Friday, July 22, 2005

The Record of Judge John Roberts

Gene C. Gerard:
President Bush has nominated Judge John Roberts to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1979, Mr. Roberts was a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. He went on to serve in the Reagan administration as an assistant to Attorney General Smith and as an associate White House legal counsel. He also served as deputy solicitor general in the administration of Mr. Bush’s father. He was in private practice until 2003 when he was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Many people hoped that Mr. Bush would appoint a moderate Republican in the mold of Justice O’Connor. Unfortunately, Judge Roberts is a solid conservative. While his legal record will be reviewed intently over the course of the next few months, his role in the following cases will likely take center stage.

In 1980, the Supreme Court overturned portions of the Voting Rights Act in the case of City of Mobile v. Bolden. The Court ruled that portions of the act could only be violated by intentional discrimination and not as a result of laws that had the unintended consequence of being discriminatory. Congress debated creating a law to offset this ruling. Mr. Roberts, while in the Reagan administration, attempted to squash this effort.

As deputy solicitor general in 1990, Mr. Roberts wrote a brief on behalf of the government in the case of Rust v. Sullivan, which pertained to the prohibition of federal funding for family planning clinics if they discussed abortion with their patients. Mr. Roberts wrote, “…Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled…[T]he Court’s conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion…find[s] no support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution.”

Later that year, Mr. Roberts authored a brief in the case of United States v. Eichman. He argued that making flag burning a criminal offense was constitutional, noting, “[t]he First Amendment does not prohibit Congress…from removing the American flag as a prop available to those who seek to express their own views by destroying it.” However, the Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that “…[p]unishing desecration of the flag dilutes the very freedom that makes this emblem so revered, and worth revering.” It’s worth noting that even ultra-conservative Justice Scalia sided with the Court majority in this ruling.

In 1991, Mr. Roberts wrote a brief in the case of Lee v. Weisman, in which he encouraged the Supreme Court to rule that it was lawful for public schools to sponsor a prayer during graduation ceremonies. Mr. Roberts wrote that while forcing students to participate in a religious ceremony was inappropriate, this would not be the case as students opposing the prayer could simply skip the graduation ceremony. However, the Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that allowing the school prayer would be coercive.

In the case of Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic, Mr. Roberts wrote a brief in 1993 in which he argued that organizations which physically block access to abortion clinics were not discriminating against women. However, in his brief, he admitted, “only women can have abortions.”

In 2000, while in private practice, Mr. Roberts argued the case of Williams v. Toyota Motor Mfg., KY., Inc., before the Supreme Court. The National Coalition for Disability Rights maintains that Mr. Roberts’ legal briefs and oral arguments “distorted the facts of the case and minimized the extent of Ella Williams disability.” The Court ruled in favor of Toyota and created a new test to determine who meets the legal definition of being disabled. Consequently, it is now more difficult for the disabled to prove violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act in the courts.

Mr. Roberts wrote an advisory brief in 2001 in reference to the case of Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Mineta. In the brief, he criticized affirmative action programs within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In 2003, after joining the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Judge Roberts disagreed with the Court’s ruling in the case of Rancho Viejo, LLC v. Norton. The Court ruled that the Endangered Species Act could be used to prevent a real estate development company from building on land that would have jeopardized the continued existence of a rare toad. Judge Roberts’ dissent strongly suggests that he supports overturning the Endangered Species Act and limiting Congress’ ability to protect the environment.

Last year, in the case of Hedgepeth v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., Judge Roberts ruled that equal protection rights provided by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments were not violated by a law that mandated that an adult who commits a crime be given only a citation, while children guilty of the same crime be arrested. Judge Roberts ruled that the harsher treatment of children encouraged “…the legitimate goal of promoting parental awareness and involvement with children who commit delinquent acts.”

In the case of Acree v. Republic of Iraq, 17 U.S. soldiers who were captured and tortured during the Gulf War filed a suit under the terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act against Saddam Hussein. A lower court ruled in favor of the soldiers and awarded damages in excess of $959 million. However, the Bush administration appealed, arguing that since this was a time of war the Court had no jurisdiction. Judge Roberts sided with the Bush administration’s argument last year, which would strip Americans tortured in Iraq of the right to seek legal recourse.

President Bush said that he nominated Judge Roberts because he “is widely admired for… his sound judgment.” That will no doubt be debated over the course of the next few months. And based on his opinions in these cases, it will almost certainly be a heated debate.

Iraq is All About China's Oil, Stupid!

Oil-Control Formula

Robert Dreyfuss

July 18, 2005

Robert Dreyfuss is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., who specializes in politics and national security issues. He is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone. His book, Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, will be published by Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books in the fall.

George W. Bush’s war in Iraq may not be going as planned. But for those who’ve stopped believing the myth that prewar Iraq represented any sort of threat to the United States, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence mounting that the real reason for the American invasion of Iraq was the most obvious one: Oil. In this case, “oil” doesn’t mean that we went to war for the commercial benefit of U.S. oil companies—and in fact, as I reported in Mother Jones magazine in early 2003, before the war, most U.S. oil firms and their executives were against the war. But in Iraq, “oil” means the strategic commodity that is the single most important world resource. Even a novice geostrategist knows that who controls oil controls the world. And in this case, America’s rival for control of oil is, first and foremost, China.

Last week, China, Russia and four Central Asian “Stans,” including Uzbekistan, rather impolitely asked the United States to withdraw from Central Asia. That part of the world is a significant oil and gas region, and neither Moscow nor Beijing want the United States to put down roots there. But Central Asia’s oil and gas resources pale next to the Middle East, and that is where America’s imperial presence has set off alarms in Beijing.

Consider oil the Occam’s Razor explanation of the war in Iraq.

