Thursday, September 30, 2004

Debate One, Initial Reaction

My first reaction to the overall tone of the debate was that it was a good demonstration of the differences between the two on foreign policy and the Iraq War.

John Kerry did what he needed to do, and that was to show that he was at least an equal to George Bush and to show that he had a presidential presence. I would think that most people can look at John Kerry now as someone who has the look of someone that can address the American people with words of leadership. He had good composure, not displaying a sense of anger when you knew he had some right to be angry.

George Bush on the other hand, didn't seem to rise to the occasion. We heard his usual talking points, which caused him to be on the defensive part of the time. And Bush certainly had a look of not wanting to be there during the time Kerry was speaking. Bush was producing the strangest kind of looks on his face, he looked worried at times.

I have not addressed the actual issues, because most people in this country have already picked their candidate based on their opinion on the Iraq War mainly of the foreign policy issues. It is those few undecided voters who may relate more to the stage presence of the candidates that will be more influenced by the visuals of the debate. John Kerry showed he could stand up there and debate in a cool and calm manner and be quite interested in the whole thing. Bush seemed bored and not really wanting to be there.

Kerry did what he needed to do, show Americans he can be president. He looked comfortable, and Americans certainly saw that.

Debate Tonight, Round One

So tonight is the big debate. I'd say it is probably the most important one as the subject is about security and foreign policy. I've believed for quite some time now that the Iraq War is the most important issue. The country has become essentially equally divided on whether the war was a mistake.

John Kerry has to answer the flip flop accusations about his position on Iraq. I feel for the guy a bit. It has to be hard to explain your future position about Iraq when the Bush Administration keeps making it worse. A few months back Kerry could have been a bit more positive about Iraq, but then Abu Ghraib hit the media. Kerry has recently been more vocal about the mistakes being made, but he will have to do more tonight.

I certainly don't expect him to speak to my view, withdrawal as soon as possible, but he should try to at least allude to it. He certainly has to point out the many mistakes made by the administration, but then he will need to express his vision. This is the tightrope he will need to walk.

He probably should flat out say something to the effect that given that he doesn't know how many more mistakes the Bush Administration will make before he would take office, it would be hard to predict how he will fix them. But he can't leave it at that. He will still have to be put on the spot, I'm curious how he is going to answer this without addressing the half of the country that now thinks the war is a mistake. I believe he will have to be positive toward a withdrawal scenario. Well, we shall see.

The Coulter Kook

If there is one conservative that deserves the name fascist, it has to be Ann Coulter. She is so far right, I wouldn't even believe George Bush would like her.

Just from this interview with Amazon you have to wonder about her. When asked to name five books she would recommend for someone to become an informed voter, she names her three books, what an ego. She also names the Bible as a book to become an informed voter, excuse me? I've read the Bible, no where in that book does it mention anything about democracy, much less the United States, nothing about political parties, polling stations, registration, the Constitution, debates, etc.

In one of her books she claimed that all Democrats were traitors and communists. I must have missed something in history class as the military face-offs against communism in the last century were all initiated by Democrats. Korean War, Harry Truman, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Viet Nam, John F. Kennedy. But of course she also claims to be a big fan of Joe McCarthy, who would have put anyone in jail for sneezing, if he thought sneezing was a communist plot.

She adds, "I repeat: The survival of the Republic is threatened by the election of John Kerry." Of course she has no explaination as to why this doomsday prediction would come true. Making a "all is lost" statement like that just shows what a loony tunes she really is. As much as I am against Bush, I would never claim that electing Bush would result in some type of Republic catastrophe.

She also seems to casually mention, "Also, some people can’t be negotiated with but have to be crushed; e.g., the Taliban, al Qaeda, possibly North Korea and Iran, Pat Leahy, Carl Levin, Richard Ben-Veniste... "

Wow, she equates Democrats with the Taliban and Al Qaeda? She would have these men and others (indicated by the repeat dots) crushed? Is she threatening their lives? Probably so, she has on other occasions expressed a wish for Democrats to die. Again I would never suggest Bush should be crushed like Al Qaeda. You have to wonder what part of the Bible she is reading, certainly nothing from the writings of Jesus. Oh, wait, isn't that in Genesis or Exodus somewhere, "Thou shalt crush thine Democrats as thy shall crush Al Qaeda."

She's a real piece of work. I have to wonder at the people who believe in her and actually pay her money when buying her books. Anyway, the link I use is at Amazon and if you want, buy her book. She couldn't pay me to read any of them. Well, actually for a good portion of her wealth, I'd waste my time blowing through her books. They would make great fodder for my blog.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Baghdad Year Zero (part 2)

This is a long article and I'm posting it in two parts, but I think it is very important.

Baghdad Year Zero
Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia.
Harper's Magazine
September, 2004
By Naomi Klein

From the start, the neocons running Iraq had shown nothing but disdain for Iraq’s state-owned companies. In keeping with their Year Zero–apocalyptic glee, when looters descended on the factories during the war, U.S. forces did nothing. Sabah Asaad, managing director of a refrigerator factory outside Baghdad, told me that while the looting was going on, he went to a nearby U.S. Army base and begged for help. “I asked one of the officers to send two soldiers and a vehicle to help me kick out the looters. I was crying. The officer said, ‘Sorry, we can’t do anything, we need an order from President Bush.’” Back in Washington, Donald Rumsfeld shrugged. “Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.”

To see the remains of Asaad’s football-field-size warehouse is to understand why Frank Gehry had an artistic crisis after September 11 and was briefly unable to design structures resembling the rubble of modern buildings. Asaad’s looted and burned factory looks remarkably like a heavy-metal version of Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, with waves of steel, buckled by fire, lying in terrifyingly beautiful golden heaps. Yet all was not lost. “The looters were good-hearted,” one of Asaad’s painters told me, explaining that they left the tools and machines behind, “so we could work again.” Because the machines are still there, many factory managers in Iraq say that it would take little for them to return to full production. They need emergency generators to cope with daily blackouts, and they need capital for parts and raw materials. If that happened, it would have tremendous implications for Iraq’s stalled reconstruction, because it would mean that many of the key materials needed to rebuild—cement and steel, bricks and furniture—could be produced inside the country.

But it hasn’t happened. Immediately after the nominal end of the war, Congress appropriated $2.5 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq, followed by an additional $18.4 billion in October. Yet as of July 2004, Iraq’s state-owned factories had been pointedly excluded from the reconstruction contracts. Instead, the billions have all gone to Western companies, with most of the materials for the reconstruction imported at great expense from abroad.

