Archives

March 2003

SELECT A MONTH:

Mar 30

Either Take a Shot or Take a Chance By DEXTER FILKINS DIWANIYA, Iraq, March 28 ? At the base camp of the Fifth Marine Regiment here, two sharpshooters, Sgt. Eric Schrumpf, 28, and Cpl. Mikael McIntosh, 20, sat on a sand berm and swapped combat tales while their column stood at a halt on the road toward Baghdad. For five days this week, the two men rode atop armored personnel carriers, barreling up Highway 1. They said Iraqi fighters had often mixed in with civilians from nearby villages, jumping out of houses and cars to shoot at them, and then often running away. The marines said they had little trouble dispatching their foes, most of whom they characterized as ill trained and cowardly. “We had a great day,” Sergeant Schrumpf said. “We killed a lot of people.” Sergeant Schrumpf said that while most Iraqi soldiers had posed little danger, a small number appeared to be well trained and calm under fire. Some, the sergeant added, wore black suits, described by some Iraqis as the uniform of the Saddam Feydayeen, a militia of die-hard loyalists of Saddam Hussein. Both marines said they were most frustrated by the practice of some Iraqi soldiers to use unarmed women and children as shields against American bullets. They called the tactic cowardly but agreed that it had been effective. Both Sergeant Schrumpf and Corporal McIntosh said they had declined several times to shoot at Iraqi soldiers out of fear they might hit civilians. “It’s a judgment call,” Corporal McIntosh said. “If the risks outweigh the losses, then you don’t take the shot.” But in the heat of a firefight, both men conceded, when the calculus often warps, a shot not taken in one set of circumstances may suddenly present itself as a life-or-death necessity. “We dropped a few civilians,” Sergeant Schrumpf said, “but what do you do?” To illustrate, the sergeant offered a pair of examples from earlier in the week. “There was one Iraqi soldier, and 25 women and children,” he said, “I didn’t take the shot.” But more than once, Sergeant Schrumpf said, he faced a different choice: one Iraqi soldier standing among two or three civilians. He recalled one such incident, in which he and other men in his unit opened fire. He recalled watching one of the women standing near the Iraqi soldier go down. “I’m sorry,” the sergeant said. “But the chick was in the way.” The two marines recalled their battlefield experiences as American commanders halted one of the three main columns advancing toward Baghdad today. The commanders said a combination of tenacious Iraqi resistance and overexposed supply lines had prompted them to catch their breath. Officers with the First Marine Division, whose troops have driven 200 miles into Iraqi over the past week, ordered their troops to stop their northward push up Highway 1. The column, comprising about 14,000 marines, is the middle of a three-pronged effort to attack Baghdad. The Marine force, strung out along the highway in the Iraqi desert about 100 miles south of Baghdad, has met steadily fiercer Iraqi resistance since it crossed the Euphrates River earlier this week. Soldiers fighting on the front lines near here said they had killed hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and irregulars this week. American commanders said today that they wanted to consolidate the gains they have made, mainly by attacking pockets of Iraqi soldiers who have continued to harass their convoys 100 miles to the south. They also said the halt was necessary to give the Third Infantry Division, which is engaged in heavy fighting to the west, time to catch up. “We have run into some pretty stiff resistance here on the highway,” said Col. Joe Dunford. “It has slowed us a bit. We don’t need to move as fast as we have over the past few days.” Colonel Dunford and other American officers were unable to predict when the Marine column would resume its march. But the commanders said the “operational pause,” as they called it, was nothing more than a pit stop on the way to Baghdad. They also said the halt in the ground advance would likely be offset by the continued bombardment of Baghdad by the Air Force. Still, the decision to halt represents another sign that American military planners had underestimated the breadth and ferocity of resistance that the Iraqis would offer, particularly in the cities the American-led forces had been hoping to bypass. Fighting between Iraqi and American soldiers has raged intermittently for much of the week. Last night, under Iraqi mortar fire, American commanders sounded alerts for poison gas three times. Three Americans have been killed in the fighting here over the last five days, and an unknown number wounded. American soldiers said they had killed hundreds of Iraqi soldiers who tried to block the American advance. For much of the week, the skies here were filled with Cobra gunships circling suspected Iraqi troop concentrations. Fighter bombers dropped 2,000 bombs, which set the earth rumbling. “I think a pretty fair number have been killed,” Colonel Dunford said. At an American camp along the highway here, soldiers returning from several days of fighting sketched a consistent picture of the Iraqi resistance, as well as the successes and failures they were having in confronting it. As the Americans pushed northward, they often encountered two types of fighters: large groups of Iraqis who appeared to be untrained and unmotivated, and who posed little threat, and others who fought furiously, even after the marines responded with overwhelming firepower. Some American soldiers said they had found large quantities of freshly printed Iraqi currency, some in unsealed blocks, in the pockets of captured Iraqi soldiers, suggesting that they had been paid recently in an effort to encourage them to fight. from the New York Times. I’m sure in most other parts of the world statements like those made by those US soldiers will not be regarded as nonchalantly. I remember the days when the NY Times would be filled with disgust about Serbian soldiers saying stuff like that about the “chick” who got killed. Isn’t it amazing how things change?
Read more »