A June 24 New York Times article subtly attacked China and its CNOOC oil firm over its bid to buy Unocal, a U.S. oil company with long experience in Asia, calling the intended purchase (in its page-one headline) a “costly quest for energy control.” But if any nation “controls” energy, it is the United States. Buried in the article was this fairly explosive paragraph:

Privately, Chinese officials and analysts say oil is treated as a strategic crisis. They have sounded the alarm about Western and particularly American domination of oil supplies and influence over major oil-exporting nations, including Saudi Arabia and now Iraq, which has made China dependent on what many here refer to as American economic and military hegemony.

Together, Saudi Arabia and Iraq control roughly half of the world’s oil deposits, a share that is likely to rise as oil countries deplete their reserves. Saudi Arabia has long been in America’s back pocket, and now Iraq— though not going well for the United States—is occupied by the American army and its quisling government is comprised of American puppets. It isn’t shocking for the Chinese to have a legitimate beef here. Consider the following from the July 13 Washington Post . The headline read: “Big Shift in China’s Oil Policy” and the subhead, more revealing, was “With Iraq Deal Dissolved by War, Beijiing Looks Elsewhere.” It began:

Until recently, China's view of the global energy map focused narrowly on the Middle East, which holds roughly two-thirds of the world's oil. Special attention was directed toward one well-supplied country: Iraq.

Through cultivation of Saddam Hussein's government, China sought to develop some of Iraq's more promising reserves. Beijing advocated lifting the United Nations sanctions that prevented investment in Iraq's oil patch and limited sales of its production.

Then the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003, wiping out China's stakes. The war and its aftermath have reshaped China's basic conception of the geopolitics of oil and added urgency to its mission to lessen dependence on Middle East supplies. It has reinforced China's fears that it is locked in a zero-sum contest for energy with the world's lone superpower, prompting Beijing to intensify its search for new sources, international relations and energy experts say.

So. We went to war in Iraq, “wiping out China’s stakes” in Iraq. And so, Chinese “officials and analysts” call the current situation an oil crisis, says the Times.

Meanwhile, neoconservatives, Bush administration officials, some members of Congress and (unfortunately) a few labor-connected liberals are making a big deal of CNOOC’s Unocal bid. For perspective, let’s recall that Unocal is the company that did more to support the Taliban than any other U.S. entity, courting those Islamic radicals in search of a pipeline, oil and gas deal in central Asia—and hiring various malleable U.S. strategists to support the Taliban on its behalf, including incoming U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. It’s hard to imagine anything that China could do with Unocal that would do more damage to U.S. interests than Unocal has already done. Still, the outcry goes on, most recently during a congressional hearing at which Jim Woolsey, the former CIA director, and Frank Gaffney, the neocon-linked military strategist, railed against China. (CNOOC, by the way, is partly owned by Shell Oil, which bought a big chunk of the mostly state-owned firm when it conducted a public stock offering in 2002.)

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, road transportation in China will be the driving force for that country’s enormous oil appetite in the next two decades, noting that “the Chinese passenger car market grew tenfold between 1990 and 2000.” By 2025, says EIA, China’s oil demand will reach nearly 13 million barrels of oil per day. (Saudi Arabia’s entire output is only about 8 million barrels a day.) To meet such demand, China is searching everywhere, from Sudan to Venezuela to Central Asia. Iran and China are making oil deals, too. But by invading and occupying Iraq, the United States has pretty much locked up the most easily expanded source of oil in the world; Iraq, which manages to eke out about 2 million barrels a day, can produce six to eight times that much oil if it made sufficient investments in production facilities. Quite a prize, Iraq—if Washington can hold onto it. No wonder various neoconservative world hegemonists consider talk of an Iraq exit strategy to be treasonous.

Monday, July 18, 2005

What Time is It? It's Cheney Time!

Justin Raimondo:
hat if Karl Rove isn't guilty of knowingly leaking Valerie Plame's name as a covert CIA agent involved in nuclear proliferation issues? What if Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, is correct when he says that he's been assured by prosecutors that his client is not a target of the ongoing investigation into Plame-gate? I'm going to swim against the tide, here, and against the expectations of my readers, by suggesting that this investigation isn't about Rove – and, furthermore, that Rove is a victim, in an important sense, someone who was used and abused by the real culprits. And who are these mysterious culprits? We'll get to that in a moment, but first some background…

In his book, The Politics of Truth, Joe Wilson says as much:

"Apparently, according to two journalist sources of mine, when Rove learned that he might have violated the law, he turned on Cheney and Libby and made it clear that he held them responsible for the problem they had created for the administration. The protracted silence on this topic from the White House masks considerable tension between the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President...

If, however, Fitzgerald can prove there was a conspiracy inside the government to collect and selectively reveal classified information in order to crush political opponents, and shape U.S. policy, then the charges could be much more serious. By all accounts, the Plame investigation is said to be widening, and I would venture to say that by this time it is wide enough to include charges of espionage. The mere existence of a highly placed cabal that was engaged in collecting and utilizing highly sensitive information – a kind of intelligence bank that existed outside of normal governmental channels – would be of great interest to the FBI's counterintelligence unit, and word is out that they've been plenty busy lately. Who made withdrawals from this Intelligence Bank, and did any of these account holders include foreign governments – such as Iran, which received an intelligence treasure trove from neocon poster boy Ahmed Chalabi, and Israel, which is already under suspicion because of the Franklin affair, and has close links to several of the suspects in the Plame-gate investigation?...

And then there is the question of the Niger uranium forgeries themselves: who forged the documents that fooled a president? Wilson's exposure of the Niger uranium ploy angered whoever introduced those documents into the U.S. intelligence stream – it was Hannah and Libby, by all accounts, who fought to keep these allegations in the president's speech, in spite of opposition from the CIA and the State Department. The same crowd that pushed this phony intelligence must have known something about the murky origins of what turned out to be a crude forgery.

Forging "evidence" that helped get us into a war – what are the penalties for that?

