Sunday, August 26, 2007
Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush's war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government. In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity -- to the point where wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear, where modern-day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP, where private companies are guaranteed huge profits no matter how badly they fuck things up.
And just maybe, reviewing this appalling history of invoicing orgies and million-dollar boondoggles, it's not so far-fetched to think that this is the way someone up there would like things run all over -- not just in Iraq but in Iowa, too, with the state police working for Corrections Corporation of America, and DHL with the contract to deliver every Christmas card. And why not? What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism, where revenues are forcibly extracted from the customer by the state, and obscene profits are handed out not by the market but by an unaccountable government bureaucracy.
At the very outset of the occupation, when L. Paul Bremer was installed as head of the CPA, one of his first brilliant ideas for managing the country was to have $12 billion in cash flown into Baghdad on huge wooden pallets and stored in palaces and government buildings. To pay contractors, he'd have agents go to the various stashes -- a pile of $200 million in one of Saddam's former palaces was watched by a single soldier, who left the key to the vault in a backpack on his desk when he went out to lunch -- withdraw the money, then crisscross the country to pay the bills. When desperate auditors later tried to trace the paths of the money, one agent could account for only $6,306,836 of some $23 million he'd withdrawn. Bremer's office "acknowledged not having any supporting documentation" for $25 million given to a different agent. A ministry that claimed to have paid 8,206 guards was able to document payouts to only 602. An agent who was told by auditors that he still owed $1,878,870 magically produced exactly that amount, which, as the auditors dryly noted, "suggests that the agent had a reserve of cash."
In short, some $8.8 billion of the $12 billion proved impossible to find. "Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone?" asked Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight Committee. "But that's exactly what our government did."
In perhaps the ultimate example of military capitalism, KBR reportedly ran convoys of empty trucks back and forth across the insurgent-laden desert, pointlessly risking the lives of soldiers and drivers so the company could charge the taxpayer for its phantom deliveries. Truckers for KBR, knowing full well that the trips were bullshit, derisively referred to their cargo as "sailboat fuel."
Sometimes the government simply handed out money to companies it made up out of thin air. In 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers found itself unable to award contracts by the September deadline imposed by Congress, meaning it would have to "de-obligate" the money and return it to the government. Rather than suffer that awful fate, the corps obligated $362 million -- spread out over ninety-six different contracts -- to "Dummy Vendor." In their report on the mess, auditors noted that money to nobody "does not constitute proper obligations."
But even obligating money to no one was better than what sometimes happened in Iraq: handing out U.S. funds to the enemy. Since the beginning of the war, rumors have abounded about contractors paying protection money to insurgents to avoid attacks. No less an authority than Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, claimed that such payoffs are a "significant source" of income for Al Qaeda. Moreover, when things go missing in Iraq -- like bricks of $100 bills, or weapons, or trucks -- it is a fair assumption that some of the wayward booty ends up in the wrong hands. In July, a federal audit found that 190,000 weapons are missing in Iraq -- nearly one out of every three arms supplied by the United States. "These weapons almost certainly ended up on the black market, where they are repurchased by insurgents," says Chatterjee.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Friday, August 24, 2007
President Felipe Calderon has said the government will clamp down on hoarding and speculation to ease the problem. But some blame the rise on demand for corn to make environmentally-friendly biofuels in the United States.
Wheat prices reach record level
Wheat prices have hit record highs on global commodity markets, bringing the threat of rising bread prices. Bad weather in key grain growing areas such as Canada and parts of Europe has limited supplies as demand has risen, sparking fears of a supply shortfall. Surging prices are also expected to have widespread fallout for consumers. While it will mean higher bread prices, it could also trigger an increase in meat and dairy prices as farmers battle to pass on rising feed costs.
Global wheat stockpiles will slip to their lowest levels in 26 years as a result, official US figures predicted earlier this month.
In this three-minute extract, Duane R. 'Dewey' Clarridge, the CIA's chief in Latin America from 1981 to 1984, scoffs at the deaths in Chile under Pinochet and says it was worth it:
PILGER: It was a period which almost everyone in the present moment thinks was a dark time, in which the CIA played a major role.
CLARRIDGE: That's right, they played a major role in overthrowing, uh, wh-wh- whatsisname.
PILGER: 'Whatsisname' was Salvador Allende. He was democratically elected.
CLARRIDGE: Right. OK.
PILGER: Is that OK, to overthrow a democratically elected government?
CLARRIDGE: It depends on what your national security interests are.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Blair: Iraq oil claim is 'conspiracy theory'At The Oil Drum yesterday, David Strahan placed this desperate 'derision' in its (underpublicised) historical context:
Matthew Tempest, political correspondent
Guardian, Wednesday January 15, 2003.
Tony Blair today derided as "conspiracy theories" accusations that a war on Iraq would be in pursuit of oil, as he faced down growing discontent in parliament at a meeting of Labour backbenchers and at PMQs. ...
Britain and America’s shared energy fears were secretly formalised during the planning for Iraq. It is widely accepted that Blair’s commitment to support the attack dates back to his summit with Bush at Crawford in April 2002. The Times headline was typical that weekend: Iraq Action Is Delayed But ‘Certain’. What is less well known is that at the same summit Blair proposed and Bush agreed to set up the US-UK Energy Dialogue, a permanent diplomatic liaison dedicated to “energy security and diversity”. No announcement was made, and the Dialogue’s existence was only later exposed through a US Freedom of Information enquiry by Rob Evans and David Hencke of the Guardian.