Mar 28

“‘We’re absolutely sick and tired of putting things out and finding they’re not true. The misinformation in this war is far and away worse than any conflict I’ve covered, including the first Gulf war and Kosovo,’ said a senior BBC news source. “‘On Saturday we were told they’d taken Basra and Nassiriya and then subsequently found out neither were true. We’re getting more truth out of Baghdad than the Pentagon at the moment. Not because Baghdad is putting out pure and morally correct information but because they’re less savvy about it, I think.’” found in The Guardian
Read more »

Mar 27

“Yesterday President George Bush made his first public appearance since the start of the war, speaking to service personnel at the MacDill airforce base in Tampa in an obvious bid to reassure Americans and boost the morale of the armed forces. But how do we know this is the real George Bush?” from the Guardian
Read more »

Mar 27

In an article about weblogs and news during wartime, the German weekly Der Spiegel notes how hard it is to find the truth about the war - despite (as probably most people would argue) or because (as is getting more and more apparent) of all those weblogs. I haven’t seen a single unbiased weblog - and this includes in particular the overhyped and overrated The Agonist. I guess we’ll have to wait until after the war to find the truth somewhere, when courageous journalists start to investigate what really happened.
Read more »

Mar 26

excellent article in The Guardian
Read more »

Mar 25

an unblinking look?in words and images?at the reality of warfare
Read more »

Mar 25

Karim El-Gawhary is a reporter with the German newspaper tageszeitung. Here’s a transcript of a phone conversation he had with friends in Baghdad, a middle-class family (my own translation). “The general mood has changed a lot since they showed the five US POWs on Iraqi television. I even let my daughters [eight and ten years old - JMC] see that so that they won’t be afraid of those frightened soldiers any longer. Only when they showed the images of the bloodied dead US soldiers did I change the channel because of the children. “Since those images were shown on TV, people are talking about nothing else in the city. For many people, the image of the invincible US army has been destroyed. I don’t listen to the arab services of BBC and Voice of America any longer. We know that they all lie. […] “Since the first days of the bombing my mood has changed by 180 degrees. Many of us now feel some sort of pride of the resistance of the Iraqi Army. Many of my acquaintances, even those who are opposed to the regime, feel that this is not about the defense of the regime but about their own self-defense and the defense of their country against occupation. The good morale of our poorly equipped regular army has also hardened the morale of civilians. I’m surprised that even the Shi’ites in the South, who oppose the regime, are putting up resistance. The Americans miscalculated that, they understand Arabs as little as Arabs understand Americans. “Now people dare to be in to the streets again. They’re not afarid of US air raids any longer. I went for a walk with my daughters. Together, we watched how Iraqi soldiers set fire to a small lake of oil, how a lot of smoke developed. For a while, the sun was gone. That way, we want to interfere with the air raids. Most supermarkets are open again, we even bought fresh fruit. At home, we had chicken with safran rice. That was our first real meal since the war started. “But air raids are still ongoing. The other night, a cat had a miscarriage in the garden. A small rocket hit the ground only 200 meters from our house. In our immediate neighbourhood, there is no military target, only a school. During air raids we now follow the same pattern. Over the loud impacts [of the bombs] my wife is singing childrens’ songs for our frightened children and then we turn up the music’s volume and dance. Yesterday, for the first time I danced flamenco.”
Read more »

