare they will not knowingly eat the products even after FDA
approves them. Both FDA and the cloning industry are aware that consumers
won’t knowingly buy cloned foods. The FDA therefore has okayed selling the
products without identifying labels, preventing consumers from choosing not to
purchase and use cloned foods.

CFA urges consumers who oppose production and sale of milk and meat from
cloned animals to make their views known. Write to the FDA and tell them to
reverse this anti-consumer action. Write to your members of Congress urging
them to put a stop to FDA’s efforts to sell cloned animals. Tell your supermarket
manager that you don’t want to eat cloned milk and meat and ask them not to sell
these.
And a not insignificant sidebar: Maryland farmer Greg Wiles, the first to have a commercial clone on his dairy farm, is in dire financial straits (because of his clones) and may be forced to sell them for slaughter, from whence they will enter the food supply. Wiles does not want it to come to that. Interestingly, his reservations about his own cows have met with a hands over the ears response on the part of federal officials:
Mr. Wiles, who has experienced a number of health problems with his cloned animals, believes that the animals should not be put into the food supply and instead be evaluated as part of the risk assessment process used to determine whether or not milk and meat from cloned animals is safe. Over the last several years, Mr. Wiles has brought this matter to the attention of the government meeting with FDA and USDA officials but has been rebuffed in his attempts to have his cloned animals fully evaluated and used in research.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Poquito"

An interview with Silvestre Reyes, Texas Democrat and the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, by Jeff Stein of CQ.com, shows Reyes is a little ... um ... lacking when it comes to the facts about the Middle East. Reyes, who has been on the House Intelligence Committee for the past six years, did not know that al qaeda is a Sunni organization and seems never to have heard of Hezbollah.

And Hezbollah? I asked him. What are they?

“Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah...”

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured....

He laughed again, shifting in his seat.

“Why do you ask me these questions at five o’clock? Can I answer in Spanish? Do you speak Spanish?”

“Poquito,” I said—a little.

“Poquito?! “ He laughed again.

“Go ahead,” I said, talk to me about Sunnis and Shia in Spanish.

Reyes: “Well, I, uh....”

In the interest of bipartisanship, Stein does share the following anecdote illustrative of extreme ignorance on the other side of the aisle...
Trent Lott, the veteran Republican senator from Mississippi, said only last September that “It’s hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what’s wrong with these people.”

“Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion?” wondered Lott, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, after a meeting with Bush.

“Why do they hate the Israelis and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference?

“They all look the same to me,” Lott said.

There were some weirdnesses in the interview on the part of Mr. Stein, to be sure, in particular certain pedantic ejaculations like the following:
I apologized for putting him “on the spot a little.” But I reminded him that the people who have killed thousands of Americans on U.S. soil and in the Middle East have been front page news for a long time now.

It’s been 23 years since a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed over 200 U.S. military personnel in Beirut, mostly Marines.

Hezbollah, a creature of Iran, is close to taking over in Lebanon. Reports say they are helping train Iraqi Shiites to kill Sunnis in the spiralling civil war.

Calling Hezbollah "a creature of Iran" is in itself either ignorant or at the least disingenuous (Tony Karon is excellent on the secular nationalism at the root of Hizballah.) ... and yes I know that I'm spelling Hezbollah/Hizballah two different ways here.

But hey, Stein writes for a mainstream Washington audience. Talking about the Middle East in terms of "the people who have killed thousands of Americans on U.S. soil and in the Middle East" (without mentioning the hundreds of thousands--or more--killed by Americans on "Middle Eastern soil"--what is it with the soil with these people?) is pretty much just the way people talk in Washington.

But of course Stein's main point, that the incoming head of the Intel Committee should know a few basic facts about a focal region (for better or worse) of U.S. foreign policy, is of course correct and more than a little disturbing.

RIAA, the artist's best pal

Barry Ritholtz, who writes the excellent economics blog the Big Picture, pointed out this latest instance of out and out scumminess from the appalling RIAA, an industry group that purports to support musicians, songwriters and composers.

"Anyone who thought the RIAA was anything less than a group of shameless hucksters shilling on behalf of their corporate masters should by now be thoroughly disabused of that notion," writes Ritholtz.

Read this story from Good Morning Silicon Valley and I think you'll agree with Barry:
Throughout its campaign against peer-to-peer services, The Recording Industry Association of America has insisted, unequivocally, that file-sharing hurt musicians. There is a clear correlation between file-sharing and loss of revenue for the music industry, the RIAA argues, one that undermines the livlihoods of the recording artists whose work it peddles. It's a sympathetic argument and one that the group has trotted out time and time again as it fired off lawsuits at college students, grade schoolers and deceased grandmothers (see " Can I charge this copyright infringment settlement to my student bursar account?" and "Music industry to recoup alleged file-sharing losses one 12-year-old at a time"). But it's a disingenous one as well. Because much as the RIAA would like us to see it as a champion of creative artists, it's an industry group concerned with industry profits. And the best interests of artists matter little when it comes to exploiting the revenue streams they create. So, while it's sad to hear that the RIAA is lobbying to reduce rates on royalties paid to songwriters, it's not unexpected. Earlier this month, the group began petitioning government Copyright Royalty Judges to lower the rates paid to publishers and songwriters for use of lyrics and melodies in applications like cell phone ring tones. Citing general music industry change, RIAA Executive Vice President and General Council Steven Marks told The Hollywood Reporter that so-called "Mechanical Royalties" have become badly outdated. That may be true, but is reducing them really the answer? If anything they should be increased, shouldn't they? Particularly if ringtone services generated additional revenues at a time when piracy was "devastating" the record industry. My God, don't these people ever stop?

Cheap grain and pig manure

Mmmm. Ponds o' pig shite as far as the eye can see...

George Pyle, an editorial writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, posted this piece in Counterpunch today. It sums up the disaster that is 21st Century farming in America awfully well:

In farm country, Christmas comes about every five years.

The next visit of Santa Claus -- or in this case, Uncle Sam -- is due in 2007. The wish list of American agribusiness giants and their vassals at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the same as always: many billions of federal dollars propping up an unnatural, anti-competitive, security-undermining, environment-destroying system that gluts the world with cheap grain and pig manure.

And any warm feeling taxpayers might get for thinking their money goes to support the traditional family farm springs from about as much reality as flying reindeer.

After 52 public forums from Florida to Alaska, many presided over personally by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, and more than 4,000 public comments, the USDA clings to its willful misreading of the situation, promoting policies that endanger the planet and destroy farmsteads from Nebraska to Niger.