Both governments continue to refuse to release minutes of meetings between ministers and officials held under the Dialogue, but among some papers that have been released, one dated February 2003 notes that to meet projected world demand, oil production in the Middle East would have to double by 2030 to over 50 million barrels per day, and proposed “a targeted study to examine the capital and investment requirements of key Gulf countries”. So on the eve of the invasion British and American officials were secretly discussing how to raise oil production from the region and we are invited to believe this is mere coincidence. Iraq was evidently not just about corporate greed but strategic desperation.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
At the North American summit in Montebello, Quebec, three masked "anarchists" - at least one of them holding a rock - are exposed by a protest organiser. The three then melt back into police lines, entirely unhindered, where they are gently "forced to the ground" and then led away in handcuffs - without having their masks removed. Later, there is no record of any of them ever having been arrested.
Five-minute YouTube video here.
The Toronto Star reports:
A video, posted on YouTube, shows three young men, their faces masked by bandannas, mingling Monday with protesters in front of a line of police in riot gear. At least one of the masked men is holding a rock in his hand.
The three are confronted by protest organizer Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. Coles makes it clear the masked men are not welcome among his group of protesters, whom he describes as mainly grandparents. He urges them to leave and find their own protest location.
Coles also demands that they put down their rocks. Other protesters begin to chime in that the three are really police agents. Several try to snatch the bandanas from their faces.
Rather than leave, the three actually start edging closer to the police line, where they appear to engage in discussions. They eventually push their way past an officer, whereupon other police shove them to the ground and handcuff them.
Late Tuesday, photographs taken by another protester surfaced, showing the trio lying prone on the ground. The photos show the soles of their boots adorned by yellow triangles. A police officer kneeling beside the men has an identical yellow triangle on the sole of his boot.
Kevin Skerrett, a protester with the group Nowar-Paix, said the photos and video together present powerful evidence that the men were actually undercover police officers. "I think the circumstantial evidence is very powerful," he said.
The three do not appear to have been arrested or charged with any offence.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
"The JFK Assassination and the Gangster Nature of the State"
(Two-part mp3 audiofile, about 50 minutes total.)
Electrifying, fast & furious, brilliantly funny, and completely unanswerable. Delivered at Yale on the 30th anniversary of the assassination, and today more pertinent than ever. (He addresses the now-inexcusable foolishness of Chomsky and Cockburn in the second half.)
'Throughout history there has been only one thing that ruling interests have ever wanted - and that is everything: all the choice lands, forests, game, herds, harvests, mineral deposits, and precious metals of the earth; all the wealth, riches, and profitable returns; all the productive facilities, gainful inventiveness, and technologies; all the control positions of the state and other major institutions; all public supports and subsidies, privileges and immunities; all the protections of the law with none of its constraints; all the services, comforts, luxuries, and advantages of civil society with none of the taxes and costs. Every ruling class has wanted only this: all the rewards and none of the burdens. The operational code is: we have a lot; we can get more; we want it all.'
Monday, August 13, 2007
Yesterday's NYT provided further evidence, if any were needed, that the U.S. is definitely in Iraq for the (very) long haul:
Democrats Say Leaving Iraq May Take Years
[Translation: Democrats Have No Intention Of Ever Abandoning 'The Prize'.]
At present, the U.S. imports 42% of its natural gas, and a massive 60% of its oil, of which 17% from the Middle East. Worse: American dependence on foreign resources is rising constantly. Meanwhile (to take just one example), China has been "developing" at a rate of around 10% annually for the last several years, and is therefore also increasingly desperate to acquire and maintain access to foreign oil and gas reserves.
*"By some estimates there will be an average of two per cent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with conservatively a three per cent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means: by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from? Governments and the national oil companies are obviously controlling about ninety per cent of the assets. Oil remains fundamentally a government business. While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East with two thirds of the world‘s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies; even though companies are anxious for greater access there, progress continues to be slow."
Saturday, August 11, 2007
"Battle at Kruger"
In the comments box, 'PriTommy' asks some very good questions:
"would any ethologists like to explain the buffalo's behaviour? how can one buffalo tell the others, nearly a hundred, in such a short time to act together? Why would other buffalo parents [be] willing to save the other's cub?"
Friday, August 10, 2007
Tuesday night Sanchez said she could not support the protesters because the $145 billion in Iraq war funding was in the same bill that would provide money to build the C-17 aircraft in California.
"I never voted for this war," she said. But "I'm not going to vote against $2.1 billion for C-17 production, which is in California. That is just not going to happen."
Thursday, August 09, 2007
The cause of the longevity was never pinned down. Some scientists credited genes, others the hard labour and vegetable and fruit diet. Sceptics said the elders exaggerated their age.
There is wide agreement, however, on why the phenomenon seems to be ending: modernity and its sins - noise, chemicals, pollution and stress. Nelson Jurado, a gerontologist in the capital, Quito, said a "tsunami of development" had damaged Vilcabamba's fragile ecosystem. "Now these people live at a faster pace and that has affected their quality of life and longevity."
What was a sleepy hamlet has in less than a generation become a tourist centre. Just a 45-minute drive from an airport, the permanent population has almost doubled to 4,200 and is swollen by hundreds of tourists who pack the more than 30 hotels and hostels.
Mules wander the streets but they are outnumbered by 4x4s, taxis and young people drinking beer. There are dozens of restaurants and bars, two nightclubs, and a shopping centre is due to be built. Few places serve guarapo, sugar cane juice, but most serve Coca-Cola.