The fast developing scandal seemingly centered around Rove and a few journalists has only begun to unfold. By the time it is over, we'll have the War Party – or, at the very least, a few high profile representatives – in the dock, and then the fun will really begin. So forget "Rove-gate" and get ready for "Cheney-gate." I'll gladly forgo the pleasure of seeing the president's chief political advisor frog-marched out of the White House for the prospect of seeing our vice president, along with his top staffers, led out of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in handcuffs.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Mark Yost: Desperate Hack Attack

A Man So Out of Touch, You'd Think He Blogged at PowerLine

Direct Responses to Mark Yost, Republican Ombudsman at St. Paul Pioneer Press

Knight Ridder's Baghdad Chief Replies to Criticism From Back Home

Early this week, Mark Yost, an editorial writer at Knight Ridder's St. Paul Pioneer Press, wrote a column that sharply criticized Iraq war coverage as "bad" for focusing on the negative. Today, another Knight Ridder writer who may actually know what's going on in Iraq, penned a reply.

By Greg Mitchell

(July 13, 2005) -- On Tuesday, Mark Yost, an editorial writer at the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote a column that sharply criticized Iraq war coverage as "bad," for focusing on the negative aspects when there's so much progress to report.

Yost, of course, is welcome to his opinion, but some of his colleagues in the press quickly counter-attacked, in letters to Romenesko and others, pointing out that, ironically, Iraq coverage by the company he works for, Knight Ridder, had been hailed by many (including E&P) for often running a step or two ahead of all others.

One of those letters was written directly to Yost, by a colleague at the Pi-Press, Chuck Laszewski. "With your column," he declared, "you have spat on the copy of the brave men and women who are doing their best in terrible conditions. More than 20 reporters have died in Iraq from around the world. You have insulted them and demeaned them, and to a much lesser degree, demeaned the reporters everywhere who have been threatened with bodily harm, who have been screamed at, or denied public records, just because they wanted to present the closest approximation to the truth they could. I am embarrassed to call you my colleague."

Pretty strong stuff, but I wondered, in a note Tuesday to Knight Ridder's Washington chief Clark Hoyt, if we would hear a defense from his estimable Baghdad bureau, or what's left of it, following the death of one of its prize reporters there last month.

The KR response arrived late Wednesday.

But first, a bit more from Mark Yost, writing from the air-conditoned splendor of his office or home in leafy Minnesota.

"I know the reporting's bad because I know people in Iraq," he revealed. "A Marine colonel buddy just finished a stint overseeing the power grid. When's the last time you read a story about the progress being made on the power grid? Or the new desalination plant that just came on-line, or the school that just opened, or the Iraqi policeman who died doing something heroic? No, to judge by the dispatches, all the Iraqis do is stand outside markets and government buildings waiting to be blown up.

"I also get unfiltered news from Iraq through an e-mail network of military friends who aren't so blinded by their own politics that they can't see the real good we're doing there. ...Why isn't the focus of the story the fact that 14 of 18 Iraqi provinces are stable and the four that aren't are primarily home to the genocidal gang of thugs who terrorized that country for 30 years? And reporters wonder why they're despised."

Now here's the Knight Ridder reply, first from Hoyt, then Baghdad bureau chief Hannah Allam, from a memo sent to KR editors.

From Clark Hoyt:

It's astonishing that Mark Yost, from the distance and safety of St. Paul, Minnesota, presumes to know what's going on in Iraq. He knows the reporting of hundreds of brave journalists, presumably including his own Knight Ridder colleagues Hannah Allam and Tom Lassetter, is bad because his Marine colonel buddy tells him so.

Yost asks why you don't read about progress being made in the power grid, which the colonel oversaw. Maybe it's because there is no progress. Iraqis currently have electricity for an average of nine hours a day. A year ago, they averaged 10 hours of electricity. Iraq's oil production is still below pre-war levels. The unemployment rate is between 30 and 40 percent. New cases of hepatitis have doubled over the rate of 2002, largely because of problems with getting clean drinking water and disposing of sewage.

The "unfiltered news" Yost gets from his military friends is in fact filtered by their isolation in the Green Zone and on American military bases from the Iraqi population, an isolation made necessary by the ferocity of the insurgency. To say that isn't to argue that their perspective is invalid. It's just limited and incomplete.

Knight Ridder's Baghdad bureau chief, Hannah Allam, has read Mark Yost's column. Her response, from the front, says it far better than I could.

From Hannah Allam:

It saddens me to read Mark Yost's editorial in the Pioneer Press, the Knight Ridder paper that hired me as a rookie reporter and taught me valuable lessons in life and journalism during the four years I spent there before heading to Iraq.

I invite Mr. Yost to spend a week in our Baghdad bureau, where he can see our Iraqi staff members' toothbrushes lined up in the bathroom because they have no running water at home. I frequently find them camping out in the office overnight because electricity is still only sporadic in their sweltering neighborhoods, despite what I'm sure are the best-intentioned efforts of people like his Marine buddy working on the electrical grid.

Mr. Yost could have come with me today as I visited one of my own military buddies, who like most officers doesn't leave the protected Green Zone compound except by helicopter or massive convoy. The Army official picked me up in his air-conditioned Explorer, took me to Burger King for lunch and showed me photos of the family he misses so terribly. The official is a great guy, and like so many other soldiers, it's not politics that blind him from seeing the real Iraq. The compound's maze of tall blast wall and miles of concertina wire obscure the view, too.

Mr. Yost can listen to our bureau's morning planning meetings, where we orchestrate a trip to buy bottled water (the tap water is contaminated, when it works) as if we're plotting a military operation. I wonder whether he prefers riding in the first car -- the most exposed to shrapnel and bullets -- or the chase car, which is designed to act as a buffer between us and potential kidnappers.