Some hold out hope that Congress, after decades of agreeing that the solution to every farm problem is larger production subsidies, might take another course. The ascension of the Democrats, specifically the fact that conservation-friendly Tom Harkin of Iowa will be chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, provides some encouragement.

But the USDA's own summary of the issues facing American agriculture -- "Strengthening the Foundation for Future Growth in U.S. Agriculture" -- still views farming as an industrial process needing to ramp up production and increase exports.

It's a sad missive that refers to the dependency of livestock and vegetable producers on straightjacketing production contracts with giant processors as "opportunities," and calls the need for farm families to balance their budgets with off-farm jobs a "choice."

It's a business plan that assumes poor nations whose agricultural base is destroyed by America's market-glutting production will magically start having the kind of disposable income necessary to buy our grain and meat. Our government's refusal to deviate from this view was the key reason why the last round of World Trade Organization talks, once seen as a chance to bring poor nations into the fold, collapsed in July.

It's a blueprint for yet another round of taxpayer subsidies for the so-called "program crops" -- generally wheat, corn, rice, soybeans and cotton -- that push farmers to max out their production using all the fertilizer and pesticides they can afford.

The government dropped nearly $144 billion on farm subsidies between 1995 and 2004, according to calculations by the Environmental Working Group. The bulk of that money went to an ever-shrinking number of giant companies and cooperatives that continue to soak up both the taxpayers' money and their neighbors' land.

The resulting cut-rate price of corn further encourages feedlot fattening of cattle, hogs and poultry rather than the more natural grazing. The nitrogen-heavy runoff from those massive feeding operations, combined with all the fertilizer that flows from wheat and corn fields in the Plains and upper Midwest, endangers municipal water supplies and once-teeming sealife downstream in the Gulf of Mexico.

Soil conservation is always a part of farm legislation, but a small part. In Kansas, for example, federal farm payments over the decade ending in 2004 totaled $6.2 billion for production subsidies and $1 billion for conservation. When budget hawks start looking for savings, it is the conservation plans, not the subsidies, that are on the chopping block.

True conservation farming, where land is lovingly husbanded everywhere, not hyper-farmed here and left fallow there, is the key to sustainable, affordable food production. And we can have it for a fraction of what we now spend on production subsidies.

If we tell Congress that is what we want.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ah, the holidays

As a preemptive blow against all the Yuletide schlock that is coming our way, I have to share the greatest Christmas carol of all time, the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" featuring Kirsty MacColl.



It was brought to mind by this post from Jeff Wells, which delves into the tragic and very likely criminal circumstances surrounding MacColl's death, while scuba diving with her family in Cozumel. As with any post on Wells' Rigorous Intuition site, it's well worth a read.

The rest is just bullshit and murder

As Glenn Greenwald points out, the only voices disqualified from the Baker group were those who were right in the first place, those who opposed the war from the beginning.

Now, as Tom Engelhardt and Michael Schwartz report, comes new polling data indicating that the voices of both the Iraqi and American public are united in wanting an end to the occupation, as well as being opposed to that elephant in the corner of the room, the permanent bases.

And in "Meese of Arabia," Chris Floyd has, as he so often does, the most best visceral take:
The Iraq Study Group's report simply confirms, yet again, the bedrock truth of the war: the American Establishment has no intention of leaving Iraq, ever, and no intention of having anything but a pliant, cowed, bullied puppet government in Baghdad to carry out whatever the Establishment decides is in its best interests on any given day. Iraq was invaded because large swathes of the American elite thought they could make hay of it one way or another (financially, politically, ideologically or even psychologically, for those pathetic souls who get their sense of manhood or personal validation from their identification with a big, swaggering, domineering empire). And U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, indefinitely, at some level, because the American elite think they can make hay of the situation one way or another. The war is all about -- is only about -- what the American elite feel is in their own best interest, how it aggrandizes their fortunes, flatters their prejudices, serves their needs. That's it. The rest is just bullshit and murder.

Here is a more substantial excerpt from the Englehardt/Schwartz piece:

As of this morning, new polling data about American public opinion on Iraq is on the table. The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), through its WorldPublicOpinion.org, has just released its post-election poll. On crucial issues, especially the matter of setting a timetable for withdrawal and the Bush administration's (in all but name) permanent bases in Iraq, American and Iraqi public opinion are in remarkably similar places; that the Bush administration, as the election results indicated, is now distinctly a minority regime; and that the Democrats are still largely lagging behind public opinion on Iraq, as is the media, as is James Baker's Iraq Study Group (ISG), which today releases its "consensus report" to the president.

The PIPA numbers indicate that, even if George W. Bush remains adamantly in his no-longer-mission-accomplished, but stay-until-the-mission-is-accomplished dream state, Americans have largely awoken. Yes, they do agree with the ISG recommendations by whopping proportions. Three out of four Americans (including 72 percent of Republicans), according to PIPA, believe that the U.S. should be engaged in conversation and negotiation with Iran and Syria; and they even more massively favor a major international conference on the Iraqi catastrophe. However, those aren't actually the most interesting figures. Here are some of those:

In the poll, 54 percent of Americans believe that attacks on U.S. forces are approved by half or more of all Iraqis; 66 percent (including a near majority of Republicans) believe that a majority of Iraqis oppose the establishment of permanent U.S. bases in their country (only 28 percent disagree); and 68 percent (including a majority of Republicans) believe that, in any case, we should not have such bases. This is an especially remarkable set of figures, given that permanent bases have received next to no attention in the American mainstream media.

Most important of all, given the arrival of the Iraq Study Group's "consensus" proposal for a "phased withdrawal" that is to begin without a timetable in sight, 58 percent of Americans, according to PIPA, want a withdrawal of all U.S. troops on a timeline – 18 percent within six months, 25 percent within a year, 15 percent within two years. Moreover, if the Iraqi government were to request such a withdrawal on a year's deadline, 77 percent of respondents (including 73 percent of Republicans) think we should take them up on it. In this they agree with the Iraqi public. As Middle Eastern expert Robert Dreyfuss wrote recently, "Polls have shown that up to 80 percent of Sunni Arabs and 60 percent of Shi'ite Arabs want an immediate end to the occupation."

These new numbers should act as a wake-up call. Without much help from anyone, politicians or the media, the American people, it seems, have formed their own Iraq Study Group and arrived at sanity well ahead of the elite and all the "wise men" in Washington.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Only because they deserve it

From the BBC:
The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of all household wealth, according to a new study by a United Nations research institute.

