23 September, 2006

news 'n bits - facts on the ground - dollars in a pocket

"Lost in a Bermuda Triangle of Injustice: The Facts on the Ground," by Tom Engelhardt:

While the emptying of Abu Ghraib made the news everywhere, the filling of Camp Cropper made no news at all. And yet it turns out that Camp Cropper, which started out as a bunch of tents, has now become a $60 million "state-of-the-art" prison. The upgrade, on the drawing boards since 2004, was just completed and hardly a word has been written about it. We really have no idea what it consists of or what it looks like . . .

While Iraq and future Iraq policy are constantly in the news, almost all the American facts-on-the-ground in that country – of which Camp Bucca is one – have come into being without consultation with the American people or, in any serious way, Congress (or testing in the courts).

Camp Bucca is a story you can't read anywhere – and yet it may, in a sense, be the most important American story in Iraq right now. While arguments spin endlessly here at home about the nature of withdrawal "timetables," and who's cutting and running from what, and how many troops we will or won't have in-country in 2007, 2008, or 2009, on the ground a process continues that makes mockery of the debate in Washington and in the country. While the "reconstruction" of Iraq has come to look ever more like the deconstruction of Iraq, the construction of an ever more permanent-looking American landscape in that country has proceeded apace and with reasonable efficiency.

First, we had those huge military bases that officials were careful never to label "permanent." (For a while, they were given the charming name of "enduring camps" by the Pentagon.) Just about no one in the mainstream bothered to write about them for a couple of years as quite literally billions of dollars were poured into them and they morphed into the size of American towns with their own bus routes, sports facilities, Pizza Huts, Subways, Burger Kings, and mini-golf courses. Huge as they now are, elaborate as they now are, they are still continually being upgraded. Now, it seems that on one of them we have $60 million worth of the first "permanent U.S. prison" in Iraq. Meanwhile, in the heart of Baghdad, the Bush administration is building what's probably the largest, best fortified "embassy" in the solar system with its own elaborate apartment complexes and entertainment facilities, meant for a staff of 3,500.

. . . that secret CIA detention system, which seems to consist of makeshift or shared or borrowed facilities around the world, sits in place, ever ready for use. It's not going anywhere and in the most basic sense it probably cannot be shut down. Nor it seems are the almost 14,000 prisoners we hold in Iraq, the 500 (or more) in Afghanistan, and the nearly 500 in Guantanamo going anywhere. Even with Abu Ghraib empty and the secret prison system officially emptied, nearly 15,000 prisoners are being held by the U.S. essentially incommunicado, most beyond the eyes of any system of justice, beyond the reach of any judges or juries. In many cases, as in the case of Bilal Hussein, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Iraqi photojournalist, who has been held, probably at Camp Cropper, without charge or trial "on suspicion of collaborating with insurgents" for the last five months, even that most basic right – to know exactly why you are being held, what the charges are against you – is lacking.

Whatever arguments may be going on in Washington over which "tools" or "interrogation techniques" the CIA is to be allowed to use or over exactly how the 14 al-Qaeda detainees just transferred to Guantanamo will be tried, this set of facts-on-the-ground adds up to our own global Bermuda Triangle of Injustice into which untold numbers of human beings can simply disappear. The "crown jewel" of our mini-gulag is, of course, Guantanamo. And again, whatever the fierce arguments here may be about Guantanamo "methods" or what kinds of commissions or tribunals (if any) may finally be chosen for the run-of-the-mill prisoners there, one fact-on-the-ground points us toward the actual lay of the land. A little publicized $30-million maximum-security wing at Guantanamo is now being completed by the U.S. Navy, just as at the American prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, there has been an upgrade.

. . . [the] military . . . is quite literally incapable of existing today without its private contractors like Halliburton's KBR, nor could its wars be carried on without the proliferation of hired guns -- mercenaries -- that are now a given in any such situation. This transformation of the military into first an all-volunteer, then an increasingly privatized as well as outsourced, and now an increasingly mercenary institution is another fact-on-the-ground, another building block to our future.
. . .
Around all such "facts," of course, ever more entrenched and ever more expansive sets of interests arise: companies to organize the private contractees, or to deal with the outsourcing, or to handle contracts and construction work, not to speak of whole worlds of consultants, specialists, and lobbyists. This is a reality which no future administration, nor any better empowered Congress, would be likely to reverse, no less erase any time soon. No matter how the details of the argument about NSA spying turn out, for example, it's essentially a given that the National Security Agency will continue to grow and make itself ever more available in ever more ingenious ways, trolling ever more extensively in communications of every sort. These are the facts being established on the ground.