Perhaps Mr. Yost would be moved by our office's tribute wall to Yasser Salihee, our brave and wonderful colleague, who at age 30 joined the ranks of Iraqi civilians shot to death by American soldiers. Mr. Yost would have appreciated one of Yasser's last stories -- a rare good-news piece about humanitarian aid reaching the holy city of Najaf.

Mr. Yost's contention that 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces are stable is pure fantasy. On his visit to Baghdhad, he can check that by chatting with our resident British security consultant, who every day receives a province-by-province breakdown of the roadside bombs, ambushes, assassinations and other violence throughout the country.

If Baghdad is too far for Mr. Yost to travel (and I don't blame him, given the treacherous airport road to reach our fortress-like hotel), why not just head to Oklahoma? There, he can meet my former Iraqi translator, Ban Adil, and her young son. They're rebuilding their lives under political asylum after insurgents in Baghdad followed Ban's family home one night and gunned down her 4-year-old daughter, her husband and her elderly mother in law.

Freshly painted schools and a new desalination plant might add up to "mission accomplished" for some people. Too bad Ban's daughter never got to enjoy those fruits of her liberation.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Judith Miller: Protecting Libel and Corruption as Moral Imperative

Re: Go Easy on Miller (5.00 / 1) (#46)
by Anon. TPMCafe Denizen on Jul 07, 2005 -- 07:26:03 AM EST

Judith Miller is being held up as a 'journalistic hero'. That is SO very far from the truth that I feel no compunction whatsoever about 'demonizing' her with the facts.

Judith Miller wrote false stories about 'aluminum tubes for Iraq nuclear program', 'weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq', and 'trailers proven to be mobile weapons labs'. The most charitable thing which can be said about any of these is that she accepted government propaganda unquestioningly and didn't go looking for the readily available evidence to the contrary. You say that she made some mistakes and we shouldn't act like these bad stories are ALL Judy Miller is about... maybe, but has SHE acknowledged that these were mistakes? NO! She has been an arrogant popinjay about it with her, "I was fucking right!" nonsense after she printed the 'mobile labs' lies. The Times gave a mea culpa for their horrifically bad reporting... Judy Miller did not. Further... after the administration used her to spread propaganda to lead this nation into war on false pretenses what did she do? She PROTECTED them. She is PROMOTING propaganda, corruption, and criminal behaviour in government by effectively saying 'you can lie to me and use me to commit treason and I will not turn you in'.

How very 'noble' and 'principled' she is...

The First Amendment and freedom of the press are meant to ensure that the media are protected from the government so that they can spread the truth and expose corruption.

Judith Miller is trying to use these principles to spread propaganda and shield corruption.

She is performing the very antithesis of the journalistic function... acting as the government's lapdog rather than its watchdog. She belongs in jail far longer than the three months she has gotten... so far.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Media Missing the Point on Downing Street Memo

Downing Street Memo 2

by David Edwards; July 02, 2005
The Real News

We have to admit that our attention was elsewhere when Michael Smith published his Sunday Times article on the Downing Street memo on May 1. We were busy focusing on our own pre-election Media Alerts and then immediately moved on to the task of completing the first Media Lens book: Guardians Of Power - The Myth of The Liberal Media (forthcoming, Pluto Press, January 2006).

Our understanding of the story was based solely on what we had gleaned from a few newspaper and TV reports. According to the media accounts we saw, the main revelation appeared to centre around comments made by Sir Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6:

"Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD" and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy".

This did not strike us as particularly interesting. We knew from former US treasury secretary Paul O'Neill's evidence that Bush had been intent on deposing Saddam Hussein from the very first days of taking power:

"It was all about finding a way to do it. The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this'... From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go." (O'Neill, cited, Julian Borger, 'Bush decided to remove Saddam "on day one"', The Guardian, January 12, 2004)

And it was obvious from the testimony of any number of intelligence experts, and from exposures relating to the "dodgy dossiers", that intelligence and facts had been distorted to fit policy.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we finally got round to reading Smith's original May 1 article, including the memo itself, and found that the real story was the revelation that Straw and Blair had conspired to use inspections to lure Saddam into obstructing the UN, so providing an excuse for war. By implication, the leaks clearly reveal that Blair and Straw had been consistently lying in 2002 and 2003 about their hopes for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

In an article for the Los Angeles Times last week entitled, 'The real news in the Downing Street memos', Michael Smith appears to agree with us about the real story:

"Although Blair and Bush still insist the decision to go to the UN was about averting war, one memo states that it was, in fact, about 'wrong-footing' Hussein into giving them a legal justification for war.

"British officials hoped the ultimatum could be framed in words that would be so unacceptable to Hussein that he would reject it outright. But they were far from certain this would work, so there was also a Plan B... Put simply, US aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone were dropping a lot more bombs in the hope of provoking a reaction that would give the allies an excuse to carry out a full-scale bombing campaign, an air war, the first stage of the conflict." (Michael Smith, 'The real news in the Downing Street memos,' Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2005;)

Smith's conclusion:

"The way in which the intelligence was 'fixed' to justify war is old news.

"The real news is the shady April 2002 deal to go to war, the cynical use of the UN to provide an excuse, and the secret, illegal air war without the backing of Congress." (Smith, ibid)

We could not agree more. In considering what follows, readers might like to keep Smith's comments in mind as we see how close the corporate media have come to communicating the "real news" of the leaked documents.

Managing To Miss The Point - The Media And The Memo

Writing in the Guardian, Sidney Blumenthal focused on the "old news", making no mention of the "real news" at all:

"Every revelation of how 'the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy' for war, as in the Downing Street memo, shatters even Republicans' previously implacable faith." (Blumenthal, 'Blinded by the light at the end of the tunnel,' The Guardian, June 23, 2005)

Not a word about the Plan A/Plan B conspiracy to provoke a war that is blindingly obvious in the leaked documents published by the Sunday Times.