The report, from the World Institute for Development Economics Research at the UN University, says that the poorer half of the world's population own barely 1% of global wealth.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Our Daily Bread

The image above is one of a number of disturbing and oddly aesthetic stills from Our Daily Bread, a new documentary from Austrian director Nikolaus Geyrhalter. Check here for scheduled U.S. showings.

The promo materials describe the film this way:
Welcome to the world of industrial food production and high-tech farming! To the rhythm of conveyor belts and immense machines, the film looks without commenting into the places where food is produced in Europe: monumental spaces, surreal landscapes and bizarre sounds - a cool, industrial environment which leaves little space for individualism. People, animals, crops and machines play a supporting role in the logistics of this system which provides our society’s standard of living.

OUR DAILY BREAD is a wide-screen tableau of a feast which isn’t always easy to digest - and in which we all take part. A pure, meticulous and high-end film experience that enables the audience to form their own ideas.
I can't say for sure, but I sort of doubt documentary makers would have even been allowed access to a factory hog farm in the U.S.

In contrast to the creepy vibe these images convey, I want to mention "Mystery Meat," Heidi Julavits' account of the borderline obsessive lengths to which she went to cook every last bit of a split quarter of Belted Galloway beef she and her husband purchased last summer. I hope the article hasn't vanished behind the firewall. It was terrific. Here's a brief excerpt:
Before tackling the weird cuts, we do a bit of research. What is the difference between top round, bottom round, eye-of-round, rump, chuck, London broil? These answers are strangely hard to come by, given that the terms have changed, as small-town butchers have been replaced by packing plants and as consumers like me have become increasingly parts-ignorant. Sorting through the contradictory advice of beef authorities is a head-twisting experience much akin to reading books on infant sleep theory. Julia Child and Simone Beck provide an interesting entry point in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” though they spend most of their time translating French cuts like entrecĂ´te into America-speak, or former America-speak. (An entrecĂ´te is like a Delmonico or a club steak, they tell us. Huh? Give or take, they’re both a rib-eye.)
I was happy to read a piece like this in the New York Times Style section, from a highly regard novelist and literary celeb (and talented and funny writer). To me, this article dovetails nicely with a recent oral history I'm feeling a little guilty about keeping off the shelves of the Lexington public library, Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms, 1920-1950 by John and Anne Van Willigen.

I guess the techniques discussed therein on making beaten biscuits don't seem on first glance to have much to do with the Julavits' series of efforts at preparing their bottom round (on three successive nights they went three different international marinades--first adobo, then a Vietnamese effort featuring fish sauce, and lemongrass, and finally a Korean bulgogi preparation), but in my mind they have everything to do with one another.

I will try to articulate just how that works at some later date, but for now I'm tired and want to recommend both the Julavits story and Food and Everyday Life on Kentucky Family Farms....

Monday, December 04, 2006

So very hard to go ...

Victims of 2005 airstrikes at Ramadi (AP photo)

... especially when you never intended to leave...

Tom Englehardt has an excellent, if discouraging, take on what results--if any--we should expect from Baker's Iraq Study Group, which I am taking the liberty of reproducing here at length.

Put in a nutshell, the Iraq Study Group plan -- should it ever be put into effect -- might accomplish the following: As a start, it would in no way affect our essential network of monumental permanent bases in Iraq (where, many billions of dollars later, concrete is still being poured); it would leave many less "combat" troops but many more "advisors" in-country to "stand up" the Iraqi Army (tactics already tried, at the cost of many billions of dollars, and just about sure to fail); many more American troops will find themselves either imprisoned on those vast bases of ours in Iraq or on similar installations in the "neighborhood" where they are likely to bring so many of our problems with them. And those aggressive chats with the neighbors, whose influence in Iraq is overestimated in any case, are unlikely to proceed terribly well because the Bush administration will arrive at the bargaining table, if at all, with so little to offer (except lectures).

All of this should ensure that, well into 2008, at least 70,000 American military personnel will still be in Iraq, after which, in the midst of a presidential election season, will actual withdrawal finally appear on some horizon? In other words, the Baker Commission plan guarantees us at least another 3-5 years in Iraq.

And, oh yes, here's something else no one is likely mention. Those Americans left behind after the phased withdrawers head for the horizon will surely be more vulnerable, which means, as in Vietnam during the Vietnamization years, the ratcheting up of American air power and far more sentences in news reports that read like this: "Two Apache helicopters firing anti-missile flares swooped over Fadhil neighborhood, a Sunni insurgent stronghold in one of the oldest parts of the capital, amid the slow thump of heavy machinegun fire, witnesses said."

And, oh yes, during this "short" period of perhaps 12-14 months when we are supposed to be phasing away, based on present casualty rates, perhaps another 40,000 to 60,000 Iraqi civilians will die horrific deaths as will at least modest numbers of young Americans, reminding us that the definitions of "short," "remarkable consensus," and "horizon" -- after all, your horizon may be someone else's home -- are in the eye of the beholder. And just one more thing: all this will be directed out of the largest embassy in the world, a vast, nearly complete, nearly billion dollar complex set in the heart of Baghdad's Green Zone and armed with its own anti-missile system, which no "exit" strategy on any table in any foreseeable future is likely to mention.

... While the Iraqis were experiencing an actual civil war, combined with an actual insurgency, combined with actual American attacks from the air and the ground on actual city neighborhoods, combined with actual terrorist attacks, combined with actual widespread criminal activity, combined with the actual collapse of their economy, combined with the actual non-delivery of essential social services, combined with the actual flight of whole populations from ethnically cleansed or simply half-destroyed neighborhoods, combined with actual staggering death tolls, the American media and White House officialdom have passed through their own maelstrom over whether or not to apply the term "civil war" to the Iraqi situation. NBC and the Los Angeles Times have finally voted "yes"; others are waffling; the administration continues to deny that the "sectarian violence" in Iraq could possibly be a "civil war," which is evidently imagined inside the Oval Office as nothing short of Armageddon itself.

While the media, politicians, and administration spokesmen fight over how exactly to characterize the mountains of dead Iraqis, the urban killing fields where militias now deposit tortured and murdered former human beings, and the stuffed morgues of Iraq's cities, there are perhaps a few other words and phrases passing around Washington that might be reconsidered.

Let's start with "phased withdrawal." Withdrawal ("the act or process of withdrawing, a retreat or retirement") usually means sayonara, arrivederci, so long. And a "phase," of course, is a "stage." But put them together and, at least in the present collective Washingtonian imagination, we're still somehow embedded in Iraq the year after next with no actual plan for leaving in sight and none of our basic structures -- 5 or 6 bases the size of American towns and a goliath of an embassy -- in that country touched. Perhaps it's time to relabel this "option," something like "phased staying" or "phased permanency."