With unemployment as high as 67 percent, the imported products and foreign workers flooding across the borders have become a source of tremendous resentment in Iraq and yet another open tap fueling the insurgency. And Iraqis don’t have to look far for reminders of this injustice; it’s on display in the most ubiquitous symbol of the occupation: the blast wall. The ten-foot-high slabs of reinforced concrete are everywhere in Iraq, separating the protected—the people in upscale hotels, luxury homes, military bases, and, of course, the Green Zone—from the unprotected and exposed. If that wasn’t injury enough, all the blast walls are imported, from Kurdistan, Turkey, or even farther afield, this despite the fact that Iraq was once a major manufacturer of cement, and could easily be again. There are seventeen state-owned cement factories across the country, but most are idle or working at only half capacity. According to the Ministry of Industry, not one of these factories has received a single contract to help with the reconstruction, even though they could produce the walls and meet other needs for cement at a greatly reduced cost. The CPA pays up to $1,000 per imported blast wall; local manufacturers say they could make them for $100. Minister Tofiq says there is a simple reason why the Americans refuse to help get Iraq’s cement factories running again: among those making the decisions, “no one believes in the public sector.”

This kind of ideological blindness has turned Iraq’s occupiers into prisoners of their own policies, hiding behind walls that, by their very existence, fuel the rage at the U.S. presence, thereby feeding the need for more walls. In Baghdad the concrete barriers have been given a popular nickname: Bremer Walls.

As the insurgency grew, it soon became clear that if Bremer went ahead with his plans to sell off the state companies, it could worsen the violence. There was no question that privatization would require layoffs: the Ministry of Industry estimates that roughly 145,000 workers would have to be fired to make the firms desirable to investors, with each of those workers supporting, on average, five family members. For Iraq’s besieged occupiers the question was: Would these shock-therapy casualties accept their fate or would they rebel?

* * *

The answer arrived, in rather dramatic fashion, at one of the largest state-owned companies, the General Company for Vegetable Oils. The complex of six factories in a Baghdad industrial zone produces cooking oil, hand soap, laundry detergent, shaving cream, and shampoo. At least that is what I was told by a receptionist who gave me glossy brochures and calendars boasting of “modern instruments” and “the latest and most up to date developments in the field of industry.” But when I approached the soap factory, I discovered a group of workers sleeping outside a darkened building. Our guide rushed ahead, shouting something to a woman in a white lab coat, and suddenly the factory scrambled into activity: lights switched on, motors revved up, and workers—still blinking off sleep—began filling two-liter plastic bottles with pale blue Zahi brand dishwashing liquid.

I asked Nada Ahmed, the woman in the white coat, why the factory wasn’t working a few minutes before. She explained that they have only enough electricity and materials to run the machines for a couple of hours a day, but when guests arrive—would-be investors, ministry officials, journalists—they get them going. “For show,” she explained. Behind us, a dozen bulky machines sat idle, covered in sheets of dusty plastic and secured with duct tape.

In one dark corner of the plant, we came across an old man hunched over a sack filled with white plastic caps. With a thin metal blade lodged in a wedge of wax, he carefully whittled down the edges of each cap, leaving a pile of shavings at his feet. “We don’t have the spare part for the proper mold, so we have to cut them by hand,” his supervisor explained apologetically. “We haven’t received any parts from Germany since the sanctions began.” I noticed that even on the assembly lines that were nominally working there was almost no mechanization: bottles were held under spouts by hand because conveyor belts don’t convey, lids once snapped on by machines were being hammered in place with wooden mallets. Even the water for the factory was drawn from an outdoor well, hoisted by hand, and carried inside.

The solution proposed by the U.S. occupiers was not to fix the plant but to sell it, and so when Bremer announced the privatization auction back in June 2003 this was among the first companies mentioned. Yet when I visited the factory in March, nobody wanted to talk about the privatization plan; the mere mention of the word inside the plant inspired awkward silences and meaningful glances. This seemed an unnatural amount of subtext for a soap factory, and I tried to get to the bottom of it when I interviewed the assistant manager. But the interview itself was equally odd: I had spent half a week setting it up, submitting written questions for approval, getting a signed letter of permission from the minister of industry, being questioned and searched several times. But when I finally began the interview, the assistant manager refused to tell me his name or let me record the conversation. “Any manager mentioned in the press is attacked afterwards,” he said. And when I asked whether the company was being sold, he gave this oblique response: “If the decision was up to the workers, they are against privatization; but if it’s up to the high-ranking officials and government, then privatization is an order and orders must be followed.”

I left the plant feeling that I knew less than when I’d arrived. But on the way out of the gates, a young security guard handed my translator a note. He wanted us to meet him after work at a nearby restaurant, “to find out what is really going on with privatization.” His name was Mahmud, and he was a twenty-five-year-old with a neat beard and big black eyes. (For his safety, I have omitted his last name.) His story began in July, a few weeks after Bremer’s privatization announcement. The company’s manager, on his way to work, was shot to death. Press reports speculated that the manager was murdered because he was in favor of privatizing the plant, but Mahmud was convinced that he was killed because he opposed the plan. “He would never have sold the factories like the Americans want. That’s why they killed him.”

The dead man was replaced by a new manager, Mudhfar Ja’far. Shortly after taking over, Ja’far called a meeting with ministry officials to discuss selling off the soap factory, which would involve laying off two thirds of its employees. Guarding that meeting were several security officers from the plant. They listened closely to Ja’far’s plans and promptly reported the alarming news to their coworkers. “We were shocked,” Mahmud recalled. “If the private sector buys our company, the first thing they would do is reduce the staff to make more money. And we will be forced into a very hard destiny, because the factory is our only way of living.”

Frightened by this prospect, a group of seventeen workers, including Mahmud, marched into Ja’far’s office to confront him on what they had heard. “Unfortunately, he wasn’t there, only the assistant manager, the one you met,” Mahmud told me. A fight broke out: one worker struck the assistant manager, and a bodyguard fired three shots at the workers. The crowd then attacked the bodyguard, took his gun, and, Mahmud said, “stabbed him with a knife in the back three times. He spent a month in the hospital.” In January there was even more violence. On their way to work, Ja’far, the manager, and his son were shot and badly injured. Mahmud told me he had no idea who was behind the attack, but I was starting to understand why factory managers in Iraq try to keep a low profile.

At the end of our meeting, I asked Mahmud what would happen if the plant was sold despite the workers’ objections. “There are two choices,” he said, looking me in the eye and smiling kindly. “Either we will set the factory on fire and let the flames devour it to the ground, or we will blow ourselves up inside of it. But it will not be privatized.”