Rupert Cornwell wrote in the Independent that the July 2002 memo indicated "the Bush administration had already made up its mind to invade Iraq, and that intelligence was being 'fixed' to fit that policy". (Cornwell, 'Bush policies blocked as US mood on Iraq sours,' The Independent, June 17, 2005)

Again, not a word about the "real news" of Plan A/Plan B.

In the same paper one week earlier, Andrew Gumbel had described the memo as being "about an early decision having been taken to go to war and of the need for justification to be found for the Iraq invasion". (Gumbel, 'Americans turn against Bush and a war on Iraq that is getting nowhere,' The Independent, June 9, 2005)

A justification is always needed for war - the point about Smith's revelations is that they show that an +excuse+ was being sought, not merely a justification. It was a conspiracy to +ensure+ a war of aggression and conquest would be fought.

The Evening Standard wrote that the memo "showed the PM backed regime change in Iraq as early as July 2002". ('In the air,' Evening Standard, May 4, 2005)

This was a tiny fraction of what the memo showed, and was not the "real news", but it was all the Standard had to say.

According to the Express, the memo "revealed Mr Blair had already privately committed Britain to help America topple Saddam Hussein and was anxious to find ways of selling the war to the public and Parliament". ('PM hid truth on ousting Saddam,' Express, May 2, 2005)

Again, the "old news", this time combined with a distortion - the conspiracy was to provoke war, not just to sell it to the British people. The same paper added for 'balance':

"But yesterday Mr Blair told BBC1's Breakfast With Frost the decision had not been taken to attack Saddam Hussein by July 2002. He added: 'The point is that after that meeting we decided to go back to the UN and give him a last chance.'" (ibid)

The Express journalists failed to mention the evidence staring them in the face: namely, that the memo itself reveals that Blair's "last chance" was a fraud designed to "wrong foot" Saddam into rejecting the ultimatum and so trigger war.

The Financial Times wrote that the memo "revealed that eight months before the conflict, he [Blair] had discussed with colleagues possible invasion scenarios and how to justify military action". (Christopher Adams and Ben Hall, 'Labour targets key marginals,' Financial Times, May 2, 2005)

This is a staggering, lobotomised version from two journalists who, to be kind, had presumably not read the memo published the previous day in the Times.

In a separate article, one of the same authors wrote that the memo "suggested that he [Blair] was looking at ways to justify an invasion eight months before the conflict". (Christopher Adams, 'Blair defends decision for war with Iraq,' Financial Times, May 2, 2005)

In the real world, Blair was looking at ways to provoke, not merely justify, an illegal war of aggression.

Remarkably, the FT article added that the memo "showed Mr Blair giving serious thought to strategy":

"'If the political context were right, people would support regime change,' the memo said. 'The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.'" (ibid)

One could not possibly guess from this that Blair was in fact giving serious thought to manipulating inspections as part of a campaign of public deception in pursuit of war.

The Guardian wrote the day after Smith's May 1 article that the memo showed "that, almost a year before the Iraq invasion, Tony Blair was privately preparing to commit Britain to war and topple Saddam Hussein, despite warnings from his closest advisers that it was unjustified".

This was the old news. The article continued:

"The documents show how Mr Blair was told how Britain and the US could 'create the conditions' for an invasion, partly, in the words of Jack Straw to 'work up' an ultimatum to Saddam even though in the foreign secretary's own words, 'the case was thin'." (Richard Norton-Taylor and Patrick Wintour, 'Election 2005: Papers reveal commitment to war,' The Guardian, May 2, 2005)

The obfuscation, here, is intensified to the point of incomprehension. The authors could instead have explained that the ultimatum was intended to ensure rejection so that war could be launched with a figleaf of international support and legitimacy. They could have mentioned that Bush and Blair endlessly lied to the public that peace was the desired outcome when they were doing everything in their power to trigger war.

Raymond Whitaker of the Independent on Sunday wrote that the contents of the memo "demonstrate that the Prime Minister had signed up for 'regime change' even earlier, when he met President George Bush at his Texas ranch the preceding April. Having promised British backing for war, the Government then set about seeking legal justification". (Whitaker, '05.05.05 Election Special: Evidence reveals Blair's true intention for war,' Independent on Sunday, May 1, 2005)

What could be more innocent than that the government should "set about seeking legal justification" for war? In a sentence that surely had Orwell rolling in his grave, Whitaker wrote of the conspiracy to lure Iraq to war:

"Mr Straw's suggestion of an ultimatum on weapons inspections seemed to be the most promising way to allow Britain to join the US in its move towards war."

This is truth stripped of all meaning so that the appalling revelations in the memo are completely obscured from view. Whitaker quoted from the memo:

"'The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors,' the minutes recorded. 'Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD ... If the political context were right, people would support regime change.'"

"This marked the beginning of the Government's campaign to find a legal basis for the war in the alleged threat from Iraq's illegal weapons, marked by the notorious WMD dossier published two months later." (ibid)

Again, not a word about "the cynical use of the UN to provide an excuse" for war described by Michael Smith.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, the memo "revealed that Mr Blair explicitly raised the possibility of 'regime change' as early as July 2002 - eight months before military action began - and discussed with senior ministers how to 'create' the conditions necessary to provide the legal justification for war". (Melissa Kite and Sean Rayment, 'If the political context is right, people will support "regime change", said Blair,' Sunday Telegraph, May 1, 2005)

Again, the real issue is buried out of sight.

Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian last week: "One [memo] shows that Britain and the US heavily increased bombing raids on Iraq in the summer of 2002 - when London and Washington were still insisting that war was a last resort - even though the Foreign Office's own lawyers had advised that such action was illegal. These 'spikes of activity' were aimed at provoking Saddam into action that might justify war." (Freedland, 'Yes, they did lie to us,' The Guardian, June 22, 2005)

Freeeland here at least mentioned that increased bombing was intended to goad Saddam into providing an excuse for war. But he failed to mention that the bombing was merely Plan B alongside Plan A that involved provoking Saddam to reject inspectors, so also providing a trigger for war. Once again, the real issue somehow just managed to escape his focus.