Mar 25

Channels of Influence By PAUL KRUGMAN By and large, recent pro-war rallies haven’t drawn nearly as many people as antiwar rallies, but they have certainly been vehement. One of the most striking took place after Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks, criticized President Bush: a crowd gathered in Louisiana to watch a 33,000-pound tractor smash a collection of Dixie Chicks CD’s, tapes and other paraphernalia. To those familiar with 20th-century European history it seemed eerily reminiscent of… . But as Sinclair Lewis said, it can’t happen here. Who has been organizing those pro-war rallies? The answer, it turns out, is that they are being promoted by key players in the radio industry ? with close links to the Bush administration. The CD-smashing rally was organized by KRMD, part of Cumulus Media, a radio chain that has banned the Dixie Chicks from its playlists. Most of the pro-war demonstrations around the country have, however, been organized by stations owned by Clear Channel Communications, a behemoth based in San Antonio that controls more than 1,200 stations and increasingly dominates the airwaves. The company claims that the demonstrations, which go under the name Rally for America, reflect the initiative of individual stations. But this is unlikely: according to Eric Boehlert, who has written revelatory articles about Clear Channel in Salon, the company is notorious ? and widely hated ? for its iron-fisted centralized control. Until now, complaints about Clear Channel have focused on its business practices. Critics say it uses its power to squeeze recording companies and artists and contributes to the growing blandness of broadcast music. But now the company appears to be using its clout to help one side in a political dispute that deeply divides the nation. Why would a media company insert itself into politics this way? It could, of course, simply be a matter of personal conviction on the part of management. But there are also good reasons for Clear Channel ? which became a giant only in the last few years, after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 removed many restrictions on media ownership ? to curry favor with the ruling party. On one side, Clear Channel is feeling some heat: it is being sued over allegations that it threatens to curtail the airplay of artists who don’t tour with its concert division, and there are even some politicians who want to roll back the deregulation that made the company’s growth possible. On the other side, the Federal Communications Commission is considering further deregulation that would allow Clear Channel to expand even further, particularly into television. Or perhaps the quid pro quo is more narrowly focused. Experienced Bushologists let out a collective “Aha!” when Clear Channel was revealed to be behind the pro-war rallies, because the company’s top management has a history with George W. Bush. The vice chairman of Clear Channel is Tom Hicks, whose name may be familiar to readers of this column. When Mr. Bush was governor of Texas, Mr. Hicks was chairman of the University of Texas Investment Management Company, called Utimco, and Clear Channel’s chairman, Lowry Mays, was on its board. Under Mr. Hicks, Utimco placed much of the university’s endowment under the management of companies with strong Republican Party or Bush family ties. In 1998 Mr. Hicks purchased the Texas Rangers in a deal that made Mr. Bush a multimillionaire. There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, but a good guess is that we’re now seeing the next stage in the evolution of a new American oligarchy. As Jonathan Chait has written in The New Republic, in the Bush administration “government and business have melded into one big `us.’ ” On almost every aspect of domestic policy, business interests rule: “Scores of midlevel appointees … now oversee industries for which they once worked.” We should have realized that this is a two-way street: if politicians are busy doing favors for businesses that support them, why shouldn’t we expect businesses to reciprocate by doing favors for those politicians ? by, for example, organizing “grass roots” rallies on their behalf? What makes it all possible, of course, is the absence of effective watchdogs. In the Clinton years the merest hint of impropriety quickly blew up into a huge scandal; these days, the scandalmongers are more likely to go after journalists who raise questions. Anyway, don’t you know there’s a war on?
Read more »