If there ever was a moment when Iraqis were too disoriented to resist shock therapy, that moment has definitely passed. Labor relations, like everything else in Iraq, has become a blood sport. The violence on the streets howls at the gates of the factories, threatening to engulf them. Workers fear job loss as a death sentence, and managers, in turn, fear their workers, a fact that makes privatization distinctly more complicated than the neocons foresaw.[2]

* * *

As I left the meeting with Mahmud, I got word that there was a major demonstration outside the CPA headquarters. Supporters of the radical young cleric Moqtada al Sadr were protesting the closing of their newspaper, al Hawza, by military police. The CPA accused al Hawza of publishing “false articles” that could “pose the real threat of violence.” As an example, it cited an article that claimed Bremer “is pursuing a policy of starving the Iraqi people to make them preoccupied with procuring their daily bread so they do not have the chance to demand their political and individual freedoms.” To me it sounded less like hate literature than a concise summary of Milton Friedman’s recipe for shock therapy.

A few days before the newspaper was shut down, I had gone to Kufa during Friday prayers to listen to al Sadr at his mosque. He had launched into a tirade against Bremer’s newly signed interim constitution, calling it “an unjust, terrorist document.” The message of the sermon was clear: Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani may have backed down on the constitution, but al Sadr and his supporters were still determined to fight it—and if they succeeded they would sabotage the neocons’ careful plan to saddle Iraq’s next government with their “wish list” of laws. With the closing of the newspaper, Bremer was giving al Sadr his response: he wasn’t negotiating with this young upstart; he’d rather take him out with force.

When I arrived at the demonstration, the streets were filled with men dressed in black, the soon-to-be legendary Mahdi Army. It struck me that if Mahmud lost his security guard job at the soap factory, he could be one of them. That’s who al Sadr’s foot soldiers are: the young men who have been shut out of the neocons’ grand plans for Iraq, who see no possibilities for work, and whose neighborhoods have seen none of the promised reconstruction. Bremer has failed these young men, and everywhere that he has failed, Moqtada al Sadr has cannily set out to succeed. In Shia slums from Baghdad to Basra, a network of Sadr Centers coordinate a kind of shadow reconstruction. Funded through donations, the centers dispatch electricians to fix power and phone lines, organize local garbage collection, set up emergency generators, run blood drives, direct traffic where the streetlights don’t work. And yes, they organize militias too. Al Sadr took Bremer’s economic casualties, dressed them in black, and gave them rusty Kalashnikovs. His militiamen protected the mosques and the state factories when the occupation authorities did not, but in some areas they also went further, zealously enforcing Islamic law by torching liquor stores and terrorizing women without the veil. Indeed, the astronomical rise of the brand of religious fundamentalism that al Sadr represents is another kind of blowback from Bremer’s shock therapy: if the reconstruction had provided jobs, security, and services to Iraqis, al Sadr would have been deprived of both his mission and many of his newfound followers.

At the same time as al Sadr’s followers were shouting “Down with America” outside the Green Zone, something was happening in another part of the country that would change everything. Four American mercenary soldiers were killed in Fallujah, their charred and dismembered bodies hung like trophies over the Euphrates. The attacks would prove a devastating blow for the neocons, one from which they would never recover. With these images, investing in Iraq suddenly didn’t look anything like a capitalist dream; it looked like a macabre nightmare made real.

The day I left Baghdad was the worst yet. Fallujah was under siege and Brig. Gen. Kimmitt was threatening to “destroy the al-Mahdi Army.” By the end, roughly 2,000 Iraqis were killed in these twin campaigns. I was dropped off at a security checkpoint several miles from the airport, then loaded onto a bus jammed with contractors lugging hastily packed bags. Although no one was calling it one, this was an evacuation: over the next week 1,500 contractors left Iraq, and some governments began airlifting their citizens out of the country. On the bus no one spoke; we all just listened to the mortar fire, craning our necks to see the red glow. A guy carrying a KPMG briefcase decided to lighten things up. “So is there business class on this flight?” he asked the silent bus. From the back, somebody called out, “Not yet.”

Indeed, it may be quite a while before business class truly arrives in Iraq. When we landed in Amman, we learned that we had gotten out just in time. That morning three Japanese civilians were kidnapped and their captors were threatening to burn them alive. Two days later Nicholas Berg went missing and was not seen again until the snuff film surfaced of his beheading, an even more terrifying message for U.S. contractors than the charred bodies in Fallujah. These were the start of a wave of kidnappings and killings of foreigners, most of them businesspeople, from a rainbow of nations: South Korea, Italy, China, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey. By the end of June more than ninety contractors were reported dead in Iraq. When seven Turkish contractors were kidnapped in June, their captors asked the “company to cancel all contracts and pull out employees from Iraq.” Many insurance companies stopped selling life insurance to contractors, and others began to charge premiums as high as $10,000 a week for a single Western executive—the same price some insurgents reportedly pay for a dead American.

For their part, the organizers of DBX, the historic Baghdad trade fair, decided to relocate to the lovely tourist city of Diyarbakir in Turkey, “just 250 km from the Iraqi border.” An Iraqi landscape, only without those frightening Iraqis. Three weeks later just fifteen people showed up for a Commerce Department conference in Lansing, Michigan, on investing in Iraq. Its host, Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, tried to reassure his skeptical audience by saying that Iraq is “like a rough neighborhood anywhere in America.” The foreign investors, the ones who were offered every imaginable free-market enticement, are clearly not convinced; there is still no sign of them. Keith Crane, a senior economist at the Rand Corporation who has worked for the CPA, put it bluntly: “I don’t believe the board of a multinational company could approve a major investment in this environment. If people are shooting at each other, it’s just difficult to do business.” Hamid Jassim Khamis, the manager of the largest soft-drink bottling plant in the region, told me he can’t find any investors, even though he landed the exclusive rights to produce Pepsi in central Iraq. “A lot of people have approached us to invest in the factory, but people are really hesitating now.” Khamis said he couldn’t blame them; in five months he has survived an attempted assassination, a carjacking, two bombs planted at the entrance of his factory, and the kidnapping of his son.

Despite having been granted the first license for a foreign bank to operate in Iraq in forty years, HSBC still hasn’t opened any branches, a decision that may mean losing the coveted license altogether. Procter & Gamble has put its joint venture on hold, and so has General Motors. The U.S. financial backers of the Starwood luxury hotel and multiplex have gotten cold feet, and Siemens AG has pulled most staff from Iraq. The bell hasn’t rung yet at the Baghdad Stock Exchange—in fact you can’t even use credit cards in Iraq’s cash-only economy. New Bridge Strategies, the company that had gushed back in October about how “a Wal-Mart could take over the country,” is sounding distinctly humbled. “McDonald’s is not opening anytime soon,” company partner Ed Rogers told the Washington Post. Neither is Wal-Mart. The Financial Times has declared Iraq “the most dangerous place in the world in which to do business.” It’s quite an accomplishment: in trying to design the best place in the world to do business, the neocons have managed to create the worst, the most eloquent indictment yet of the guiding logic behind deregulated free markets.