In turn, the Iraq Study Group's findings, which, as James Fallows recently noted, have been layered into our world these last weeks via "obviously authoritative leaks," might be relabeled "phased recommendations." They may not, however, faze George W. Bush, who has already responded (or perhaps presponded) by ordering two other sets of reviews to be conducted, ensuring that Washington will be flooded with recommendations. We face a veritable war of the recommendations. All of this is a classic case of Washington fiddling while Baghdad burns.

"Redeploy," according to my dictionary means to "move (military forces) from one combat zone to another." That may turn out to be all too correct, if redeployment, or "a responsible redeployment outside of Iraq," or even (gulp) "phased redeployment" turns out to be the order of the day. Redeploying to, say, various Gulf statelets and Kuwait, we may indeed take our combat zones with us, as we did in the early 1990s when, in the wake of Gulf War I, American troops were plunked down in sizeable numbers in Saudi Arabia. (Does the missing-in-action name Osama bin Laden come to anyone's mind?)

Don't confuse any of this, as often happens in the press, with an "exit strategy." An exit, my dictionary tells me, is "the act of going away or out; a passage or way out." Classically, critics have wondered whatever happened to Colin Powell's famed post-Vietnam dictum that no American war should be launched without its exit strategy in place. The answer was always that the Bush administration simply never imagined leaving Iraq. To a large extent, despite all the ado, this remains true even in Donald Rumsfeld's final, secret memo of options to the President.

So here's a small hint. You'll know something's in the air when some serious panel gets together to sort out our future strategy in Iraq, and you start regularly seeing "withdrawal" surface in the media without an adjective attached, or when you see any sober discussion of permanent bases, American air power, or oil.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The kind of guy you have working for you

I never thought I'd be posting a link to anything written in my local paper, but this column, by the editor of another small town Kentucky paper, offered a jaw-droppingly creepy anecdote about Mr. "Money Is Speech," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

In the fall of 2002, the county weekly where I was editor was paid a visit by one of the most important politicians in the country.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was in an easy re-election race against a little-known, inexperienced opponent. But he was taking nothing for granted, so he had come to Nicholasville to seek the endorsement of The Jessamine Journal.

He had scheduled an interview with our publisher, Dave Eldridge, but Dave thought that, as editor, I too should be involved in the conversation.

When McConnell and his entourage arrived, we greeted them warmly.

We weren't prepared for what happened next. An aide produced a manila folder, opened it and showed Dave a photo taken of the rear of my car 10 years before showing bumper stickers opposing the United States' illegal proxy war in Nicaragua.

"This is the kind of guy you have working for you," McConnell said.

Dave laughed and brushed it off. There were no secrets between us where our politics were concerned. We argued politics for fun.

But I couldn't believe a United States senator had a 10-year-old dossier on me! I was flattered. The intent, I'm sure, was to embarrass. And I was embarrassed, but for him, not myself. How petty for someone of his stature to engage in gutter fighting.

But that's the kind of guy you have working for you.


Questions abound.

Who provided McConnell with the photos?
Was it a volunteer, or was this an assignment?
Was someone taking pictures of the bumpers of every small town newsman in the Commonwealth?
Was this done with public funds?

And most important,

What could possibly be the cause for his facial expression in the picture above?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Friedman: "Harder, harder!"

You call this war!? The man with the mustache wants more!
Photo: Dahr Jamail


I was naive enough to hope for the day when Thomas Friedman owned up, but no.

The columnist whose dimwitted mantra--in not one, but three unprovoked American aggressions against defenseless countries--was "Give war a chance" (get it?) has doubled down, and says that the problem with Iraq can only be solved with more American mayhem.

He even uses the phrase "iron fist" with no apparent trace of irony.

What a fucking asshole.

Chris Floyd has an appropriately enraged response:
You would think that by now we would have "supp'd full with horrors" on the New York Times op-ed pages. What could be worse than the atrocities that have filled those gray columns in the past few years, the loud brays for war, the convoluted excuses for presidential tyranny, the steady murmur of chin-stroking bullshit meant to comfort the comfortable elite and confirm them -- at all times, at any cost -- in their well-wadded self-righteousness? Surely, you would think, we have seen the worst.

If this was your thought, then alas, alas, alack the day, you were bitterly mistaken, my friend. Comes now before us the portly, fur-lipped figure of Thomas Friedman, Esq., who today has penned what must be the most morally hideous and deeply racist column ever to appear in those rarefied journalistic precincts: "Ten Months or Ten Years."

It seems that this very enthusiastic promoter of the unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq - which he proudly called "a war of choice," apparently not realizing that he was parroting the propagandists of the Nazi regime that killed millions of his ethnic kindred -- has now discovered that Iraqi Arabs are hopeless, worthless barbarians, broken by "1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism" and can only be held together by an "iron fist."



And while we're on the subject of the pundit of our age, Matt Taibbi's "Flathead" is priceless....

Monday, November 27, 2006

An old friend and the greatest story ever sold

Clearing the cobwebs from a week of travel and Thanksgiving festivities.

While scanning the channels chez the in-laws on Thanksgiving night, came upon an HBO George Carlin performance from 1999, "You Are All Diseased." For years I had mistakenly filed Mr. Carlin away under "1960s counterculture comics," but that was my loss.

I was amazed at how biting and funny he was (and this was at the tail end of the Clinton years, with nary a Dubya nor a neocon nor a Patriot Act in sight).

I couldn't find a transcript of that performance, but did find some of the material from other sources he used in the show, including this one, dated 1997 but more relevant than ever today:
In the Bullshit Department, a businessman can't hold a candle to a clergyman. 'Cause I gotta tell you the truth, folks. When it comes to bullshit, big-time, major league bullshit, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims: religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told.

Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man -- living in the sky -- who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!

But He loves you.

He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!

And check out this homemade video clip featuring Carlin on bombing, religion, the media, and God... Courtesy of TAMMRON....

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The new Congress and your food: If ADM is smilin', you shouldn't be

First the good news....

Richard Pombo is gone!

And so are such other "unlamented industrial-agriculture enthusiasts [as] Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), George Allen (R-Va.), Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.), and James Talent (R-Mo.)."

But as Tom Philpott, that sensible and articulate voice of sustainable agriculture, points out in Grist, "for every bought-and-paid-for Republican that the public sent packing, the agribusiness lobby has a reliable Democrat waiting at the gate. "

And this Congress will be entrusted with writing a Farm Bill.