. . . "Seven years ago," writes Paul Harris of the British Guardian, "there were nine companies with federal homeland security contracts. By 2003 it was 3,512. Now there are 33,890" . . . to divide a terrorism/security pie that has, since 2000, resulted in about $130 billion in contracts and now, according to USA Today, is a $59 billion a year business globally -- one based on that surefire bestseller, fear, whose single major customer is, of course, the DHS.

. . .Already at least 90 officials have left the Homeland Security Department to become lobbyists or consultants in the business that surrounds it, including Tom Ridge, the first head of the department. After only five years, the homeland-security business, according to USA Today, has already eclipsed "mature enterprises like movie-making and the music industry in annual revenue."

"Bagram remains one of the most shadowy corners of America's secretive detention network. An estimated 500 prisoners - mostly Afghans but also Arabs, Pakistanis and Central Asians - are held in a legal vacuum outside the scrutiny of human rights groups. In comparison Guantánamo Bay, where he was transferred weeks later, was a 'guest house', he said. 'They didn't beat me, they didn't torture me, and they treated me like a human being.'" Guardian


Iraq and the IMF: Economic Warfare:

This week, the International Monetary Fund will be holding its annual meeting in Singapore. No doubt, the economic restructuring and forced leveraging of Iraq will be a key component of talks surrounding the meeting. In these past few months, free trade zones have been established along the borders with Syria and Iran; foreign investment laws have been vetted and approved; and laws governing investment in the oil sector have been drafted and introduced. Iraq continues to move forward in implementing conditions imposed upon it through the Stand By Arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in December of 2005. While the command economy established under Saddam Hussein's regime was unsustainable, it is also highly probable that the benefits of the economic restructuring under way at present will accrue to the benefit of an elite segment of Iraq and of the international community. It is improbable that ordinary Iraqi citizens will be the beneficiaries of these changes.

The terms of the I.M.F. arrangement, and its impact upon ordinary Iraqi citizens, is becoming increasingly clear. The economic war against Iraq continues unabated.

Fuel subsidies have steadily declined over this past year, with a concomitant increase in the prices which Iraqi citizens pay for fuel. The I.M.F. requires that the fuel prices paid by Iraqis continue to be increased, as the subsidies are further reduced. By the end of the year, the official price for regular gasoline and diesel fuel is to cost twice as much as it did when the S.B.A. came into effect in December 2005. Kerosene is to cost 4x times as much.

Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily: U.S. Resorting to 'Collective Punishment'


Border Invaders: The Perfect Swarm Heads South, by Mike Davis:

Over the last decade, the U.S. State Department estimates that the number of Americans living in Mexico has soared from 200,000 to 1 million (or one-quarter of all U.S. expatriates). Remittances from the United States to Mexico have risen dramatically from $9 billion to $14.5 billion in just two years. Though initially interpreted as representing a huge spike in illegal workers (who send parts of their salaries across the border to family), it turns out to be mainly money sent by Americans to themselves in order to finance Mexican homes and retirements.

. . . according to the Wall Street Journal, "The land rush is occurring at the beginning of a demographic tidal wave. With more than 70 million American baby boomers expected to retire in the next two decades… some experts predict a vast migration to warmer -- and cheaper -- climates. Often such buyers purchase a property 10 to 15 years before retirement, use it as a vacation home, and then eventually move there for most of the year. Developers increasingly are taking advantage of the trend, building gated communities, condominiums, and golf courses."

The extraordinary rise in U.S. Sunbelt property values gives gringos immense economic leverage. Shrewd baby-boomers are not simply feathering nests for eventual retirement, but also increasingly speculating in Mexican resort property, sending up property values to the detriment of locals whose children are consequently driven into slums or forced to emigrate north, only increasing the "invasion" charges. . . .

The gringo footprint is largest (and brings the most significant geopolitical consequences) in Baja California, the 1,000-mile long desert appendage to the gridlocked state-nation governed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Indeed, Baja real-estate websites ooze almost as much hyperbole as those devoted to stalking the phantom menace of illegal immigrants -- just in a far more upbeat tone when it comes to the question of immigrant invasions.

In essence, Alta (Upper) California is beginning to overflow into Baja, an epochal process that, if unchecked, will produce intolerable social marginalization and ecological devastation in Mexico's last true frontier region. All the contradictions of post-industrial California -- runaway land inflation in the coastal zone, sprawling suburban development in interior valleys and deserts, freeway congestion and lack of mass transit, and the astronomical growth of motorized recreation -- dictate the invasion of the gorgeous "empty" peninsula to the south. To use a term from a bad but not irrelevant past, Baja is Anglo California's Lebensraum.