The violence has not just kept investors out; it also forced Bremer, before he left, to abandon many of his central economic policies. Privatization of the state companies is off the table; instead, several of the state companies have been offered up for lease, but only if the investor agrees not to lay off a single employee. Thousands of the state workers that Bremer fired have been rehired, and significant raises have been handed out in the public sector as a whole. Plans to do away with the food-ration program have also been scrapped—it just doesn’t seem like a good time to deny millions of Iraqis the only nutrition on which they can depend.

* * *

The final blow to the neocon dream came in the weeks before the handover. The White House and the CPA were rushing to get the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution endorsing their handover plan. They had twisted arms to give the top job to former CIA agent Iyad Allawi, a move that will ensure that Iraq becomes, at the very least, the coaling station for U.S. troops that Jay Garner originally envisioned. But if major corporate investors were going to come to Iraq in the future, they would need a stronger guarantee that Bremer’s economic laws would stick. There was only one way of doing that: the Security Council resolution had to ratify the interim constitution, which locked in Bremer’s laws for the duration of the interim government. But al Sistani once again objected, this time unequivocally, saying that the constitution has been “rejected by the majority of the Iraqi people.” On June 8 the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution that endorsed the handover plan but made absolutely no reference to the constitution. In the face of this far-reaching defeat, George W. Bush celebrated the resolution as a historic victory, one that came just in time for an election trail photo op at the G-8 Summit in Georgia.

With Bremer’s laws in limbo, Iraqi ministers are already talking openly about breaking contracts signed by the CPA. Citigroup’s loan scheme has been rejected as a misuse of Iraq’s oil revenues. Iraq’s communication minister is threatening to renegotiate contracts with the three communications firms providing the country with its disastrously poor cell phone service. And the Lebanese and U.S. companies hired to run the state television network have been informed that they could lose their licenses because they are not Iraqi. “We will see if we can change the contract,” Hamid al-Kifaey, spokesperson for the Governing Council, said in May. “They have no idea about Iraq.” For most investors, this complete lack of legal certainty simply makes Iraq too great a risk.

But while the Iraqi resistance has managed to scare off the first wave of corporate raiders, there’s little doubt that they will return. Whatever form the next Iraqi government takes—nationalist, Islamist, or free market—it will inherit a shattered nation with a crushing $120 billion debt. Then, as in all poor countries around the world, men in dark blue suits from the IMF will appear at the door, bearing loans and promises of economic boom, provided that certain structural adjustments are made, which will, of course, be rather painful at first but well worth the sacrifice in the end. In fact, the process has already begun: the IMF is poised to approve loans worth $2.5– $4.25 billion, pending agreement on the conditions. After an endless succession of courageous last stands and far too many lost lives, Iraq will become a poor nation like any other, with politicians determined to introduce policies rejected by the vast majority of the population, and all the imperfect compromises that will entail. The free market will no doubt come to Iraq, but the neoconservative dream of transforming the country into a free-market utopia has already died, a casualty of a greater dream—a second term for George W. Bush.

The great historical irony of the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq is that the shock-therapy reforms that were supposed to create an economic boom that would rebuild the country have instead fueled a resistance that ultimately made reconstruction impossible. Bremer’s reforms unleashed forces that the neocons neither predicted nor could hope to control, from armed insurrections inside factories to tens of thousands of unemployed young men arming themselves. These forces have transformed Year Zero in Iraq into the mirror opposite of what the neocons envisioned: not a corporate utopia but a ghoulish dystopia, where going to a simple business meeting can get you lynched, burned alive, or beheaded. These dangers are so great that in Iraq global capitalism has retreated, at least for now. For the neocons, this must be a shocking development: their ideological belief in greed turns out to be stronger than greed itself.

Iraq was to the neocons what Afghanistan was to the Taliban: the one place on Earth where they could force everyone to live by the most literal, unyielding interpretation of their sacred texts. One would think that the bloody results of this experiment would inspire a crisis of faith: in the country where they had absolute free reign, where there was no local government to blame, where economic reforms were introduced at their most shocking and most perfect, they created, instead of a model free market, a failed state no right-thinking investor would touch. And yet the Green Zone neocons and their masters in Washington are no more likely to reexamine their core beliefs than the Taliban mullahs were inclined to search their souls when their Islamic state slid into a debauched Hades of opium and sex slavery. When facts threaten true believers, they simply close their eyes and pray harder.

Which is precisely what Thomas Foley has been doing. The former head of “private sector development” has left Iraq, a country he had described as “the mother of all turnarounds,” and has accepted another turnaround job, as co-chair of George Bush’s reelection committee in Connecticut. On April 30 in Washington he addressed a crowd of entrepreneurs about business prospects in Baghdad. It was a tough day to be giving an upbeat speech: that morning the first photographs had appeared out of Abu Ghraib, including one of a hooded prisoner with electrical wires attached to his hands. This was another kind of shock therapy, far more literal than the one Foley had helped to administer, but not entirely unconnected. “Whatever you’re seeing, it’s not as bad as it appears,” Foley told the crowd. “You just need to accept that on faith.”


Baghdad Year Zero (part 1)

This is a long article and I'm posting it in two parts, but I think it is very important.

Baghdad Year Zero
Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia.
Harper's Magazine
September, 2004
By Naomi Klein

It was only after I had been in Baghdad for a month that I found what I was looking for. I had traveled to Iraq a year after the war began, at the height of what should have been a construction boom, but after weeks of searching I had not seen a single piece of heavy machinery apart from tanks and humvees. Then I saw it: a construction crane. It was big and yellow and impressive, and when I caught a glimpse of it around a corner in a busy shopping district I thought that I was finally about to witness some of the reconstruction I had heard so much about. But as I got closer I noticed that the crane was not actually rebuilding anything—not one of the bombed-out government buildings that still lay in rubble all over the city, nor one of the many power lines that remained in twisted heaps even as the heat of summer was starting to bear down. No, the crane was hoisting a giant billboard to the top of a three-story building. SUNBULAH: HONEY 100% NATURAL, made in Saudi Arabia.

Seeing the sign, I couldn’t help but think about something Senator John McCain had said back in October. Iraq, he said, is “a huge pot of honey that’s attracting a lot of flies.” The flies McCain was referring to were the Halliburtons and Bechtels, as well as the venture capitalists who flocked to Iraq in the path cleared by Bradley Fighting Vehicles and laser-guided bombs. The honey that drew them was not just no-bid contracts and Iraq’s famed oil wealth but the myriad investment opportunities offered by a country that had just been cracked wide open after decades of being sealed off, first by the nationalist economic policies of Saddam Hussein, then by asphyxiating United Nations sanctions.