Mar 23

In order to justify the attack on Iraq - which very likely constitutes a major violation of international law - the Bush jr administration has shifted its reasoning yet again. As in Afghanistan, they have now discovered human rights. Human rights and democracy always sell well. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been more coherent, he has brought up how terrible Saddam Hussein’s regime is for a long time. In fact, he - and The Economist - has acted as if human rights were actually a British invention. Obviously, we all know how much we’d like to have people like Saddam Hussein removed from power so how could we be against that war? But as usual, things are not that easy. First of all, Bush jr.’s discovery of human rights simply seems to be just another PR stunt. He has come up with all kinds of reasons for his war and most people seem to believe that he doesn’t even care too much about the truth of his claims. I’m not going into that, it’s just too obvious. Second, applying human rights this selectively, namely when you need them to wage war, is, depending on how you want to see it, either ludicrous or cynical. The US didn’t seem to have any problems with Saddam Hussein’s human rights record when he was fighting his war against Iran. Which brings us to an interesting exercise. For the US, today’s “ally” is tomorrow’s mortal enemy. That seems to be a fairly justified assessment if you look at recent history. So let’s look at the state of democracy and human rights in some of those countries which joined the “Coalition of the Willing”. BTW, all information on human rights are taken from Amnesty International’s latest year book. I’m quoting from the abstracts for each country. Afghanistan - There’s a lot to say about Afghanistan but I don’t even want to open that can of worms. I’ve read lots and lots of reports according to which the situation of women hasn’t improved after the overthrow of the Taliban. Also, I’m still missing those democratic elections we got promised. Stay tuned… Azerbaijan - “At least two men died in detention, allegedly as a result of torture and ill- treatment. Demonstrators and political activists were detained for short periods of time, and some reportedly ill-treated in detention. As respect for media freedoms generally decreased, criminal defamation legislation was used to stifle apparently legitimate criticism of public officials.” (link) Now that sounds very very familiar, doesn’t it? Sounds like a good ally. Bulgaria - “Reports of ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement officials were widespread. Very few of the suspected perpetrators were brought to justice. Many of the victims, some of whom were minors, were Roma. Law enforcement officials continued to use firearms in circumstances prohibited by international standards, resulting in deaths and injuries. Conditions in many institutions for adults with mental disabilities amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Restrictions on the right to freedom of expression continued to be imposed.” (link) ditto! Colombia - “Systematic and gross abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law persisted. Paramilitary groups acting with the active or tacit support of the security forces were responsible for the vast majority of extrajudicial executions and ”disappearances”; many of their victims were tortured before being killed. Armed opposition groups were responsible for violations of international humanitarian law, including arbitrary or deliberate killings. More than 300 people ”disappeared” and more than 4,000 civilians were killed outside of combat for political motives by the armed groups. Over 1,700 people were kidnapped by armed opposition groups and paramilitary forces. All parties to the conflict were responsible for the forced displacement of large numbers of civilians. The security situation of those living in conflict zones, particularly human rights defenders, trade unionists, judicial officials, journalists, members of Afro- Colombian and indigenous communities and peasant farmers, continued to worsen. Evidence emerged of the strong links between the security forces and the paramilitaries. Judicial and disciplinary investigations advanced in several high-profile cases, implicating high-ranking officials in human rights violations, but impunity remained widespread.” (link) Well, what are we going to say about that? Maybe we’ll just add that the US has a large number of military “advisors” in Colombia. Eritrea/Ethiopia - Two countries which lead a World-War-I style war against each other (incl. trenches etc.). And for Ethiopia, Amnesty reports “Armed conflict continued within Ethiopia between government forces and Oromo and Somali opponents; many human rights violations by government troops were reported. Suspected rebel supporters were detained, tortured and extrajudicially executed. Several thousand remained in detention; some had been held for years without charge or trial. Journalists, human rights activists, demonstrators and other critics of the government were arrested. Most were held without trial, although some received unfair trials. During local elections in March, April and December scores of opposition party supporters were subjected to intimidation, beatings and arbitrary arrest.” (link) Georgia - “There were numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment in custody. Two people died in custody in circumstances suggesting torture or ill-treatment may have contributed to their deaths. The authorities failed to investigate allegations adequately and bring those responsible to justice. Attacks against members of non-traditional religions continued unabated. Prison conditions were often extremely harsh. In the disputed region of Abkhazia, conscientious objectors to military service continued to face imprisonment.” (link) Philippines - “Defects in the administration of justice were highlighted by reports of torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects by police to extract confessions and of extrajudicial executions of suspected drug dealers and others. Women in custody were vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse. Complaints procedures, investigations and criminal prosecution of suspected perpetrators of human rights violations failed repeatedly to provide effective redress. Arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial executions and ”disappearances” were reported in the context of military counter-insurgency operations. Armed political groups were responsible for grave abuses, including killings, torture and hostage-taking.” (link) As is widely known - but sparsely being reported - the US likes to use countries like the Philippines to get suspects tortured. Torture constitutes a major human rights violation. Turkey - “Thousands of prisoners were held in conditions of prolonged isolation which could amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, while the debate surrounding the high security ”F-type” prisons intensified. The pressure on human rights defenders increased: they faced harassment, death threats, arrests and prosecution, and branches of human rights associations were closed. Many people were imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression, particularly when they expressed opinions on the Kurdish question, the ”F-type” prisons or the role of Islam. Torture in police custody remained widespread and was practised systematically, while the perpetrators were rarely brought to justice. Two Kurdish politicians ”disappeared” in gendarmerie custody. Dozens of political killings were reported, some of which may have been extrajudicial executions.” (link) United Kingdom - I found some interesting information about the UK. I didn’t have time to look into it, yet. Jimmy Breslin reports “I received Friday a report that the commander of British troops who are invading Iraq is general Sir Mike Jackson. He was an officer in the Parachute Regiment in Derry, in Northern Ireland, in 1972. He came out of the Intelligence Division in the Holywood Barracks outside of Belfast. It was shown to be a torture chamber. On January 30, 1972, which in Derry became known as Bloody Sunday, Jackson was on the streets in the unit of paratroopers that committed the atrocities. They murdered 14 men and boys and shot many more. In a tribunal investigating the affair, Jackson said, ‘I was one of the group around Derek Wilford (the commanding officer) and that is where my memory properly kicks in.’” Go and read the whole article. It’s not very delightful to see what kind of people are now supposed to bring democracy to Iraq. Uzbekistan - “Reports of ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement officials of alleged supporters of banned Islamist opposition parties and movements, such as Hizb-ut- Tahrir, continued unabated. Thousands of devout Muslims and dozens of members or supporters of the banned secular political opposition parties and movements Erk and Birlik were serving long prison sentences, convicted after unfair trials of membership of an illegal party, distribution of illegal religious literature and anti-state activities. Reports continued to be received that devout Muslim prisoners were singled out for particularly cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in places of detention, particularly prison camps. Several prisoners, among them a prominent human rights defender, died in custody, allegedly as a result of torture. There were at least 22 death sentences, reportedly imposed after unfair trials, and at least four executions were carried out.” (link) Plus there are those members of the “Coalition of the Willing” who are quite unwilling to find their names in public. We don’t know who they are but they might include Israel (with its abysmal human rights records)and various Arab countries (ditto). It seems to me with a “Coalition of the Willing” like this fighting for freedom, democracy and human rights needs a lot of luck. Don’t expect too much. And, ah yes, I almost forgot: Kuwait - “The majority of human rights violations related to the period of martial law following the withdrawal of Iraqi forces in February 1991. Ten years later, despite the recommendations by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2000, the government had still not addressed most of these violations, including the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, unresolved extrajudicial executions and ”disappearances”, and political prisoners sentenced after manifestly unfair trials in the Martial Law and State Security Courts.” (link) If this is the kind of freedom and democracy people have in mind for Iraq there’ll be a lot of work for Amnesty International.
Read more »