Anyone who wonders how Bush and Blair, clearly major war criminals, are able to remain in power, need look no further than the mendacious record of corporate media performance above, which is all but uniform right across the media 'spectrum'. Only Smith, writing in the Sunday Times, has managed to state honestly the significance of the documents leaked to him. Notice that this bizarre media response - we have coined the term Feigned Media Psychosis to describe the phenomenon - occurred despite the ready availability of the key documents under discussion in the Sunday Times and on the internet. Brazenly, in broad daylight, as it were, the media has stolen the truth out from under the public's noses.

Critics might object that this is an anomaly, a freak of timing, that a generally honest media system felt the public had simply had enough of Iraq. Thus, the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland acknowledges that the memo has been all but ignored but comments:

"Journalists decided that voters were Iraq-ed out and so gave the memo much less coverage than it deserved." (Freedland, 'Yes, they did lie to us,' The Guardian, June 22, 2005)

But it was not merely that journalists decided that the public were "Iraq-ed out". In fact the corporate media have consistently distorted the truth in exactly this way for many years. Ahead of the 2003 war, journalists suppressed the truth of the genocidal impact of Western sanctions on Iraq. They suppressed the truth about the near-total disarming of Iraq by UN inspectors between 1991-98, and about the limited shelf lives of any retained WMD that would long since have become "useless sludge", according to UN inspectors.

Since March 2003, the same media have suppressed the truth of Blair's mendacious "moral case for war" by hyping Saddam's crimes over the last decade and by suppressing the true costs of the invasion for the people of Iraq - notably, by ignoring or dismissing the October 2004 Lancet report indicating that almost 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died since the invasion. They suppressed the truth about the alleged June 2004 "transfer of sovereignty" in Iraq, about the January 2005 "democratic elections", about the alleged US "exit strategy", and about the true importance of oil and strategic power in US designs for Iraq. Consistently, right across the board, corporate media reporting has reflected corporate and other establishment interests at the expense of the Iraqi people.

It is tempting to psychoanalyse mainstream journalists, to try and understand how highly educated professionals can behave as intellectual herd animals in this way. How can apparently civilised Western journalists so consistently subordinate the misery and despair of innocent Iraqis to the needs of power and profit? In his book, The Corporation, Canadian law professor Joel Bakan explains the bottom-line for corporate executives:

"The law forbids any motivation for their actions, whether to assist workers, improve the environment, or help consumers save money. They can do these things with their own money, as private citizen. As corporate officials, however, stewards of other people's money, they have no legal authority to pursue such goals as ends in themselves - only as means to serve the corporations own interests, which generally means to maximise the wealth of its shareholders.
Corporate social responsibility is thus illegal - at least when its genuine." (Bakan, The Corporation, Constable, 2004, p.37)

Thus the hidden, enforced moral corruption of corporate employment:

"The people who run corporations are, for the most part, good people, moral people. They are mothers and fathers, lovers and friends, and upstanding citizens in their communities, and they often have good and sometimes even idealistic intentions... [But] they must always put their corporation's best interests first and not act out of concern for anyone or anything else (unless the expression of such concern can somehow be justified as advancing the corporation's own interests)." (ibid, p.50)

In the corporate media, putting the corporation first means not alienating centres of political and economic power that hold the keys to survival and success.

And so consider the words of Physician Mahammad J. Haded, director of an Iraqi refugee centre, who was in the besieged and bombarded Iraqi city of Fallujah during the US onslaught of November 2004. In February, Dr Haded spoke to the German magazine Junge Weit:

"The city is today totally ruined. Falluja is our Dresden in Iraq... The population is full of rage. People hate the Americans - Americans generally, not only US soldiers. They are occupiers, killers and terrorists. Almost every family in Falluja has to mourn a victim; how you can expect any other reaction there?" (Rüdiger Göbel, 'Falluja was "wiped out"', Junge Weit, February 26, 2005)

Putting the corporation first means that this horror, and the criminality behind it, just cannot become real for the media. Instead, the BBC's Middle East correspondent, Paul Wood, is able to say on the main TV news:

"After everything that's happened in Fallujah, the Americans aren't going to find an +unambiguous+ welcome. But Fallujah +is+ more peaceful than it's been in a long time. Its people like that." (Wood, BBC 1, 18:00 News, June 22, 2005)

Eyebrows would perhaps have been raised if Wood had said the same of Kuwait and the Iraqi army in 1990. Or if he had said it of the Warsaw ghetto and the German army in 1943. Two days after these extraordinary words were spoken, six US marines were killed by a roadside bomb in Fallujah.

Ultimately, the crucial point is that, in the age of the 'blogosphere', there is simply no longer any need to indulge the mainstream media's high-paid servility to power. Though they scoff at the notion, corporate journalists really +do+ have the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents on their hands. People who care about rational thought, who feel compassion for human suffering, will withdraw their support from the corporate media system. Readers will stop supporting it with their subscriptions, writers will stop supporting it with their words - and they will instead set about the vital work of building and supporting not-for-profit, internet-based media offering our only serious hope for compassionate change.

Why is it wrong for even well-meaning people to participate in fundamentally corrupt systems? Tolstoy explained:

"It is harmful because enlightened, good and honest people, by entering the ranks of the government, give it a moral authority which but for them it would not possess. If the government were made up entirely of that coarse element - the violators, self-seekers, and flatterers - who form its core, it could not continue to exist. The fact that honest and enlightened people are found who participate in the affairs of the government gives it whatever it possesses of moral prestige." (Tolstoy, 'Letters to the liberals,' Writings On Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence, New Society, 1987, p.192)

The same is true of the blood-soaked "moral prestige" of today's corporate media.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Moral Relativism is a Bushism

Immoral Relativism
And Other Distractions of the Age of Bush

by Tom Engelhardt; TomDispatch; June 28, 2005

"At a breakfast meeting with reporters, Wolfowitz said he hasn't read the [Downing Street] memos because he doesn't want to be 'distracted' by 'history' from his new job as head of the world's leading development bank. He returned this weekend from a tour of four African nations.