Says Philpott, "Since the Nixon era, Farm Bills have essentially become five- or six-year plans for using government power to extract wealth from farmers and deposit it on the bottom lines of the agribusiness giants -- sustainability and environmental concerns be damned. Unhappily, prospects for reforming the 2007 version look bleak."

First at the trough will be "the Exxon of corn," Archer Daniels Midland, the world's biggest corn buyer and the No. 1 U.S. ethanol producer. "ADM has managed over the last 25 years to rig up lucrative markets for two related products that would never have gained traction in a free market: corn-based ethanol and high-fructose corn syrup. Both thrive by grace of a baroque and related set of government subsidies and quotas. "

Nancy Pelosi has already stumped through Minnesota pledging allegiance to ethanol subsidies--er, I mean, the limitless potential of the fuel of the future. And in the Senate Tom Harkin looks to take over the ag committee. "This is the man who, facing down critics who dared question ethanol's environmental value, once took a swig of the corn-based fuel on the Senate floor, evidently to demonstrate its salubrious qualities."

And in the White House, well, let's not go there....
All of this is tremendously disheartening, yet it must not be allowed to forestall political action. Indeed, on several fronts, pro-sustainable agriculture forces are rolling out Farm Bill agendas that challenge the agribusiness chokehold on farm policy. These efforts reassert farming not as an industrial process geared to the needs of conglomerates, but rather as a way to build community, feed people, and regenerate soil.

From the heartland, the Iowa-based National Family Farm Coalition has come out with a farmer-oriented agenda [PDF] that demands the end of the direct-payment subsidies so beloved by ADM and other large corn buyers. In Washington, D.C., American Farmland Trust has released a comprehensive Farm Bill plan that makes a powerful case for replacing commodity subsidies with "green payments" that would reward farmers for environmental stewardship.

Meanwhile, the Farm and Food Policy Project, a broad coalition of environmental, sustainable-agriculture, and anti-hunger groups, plans to release its Farm Bill proposal sometime this month.

These efforts are critically important. Any citizen interested in creating a sane food system should study them and pressure their representatives to vote accordingly during the Farm Bill debates.

Monday, November 13, 2006

"Springtime for Hitler"

Will Bunch wonders if Bush and Rove were "the Producers" of an intentional flop last week.

As evidence, he presents a series of final week Republican fuckups that look more than a little fishy, given the fact that the Red Team had been, until Tuesday, a paradigm of ruthless efficiency in every election this millennium.

1. [I]n Pennsylvania, why did the Bush-led Justice Department step up its investigation of vulnerable U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon just weeks before Election Day....

2. How did it come to pass that the predatory sexual habits of Rep. Mark Foley -- which we now know was a closely held secret among GOP insiders for years -- suddenly leaked out to ABC's Brian Ross a month before the election. There is one political operative in this country who is notorious for using rumors or allegations of homosexuality or pedophilia to destroy his election rivals -- and that operative is Karl Rove. According to accounts of how the story broke, it was Republican staffers who leaked the emails to Ross and to other D.C. insiders on the summer of 2006.

3. Given that Bush's approval rating hovered in the 35 to 40 percent range thoughout the election season, why did the White House suddenly make the president more visible by having more press conferences -- and thus taking more hostile questions on Iraq and other unpleasant subjects -- than at any other time in his six-year presidency, including two in roughly one week during the October home stretch?

4. Despite voters' increasingly strong dislike of Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary was deliberately put in front of the cameras at a key time in the race, on Oct. 26, just 12 days before the election....

5. Likewise, given Bush's low popularity and approval ratings, why was he dispatched at the last minute to the closest races, when other Republicans thought that his presence did more harm than good? Bush appeared with Sen. Conrad Burns in Montana just five days before the election, and for Missouri Sen. Jim Talent the day after that; and made frequent visits on behalf of Virginia Sen. George Allen. All three lost by narrow margins. Tennesee's GOP candidate Bob Corker got the more popular Laura Bush instead...and won.

6. Just four days before the election, and with polls showing the Iraq war highly unpopular, you had these comments from Vice President Cheney: The Bush administration is determined to continue "full speed ahead" with its policy in Iraq, regardless of Tuesday's midterm elections, Vice President Cheney said Friday. Cheney said in an interview with ABC News that the administration is convinced that it is pursuing the right path in Iraq. "It may not be popular with the public. It doesn't matter, in the sense that we have to continue what we think is right," Cheney said. "That's exactly what we're doing. We're not running for office. We're doing what we think is right."

7. Then you had the whole Cheney-Rumsfeld fiasco. Bush went out of his way to praise the two men just five days prior to the election, knowing full well how unpopular they were....

8. And of course Rove made a number of confoundingly bad decisions, dumping millions of dollars into Senate races that seemed hopeless for the Republicans -- and ultimately were -- in the solidly "blue" states of New Jersey and Maryland, where in hindsight a few dollars spent in the right ways might have salvaged the once-"red" Montana and Virginia.

And why, Bunch asks, would the Republicans want to do such a thing?

Everything we watched Bush do since Wednesday morning seems to be geared in one direction: Bringing Democrats to the table on Iraq. The problem for the Democrats is this: They came to office without a plan for Iraq. Bush doesn't seem to have one either. Nobody does, although James Baker and his friends are said to be working on one. But now whatever emerges from the coming discussions will not longer be the GOP plan. It will be the Bush/Democrats' plan.

And we're afraid that the war planners are expecting things to get worse over there in 2007. Good politicians are able to ensure that when bad fallout is inevitable, that the blame can be shared. A GOP majority in Capitol Hill would have guaranteed that "the Republican war in Iraq" would dominate the 2008 presidential race, and that equation would hand the keys to the White House to the Democrats for sure. And Bush's patrons -- oilmen and the defense contractors -- need the White House a lot more than Congress, especially after the recent expansion of presidential powers. And now both parties will have a stake in Iraq, and the ... coming fiasco there.

I can't tell for sure if Bunch is completely serious here, but he speaks for a lot of folks who wonder why the Republicans really went down without a fight. As regards the Iraq mess, the Democrats won't be able to skate away from responsibility. Nor should they be allowed to.

Friday, November 10, 2006

"You gotta go, you gotta go"

... or "Don't let the door hit your fat ass on the way out, you son-of-a-bitch."