Looking at the honey billboard, I was also reminded of the most common explanation for what has gone wrong in Iraq, a complaint echoed by everyone from John Kerry to Pat Buchanan: Iraq is mired in blood and deprivation because George W. Bush didn’t have “a postwar plan.” The only problem with this theory is that it isn’t true. The Bush Administration did have a plan for what it would do after the war; put simply, it was to lay out as much honey as possible, then sit back and wait for the flies.

* * *

The honey theory of Iraqi reconstruction stems from the most cherished belief of the war’s ideological architects: that greed is good. Not good just for them and their friends but good for humanity, and certainly good for Iraqis. Greed creates profit, which creates growth, which creates jobs and products and services and everything else anyone could possibly need or want. The role of good government, then, is to create the optimal conditions for corporations to pursue their bottomless greed, so that they in turn can meet the needs of the society. The problem is that governments, even neoconservative governments, rarely get the chance to prove their sacred theory right: despite their enormous ideological advances, even George Bush’s Republicans are, in their own minds, perennially sabotaged by meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists.

Iraq was going to change all that. In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their quest for profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions. The people of Iraq would, of course, have to endure some short-term pain: assets, previously owned by the state, would have to be given up to create new opportunities for growth and investment. Jobs would have to be lost and, as foreign products flooded across the border, local businesses and family farms would, unfortunately, be unable to compete. But to the authors of this plan, these would be small prices to pay for the economic boom that would surely explode once the proper conditions were in place, a boom so powerful the country would practically rebuild itself.

The fact that the boom never came and Iraq continues to tremble under explosions of a very different sort should never be blamed on the absence of a plan. Rather, the blame rests with the plan itself, and the extraordinarily violent ideology upon which it is based.


Torturers believe that when electrical shocks are applied to various parts of the body simultaneously subjects are rendered so confused about where the pain is coming from that they become incapable of resistance. A declassified CIA “Counterintelligence Interrogation” manual from 1963 describes how a trauma inflicted on prisoners opens up “an interval—which may be extremely brief—of suspended animation, a kind of psychological shock or paralysis. . . . [A]t this moment the source is far more open to suggestion, far likelier to comply.” A similar theory applies to economic shock therapy, or “shock treatment,” the ugly term used to describe the rapid implementation of free-market reforms imposed on Chile in the wake of General Augusto Pinochet’s coup. The theory is that if painful economic “adjustments” are brought in rapidly and in the aftermath of a seismic social disruption like a war, a coup, or a government collapse, the population will be so stunned, and so preoccupied with the daily pressures of survival, that it too will go into suspended animation, unable to resist. As Pinochet’s finance minister, Admiral Lorenzo Gotuzzo, declared, “The dog’s tail must be cut off in one chop.”

That, in essence, was the working thesis in Iraq, and in keeping with the belief that private companies are more suited than governments for virtually every task, the White House decided to privatize the task of privatizing Iraq’s state-dominated economy. Two months before the war began, USAID began drafting a work order, to be handed out to a private company, to oversee Iraq’s “transition to a sustainable market-driven economic system.” The document states that the winning company (which turned out to be the KPMG offshoot Bearing Point) will take “appropriate advantage of the unique opportunity for rapid progress in this area presented by the current configuration of political circumstances.” Which is precisely what happened.

L. Paul Bremer, who led the U.S. occupation of Iraq from May 2, 2003, until he caught an early flight out of Baghdad on June 28, admits that when he arrived, “Baghdad was on fire, literally, as I drove in from the airport.” But before the fires from the “shock and awe” military onslaught were even extinguished, Bremer unleashed his shock therapy, pushing through more wrenching changes in one sweltering summer than the International Monetary Fund has managed to enact over three decades in Latin America. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate and former chief economist at the World Bank, describes Bremer’s reforms as “an even more radical form of shock therapy than pursued in the former Soviet world.”

The tone of Bremer’s tenure was set with his first major act on the job: he fired 500,000 state workers, most of them soldiers, but also doctors, nurses, teachers, publishers, and printers. Next, he flung open the country’s borders to absolutely unrestricted imports: no tariffs, no duties, no inspections, no taxes. Iraq, Bremer declared two weeks after he arrived, was “open for business.”

One month later, Bremer unveiled the centerpiece of his reforms. Before the invasion, Iraq’s non-oil-related economy had been dominated by 200 state-owned companies, which produced everything from cement to paper to washing machines. In June, Bremer flew to an economic summit in Jordan and announced that these firms would be privatized immediately. “Getting inefficient state enterprises into private hands,” he said, “is essential for Iraq’s economic recovery.” It would be the largest state liquidation sale since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But Bremer’s economic engineering had only just begun. In September, to entice foreign investors to come to Iraq, he enacted a radical set of laws unprecedented in their generosity to multinational corporations. There was Order 37, which lowered Iraq’s corporate tax rate from roughly 40 percent to a flat 15 percent. There was Order 39, which allowed foreign companies to own 100 percent of Iraqi assets outside of the natural-resource sector. Even better, investors could take 100 percent of the profits they made in Iraq out of the country; they would not be required to reinvest and they would not be taxed. Under Order 39, they could sign leases and contracts that would last for forty years. Order 40 welcomed foreign banks to Iraq under the same favorable terms. All that remained of Saddam Hussein’s economic policies was a law restricting trade unions and collective bargaining.

If these policies sound familiar, it’s because they are the same ones multinationals around the world lobby for from national governments and in international trade agreements. But while these reforms are only ever enacted in part, or in fits and starts, Bremer delivered them all, all at once. Overnight, Iraq went from being the most isolated country in the world to being, on paper, its widest-open market.


At first, the shock-therapy theory seemed to hold: Iraqis, reeling from violence both military and economic, were far too busy staying alive to mount a political response to Bremer’s campaign. Worrying about the privatization of the sewage system was an unimaginable luxury with half the population lacking access to clean drinking water; the debate over the flat tax would have to wait until the lights were back on. Even in the international press, Bremer’s new laws, though radical, were easily upstaged by more dramatic news of political chaos and rising crime.

Some people were paying attention, of course. That autumn was awash in “rebuilding Iraq” trade shows, in Washington, London, Madrid, and Amman. The Economist described Iraq under Bremer as “a capitalist dream,” and a flurry of new consulting firms were launched promising to help companies get access to the Iraqi market, their boards of directors stacked with well-connected Republicans. The most prominent was New Bridge Strategies, started by Joe Allbaugh, former Bush-Cheney campaign manager. “Getting the rights to distribute Procter & Gamble products can be a gold mine,” one of the company’s partners enthused. “One well-stocked 7-Eleven could knock out thirty Iraqi stores; a Wal-Mart could take over the country.”