"'There's a lot I could say about what you're asking about, if I were willing to get distracted from the main subject,' Wolfowitz said. 'But I really think there's a price paid with the people I've just spent time with, people who are struggling with very real problems, to keep going back in history.'" (Jon Sawyer, Wolfowitz won't talk about war planning, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)

For at least 30 years now, the right has fought against, the Republican Party has run against, and more recently, the Bush administration has claimed victory over the "moral relativism" of liberals, the permissive parenting of the let-them-do-anything-they-please era, and the self-indulgent, self-absorbed, make-your-own-world attitude of the Sixties. Since September 11th, we have been told again and again, we are in a different world... finally. In this new world, things are black and white, good and evil, right and wrong. You are for or you are against. The murky relativism of the recent past, of an America in a mood of defeat, is long gone. In the White House, we have a stand-up guy so unlike the last president, that draft dodger who was ready to parse the meaning of "is" and twist the world to his unnatural desires.

In his speeches, George Bush regularly calls for a return to or the reinforcement of traditional, even eternal, family values and emphasizes the importance of personal "accountability" for our children as well as ourselves. ("The culture of America is changing from one that has said, if it feels good, do it, and if you've got a problem, blame somebody else, to a new culture in which each of us understands we are responsible for the decisions we make in life.") And yet when it comes to acts that are clearly wrong in this world -- aggressive war, the looting of resources, torture, personal gain at the expense of others, lying, and manipulation among other matters -- Bush and his top officials never hesitate to redefine reality to suit their needs. When faced with matters long defined in everyday life in terms of right and wrong, they simply reach for their dictionaries.

You want to invade a country not about to attack you. No problem, just pick up that Webster's and rename the act "preventive war." Now, you want an excuse for such a war that might actually panic the public into backing it. So you begin to place mushroom clouds from nonexistent enemy atomic warheads over American cities (Condoleezza Rice: "[W]e don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."); you begin to claim, as our President and other top officials did, that nonexistent enemy UAVs (Unmanned Airborne Vehicles) launched from nonexistent ships off our perfectly real East coast, might spray nonexistent biological or chemical weapons hundreds of miles inland, and -- Voila! -- you're ready to strike back.

You sweep opponents up on a battlefield, but you don't want to call them prisoners of war or deal with them by the established rules of warfare. No problem, just grab that dictionary and label them "unlawful combatants," then you can do anything you want. So you get those prisoners into your jail complex (carefully located on an American base in Cuba, which you have redefined as being legally under "Cuban sovereignty," so that no American court can touch them); and then you declare that, not being prisoners of war, they do not fall under the Geneva Conventions, though you will treat them (sort of) as if they did and, whatever happens, you will not actually torture them, though you plan to take those "gloves" off. Then your lawyers and attorneys retire to some White House or Justice Department office and, under the guidance of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales (now Attorney General), they grab those dictionaries again and redefine torture to be whatever we're not doing to the prisoners. (In a 50-page memo written in August 2002 for the CIA and addressed to Alberto Gonzales, Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee, now an Appeals Court judge, hauled out many dictionaries and redefined torture this way: "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.") And if questioned on the subject, after emails from FBI observers at the prison lay out the various acts of abuse and torture committed in grisly detail, the Vice President simply insists, as he did the other day, that those prisoners are living the good life in the balmy "tropics." ("They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want. There isn't any other nation in the world that would treat people who were determined to kill Americans the way we're treating these people.")

Women and Children Last

What the Bush administration has proved is that, if you have a mind to do so, there's no end to the ways you can define "is." No administration has reached not just for its guns but for its dictionaries more often, when brought up against commonly accepted definitions of what is.

Why just the other day, faced with a downward spiraling situation in Iraq and plummeting public-opinion polls, Vice President Cheney went on Larry King Live and declared that the Iraqi insurgency was actually in its "last throes." In this case, he had perhaps reached for his dictionary a little too fast. The phrase was taken up and widely questioned. So Cheney who, as Juan Cole reminds us, claimed he "'knew where exactly' Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction were and who was sure Iraqis would deliriously greet the U.S. military as liberators," simply returned to the administration's definitional stockpile. When asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer whether General John Abizaid's description of the Iraqi situation -- that the insurgency was "undiminished" (with ever more foreign fighters entering Iraq) -- didn't contradict his, he responded:

"No, I would disagree. If you look at what the dictionary says about throes, it can still be a violent period -- the throes of a revolution. The point would be that the conflict will be intense, but it's intense because the terrorists understand if we're successful at accomplishing our objective, standing up a democracy in Iraq, that that's a huge defeat for them. They'll do everything they can to stop it."

Actually, according to my own patriotically correctly named and so indisputable reference book, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, a "throe" is "a severe pang or spasm of pain, as in childbirth," and the "throes" of a country in, say, revolution or economic collapse would also be brief spasms. Of course, just the other day, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, looking into his murky crystal ball, claimed that this "spasm" could last up to another 12 years. I suppose from now on we should all speak of that period from birth to death as the "throes of life." As it happens, the American people seem uncomfortable with our Vice President's latest definitional forays. (For more on defining "throes," I turn you over to the indefatigable Juan Cole.)

Here's the strange thing, then: No one in our lifetime has found the nature of reality to be more definitionally supple, more malleable, more... let's say it... postmodern and relative (to their needs and desires) than the top officials of the Bush administration.

