Thursday, December 29, 2005

2005, no argument

Some twat at work today: "we've got to bring this up to 2005". His mantra. As if his only moral, intellectual and aesthetic compass is the calender on his desk. I say, no, let's bring it back to 1848. Or somesuch. We've got to escape from 2005 by whatever expedient we can, see it from somewhere else. Not only is the Present not the appropriate measure, it is precisely what stands in need of measurement.

(context: person 'a' wished to present an historical analysis of something (the notion of 'blackness'). So colleague replies 'but what are you doing that I couldn't just download from the internet'. As if history exists pre-constituted as information while the Present is the engine room of all that's exciting and New. Twat craves the New. But as others more knowledgeable than I have said: something is no more valuable because it is new than valuable because it is Near.

Monday, December 19, 2005

No Child Left Behind

Sharon Shea-Keneally, principal of Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington, Vermont, was shocked when she received a letter in May from military recruiters demanding a list of all her students, including names, addresses, and phone numbers. The school invites recruiters to participate in career days and job fairs, but like most school districts, it keeps student information strictly confidential. "We don't give out a list of names of our kids to anybody," says Shea-Keneally, "not to colleges, churches, employers -- nobody."

But when Shea-Keneally insisted on an explanation, she was in for an even bigger surprise: The recruiters cited the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's sweeping new education law passed earlier this year. There, buried deep within the law's 670 pages, is a provision requiring public secondary schools to provide military recruiters not only with access to facilities, but also with contact information for every student -- or face a cutoff of all federal aid.

"I was very surprised the requirement was attached to an education law," says Shea-Keneally. "I did not see the link."

The military complained this year that up to 15 percent of the nation's high schools are "problem schools" for recruiters. In 1999, the Pentagon says, recruiters were denied access to schools on 19,228 occasions. Rep. David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana who sponsored the new recruitment requirement, says such schools "demonstrated an anti-military attitude that I thought was offensive."

- David Goodman, in Mother Jones, November/December 2002

Friday, December 16, 2005


CNN reports, without laughing audibly:

Official: Al-Zarqawi caught, released

Authorities didn't realize prisoner was terrorist mastermind

Thursday, December 15, 2005 Posted: 2244 GMT (0644 HKT)

An Iraqi official says Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was caught and released last year.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi security forces caught the most wanted man in the country last year, but released him because they didn't know who he was, the Iraqi deputy minister of interior said Thursday.

Hussain Kamal confirmed that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- the al Qaeda in Iraq leader who has a $25 million bounty on his head -- was in custody at some point last year, but he wouldn't provide further details.

A U.S. official couldn't confirm the report, but said he wouldn't dismiss it.

"It is plausible," he said.

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people."

A post-legal society


Bush Secretly Lifted Some Limits on Spying in U.S. After 9/11, Officials Say

Published: December 15, 2005

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 ­- Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval represents a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

"This is really a sea change," said a former senior official who specializes in national security law. "It's almost a mainstay of this country that the N.S.A. only does foreign searches."

Nearly a dozen current and former officials, who were granted anonymity because of the classified nature of the program, discussed it with reporters for The New York Times because of their concerns about the operation's legality and oversight.

According to those officials and others, reservations about aspects of the program have also been expressed by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who is the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and a judge presiding over a secret court that oversees intelligence matters. Some of the questions about the agency's new powers led the administration to temporarily suspend the operation last year and impose more restrictions, the officials said.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Eyes Wide Shut: Introducing Sociology

From Eyes Wide Shut: A Critical Reevaluation, by Tim Kreider -

But Eyes Wide Shut is not about "sex." The real pornography in this film is in its lingering, overlit depiction of the shameless, naked wealth of end-of-the-millennium Manhattan, and of the obscene effect of that wealth on the human soul, and on society. National reviewers' myopic focus on sex and the shallow psychologies of the film's central couple, the Harfords, at the expense of every other element in the film—the trappings of stupendous wealth, the references to fin-de-siècle Europe and other imperial periods, the Christmastime setting, or even the sum spent by Dr. Harford in a single illicit night out—suggests more about the blindness of the elites to their own surroundings than it does about Stanley Kubrick's inadequacies as a pornographer. For those with their eyes open, there are plenty of money shots.

There is a moment in Eyes Wide Shut, as Dr. Bill Harford is lying to his wife over the phone from the apartment of a prostitute, when we see a textbook in the foreground called Introducing Sociology. The book's title serves as a sly, mirthless caption to the scene (like the slogan PEACE IS OUR PROFESSION in Dr. Strangelove), showing us prostitution as the basic and defining transaction of our society. It is also, more importantly, a key to reading the film, suggesting that we ought to interpret it sociologically—not, as most reviewers insisted on doing, psychologically.


[T]his is not a film about the "private dreams and frustrations" of what Ziegler calls "ordinary people"; it is, very pointedly, about really rich people, that notorious one percent of the population that owns forty percent of the wealth.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Return of the Repressed

A speech to the Climate March, on 3rd December 2005, by George Monbiot.

