Archive for November, 2004


Four more interesting developments in Iraq deserve commentary. First, NBC News is reporting that “the US military is now planning to increase the number of American troops in Iraq by 10,000 to 11,000 to provide additional security. That’s twice the number of reinforcements first anticipated and would bring the total number of American troops in Iraq to 150,000.” This move highlights the growing instability in Iraq and the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi security forces, slated to take over all security for the January elections. This latest troop increase brings that plan into question. Meanwhile, 134 troops have died in Iraq during the month of November, making it the second deadliest month since the start of the invasion.

What’s more, Medact, a British medical charity has announced that the Iraqi health system is in worse shape now that it was before the invasion. “Medact.. blamed chronic underfunding, staff shortages and mismanagement of supplies for the condition the health service was now in… [and]…while funding had been agreed for healthcare projects, little money had actually been paid out and many projects had not been implemented.” The U.K has rejected Medact’s claims.
Also, in Germany, war crime charges— which echo the International Red Cross report sited blow— have been brought against top U.S. officials (Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet). The charges were filed on behalf of four Iraqi citizens who allege that they were mistreated in Abu Ghraib.

It’ll be interesting to see how far this case gets and how much coverage it receives in the mainstream media. In light of the administration’s recent condemnation of human rights abuses in Saddam’s Iraq and in Sudan, the media should point out the administration’s hypocrisy.
Finally, on Wednesday, the Pentagon released a study of the War on Terror and has concluded (what progressives have long claimed) that “the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have created a shared anti-American cause among otherwise-divided Muslim extremists and raised the stature of the radicals in the eyes of ordinary Muslims.”

Here is the story as reported by the Christian Science Monitor:

“Late on the Wednesday afternoon before the Thanksgiving holiday, the US Defense Department released a report by the Defense Science Board that is highly critical of the administration’s efforts in the war on terror and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
‘Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies [the report says]. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states. Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.'”

This development is even more eerie when combined with the latest tape from Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahri who gave “Our final advice to America, although I know they will not heed it: You must choose between two methods in dealing with Muslims. Cooperate with them with respect and based on mutual interests or deal with them as free loot, robbed land and violated sanctity.”

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Today’s NYT fronts a classified International Red Cross report which alleges the U.S. tactics at Guantánamo Bay to be “tantamount to torture.” The report, which was based on a visit in June, also says some doctors were helping plan interrogations, “a flagrant violation of medical ethics.” The interrogation techniques included “solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions… and some beatings.”
The article waits till the third jump page to remind us that in March of 2003, “a team of administration lawyers accepted a view first advocated by the Justice Department that the president had wide powers in authorizing coercive treatment of detainees. The legal team in a memorandum concluded that Mr. Bush was not bound by either the international Convention Against Torture or a federal antitorture statute because he had the authority to protect the nation from terrorism.
That document provides tightly constructed definitions of torture. For example, if an interrogator “knows that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the requisite specific intent even though the defendant did not act in good faith,” it said. “Instead, a defendant is guilty of torture only if he acts with the express purpose of inflicting severe pain or suffering on a person within his control.”
However, in its reporting, the paper fails to connect the dots, not reminding readers that the advocate for this legal opinion was the president’s council, now Attorney General nominee, Alberto Gonzales. Also left unreported is the concern that since the detainees in Gitmo are not protected under the Geneva Conventions, their torture–even though morally apprehensible–will not be viewed in the same light as the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq (where detainees were covered under the international convention).
The paper does note that since the International Red Cross operates under government agreement not to publicize its reports, administration officials could plausibly deny its leaked contents. In fact administration officials have long used unreleased Red Cross reports to tout their humane treatment of prisoners.
Another point–some on the Right may use this report to condone the tactics of the interrogators, arguing that in this new war on terror, traditional conventions of morality must be abandoned since “we are fighting a new enemy that does not abide by the Geneva Conventions.” That is, since the terrorists don’t abide by the Geneva Conventions neither should we.
Extending the argument only further illuminates its absurdity, and would require its proponents to permit the United States government to adopt the same Jihadist fundamentalist mentality (civilization extermination) and allow it any means necessary to achieve its desirable political motives– car bombings, the kidnapping civilians, and the like..
And for a movement (and party) that prides itself on its morality, justifications of torture, either in legal memos or outright, are um, a bit hypocritical.

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A revealing article from Dahr Jamail about the suppression of “those” Iraqi media stories that don’t echo the American-interim-government version of events.