Mar 20

This must be the best photo summing up Nazi Germany that I’ve ever seen. It was taken by Richard Peter in an air-raid shelter in 1946. I found the photo while looking for material from his book “Dresden - Eine Kamera klagt an”. After the destruction of Dresden, Peter had taken tons of photos of the city, the most famous one being a statue overlooking the ruins of the city. The book was published in the early 1950s in East Germany.
Read more »

Mar 20

Today, I Weep for my Country… by US Senator Robert Byrd Speech delivered on the floor of the US Senate March 19, 2003 3:45pm I believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great Republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength. But, today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned. Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of preemption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place. We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split. After war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America’s image around the globe. The case this Administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice. There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board. The brutality seen on September 11th and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names, and many addresses. But, this Administration has directed all of the anger, fear, and grief which emerged from the ashes of the twin towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But, he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war. If we attack Saddam Hussein, we will probably drive him from power. But, the zeal of our friends to assist our global war on terrorism may have already taken flight. The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to “orange alert.” There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home? A pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq. What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy? Why can this President not seem to see that America’s true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire? War appears inevitable. But, I continue to hope that the cloud will lift. Perhaps Saddam will yet turn tail and run. Perhaps reason will somehow still prevail. I along with millions of Americans will pray for the safety of our troops, for the innocent civilians in Iraq, and for the security of our homeland. May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us.
Read more »

Mar 18

Alright, I found some information on who else, apart from the Brits, is going to help out violating international law… errrrr…. grabbing Iraq’s oil… errrr… overthrowing Saddam Hussein to install a US puppet… errrr… to install a democratic regime. Here we go: Australia is going to provide around 2000 soldiers, planes and some ships. According to the German weekly Der Spiegel, Australian premier Howard - who in parliament was called a “murderer” by members of the audience - thus wants to make sure his country’s interests are best being dealt with. I see. Denmark offer a submarine and a corvette (and probably some hardcore porn) to deal with Saddam Hussein’s magnificent navy. Poland is sending 200 “specialists” (don’t make me comment on that…). Poland’s president Kwasniewski, a former comunist (you can’t be too choosy with your allies these days…), said that sometimes politicians have to disregard public opinion. I’m sure the Poles know how that feels because they’ve been subjected to that since at least 1945. The Czech Republic hasn’t decided what to send. I mean they needed a few months to find a new president! Maybe some pretzel sticks and some beer? If you mix Czech beer with water - ratio 1:100 - you’d get some decent American-style beer! Slovakia - which, I believe, Mr Bush once mistook for Slovenia - is sending 69 specialists. Funny how many specialists there are in Eastern Europe. There might be a shortage in specialists in Slovakia because of this. Romania will send four “special units” including military police. Presumably the same kind of special units which they used to kill demonstrators in their own country. I can see how those would be very useful. During World War II, the German also relied on foreign troops to do the *really* dirty work. Regional hyperpower Bulgaria - where the former king is now prime minister (how creative!) - might send up to 250 people but they won’t participate in any slaughter they said. That’s nice of them. I’m sure they’ll get some crumbs once it’s over. Albania is going to send 30 to 70 thugs from their powerful local mafia. No, make that soldiers. Plus, the US can use Albanian territorial waters which might be immensely useful if they moved the whole country by a few thousand miles. They’re still debating on whether they want to do that. And I gotta quote/translate this directly from Der Spiegel: “Turkey again would like to decide on stationing 62000 US troops and 300 planes and helicopters.”Isn’t that sweet? They’d like to make up their minds. They already made up their minds about invading Iraq’s northern parts to quell those pesky Kurds. Well, you gotta set priorities, I guess. Oh, btw, that’ll be it for Turkey and the EU but don’t tell the Turks… I also heard that Ukranian housewife Swatislava Krutska wants to support the effort. She might send some sandwiches, provided she can get them out of the country and provided nobody is going to be too picky about those cucumbers she’s growing next to that Chernobyl plant. Rumour has it that German opposition leader Angela Merkel might, once again, offer her unconditional support in order to get a few seconds of airtime. If you’re irrelevant you can’t be too picky about how to achieve that in pacifistic Germany. Update (19 March 2003): The BBC was kind enough to provide us with the full list of the “Coalition of the Willing”. Apart from the countries listed above, we also have: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan (they got oil so they know it’s best to be on the right side), Colombia (where there are lots of US military “advisors” already… did anybody say Vietnam?), El Salvador, Eritrea (they were willing to provide some extra hunger [OK, that was a rude one]), Estonia, Ethiopia (funny how noble causes like this one can unite Ethiopia and Eritrea), Georgia (no, not the US state…), Hungary (my office mate already apologized to me for that [no, I’m not kidding]), Italy (it’s actually only Berlusconi but we don’t want to be that picky), Japan, South Korea (yeah right!), Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia (do they even have an army? I thought they still needed NATO to not completely disintegrate), the Netherlands (sending some amphetamines for US fighter pilots which is a safe thing to do as there no Canadians around which could get killed), Nicaragua, the Philippines, Spain (no troops from there, either - talk is cheap, and Aznar will be out of power soon), and every human rights fighter’s absolute favourite Uzbekistan.
Read more »