From Glenn Greenwald:
It doesn't look like there there is excessive meekness or conciliation coming from the soon-to-be Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Charlie Rangel, who "revealed yesterday that he's got his eye on Capitol Hill office space now held by . . . Vice President Dick Cheney":
"Mr. Cheney enjoys an office on the second floor of the House of Representatives that historically has been designated for the Ways and Means Committee chairman," explained Rangel . . . "I talked to [future House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi about it this morning," a giddy Rangel crowed during a news conference at his Harlem office. "I'm trying to find some way to be gentle as I restore the dignity of that office," chuckled Rangel. "You gotta go, you gotta go."

Rummy, you're scummy, but it wasn't ALL your fault

One down, one to go...
I can think of no public figure, OK, there's one, whose comeuppance would be met with greater glee. And yet, as Tony Karon points out, the idea that we got rid of the one problem child is self-serving and just plain wrong.

The news that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is to be the Bush Administration’s ritual sacrifice on the altar of its electoral rebuke comes as no surprise: It had been obvious for months now the call for Rumsfeld’s head is a kind of consensual fetish among those who supported the Iraq war for not having to deal with their own culpability in the catastrophe it inevitably became. I say “inevitably” because you don’t have to have a working knowledge of Iraqi history to have anticipated how Iraqis would respond to their country being occupied by a foreign army — you simply needed to have watched “Red Dawn” back in the 80s. (A working knowledge of Iraqi history, as many U.S. military types who quietly but firmly opposed the war had, would certainly have helped anticipate some of the specific sectarian and regional consequences, but that’s another matter.)

But instead of admitting and reckoning with the fact that the war they advocated was a catastrophically bad idea, everyone from neocon hacks to flip-flopping Democrats, Bob Woodward (arch channeler of White House sources) and the self-styled “liberal hawks” of the chattering classes, like Peter Beinart and George Packer, have signed on to the notion that it was a good war, the right war, executed badly, because Rumsfeld adhered to some bizarre capital-intensive theory of warfare. In other words, if Rumsfeld had simply sent more troops, the outcome would have been different.

And that narrative, which the White House itself appears to have adopted in the wake of its midterm electoral drubbing, is a self-serving evasion. Indeed, the “blame Rumsfeld for Iraq” chorus reminds me of nothing as much as listening to Trotskyists trying to rescue Bolshevism by blaming its grotesque consequences on Stalin’s “implementation” rather than on its inner logic.

Having more troops in Iraq would have made a tactical differences, and might have altered the story arc and timeline, but I can’t see how it would have produced a fundamentally different outcome. And the idea evades the reality that the troop levels in Iraq were a function of the politics of the war rather than of some whacky CEO cost-cutting obsession. In fact, the chiefs of staff (and Powell, too, initially) were trying to stop the war, or at least slow the train by making the project look prohibitive because of the troop levels required. They believed it needed up to a half million troops, and they probably also knew that presented with a realistic picture of the cost and commitment, that Congress would balk. That was the reason why, for example, Paul Wolfowitz jumped so aggressively down General Shinseki’s throat when he suggested before Congress that the U.S. would need a “few hundred thousand” troops to secure the peace. It wasn’t that Wolfowitz was seized by some Rumsfeldian “New Generation Warfare” theory; it’s that he was on board with a political strategy to make the invasion happen and destroy any obstacle that would prevent it.
Karon should be an everyday read. He's is a great blogger, a humane sophisticated voice. We should be happy that he has a forum at Time. com (God knows there are few mainstream columnists of his caliber).

Other recent Karon posts absolutely slaughter the conventional wisdom on such sacred mainstream sacred cows as the impossibility of compromise with Hamas and the existence of an Iran "crisis." His piece on Beijing's geopolitics is a marvel of reason and concision. And I resisted at first, but came around to his finding Borat more than a little troubling:
So, you wonder what the Kazakh’s must make of being tarred with the brush of anti-Semitism when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth? I’d say that Sascha Baron Cohen is a prat, and a racist prat at that: Essentially, he’s operating his own stereotype, i.e. that Muslims are inherently anti-Semitic....

Let’s just say Baron needs to go back to Oxford and learn a little history — he might learn that over the long haul of Jewish history, we’ve done a lot better under Islamic rule than we’ve fared in the Christian West. Then again, if Sascha Baron Cohen did a skit of some provincial Catholic bishop singing “throw the Jew down the well”, he wouldn’t be opening his movie all over America right now.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Morning in America

Been away from blogging for a couple of days, reorganizing the home office and configuring my new computer. I didn't miss anything, did I?

I see Britney gave whatshisname his walking papers, and is sporting a new "svelte and single" look....

Oh yeah. Ah, the midterm elections. The results are better than a sharp stick in the eye, but I'm resisting actually being happy about all this.

Perhaps my naivete is showing but for the entire week I've been digesting, in slackjawed amazement, Matt Taibbi's recent "The Worst Congress Ever" cover story in Rolling Stone. Nothing he wrote was a state secret, yet it's not something we see every day in the respectable press. I read the Times and the Post a decent amount, and I have never seen an article in either of those august papers of record that spells out the Bush League (oh! didn't mean it, but it fits) bullshit that has gone on in Washington over the past six years.

To choose one of many vivid, funny/sad anecdotes, here's Taibbi on how the conference hearings have been run in the Bush era (they're the hearings needed to iron out the differences between House and Senate versions of a bill):
According to the rules, conferences have to include at least one public, open meeting. But in the Bush years, Republicans have managed the conference issue with some of the most mind-blowingly juvenile behavior seen in any parliament west of the Russian Duma after happy hour. GOP chairmen routinely call a meeting, bring the press in for a photo op and then promptly shut the proceedings down. "Take a picture, wait five minutes, gavel it out -- all for show" is how one Democratic staffer described the process. Then, amazingly, the Republicans sneak off to hold the real conference, forcing the Democrats to turn amateur detective and go searching the Capitol grounds for the meeting. "More often than not, we're trying to figure out where the conference is," says one House aide.

In one legendary incident, Rep. Charles Rangel went searching for a secret conference being held by Thomas. When he found the room where Republicans closeted themselves, he knocked and knocked on the door, but no one answered. A House aide compares the scene to the famous "Land Shark" skit from Saturday Night Live, with everyone hiding behind the door afraid to make a sound. "Rangel was the land shark, I guess," the aide jokes. But the real punch line came when Thomas finally opened the door. "This meeting," he informed Rangel, "is only open to the coalition of the willing."

They've set the bar pretty damn low for the Dems.

Of course. OF COURSE. the Republicans that have been running the show for the past six years are unspeakably evil, and I can't say I'm unhappy that they have been smoked. But. But.