A telling passage:

“The media commission sent out an order recently asking news organizations to “stick to the government line on the U.S.-led offensive in Fallujah or face legal action.” The warning was sent on the letterhead of Allawi. The letter also asked media to “set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear.”

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Allegations of voter fraud and manipulation in the 2004 Presidential election are still spinning throughout alternative media. The mainstream press has almost single-handedly ignored the story. (You can read my column on voter fraud here).

On Sunday, Rev. Jesse Jackson, along with the Greens and the Libertarians endorsed a presidential recount of Ohio while GAO announced it has begun investigating allegations of election fraud. Meanwhile, pollster John Zogby is questioning the disparity between early exit polls showing Kerry winning (in key swing states like Ohio and Florida) and the final election results.

“According to Zogby, [for the exit polls to have been so wrong] it would have required “wrong sampling in wrong areas throughout the country,” or the purposeful manipulation of data to obtain exit poll results so significantly different from the official totals. He viewed neither as a possibility. When asked what exactly had happened then, Zogby replied, “a problem, but I don’t know where it is … something’s wrong here, though.”

Many have echoed this point. However, some polling experts claim that the discrepancy is normal and that exit polls could be wrong.

Still, at this point, realistically, the fraud story has sizzled out. Short of Kerry making waves by publicly endorsing a recount, the mainstream media will not report it. Also, 85% of the American people believe that this time around, Bush was legitimately elected. In light of all of this, Talking Points suggest that we focus more on the genocide in Sudan, or the 9/11 intelligence bill being stalled by House Republicans.

Allegations of voter fraud need to be investigated and steps need to be taken to prevent irregularities in the future, but progressives must simultaneously refocus onto, more pressing issues.

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More on the Iraqi forces point. The InterPress Service news agency is reporting that the US military used poison gas during the Fallujah attacks. According to one witness, “Poisonous gases have been used in Fallujah. They used everything– tanks, artillery, infantry, poison gas. Fallujah has been bombed to the ground.”

In Mosul the bodies of 20 executed Iraqi National Guard members were found. In light of these events the point below deserves to be re-stated: By using poisonous gases and indiscriminate bombs in civilian populations, the American forces are further radicalizing Iraqis. The few that are still joining the US-trained Iraqi National Guard are increasingly seen as traitors. Hence the deaths.

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David Corn examines Bush’s ‘evolution in rhetoric’ as far as the Iraqi security forces are concerned. He points to this recent Washington Post piece which ‘reveals’ (what we had already known) that the forces are extremely unreliable and tend to be sympathetic to the insurgency.
From the Post piece: “As insurgents intensify attacks on members of Iraq’s fledgling security forces, U.S. authorities have concluded that plans to provide new police officers with a two-month introductory course followed by some on-the-job mentoring will not be enough to ensure their effectiveness.

With many police officers intimidated by killings and threats, some U.S. officials have begun questioning the notion of trying to establish a system of local policing at this time.”
This is troublesome because “U.S. and Iraqi officials want to rely solely on Iraqi forces to guard polling places during national elections scheduled for Jan. 30, keeping U.S. troops at a distance.”
But notice the ‘evolution’— before the election, during the first debate, Bush said, “there’s 100,000 troops trained: police, guard, special units, border patrol. There’s going to be 125,000 trained by the end of this year. Yea, we’re the job done. It’s hard work.” Now, after the election, “U.S. authorities have [miraculously] concluded that…a two-month introductory course… will not be enough to ensure their effectiveness.”

During the election, Bush was certainly being optimistic, painting a rosy picture of the events in Iraq. A lot of this was unsuccessful— post election polls show us that voters for whom Iraq was the top issue broke overwhelmingly for Kerry– the problem was that not enough people voted on Iraq (otherwise Kerry could have won).

However, the greater point here is that our tactics (bombing Fallujah etc..) have only radicalized the Iraqis, making it that much harder to recruit young “pro-American” Iraqi men into the security forces.

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The Washington Post asks the soul-searching-meaning of the election question that has haunted political scientists for weeks– Was 2004 a realignment election?

The repercussions: “If Republicans have indeed seized the upper hand in national politics in a fundamental way, the implication for Democrats is that radical changes in their electoral strategies, and even issue positions, are needed to become competitive again.”
For a realignment election to have occurred, a majority of voters had to have fully supported Bush’s (Republican) initiatives But that was certainly not the case.