Mar 17

If you want to know why Germans have such strong feelings about the upcoming war and about how the rulers in Washington behave have a look at this article which I’ll quote in its full length. Everything written in there Germans are being taught over and over again when they go to school - so that it’ll never happen again. At least not in their country. The article is copyright by Thom Hartmannle. When Democracy Failed: The Warnings of History by Thom Hartmann The 70th anniversary wasn’t noticed in the United States, and was barely reported in the corporate media. But the Germans remembered well that fateful day seventy years ago - February 27, 1933. They commemorated the anniversary by joining in demonstrations for peace that mobilized citizens all across the world. It started when the government, in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis, received reports of an imminent terrorist attack. A foreign ideologue had launched feeble attacks on a few famous buildings, but the media largely ignored his relatively small efforts. The intelligence services knew, however, that the odds were he would eventually succeed. (Historians are still arguing whether or not rogue elements in the intelligence service helped the terrorist; the most recent research implies they did not.) But the warnings of investigators were ignored at the highest levels, in part because the government was distracted; the man who claimed to be the nation’s leader had not been elected by a majority vote and the majority of citizens claimed he had no right to the powers he coveted. He was a simpleton, some said, a cartoon character of a man who saw things in black-and-white terms and didn’t have the intellect to understand the subtleties of running a nation in a complex and internationalist world. His coarse use of language - reflecting his political roots in a southernmost state - and his simplistic and often-inflammatory nationalistic rhetoric offended the aristocrats, foreign leaders, and the well- educated elite in the government and media. And, as a young man, he’d joined a secret society with an occult-sounding name and bizarre initiation rituals that involved skulls and human bones. Nonetheless, he knew the terrorist was going to strike (although he didn’t know where or when), and he had already considered his response. When an aide brought him word that the nation’s most prestigious building was ablaze, he verified it was the terrorist who had struck and then rushed to the scene and called a press conference. “You are now witnessing the beginning of a great epoch in history,” he proclaimed, standing in front of the burned-out building, surrounded by national media. “This fire,” he said, his voice trembling with emotion, “is the beginning.” He used the occasion - “a sign from God,” he called it - to declare an all-out war on terrorism and its ideological sponsors, a people, he said, who traced their origins to the Middle East and found motivation for their evil deeds in their religion. Two weeks later, the first detention center for terrorists was built in Oranianberg to hold the first suspected allies of the infamous terrorist. In a national outburst of patriotism, the leader’s flag was everywhere, even printed large in newspapers suitable for window display. Within four weeks of the terrorist attack, the nation’s now-popular leader had pushed through legislation - in the name of combating terrorism and fighting the philosophy he said spawned it - that suspended constitutional guarantees of free speech, privacy, and habeas corpus. Police could now intercept mail and wiretap phones; suspected terrorists could be imprisoned without specific charges and without access to their lawyers; police could sneak into people’s homes without warrants if the cases involved terrorism. To get his patriotic “Decree on the Protection of People and State” passed over the objections of concerned legislators and civil libertarians, he agreed to put a 4-year sunset provision on it: if the national emergency provoked by the terrorist attack was over by then, the freedoms and rights would be returned to the people, and the police agencies would be re-restrained. Legislators would later say they hadn’t had time to read the bill before voting on it. Immediately after passage of the anti-terrorism act, his federal police agencies stepped up their program of arresting suspicious persons and holding them without access to lawyers or courts. In the first year only a few hundred were interred, and those who objected were largely ignored by the mainstream press, which was afraid to offend and thus lose access to a leader with such high popularity ratings. Citizens who protested the leader in public - and there were many - quickly found themselves confronting the newly empowered police’s batons, gas, and jail cells, or fenced off in protest zones safely out of earshot of the leader’s public speeches. (In the meantime, he was taking almost daily lessons in public speaking, learning to control his tonality, gestures, and facial expressions. He became a very competent orator.) Within the first months after that terrorist attack, at the suggestion of a political advisor, he brought a formerly obscure word into common usage. He wanted to stir a “racial pride” among his countrymen, so, instead of referring to the nation by its name, he began to refer to it as “The Homeland,” a phrase publicly promoted in the introduction to a 1934 speech recorded in Leni Riefenstahl’s famous propaganda movie “Triumph Of The Will.” As hoped, people’s hearts swelled with pride, and the beginning of an us-versus-them mentality was sewn. Our land was “the” homeland, citizens thought: all others were simply foreign lands. We are the “true people,” he suggested, the only ones worthy of our nation’s concern; if bombs fall on others, or human rights are violated in other nations and it makes our lives better, it’s of little concern to us. Playing on this new nationalism, and exploiting a disagreement with the French over his increasing militarism, he argued that any international body that didn’t act first and foremost in the best interest of his own nation was neither relevant nor useful. He thus withdrew his country from the League Of Nations in October, 1933, and then negotiated a separate naval armaments agreement with Anthony Eden of The United Kingdom to create a worldwide military ruling elite. His propaganda minister orchestrated a campaign to ensure the people that he was a deeply religious man and that his motivations were rooted in Christianity. He even proclaimed the need for a revival of the Christian faith across his nation, what he called a “New Christianity.” Every man in his rapidly growing army wore a belt buckle that declared “Gott Mit Uns” - God Is With Us - and most of them fervently believed it was true. Within a year of the terrorist attack, the nation’s leader determined that the various local police and federal agencies around the nation were lacking the clear communication and overall coordinated administration necessary to deal with the terrorist threat facing the nation, particularly those citizens who were of Middle Eastern ancestry and thus probably terrorist and communist sympathizers, and various troublesome “intellectuals” and “liberals.” He proposed a single new national agency to protect the security of the homeland, consolidating the actions of dozens of previously independent police, border, and investigative agencies under a single leader. He appointed one of his most trusted associates to be leader of this new agency, the Central Security Office for the homeland, and gave it a role in the government equal to the other major departments. His assistant who dealt with the press noted that, since the terrorist attack, “Radio and press are at out disposal.” Those voices questioning the legitimacy of their nation’s leader, or raising questions about his checkered past, had by now faded from the public’s recollection as his central security office began advertising a program encouraging people to phone in tips about suspicious neighbors. This program was so successful that the names of some of the people “denounced” were soon being broadcast on radio stations. Those denounced often included opposition politicians and celebrities who dared speak out - a favorite