Sharper minds than mine have been all over the fact that the Democrat establishment has been fighting hard to tamp down the antiwar ardor. In Counterpunch, Cockburn and St. Clair write:
Wherever they were given the opportunity, voters across the country went strongly for antiwar candidates. True, the national Democrats, led by Rahm Emanuel of the Democratic Congressional Campaign, had tried pretty successfully to keep such peaceniks off the ballot, but in a few key races the antiwar progressives romped home. The Democrats won, despite Emanuel. If the Clintonites weren't still controlling most of the campaign money, and more openly antiwar populi sts had been running, the Democrats today would probably be looking at a wider majority in the House and one committed solidly to getting out of Iraq.
And I have to love being able to rely on Billmon for a serious dose of well-reasoned pessimism. Commenting on the fickleness of last-minute deciders, he writes:

[I]t seems worth remembering that the size of the Democratic wave was hugely influenced at the margin (which is where it counts) by that tenth of the electorate who couldn't make up their minds until literally the last minute -- despite everything that's been done, said, reported and revealed over the two years since they were last asked to take the fate of the world's only superpower into their hands.

Next time, they could easily break the other way, for reasons just as ephemeral.

And an even bigger spoilsport is Jeff Wells of Rigorous Intuition who, in an unusually flat piece, does manage to open with a damn good question:
What kind of world would greet Robert Gates' appointment as Secretary of Defense as a happy news item? Regrettably, this one. That's the true Bush legacy: diminished expectation, and delight and surprise at achieving debased, small victories that have to be handed to us.
I could even top them. Well, OK, so I will. Here ya go, your tax dollars still hard at work:


Oops. We did it again.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Well, that was a shocker!

New, improved Iraq:
"Two channels, Salahiddin and Zawra, shut down.
Security forces raid the offices of the channels."
(from riverbend).

Stunning verdict rendered in Baghdad, no?

A couple of comments. First, let's remember that, as Juan Cole points out,"The Dujail charges have the advantage for Washington of stemming from an incident that occurred a year before the U.S. rapprochement with the Iraqi Baath Party in 1983."

All the other graver charges that could be brought against Saddam Hussein, could be brought against his American enablers as well.

Writes Cole:
The only conclusion one can draw from available evidence is that Rumsfeld was more or less dispatched [to Baghdad, for a second time, in 1985, when he was a "private citizen," by the Reagan Administration] to mollify Hussein and assure him that his use of chemical weapons was no bar to developing the relationship with the U.S., whatever the State Department spokesman was sent out to say. As former National Security Council staffer Howard Teicher affirmed, “Pursuant to the secret NSDD [National Security Directive], the United States actively supported the Iraqi war effort by supplying the Iraqis with billions of dollars of credits, by providing US military intelligence and advice to the Iraqis, and by closely monitoring third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure that Iraq had the military weaponry required.” The requisite weaponry included cluster bombs. Whether it also included, from Washington’s point of view, chemical weapons and biological precursors for anthrax, Teicher does not say.

... When the Dujail case is resolved and the tribunal trying Hussein goes on to other crimes, sooner or later the issue of chemical weapons use must arise. Iran is already furious that the tribunal seems unlikely to charge Hussein for his battlefield deployment of this weapon. When the issue arises, it will be difficult for Donald Rumsfeld to avoid sharing the docket, at least symbolically, with his old friend, Hussein. Rumsfeld helped to forge the U.S. alliance with Iraq that lasted from 1984 until Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August of 1991. He did so in full knowledge that the Baath regime was using mustard gas--which severely burns the lungs--against the Iranian children sent by Khomeini to launch “human wave” attacks. One Iranian survivor commented that with each flaming breath he takes, he wishes the gas had killed him. The pogrom against the Shiites of Dujail was a horrible crime. Far more horrible ones, in which the U.S. government was intimately complicit, were to follow.
Read the whole piece...

Note: Cole's piece is from 2005. For a more contemporaneous take, please read Riverbend's reaction:
I’m more than a little worried. This is Bush’s final card. The elections came and went and a group of extremists and thieves were put into power (no, no- I meant in Baghdad, not Washington). The constitution which seems to have drowned in the river of Iraqi blood since its elections has been forgotten. It is only dug up when one of the Puppets wants to break apart the country. Reconstruction is an aspiration from another lifetime: I swear we no longer want buildings and bridges, security and an undivided Iraq are more than enough. Things must be deteriorating beyond imagination if Bush needs to use the ‘Execute the Dictator’ card.

Iraq has not been this bad in decades. The occupation is a failure. The various pro-American, pro-Iranian Iraqi governments are failures. The new Iraqi army is a deadly joke. Is it really time to turn Saddam into a martyr?

... It’s not about the man- presidents come and go, governments come and go. It’s the frustration of feeling like the whole country and every single Iraqi inside and outside of Iraq is at the mercy of American politics. It is the rage of feeling like a mere chess piece to be moved back and forth at will. It is the aggravation of having a government so blind and uncaring about their peoples needs that they don’t even feel like it’s necessary to go through the motions or put up an act. And it's the deaths. The thousands of dead and dying, with Bush sitting there smirking and lying about progress and winning in a country where every single Iraqi outside of the Green Zone is losing.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Number two ... but closing fast

Hey, here's betting after 808 more days (countdown is here), Dubya'll be number one on everyone's list.

From the Guardian:
America is now seen as a threat to world peace by its closest neighbours and allies, according to an international survey of public opinion published today that reveals just how far the country's reputation has fallen among former supporters since the invasion of Iraq.

Carried out as US voters prepare to go to the polls next week in an election dominated by the war, the research also shows that British voters see George Bush as a greater danger to world peace than either the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, or the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both countries were once cited by the US president as part of an "axis of evil", but it is Mr Bush who now alarms voters in countries with traditionally strong links to the US.


And Billmon is quite good here on the dangers Dubya will continue to present as a lame duck, no matter who wins control of Congress:

But even if a November or December surprise isn't on the drawing boards, the historical pattern suggests a period of danger may lie ahead. The last two lame duck years of any president's second term are traditionally devoted to foreign policy, as the White House's domestic clout fades and the political focus shifts to the succession question. For most presidents, this usually means launching or intensifying ambitious diplomatic or peacemaking efforts, such as Clinton's bid to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in one swift go at Camp David.

But Bush (or Cheney, take your pick) isn't like "most presidents." His diplomatic efforts, with few exceptions, have all reached what appear to be dead ends -- with the Israelis and the Palestinians, with the Iranians and probably with the North Koreans, although with Kim Jong-il who the hell knows?