I want to take a moment to remind you of where we have come from.

For the first three million years of human history, we lived according to circumstance. Our lives were ruled by the happenstances of ecology. We existed, as all animals do, in fear of hunger, predation, weather and disease.

For the following few thousand years, after we had grasped the rudiments of agriculture and crop storage, we enjoyed greater food security, and soon destroyed most of our non-human predators. But our lives were ruled by the sword, the axe and the spear. The primary struggle was for land. We needed it not just to grow our crops but also to provide our sources of energy – grazing for our horses and bullocks, wood for our fires.

Then we discovered fossil fuels, and everything changed. No longer were we constrained by the need to live on ambient energy; we could support ourselves by means of the sunlight stored over the preceding 350 million years. The new sources of energy permitted the economy to grow – to grow sufficiently to absorb some of the people expelled by the previous era’s land disputes. Fossil fuels allowed both industry and cities to expand, which permitted the workers to organise and to force the despots to loosen their grip on power.

Fossil fuels helped us fight wars of a horror never contemplated before, but they also reduced the need for war. For the first time in human history, indeed for the first time in biological history, there was a surplus of available energy. We could keep body and soul together without having to fight someone else for the energy we needed. Agricultural productivity rose 10 or 20 fold. Economic productivity rose 100 fold. Most of us could live as no one had ever lived before.

And everything you see around you results from that. We have been able to assemble here from all corners of the country because of fossil fuels. We have not been charged and cut down by the yeomanry – or not yet at any rate – because of fossil fuels. Our freedoms, our comforts, our prosperity are all the result of fossil fuels.

Ours are the most fortunate generations that have ever lived. Ours are the most fortunate generations that ever will. We inhabit the brief historical interlude between ecological constraint and ecological catastrophe.

I don’t have to remind you of the two forces which are converging on our lives. We are faced with an impending shortage of the source of energy which is hardest to replace – liquid fossil fuels. And we are faced with the environmental consequences of the fossil fuel burning which has permitted us to be standing here now. The structure, the complexity, the diversity of our lives, everything we know, everything that we have taken for granted, that looked solid and non-negotiable, suddenly looks contingent. All this is a great tottering pile balanced on a ball, a ball that is about to start rolling downhill.

I hear people talking about the carbon cuts they would like to see. I am not interested in what people would like to see. I am interesed in what the science says. And the science is clear. We need not a 20% cut by 2020; not a 60% cut by 2050, but a 90% cut by 2030. Only then do we stand a good chance of keeping carbon concentrations in the atmosphere below 430 parts per million, which means that only then do we stand a good chance of preventing some of the threatened positive feedbacks. If we let it get beyond that point there is nothing we can do. The biosphere takes over as the primary source of carbon. It is out of our hands.

The notion that we can achieve this by replacing fossil fuels with ambient energy is a fantasy. It is true that we have untapped sources of energy in wind, waves, tides and sunlight, but it is neither so concentrated nor so consistent that we can plug it in and carry on as before.

A cut like this requires massive reductions in our energy use. There are some technofixes available, but they are unlikely to take us more than halfway there. If carbon emissions are to be capped at 10%, energy use will have to be capped at under 50%. The only fair means of doing this is national rationing accompanied by global contraction and convergence.

And we find ourselves in an extraordinary position. This is the first mass political movement to demand less, not more. The first to take to the streets in pursuit of austerity. The first to demand that our luxuries, even our comforts, are curtailed.

These are the greatest political challenges any movement has faced. But we are rising to it. We are rising. But let no one tell you it will be easy. If it were just a matter of slagging off George Bush, we would have won by now. But we must struggle not only against him, not only against our own government, not only against each other, but also against ourselves. The struggle against climate change is a struggle against much of what we have become. It is a struggle against some of our most fundamental urges.

We cannot call on others to stop flying if we still fly. We cannot ask the government to force us to change if we are not ready to change. The greatest fight of our lives will be fought not just out there, but also in here.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Salvadoran Option Update

Matthew Rothschild, January 2005:

When all the other rationales for this crazy war in Iraq had evaporated, when it had become clear that Saddam didn’t have weapons of mass destruction and Saddam was not working with Osama bin Laden, the Bush Administration seized upon the justification that it was installing democracy in Iraq.

But nothing could be further from installing democracy than installing death squads. And that’s what Rumsfeld is planning over at the Pentagon, according to Newsweek.

It’s called the Salvador option, named after the brutal repression that the U.S. government oversaw in that country in the 1980s, when the CIA financed, trained, and armed death squads that killed and tortured tens of thousands of people.

This should not come as a total surprise, as Cheney and Rumsfeld in the last several months have both held up El Salvador in the 1980s as a model for Iraq today. But it is astonishing to see government officials speaking openly about the desirability of death squads. (Also noteworthy is the confession, in the Newsweek story, that supporting death squads was part of a “still-secret strategy in the Reagan Administration’s battle against the leftist guerilla insurgency.”)