. . . the first two stages of informal annexation have already occurred. Under the banner of NAFTA, Southern California has exported hundreds of its sweatshops and toxic industries to the maquiladora zones of Tijuana and Mexicali. The Pacific Maritime Association, representing the West Coast's major shipping companies, has joined forces with Korean and Japanese corporations to explore the construction of a vast new container port at Punta Colonel, 150 miles south of Tijuana, which would undercut the power of longshore unionism in San Pedro and San Francisco.

. . . One of the irresistible attractions of Baja is that it has preserved a primordial wildness that has disappeared elsewhere in the West. Local residents, including a very eloquent indigenous environmental movement, cherish this incomparable landscape as they do the survival of an egalitarian ethos in the peninsula's small towns and fishing villages.

Thanks to the silent invasion of the baby-boomers from the north, however, much of the natural history and frontier culture of Baja could be swept away in the next generation.

New Alliance to Fight Water Privatization in El Salvador


Evo Morales, interviewed on Democracy Now!

We said we were going to nationalize the gas and oil sector. We did, without expropriating or kicking out any of the companies. We said it’s important to have partners, but not bosses. And we did it. The investor has the right to recuperate their investment and to a reasonable profit, but we can’t allow for the sacking of the country and only the companies benefiting, not the people.

. . . after the supreme decree that did the nationalization, we were guaranteeing greater security, because the new contracts were going to be transparent and ratified through congress, because previously the contracts were kept under wraps, secret, and never ratified in congress. And we also showed technically, financially, with numbers, that the company was going to be able to recover their investment and would have a reasonable profit. They weren’t going to have as much profit as before, because the largest oil fields – excuse me, from the largest gas fields, the companies only gave 18% of royalties to the state and took 82% in profit. But now, with the new law we’ve changed that around, now 82% for the government, for the state, and 18% for the companies. They’re staying. There’s no problems. And from that large field that Petrobras is managing, we’ve already seen $150 million coming into government coffers now.

. . . I want to take advantage of this opportunity to call on the people of the United States to help us in our efforts to extradite two [inaudible] people who practiced genocide, who were corrupt under previous administrations and who today are free here in the United States. . . . Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, former president, who in 2003 was responsible for the death of over a hundred people killed by gunfire, along with his minister, Carlos Sanchez Berzain. We’re trying now to use all of the instruments at our disposal to extradite him, but it’s not moving forward. It’s running into some resistance here in the United States. A government that says it fights against terrorism, for human rights, against corruption, it’s not conceivable that this person would still be here. So we ask the people, the government and all the institutions of human rights to help with this.

Venezuela's foreign minister said he was illegally detained for 90 minutes by officials at a New York airport and accused them of treating him abusively by trying to frisk and handcuff him. . . . "We were detained for an hour and a half, threatened by police with being beaten,'' Maduro told reporters at Venezuela's mission to the U.N. "We hold the U.S. government responsible.'' . . . Maduro said when one official ordered him to go to another room for a strip-search, he refused. He told CNN en Espanol that the official pushed him and yelled at him. He told reporters the situation only worsened when he explained he was the Venezuelan foreign minister and showed his diplomatic passport. Maduro said authorities at one point ordered him and other officials to spread their arms and legs and be frisked, but he said they forcefully refused. He said officers also threatened to handcuff him. Guardian

"We face a world whose divisions threaten the very notion of an international community upon which this institution stands . . ." Kofi Anan, last speech to the general assembly as UN secretary general


Carl Estabrook in "The Darfur Smokescreen" points out that:

The liberal position is hardly distinguishable from

(a) the Bush administration's position on Darfur, and
(b) the Clinton administration's position on Kosovo.

In both cases the cry of genocide and "humanitarian" intervention is used to cover the USG's imperial machinations to reduce a state (respectively Sudan and Serbia) that was unreliable from the US/Israeli POV.

Darfur: An Open Discussion About Intervention, Regime Change and the Politics of Genocide:

Five different perspectives on the ongoing crisis in the Darfur region explore the ethical and political questions behind popular calls for humanitarian intervention and regime change in Sudan. Panelists include Co-Director of the IAC in New York, Sara Flounders; Professor of Anthropology, Dr. Elliot Fratkin; investigative journalist, Keith Harmon Snow; researcher on war crimes, Dimitri Oram; and Associate Professor of Anthropology, Enoch Page; and concludes with a panel discussion. This event on the crisis in Darfur was held on July 6, 2006 at Smith College in Massachusetts.
Part 1
Part 2


Sara Flounders: Why Sudan rejects UN troops:

The U.S. has maintained that it is essential that UN forces replace the African Union troops because the latter are underfunded, understaffed and under-equipped for the "peacekeeping" role they were assigned to play. However, it is NATO, dominated by the U.S., which was suppos ed to provide logistics, airlifts, equipment and supplies for the African Union force.