target of his regime and the media he now controlled through intimidation and ownership by corporate allies. To consolidate his power, he concluded that government alone wasn’t enough. He reached out to industry and forged an alliance, bringing former executives of the nation’s largest corporations into high government positions. A flood of government money poured into corporate coffers to fight the war against the Middle Eastern ancestry terrorists lurking within the homeland, and to prepare for wars overseas. He encouraged large corporations friendly to him to acquire media outlets and other industrial concerns across the nation, particularly those previously owned by suspicious people of Middle Eastern ancestry. He built powerful alliances with industry; one corporate ally got the lucrative contract worth millions to build the first large-scale detention center for enemies of the state. Soon more would follow. Industry flourished. But after an interval of peace following the terrorist attack, voices of dissent again arose within and without the government. Students had started an active program opposing him (later known as the White Rose Society), and leaders of nearby nations were speaking out against his bellicose rhetoric. He needed a diversion, something to direct people away from the corporate cronyism being exposed in his own government, questions of his possibly illegitimate rise to power, and the oft-voiced concerns of civil libertarians about the people being held in detention without due process or access to attorneys or family. With his number two man - a master at manipulating the media - he began a campaign to convince the people of the nation that a small, limited war was necessary. Another nation was harboring many of the suspicious Middle Eastern people, and even though its connection with the terrorist who had set afire the nation’s most important building was tenuous at best, it held resources their nation badly needed if they were to have room to live and maintain their prosperity. He called a press conference and publicly delivered an ultimatum to the leader of the other nation, provoking an international uproar. He claimed the right to strike preemptively in self-defense, and nations across Europe - at first - denounced him for it, pointing out that it was a doctrine only claimed in the past by nations seeking worldwide empire, like Caesar’s Rome or Alexander’s Greece. It took a few months, and intense international debate and lobbying with European nations, but, after he personally met with the leader of the United Kingdom, finally a deal was struck. After the military action began, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told the nervous British people that giving in to this leader’s new first-strike doctrine would bring “peace for our time.” Thus Hitler annexed Austria in a lightning move, riding a wave of popular support as leaders so often do in times of war. The Austrian government was unseated and replaced by a new leadership friendly to Germany, and German corporations began to take over Austrian resources. In a speech responding to critics of the invasion, Hitler said, “Certain foreign newspapers have said that we fell on Austria with brutal methods. I can only say; even in death they cannot stop lying. I have in the course of my political struggle won much love from my people, but when I crossed the former frontier [into Austria] there met me such a stream of love as I have never experienced. Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators.” To deal with those who dissented from his policies, at the advice of his politically savvy advisors, he and his handmaidens in the press began a campaign to equate him and his policies with patriotism and the nation itself. National unity was essential, they said, to ensure that the terrorists or their sponsors didn’t think they’d succeeded in splitting the nation or weakening its will. In times of war, they said, there could be only “one people, one nation, and one commander-in-chief” (“Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer”), and so his advocates in the media began a nationwide campaign charging that critics of his policies were attacking the nation itself. Those questioning him were labeled “anti-German” or “not good Germans,” and it was suggested they were aiding the enemies of the state by failing in the patriotic necessity of supporting the nation’s valiant men in uniform. It was one of his most effective ways to stifle dissent and pit wage-earning people (from whom most of the army came) against the “intellectuals and liberals” who were critical of his policies. Nonetheless, once the “small war” annexation of Austria was successfully and quickly completed, and peace returned, voices of opposition were again raised in the Homeland. The almost-daily release of news bulletins about the dangers of terrorist communist cells wasn’t enough to rouse the populace and totally suppress dissent. A full-out war was necessary to divert public attention from the growing rumbles within the country about disappearing dissidents; violence against liberals, Jews, and union leaders; and the epidemic of crony capitalism that was producing empires of wealth in the corporate sector but threatening the middle class’s way of life. A year later, to the week, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia; the nation was now fully at war, and all internal dissent was suppressed in the name of national security. It was the end of Germany’s first experiment with democracy. As we conclude this review of history, there are a few milestones worth remembering. February 27, 2003, was the 70th anniversary of Dutch terrorist Marinus van der Lubbe’s successful firebombing of the German Parliament (Reichstag) building, the terrorist act that catapulted Hitler to legitimacy and reshaped the German constitution. By the time of his successful and brief action to seize Austria, in which almost no German blood was shed, Hitler was the most beloved and popular leader in the history of his nation. Hailed around the world, he was later Time magazine’s “Man Of The Year.” Most Americans remember his office for the security of the homeland, known as the Reichssicherheitshauptamt and its SchutzStaffel, simply by its most famous agency’s initials: the SS. We also remember that the Germans developed a new form of highly violent warfare they named “lightning war” or blitzkrieg, which, while generating devastating civilian losses, also produced a highly desirable “shock and awe” among the nation’s leadership according to the authors of the 1996 book “Shock And Awe” published by the National Defense University Press. Reflecting on that time, The American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983) left us this definition of the form of government the German democracy had become through Hitler’s close alliance with the largest German corporations and his policy of using war as a tool to keep power: “fas-cism (fbsh’iz’em) n. A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.” Today, as we face financial and political crises, it’s useful to remember that the ravages of the Great Depression hit Germany and the United States alike. Through the 1930s, however, Hitler and Roosevelt chose very different courses to bring their nations back to power and prosperity. Germany’s response was to use government to empower corporations and reward the society’s richest individuals, privatize much of the commons, stifle dissent, strip people of constitutional rights, and create an illusion of prosperity through continual and ever-expanding war. America passed minimum wage laws to raise the middle class, enforced anti-trust laws to diminish the power of corporations, increased taxes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals, created Social Security, and became the employer of last resort through programs to build national infrastructure, promote the arts, and replant forests. To the extent that our Constitution is still intact, the choice is again ours.
Read more »

Mar 6

Karen went to the post office this morning to mail some letters I had written. They told her they couldn’t accept anything with “special calligraphy” on it. That “special calligraphy” was my handwriting, though. So, after all, they sent the letters off.
Read more »