Their watchwords might be defined, if you don't mind my reaching for my dictionary of sayings, as -- batten down the definitional hatches, full speed ahead, and if you hit a mine, women and children last. In that way, they have redefined "accountability" as never having to say you're sorry; or, as the then-Governor of Texas evidently put it to the man ghostwriting his campaign autobiography in 1999, " a leader, you can never admit to a mistake"; or as former Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz put it when telling reporters he hadn't bothered to read the Downing Street Memos, you shouldn't let yourself be "distracted" by messy old "history." In the Bush administration, accountability has largely meant promotion.

Let's throw in just a few other moments of high Bush postmodernism: No administration in memory has been quicker to lie in its own interests and never stop doing so, no matter what. (For instance, to this day the President never ceases to push the absurd link between the war in Iraq and the September 11th attacks). None in recent memory has been quicker to lie about or smear its opponents, or had, in political hand-to-hand combat, a nastier, sometimes filthier mouth, publicly (as Karl Rove proved in recent statements) or privately. None has, in fact, seemed to care less about any of the moral categories of behavior it was ostensibly promoting, when those happened to run aground on the shoals of its own political desires and fantasies.

A Five-Star Rendition and Other Acts of Relativity

Every administration sets a mood. You can see the one this administration has established reflected way down the line -- in, for example, the depths of Abu Ghraib's interrogation chambers. As it happens, you can also catch a glimpse of it in five-star Italian hotels. The other day, Stephen Grey and Don Van Natta of the New York Times reported (Thirteen With the C.I.A. Sought by Italy in a Kidnapping) that an Italian judge had ordered the arrest of 13 American agents, assumedly working for the CIA, for performing an "extraordinary rendition" in Italy. They kidnapped an Egyptian cleric named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, who may or may not have been linked al-Qaeda, and flew him to Egypt to be tortured. Now, you may imagine that our "shadow warriors," operating in the dark zone of international illegality in the name of our President's Global War on Terror, are Spartan men and women, stripped down for action, ready to sacrifice everything for missions they believe in. You undoubtedly assume that, while in Italy, they laid low, bunking in safe houses, while organizing their covert kidnapping. But wait, these are representatives of the Bush administration, so think again. Here was a paragraph buried deep in the Times piece that caught my eye:

"The [CIA] suspects stayed in five-star Milan hotels, including the Hilton, the Sheraton, the Galia and Principe di Savoia, in the week before the operation, at a cost of $144,984, the [Italian] warrant says, adding that after Mr. Nasr was flown to Egypt, two of the officers took a few days' holiday at five-star hotels in Venice, Tuscany and South Tyrol."

A Washington Post report added this little detail: "The Americans stayed at some of the finest hotels in Milan, sometimes for as long as six weeks, ringing up tabs of as much as $500 a day on Diners Club accounts created to match their recently forged identities." The Los Angeles Times contributed the fact that the $145,000 tab actually only covered accommodations. As it happens, our luxury warriors were gourmets as well. They ran up tabs at Milan's best restaurants.

All of this fits so well with general attitudes at the upper reaches of this self-indulgent administration. Ours is, after all, a war to satisfy our own desires, to make the world the way we wish it -- and who wouldn't wish for luxury surroundings and a nice five-star, post-kidnapping vacation in Venice or Florence, all at the taxpayer's expense? (I guarantee, by the way, that our agents also ate all the macadamia nuts and drank all the liquor and downed all the $10 cokes in their mini-fridges.) And yet you can rest assured that no one in this administration is going to demand repayment. In fact, no one has even whispered a word about these expenses so far, no less promised taxpayers our money back, but you wouldn't expect that from an administration that stonewalls for a corporation, Halliburton, which seems to have taken both the American taxpayer and the Iraqis to the five-star cleaners. And while we're at it, let's just note that our rendition teams circle the world not on some scruffy cargo plane, but on a Gulfstream V turbojet, the sort "favored by CEOs and celebrities," as Dana Priest of the Washington Post puts it. This is the mentality not of warriors, of course, but of looters who never saw a payoff or an opening they didn't exploit.

From top to bottom, Bush's people are, in this sense, a caricature of their own caricature of the 1960s. In fact, given their fixation on the Sixties, it's worth revisiting their record in that long-ago era when they were already the most morally relative of beings. On the central issue of those years, the Vietnam War, they were essentially missing in action; or, as our Vice President so famously commented, "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service." The striking thing about the record of most of the Bush administration's key players (and almost all of the neocons) was that they used privilege, legalistic tricks, and every bit of slyness they could muster to avoid any entanglement with Vietnam (on any side of the issue) and later on, coming to power, they had not the slightest compunction about wrapping themselves in the flag and the uniform, acting like the warriors they never were, and attacking those who had engaged in some fashion with the Vietnam War.

It is perhaps not an irony but a kind of inevitability that, having worked so hard to avoid Vietnam (and its "mistakes") all those years, they now find themselves tightly gripped by a situation of their own making that has a remarkably Vietnam-like look to it; and, worse yet, they find themselves acting as if they were now, after all these years, back in the 1960s fighting the War in Vietnam rather than the one in Iraq. In his testimony before the Senate last week, Donald Rumsfeld even managed to get the classic Vietnam word "quagmire" and the equivalent of "light at the end of the tunnel" into a single sentence: "There isn't a person at this table who agrees with you [Senator Ted Kennedy] that we're in a quagmire and there's no end in sight."

As a group, the top figures in this administration have often seemed like so many aggressive children let loose in the neighborhood sandbox by deadbeat dads and moms. Does nobody wonder where those mommies and daddies, the people who should have taught them right from wrong, actually went? Certainly, their children are, in the best Sixties manner, all libido. Let me, in fact, suggest a label for them that, I hope, catches their truest political nature: They are immoral relativists.

Yet, even for the most self-absorbed among them, the ones most ready to twist reality (and the names we give it) into whatever shape best suits their needs of the moment, reality does have a way of biting back. Count on it.