The rally is a conscious attempt to divide the movement against the U.S. war in Iraq, further demonize Arab and Muslim people, and to try to sell a new war as a humanitarian effort.

Some of the groups expressing great concern for refugees in Darfur were silent or were active supporters of the Israeli bombing of Lebanon that created over 1 million refugees. They were among the strongest supporters of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. President George W. Bush met with Save Darfur Campaign organizers at the White House and praised their efforts.

Although the Save Darfur Campaign lists many religious and civil rights endorsers, the campaign is an initiative of the most right-wing evangelical Christians and major Zionist organizations.

There's one topic that all the forces claiming concern for the people of Sudan never mention: the role of imperialism in keeping Sudan poor and underdeveloped. Sudan has vast resources and mineral wealth. Washington's policy toward Sudan has revolved around inflaming national and regional antagonisms in both the south and the west so U.S. corporations could take control of developing the rich oil, gold, uranium and copper deposits that could make Sudan prosperous.

Amira Hass: In the Name of Security: What Israeli Police Documents Reveal About the Occupation of Palestine:

Cohen's research relies mainly on police documents from the period, which . . . relate, for example, that the provision of weapons to collaborators by the local authorities was a way of rewarding them. However, the security forces' liaison committee mentioned in 1949 that 'the distribution of weapons to an element or members of one group is likely to be useful to us; it will create the desired tension among the various parts of the population and enable us to control the situation.' The security agencies, Cohen reveals on the basis of written documents, occasionally even initiated internal conflicts.

Indirectly, this book by a former journalist says that one does not have to rely on written documents - which will be made public in another 50 years - in order to believe a political analysis that differs from that of the rulers. Hence, it was not simply shortsightedness and neglect that caused the Palestinian territories to be flooded with weapons during the 1990s. It was not "security" that led to the creation of a class of new mukhtars from Fatah, who received special privileges that were denied to other Palestinians and that deepened internal tensions. It was not "shortsightedness" that led to the weakening and political trivialization of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as chairman of the Palestinian Authority, just as it was not simple naivete that omitted the main point from the Oslo Accords: the goal of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. . . . the Israeli security services are careful to act within the framework of a clear political paradigm: maximum weakening, in every possible way, of the Palestinian national collective, so that it will not be able to realize its goal and establish a state worthy of the name, in accordance with international resolutions.

Dahr Jamail: AP Propaganda About Iraq:

[Norman] Solomon, a nationally-syndicated columnist on media and politics who is also the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a national consortium of policy researchers and analysts, had this to say about why AP might get away with this type of "reportage" as consistently as it does: "AP is providing the kind of coverage that it and other mainstream US media outlets have provided in the past. The coverage does not seem conspicuously shoddy to most readers because it fits in with previous shoddy reportage. [Echoing Gertrude Stein's 1935 remark that "what the newspaper says about anything, it always every time it mentions anybody or anything it has to say the same thing using the same words otherwise it would be a shock to the newspaper reader who has gotten used to this formula about this thing"] From all appearances, this AP article is based on statements from four sources - and each of them is in line with US government policies. There's one tribal leader from Ramadi who is seeking large quantities of material aid from the US and the Iraqi government; there are two spokespeople for that Iraqi government; and there's a general from the US military. That all four would present a similar picture of events is not surprising. But for an article to rely on only those sources is stenography for one side of the conflict - which should not be confused with journalism."
. . .
It is important to note that the board of directors of AP is composed of 22 newspaper and media executives that include the CEOs and presidents of ABC, McClatchy, Hearst, Tribune and the Washington Post. Two of the directors are members of very conservative policy councils that include the Hoover Institute. The Hoover Institute is a Republican policy research center that has been referred to as "Bush's brain trust." Its fellows include Condoleezza Rice and Newt Gingrich, a Distinguished Visiting Fellow, along with George Shultz.

Douglas McCorkindale, also on the board of directors at AP, is on the board of Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defense contract company. One does not require crystals to see that the board of AP displays a clear tilt toward right-wing conservative views, and comprises representatives of a huge corporate media network of the largest publishers in the US.

"Caracas, Venezuela, September 16, 2006 - The South American Television Network Telesur announced the creation of a news agency to rival Reuters and the Associated Press, this Thursday. “This represents a new step that Telesur is taking towards the democratization of information and towards the inclusion of more voices in the spectrum of international initiatives,” said Izarra." link


Dave Lindorff on prepositioning to attack Iran: War Signals?:

[Ray] McGovern, who had first told a group of anti-Iraq War activists Sunday on the National Mall in Washington, DC, during an ongoing action called "Camp Democracy," about his being alerted to the strike group deployment, warned, "We have about seven weeks to try and stop this next war from happening."


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