Soon there were rumors that a McDonald’s would be opening up in downtown Baghdad, funding was almost in place for a Starwood luxury hotel, and General Motors was planning to build an auto plant. On the financial side, HSBC would have branches all over the country, Citigroup was preparing to offer substantial loans guaranteed against future sales of Iraqi oil, and the bell was going to ring on a New York–style stock exchange in Baghdad any day.

In only a few months, the postwar plan to turn Iraq into a laboratory for the neocons had been realized. Leo Strauss may have provided the intellectual framework for invading Iraq preemptively, but it was that other University of Chicago professor, Milton Friedman, author of the anti-government manifesto Capitalism and Freedom, who supplied the manual for what to do once the country was safely in America’s hands. This represented an enormous victory for the most ideological wing of the Bush Administration. But it was also something more: the culmination of two interlinked power struggles, one among Iraqi exiles advising the White House on its postwar strategy, the other within the White House itself.

* * *

As the British historian Dilip Hiro has shown, in Secrets and Lies: Operation ‘Iraqi Freedom’ and After, the Iraqi exiles pushing for the invasion were divided, broadly, into two camps. On one side were “the pragmatists,” who favored getting rid of Saddam and his immediate entourage, securing access to oil, and slowly introducing free-market reforms. Many of these exiles were part of the State Department’s Future of Iraq Project, which generated a thirteen-volume report on how to restore basic services and transition to democracy after the war. On the other side was the “Year Zero” camp, those who believed that Iraq was so contaminated that it needed to be rubbed out and remade from scratch. The prime advocate of the pragmatic approach was Iyad Allawi, a former high-level Baathist who fell out with Saddam and started working for the CIA. The prime advocate of the Year Zero approach was Ahmad Chalabi, whose hatred of the Iraqi state for expropriating his family’s assets during the 1958 revolution ran so deep he longed to see the entire country burned to the ground—everything, that is, but the Oil Ministry, which would be the nucleus of the new Iraq, the cluster of cells from which an entire nation would grow. He called this process “de-Baathification.”

A parallel battle between pragmatists and true believers was being waged within the Bush Administration. The pragmatists were men like Secretary of State Colin Powell and General Jay Garner, the first U.S. envoy to postwar Iraq. General Garner’s plan was straightforward enough: fix the infrastructure, hold quick and dirty elections, leave the shock therapy to the International Monetary Fund, and concentrate on securing U.S. military bases on the model of the Philippines. “I think we should look right now at Iraq as our coaling station in the Middle East,” he told the BBC. He also paraphrased T. E. Lawrence, saying, “It’s better for them to do it imperfectly than for us to do it for them perfectly.” On the other side was the usual cast of neoconservatives: Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (who lauded Bremer’s “sweeping reforms” as “some of the most enlightened and inviting tax and investment laws in the free world”), Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and, perhaps most centrally, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith. Whereas the State Department had its Future of Iraq report, the neocons had USAID’s contract with Bearing Point to remake Iraq’s economy: in 108 pages, “privatization” was mentioned no fewer than fifty-one times. To the true believers in the White House, General Garner’s plans for postwar Iraq seemed hopelessly unambitious. Why settle for a mere coaling station when you can have a model free market? Why settle for the Philippines when you can have a beacon unto the world?

The Iraqi Year Zeroists made natural allies for the White House neoconservatives: Chalabi’s seething hatred of the Baathist state fit nicely with the neocons’ hatred of the state in general, and the two agendas effortlessly merged. Together, they came to imagine the invasion of Iraq as a kind of Rapture: where the rest of the world saw death, they saw birth—a country redeemed through violence, cleansed by fire. Iraq wasn’t being destroyed by cruise missiles, cluster bombs, chaos, and looting; it was being born again. April 9, 2003, the day Baghdad fell, was Day One of Year Zero.

While the war was being waged, it still wasn’t clear whether the pragmatists or the Year Zeroists would be handed control over occupied Iraq. But the speed with which the nation was conquered dramatically increased the neocons’ political capital, since they had been predicting a “cakewalk” all along. Eight days after George Bush landed on that aircraft carrier under a banner that said MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, the President publicly signed on to the neocons’ vision for Iraq to become a model corporate state that would open up the entire region. On May 9, Bush proposed the “establishment of a U.S.-Middle East free trade area within a decade”; three days later, Bush sent Paul Bremer to Baghdad to replace Jay Garner, who had been on the job for only three weeks. The message was unequivocal: the pragmatists had lost; Iraq would belong to the believers.

A Reagan-era diplomat turned entrepreneur, Bremer had recently proven his ability to transform rubble into gold by waiting exactly one month after the September 11 attacks to launch Crisis Consulting Practice, a security company selling “terrorism risk insurance” to multinationals. Bremer had two lieutenants on the economic front: Thomas Foley and Michael Fleischer, the heads of “private sector development” for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Foley is a Greenwich, Connecticut, multimillionaire, a longtime friend of the Bush family and a Bush-Cheney campaign “pioneer” who has described Iraq as a modern California “gold rush.” Fleischer, a venture capitalist, is the brother of former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Neither man had any high-level diplomatic experience and both use the term corporate “turnaround” specialist to describe what they do. According to Foley, this uniquely qualified them to manage Iraq’s economy because it was “the mother of all turnarounds.”

Many of the other CPA postings were equally ideological. The Green Zone, the city within a city that houses the occupation headquarters in Saddam’s former palace, was filled with Young Republicans straight out of the Heritage Foundation, all of them given responsibility they could never have dreamed of receiving at home. Jay Hallen, a twenty-four-year-old who had applied for a job at the White House, was put in charge of launching Baghdad’s new stock exchange. Scott Erwin, a twenty-one-year-old former intern to Dick Cheney, reported in an email home that “I am assisting Iraqis in the management of finances and budgeting for the domestic security forces.” The college senior’s favorite job before this one? “My time as an ice-cream truck driver.” In those early days, the Green Zone felt a bit like the Peace Corps, for people who think the Peace Corps is a communist plot. It was a chance to sleep on cots, wear army boots, and cry “incoming”—all while being guarded around the clock by real soldiers.

The teams of KPMG accountants, investment bankers, think-tank lifers, and Young Republicans that populate the Green Zone have much in common with the IMF missions that rearrange the economies of developing countries from the presidential suites of Sheraton hotels the world over. Except for one rather significant difference: in Iraq they were not negotiating with the government to accept their “structural adjustments” in exchange for a loan; they were the government.

Some small steps were taken, however, to bring Iraq’s U.S.-appointed politicians inside. Yegor Gaidar, the mastermind of Russia’s mid-nineties privatization auction that gave away the country’s assets to the reigning oligarchs, was invited to share his wisdom at a conference in Baghdad. Marek Belka, who as finance minister oversaw the same process in Poland, was brought in as well. The Iraqis who proved most gifted at mouthing the neocon lines were selected to act as what USAID calls local “policy champions”—men like Ahmad al Mukhtar, who told me of his countrymen, “They are lazy. The Iraqis by nature, they are very dependent. . . . They will have to depend on themselves, it is the only way to survive in the world today.” Although he has no economics background and his last job was reading the English-language news on television, al Mukhtar was appointed director of foreign relations in the Ministry of Trade and is leading the charge for Iraq to join the World Trade Organization.