If Shrub wants to spend his last two years rolling those stones up the hill only to watch them roll back again, more power to him. But at this point, unless he wants the words "Led America Into Its Worst Strategic Defeat Since Vietnam" chiseled on his historical tombstone, he's going to need a bigger flight forward to fly forward to.

What's more, compared to other recent administrations, Bush and/or Cheney will have maximum freedom of action to be as reckless as they want to be.

George Will has noted that the 2008 election will be the first election since 1952 in which neither a sitting president nor a sitting vice president are running for the top slot. Neocon Robert Kagan notes that this situation will free Bush from any need to worry about the consequences of his actions over the next two years -- in the way that Ronald Reagan had to keep George Bush's political interests in mind in 1988 and Bill Clinton tried to protect Al Gore's chances in 2000. That is, unless Shrub also cares about improving John McCain or Rudy Guilani or Mitt Romney's electoral chances. But when did a Bush ever give a shit about anyone not named Bush?

Read the whole Billmon piece...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Very sad news

The Times has a story on O'Connor's Bar and the legacy of owner Patrick O'Connor, who died October 8.

I lived a dozen long strides from O'Connor's from 1987 to 1992, and as I moved around Brooklyn was never more than a mile away, until packing up for Kentucky three years ago. O'Connor's was a home away from home.

I always hate to hear the old-timers saying "It's not like the old days," but of course with O'Connor's you have to say that. In the years prior to the hipster infusion, I spent many afternoons and evenings with half a dozen others at the bar, sometimes fewer. A Times report from early 2005 captions an interior shot of O'Connor's with the words: "Park Slope, Brooklyn, a neighborhood that a report says has more residents who drink to excess than average." The old-timer in me says, "That's nothin'. You shoulda seen it ..."

The prices were nice of course, the ambiance cozy, the old 45s jukebox an eccentric treasure trove--when Macnamara's Band (Bing Crosby) and Gloria (Laura Branigan) were two of the more popular selections-- but Mr. O'Connor himself was the main attraction. I sensed he disagreed strongly with me on all the hot-button issues, but he was always polite and always keen to keep the conversation going.

He was notorious for buying rounds, sometimes two or three in succession, just as you were getting ready to hit the road, and there were a good few subway rides to work where I cursed his geniality. We called that last-minute round-buying "Getting Pat-ed."

Pat moved to the day shift in later years and I regret not having stopped in more often. He was a wonderful, wonderful man.

And about that moose over the bar. O'Connor's was a dark, hazy place. Didn't matter if it was day or night. I remember once mentioning the moose in passing while chatting with a old guy who'd been coming in there for years. The conversation went on and on and I noticed the guy seemed a little distracted by something. Finally, twenty minutes after I mentioned it, he broke down and asked, "What moose?"

Earl Butz's dream

At Grist, Tom Philpott evokes the Ancient Mariner--"Water, water, every where,/Nor any drop to drink"--while looking at the absurdities of industrial agriculture in the midwest, where corn fields stretch to the horizon but the locals only eat what's grown in their region when it returns "in the form of corn-syrup-sweetened Coca-Cola and corn-fed McDonald's burgers."

"Currently, a typical farm in the Midwest produces inputs for industrial production. What if, instead," Philpott wonders, "farms focused on growing fresh food for their neighbors?"

He points to the work of independent Minnesota farm researcher Ken Meter who in a 2001 paper "Finding Food in Farm Country" [co-authored with John Rosales], " argues persuasively that the dismal economics of farm-state agriculture could be improved by developing local markets."
Meter's work shows that commodity farming, rather than building wealth, extracts money from rural communities. In a seven-county region of southeastern Minnesota in 1997, farmers brought in an impressive $866 million selling their wares. However, amazingly, they incurred $947 million in costs to do so -- a loss of a cool $80 million. Federal subsidies covered just half of that loss; the rest had to be made up by non-farming activities.

Moreover, nearly half of the $947 million in incurred expenses left the area, as payments to distant suppliers of seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides, or to banks in the form of interest.

Meanwhile, though, the seven-county region's 120,000 households were busily buying food and eating it. Meter reckons that southeastern Minnesotans were spending $500 million on food annually -- and only $2 million of it on fare grown within the region. Yet if they could manage to buy just 20 percent of their food from nearby growers, that would amount to $100 million in additional sales for the region's farms, more than wiping out their $80 million loss in 1997.
In spite of big ag having done all that it can to ensure that all energies of Midwestern farmers are directed toward "the mass production of a few inedible commodities," Philpott writes that Meter proves "in case study after case study" that "Farming for distant commodity markets sucks resources out of communities, and residents of those communities spend heavily on food from outside." A little effort at redeveloping atrophied local food markets might make the bread basket of America worthy of the name again.


And a little background as to how Iowa got this way, courtesy of Michael Pollan's NY Times article, The (Agri)Cultural Contradictions Of Obesity:

So why did we ever abandon [New Deal farm policy that featured price supports and grain reserves, with minimal costs, if any, to taxpayers]? Politics, in a word. The shift from an agricultural-support system designed to discourage overproduction to one that encourages it dates to the early 1970's -- to the last time food prices in America climbed high enough to generate significant political heat. That happened after news of Nixon's 1972 grain deal with the Soviet Union broke, a disclosure that coincided with a spell of bad weather in the farm belt. Commodity prices soared, and before long so did supermarket prices for meat, milk, bread and other staple foods tied to the cost of grain. Angry consumers took to the streets to protest food prices and staged a nationwide meat boycott to protest the high cost of hamburger, that American birthright. Recognizing the political peril, Nixon ordered his secretary of agriculture, Earl (Rusty) Butz, to do whatever was necessary to drive down the price of food.

Butz implored America's farmers to plant their fields ''fence row to fence row'' and set about dismantling 40 years of farm policy designed to prevent overproduction. He shuttered the ever-normal granary, dropped the target price for grain and inaugurated a new subsidy system, which eventually replaced nonrecourse loans with direct payments to farmers. The distinction may sound technical, but in effect it was revolutionary. For instead of lending farmers money so they could keep their grain off the market, the government offered to simply cut them a check, freeing them to dump their harvests on the market no matter what the price.

The new system achieved exactly what it was intended to: the price of food hasn't been a political problem for the government since the Nixon era. Commodity prices have steadily declined, and in the perverse logic of agricultural economics, production has increased, as farmers struggle to stay solvent. As you can imagine, the shift from supporting agricultural prices to subsidizing much lower prices has been a boon to agribusiness companies because it slashes the cost of their raw materials. That's why Big Food, working with the farm-state Congressional delegations it lavishly supports, consistently lobbies to maintain a farm policy geared to high production and cheap grain.