According to Newsweek, “one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support, and possibly train Iraqi squads . . . to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria.” By going into Syria, the Pentagon would be regionalizing this war—shades of the Cambodia raids during the Vietnam War.

Democracy Now, Nov 30 2005:

ARUN GUPTA: What you're seeing is, I think, really the fruition of U.S. strategy in Iraq. The Pentagon has spent over $10 billion to try to stand up Iraqi military forces, and it's been a complete disaster. So what they're trying to do is they’re turning to death squads to fight the insurgency. The Iraqi forces, the military forces, the army, they really don't stand and fight; and even when they do, they depend on tremendous U.S. logistical support to carry out any operation. So, they really can't operate on their own.

But there are these militias that Donald Rumsfeld was talking about; but, of course, what he doesn’t want to talk about is that the U.S. set up these militias. They funded them. They armed them. They trained them. And a lot of this came out in the Pentagon's own reports, Pentagon’s generals talking about how great they were over a year ago, how they really took the fight to the resistance. And so, what's been going on is that the U.S. has set these up.

And there's been a certain conflict. In April, when the Shiite government took control, they started firing a lot of the commanders who were basically ex-Baathists, and they started bringing in their own guys, especially from the Badr Brigade. And a lot of these are concentrated in what's known as special police commandos, and they have all sorts of various brigades, one called the Wolf Brigade, the Scorpion Brigade, the Lion Brigade, another called the Fearless Warriors. And they sound like death squads. And they are death squads. They go around with masks. They're conducting these raids, especially throughout Baghdad.

And the U.S. is saying, ‘Well, you know, who knows who's doing this?’ But when twenty vehicles pull up with a hundred troops in them, and reporters are recounting -- the New York Times article also recounts this -- they're showing up with sophisticated communications equipment. They're showing up with these expensive Glocks, nine-millimeter Glocks that were supplied by the U.S. government. They have the insignia, the uniforms of the special police commandos. And these -- In Baghdad there's a very strict curfew that’s in place every single night. Yet how can these large convoys of vehicles be going around?

And so, they conduct these roundups, and in many areas it's largely Sunni Arab males. And then they're disappeared. They're taking them to this network of secret prisons. One of the things that’s come out is that there's this absolutely vast network of prisons throughout Iraq. In a nation of 27 million, the Iraqi government has 1,100 prisons.

AMY GOODMAN: Outside the U.S. prisons?

ARUN GUPTA: And this is – Yes, this is in addition to the U.S. prisons. Officially, the Iraqi government says they only have about 12-13,000 detainees. But that really strains credibility. That's only 11 prisoners per facility, whereas the -- what really set this all off was the uncovering of a secret detention center within an interior ministry building where they found approximately 170 men. Another Iraqi male spoke extensively to Reuters where he was kept in a building with 800 men. The BBC just published a report and photographs of another prison that they were allowed to enter, which showed a room so crowded that the prisoners could barely sit down. So nobody knows even really how many prisoners are being held by the Iraqi government.

And what's been happening is that they're being -- you're finding all these men being seized, primarily it looks like Sunni Arab males who are though to form the core of the armed resistance, and then bodies are turning up weeks, months later, often two or three governances away. So they’re seized in Baghdad, for instance, and then these 20-30 bodies will turn up on the Iranian border. And that part of the area is completely controlled by Shiite militias. The Sunni resistance has very little presence down there.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, when you mentioned these death squads, you mentioned the Badr Brigades. Now, Moqtada al-Sadr has been an opponent of the U.S. occupation --


JUAN GONZALEZ: And he’s been hunted at several times by U.S. forces. Are you saying that there’s at the same time ongoing cooperation by some of his people with --?

ARUN GUPTA: Well, the Badr Brigade is linked to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq which is based in -- which was based in Iran. Al-Sadr's forces are distinct: the Mahdi Army. And in the words of one high-ranking U.S. official who spoke to the L.A. Times, he said that the Badr Brigade has special commandos and the Mahdi Army has the police at Baghdad. And he said, quote: “Everybody's got their own death squads.” Now, this is a high-ranking U.S. military official, and this is admitted by also Iraqi officials.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute to go, Arun. But the issue of U.S. military advisors to these death squads?

ARUN GUPTA: Yes. There are two advisors, in particular. One is named Steve Castillo. He was a high-ranking intelligence officer with the Drug Enforcement Agency throughout Latin America, and he was actually in charge of the interior ministry until the handover of sovereignty on June 20, 2004. And the other is Jim Steele who was in charge of Special Forces, a team of 55 Special Forces in El Salvador during that brutal counter-insurgency war, where they trained El Salvadoran forces and oversaw a very brutal counterinsurgency war, where tens of thousands were killed by death squads. And both of these are operating in the interior ministry. So the idea that this is going on without U.S. knowledge, it's really -- it's just -- it's plausible deniability is what they’re trying to do.