* * *

I had been following the economic front of the war for almost a year before I decided to go to Iraq. I attended the “Rebuilding Iraq” trade shows, studied Bremer’s tax and investment laws, met with contractors at their home offices in the United States, interviewed the government officials in Washington who are making the policies. But as I prepared to travel to Iraq in March to see this experiment in free-market utopianism up close, it was becoming increasingly clear that all was not going according to plan. Bremer had been working on the theory that if you build a corporate utopia the corporations will come—but where were they? American multinationals were happy to accept U.S. taxpayer dollars to reconstruct the phone or electricity systems, but they weren’t sinking their own money into Iraq. There was, as yet, no McDonald’s or Wal-Mart in Baghdad, and even the sales of state factories, announced so confidently nine months earlier, had not materialized.

Some of the holdup had to do with the physical risks of doing business in Iraq. But there were other more significant risks as well. When Paul Bremer shredded Iraq’s Baathist constitution and replaced it with what The Economist greeted approvingly as “the wish list of foreign investors,” there was one small detail he failed to mention: It was all completely illegal. The CPA derived its legal authority from United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483, passed in May 2003, which recognized the United States and Britain as Iraq’s legitimate occupiers. It was this resolution that empowered Bremer to unilaterally make laws in Iraq. But the resolution also stated that the U.S. and Britain must “comply fully with their obligations under international law including in particular the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Hague Regulations of 1907.” Both conventions were born as an attempt to curtail the unfortunate historical tendency among occupying powers to rewrite the rules so that they can economically strip the nations they control. With this in mind, the conventions stipulate that an occupier must abide by a country’s existing laws unless “absolutely prevented” from doing so. They also state that an occupier does not own the “public buildings, real estate, forests and agricultural assets” of the country it is occupying but is rather their “administrator” and custodian, keeping them secure until sovereignty is reestablished. This was the true threat to the Year Zero plan: since America didn’t own Iraq’s assets, it could not legally sell them, which meant that after the occupation ended, an Iraqi government could come to power and decide that it wanted to keep the state companies in public hands, or, as is the norm in the Gulf region, to bar foreign firms from owning 100 percent of national assets. If that happened, investments made under Bremer’s rules could be expropriated, leaving firms with no recourse because their investments had violated international law from the outset.

By November, trade lawyers started to advise their corporate clients not to go into Iraq just yet, that it would be better to wait until after the transition. Insurance companies were so spooked that not a single one of the big firms would insure investors for “political risk,” that high-stakes area of insurance law that protects companies against foreign governments turning nationalist or socialist and expropriating their investments.

Even the U.S.-appointed Iraqi politicians, up to now so obedient, were getting nervous about their own political futures if they went along with the privatization plans. Communications Minister Haider al-Abadi told me about his first meeting with Bremer. “I said, ‘Look, we don’t have the mandate to sell any of this. Privatization is a big thing. We have to wait until there is an Iraqi government.’” Minister of Industry Mohamad Tofiq was even more direct: “I am not going to do something that is not legal, so that’s it.”

Both al-Abadi and Tofiq told me about a meeting—never reported in the press—that took place in late October 2003. At that gathering the twenty-five members of Iraq’s Governing Council as well as the twenty-five interim ministers decided unanimously that they would not participate in the privatization of Iraq’s state-owned companies or of its publicly owned infrastructure.

But Bremer didn’t give up. International law prohibits occupiers from selling state assets themselves, but it doesn’t say anything about the puppet governments they appoint. Originally, Bremer had pledged to hand over power to a directly elected Iraqi government, but in early November he went to Washington for a private meeting with President Bush and came back with a Plan B. On June 30 the occupation would officially end—but not really. It would be replaced by an appointed government, chosen by Washington. This government would not be bound by the international laws preventing occupiers from selling off state assets, but it would be bound by an “interim constitution,” a document that would protect Bremer’s investment and privatization laws.

The plan was risky. Bremer’s June 30 deadline was awfully close, and it was chosen for a less than ideal reason: so that President Bush could trumpet the end of Iraq’s occupation on the campaign trail. If everything went according to plan, Bremer would succeed in forcing a “sovereign” Iraqi government to carry out his illegal reforms. But if something went wrong, he would have to go ahead with the June 30 handover anyway because by then Karl Rove, and not Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, would be calling the shots. And if it came down to a choice between ideology in Iraq and the electability of George W. Bush, everyone knew which would win.

* * *

At first, Plan B seemed to be right on track. Bremer persuaded the Iraqi Governing Council to agree to everything: the new timetable, the interim government, and the interim constitution. He even managed to slip into the constitution a completely overlooked clause, Article 26. It stated that for the duration of the interim government, “The laws, regulations, orders and directives issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority . . . shall remain in force” and could only be changed after general elections are held.

Bremer had found his legal loophole: There would be a window—seven months—when the occupation was officially over but before general elections were scheduled to take place. Within this window, the Hague and Geneva Conventions’ bans on privatization would no longer apply, but Bremer’s own laws, thanks to Article 26, would stand. During these seven months, foreign investors could come to Iraq and sign forty-year contracts to buy up Iraqi assets. If a future elected Iraqi government decided to change the rules, investors could sue for compensation.

But Bremer had a formidable opponent: Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, the most senior Shia cleric in Iraq. al Sistani tried to block Bremer’s plan at every turn, calling for immediate direct elections and for the constitution to be written after those elections, not before. Both demands, if met, would have closed Bremer’s privatization window. Then, on March 2, with the Shia members of the Governing Council refusing to sign the interim constitution, five bombs exploded in front of mosques in Karbala and Baghdad, killing close to 200 worshipers. General John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, warned that the country was on the verge of civil war. Frightened by this prospect, al Sistani backed down and the Shia politicians signed the interim constitution. It was a familiar story: the shock of a violent attack paved the way for more shock therapy.

When I arrived in Iraq a week later, the economic project seemed to be back on track. All that remained for Bremer was to get his interim constitution ratified by a Security Council resolution, then the nervous lawyers and insurance brokers could relax and the sell-off of Iraq could finally begin. The CPA, meanwhile, had launched a major new P.R. offensive designed to reassure investors that Iraq was still a safe and exciting place to do business. The centerpiece of the campaign was Destination Baghdad Exposition, a massive trade show for potential investors to be held in early April at the Baghdad International Fairgrounds. It was the first such event inside Iraq, and the organizers had branded the trade fair “DBX,” as if it were some sort of Mountain Dew–sponsored dirt-bike race. In keeping with the extreme-sports theme, Thomas Foley traveled to Washington to tell a gathering of executives that the risks in Iraq are akin “to skydiving or riding a motorcycle, which are, to many, very acceptable risks.”