A CBS/NYT poll helpfully reminds us that for “many elements of Mr. Bush’s second-term agenda, the concerns extended across party lines in some cases. Nearly two-thirds of all respondents – including 51 percent of Republicans – said it was more important to reduce deficits than to cut taxes, a central element of Mr. Bush’s economic agenda…[Bush] won despite the fact that Americans disapproved of his handling of the economy, foreign affairs and the war in Iraq. There has been a slight increase in the number of Americans who believe the nation should never have gone into Iraq. A majority of Americans continue to believe the country is going in the wrong direction…Americans said they opposed changing the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, which Mr. Bush campaigned on in the final weeks of his campaign…[only] one-third of the respondents said the tax cuts passed in Mr. Bush’s first term had been good for the economy; but nearly a fifth said they had done more harm, and just under half said the tax cuts had made little difference.”

Judging by these results, a majority of Americans outright opposed Bush’s economic agenda, his handling of foreign affairs, and his position on hot-button domestic issues. Most believed, and still continue to believe that under Bush’s leadership, the country is going in the wrong direction. Can this be called a fundamental realignment to the issues championed by the Republican party?

Bush won because Karl Rove was able to clearly define John Kerry as a weak flip-flopper and Kerry was never able to break out of that mold. Furthermore, poll results indicate that voters wanted a reason to vote for Kerry (since they disagreed with Bush’s policies) but he could never clearly articulate a reason for them to do so. Bush won this election because of the personal failures of John Kerry not in spite of them.

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A great piece in today’s New York Times about Bush’s Social Security privatization-personal accounts plan. The question: How much money would the government need to borrow to finance the soon-to-be-announced proposal?

“Borrowing by the government could be necessary to establish the personal accounts because of the way Social Security pays for benefits. Under the current system, the payroll tax levied on workers goes to benefits for people who are already retired. Personal accounts would be paid for out of the same pool of money; they would allow workers to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into accounts invested in mutual funds or other investments.

The money going into the accounts would therefore no longer be available to pay benefits to current retirees. The shortfall would have to be made up somehow to preserve benefits for people who are already retired during the transition from one system to the other, and by nearly all estimates there is no way to make it up without relying at least in part on government borrowing.”

Transition costs are estimated at $2 trillion dollars so a lot of barrowing will be needed. But that’s just one option. Other ways to fix social security have rarely been reported on and (from what Thoughtful Points heard) have not been offered (Kerry dogged that question during the 3rd debate).

It’s time for us to hear the alternative policies. Hopefully mainstream media won’t block them out. And if they do, Thoughtful Points will do its best to bring them to you.

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According to the Washington Post, House speaker Dennis Hastert is now operating under the “majority of the majority” rule. That is, he will only allow a vote on those bills that have enough votes to pass with a Republican majority. Take the recent 9/11 legislation that Hastert refused to bring to a House vote because a majority of House Republicans opposed it. The bill would have passed with strong support from the House Democrats and America would have been made safer– sooner rather than later. But, Hastert chose to play partisan politics and please his party, not the American people. Safety and security is second only to ensuring a Republican-majority vote. Now that’s a true American!

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The situation in Iraq has only been deteriorating. Last week, during the Fallujah offensive, the Red Cross reported that 800 Iraqi civilians had been killed. Incidentally, that number was only a conservative estimate since it did not include those still lying under the rubble.

Not surprisingly this figure received little coverage in the mainstream press. In fact, the entire reporting on the Fallujah attack has been extremely revealing. The New York Times has run stories describing the rain of bombs upon Fallujah and questioned only why they left few bodies (on the streets) in their wake. (The power state never counts its victims, and the morality of their crimes is rarely questioned).

However, in some sense, the media’s hesitancy to report civilian casualty rates can be explained by their relative proximity to the military. Most mainstream reporters in Iraq are imbedded with the military and are susceptible to military censorship. Anything that doesn’t reflect positively, is obviously expunged.

This arrangement explains the story disparity between the alternative press (which relies heavily on independent reporters) and the mainstream press.
But back to the elections. Last Thursday, a senior aid to Prime Minister Allawi predicted that the January elections would be delayed and several political parties (mostly Sunni) announced their boycott.

In response to this, US forces detained a leading Sunni politician (who had called for the boycott) and the offices of an Islamic Party leader, also opposed to the January 30th dateline, were raided.

Now, (finally!) the Washington Post is reporting that “influential Sunni Muslim groups and Iraq’s two main Kurdish movements requested a delay Friday in nationwide elections set by Jan. 30, fearing that a vote amid persistent violence and a boycott by Sunnis would deprive the results of legitimacy.” The article state that the U.S. is hesitant to set a president for postponement and is thus sticking to the January 30th date.

So, will the Iraqi boycott of elections lead to their postponement? In a democracy, it would. We’ll have to wait and see.

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