But three hours after my arrival in Baghdad, I was finding these reassurances extremely hard to believe. I had not yet unpacked when my hotel room was filled with debris and the windows in the lobby were shattered. Down the street, the Mount Lebanon Hotel had just been bombed, at that point the largest attack of its kind since the official end of the war. The next day, another hotel was bombed in Basra, then two Finnish businessmen were murdered on their way to a meeting in Baghdad. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt finally admitted that there was a pattern at work: “the extremists have started shifting away from the hard targets . . . [and] are now going out of their way to specifically target softer targets.” The next day, the State Department updated its travel advisory: U.S. citizens were “strongly warned against travel to Iraq.”

The physical risks of doing business in Iraq seemed to be spiraling out of control. This, once again, was not part of the original plan. When Bremer first arrived in Baghdad, the armed resistance was so low that he was able to walk the streets with a minimal security entourage. During his first four months on the job, 109 U.S. soldiers were killed and 570 were wounded. In the following four months, when Bremer’s shock therapy had taken effect, the number of U.S. casualties almost doubled, with 195 soldiers killed and 1,633 wounded. There are many in Iraq who argue that these events are connected—that Bremer’s reforms were the single largest factor leading to the rise of armed resistance.

Take, for instance, Bremer’s first casualties. The soldiers and workers he laid off without pensions or severance pay didn’t all disappear quietly. Many of them went straight into the mujahedeen, forming the backbone of the armed resistance. “Half a million people are now worse off, and there you have the water tap that keeps the insurgency going. It’s alternative employment,” says Hussain Kubba, head of the prominent Iraqi business group Kubba Consulting. Some of Bremer’s other economic casualties also have failed to go quietly. It turns out that many of the businessmen whose companies are threatened by Bremer’s investment laws have decided to make investments of their own—in the resistance. It is partly their money that keeps fighters in Kalashnikovs and RPGs.

These developments present a challenge to the basic logic of shock therapy: the neocons were convinced that if they brought in their reforms quickly and ruthlessly, Iraqis would be too stunned to resist. But the shock appears to have had the opposite effect; rather than the predicted paralysis, it jolted many Iraqis into action, much of it extreme. Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s minister of communication, puts it this way: “We know that there are terrorists in the country, but previously they were not successful, they were isolated. Now because the whole country is unhappy, and a lot of people don’t have jobs . . . these terrorists are finding listening ears.”

Bremer was now at odds not only with the Iraqis who opposed his plans but with U.S military commanders charged with putting down the insurgency his policies were feeding. Heretical questions began to be raised: instead of laying people off, what if the CPA actually created jobs for Iraqis? And instead of rushing to sell off Iraq’s 200 state-owned firms, how about putting them back to work?

Way To Go, Michael Moore!

Michael Moore has started a nationwide speaking tour in an effort to spur voters to oust George Bush and I am glad he is doing so. Moore is someone the left has needed for quite some time now. He is not afraid to speak his mind or pull any verbal punches and he does it with a sense of humor.

Now Moore makes a statement here and there that isn't always exactingly accurate, but in comparison to all the conservatives I see on TV that have no problem making highly innaccurate utterances without any challenge from the news hosts, I'll accept the slight mistake from Moore once in a while. The fact is no one from the left or right is always 100% accurate.

Any time I've seen a number of the conservative pundits (they shall remain nameless as I don't want to give them anymore attention than they deserve) spouting off on TV I'm literally shaking my head and saying, "no, no, no, that's not true!" Sometimes they are so wrong within just a few sentences, I just have to change the channel to something more honest, like The Weather Channel.

Worse, they bully and interrupt any opposition viewpoint. They've figured out that to win debates on sound bite TV they simple use up as many sentences as time will allow. They just spew off a few lies and the opposing viewpoint is immediately stuck correcting the lie rather than discuss the issue. But even before they've corrected the lie, the conservatives are trying to interrupt with a new lie. And most of the TV hosts sit there and rarely correct any disinformation coming from the conservatives, yet will question repeatedly a liberals statements.

I'll never forget the grilling given to former international weapons inspector Scott Ritter by TV host Wolf Blitzer and this was months after it had become clear that no WMDs were to be found in Iraq. Ritter you may recall was a lone voice prior to the war saying that Iraq didn't have anything and that the Bush Administration was perpetrating falsehoods. I've always thought Scott Ritter should write a book about his experiences with the media. He was shunned prior to the war for not agreeing with the standard misbeliefs and even after the war he was given few opportunities to give more expertise on WMDs or rather lack thereof.

But back to Michael Moore who is as well shunned by most of the media. He has found his own niche to getting his views out there, through his movies and books. He has had problems with distribution through the main sources, but it arrives as Moore has become a sure money maker. In other words sometimes profits overcomes unofficial censorship in the big corporations. But Moore wouldn't probably be so popular if it wasn't for the fact that the media has become so conservative with less choices for progressives to pick from.

On radio, progressives had to create their own network, Air America. There are so few outlets to hear a progressive viewpoint on radio I have given up listening to virtually every station in my area except for my local NPR station which was at least only neutral. I do have one progressive show here in the Detroit radio area, but it is only three hours run late Sunday night. I have become a listener of the show almost religiously as that is the only thing offered to me. The Peter Werbe Show, WRIF, Sunday nights 1100pm through 100am.

Detroit which has a large population of liberals can get plenty of Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly (dang I mentioned those liars) among the assortment of conservative voices on our corporate radio. Yet, where are the progressives on my local filled up radio dial?

Maybe Michigan native Michael Moore could get a radio show going. Hey, Mike, when you are finished with your tour, how about thinking about Detroit radio? Some station would have to take a chance on you, after all you have proved to the corporations that you can deliver dollars. Think about it, please.

Tell the House NO, Repeal of D.C. Firearms

This may sound awful, but I can't wait for the day when a member of Congress gets shot with a gun when they are hanging around Washington. This seems like the only thing that will wake up these butt kissers of the NRA. Today the House of Representatives is expected to pass HR 3193, the repeal of the ban on firearms in the District of Columbia.

There are several reasons that the House has decided to vote on this issue.

First and foremost, it is getting down to the wire on the November election and the pro-gun. NRA paid for, Representatives in the House want to send a message to their constituents back home. But not all their constituents, only those that drool over the vast amounts of weaponry that the NRA mistakenly believes they have a right to own. They hope that those who don't want assault weapons on our streets won't notice or care about what happens in the District of Columbia and thus they won't lose votes in their elections back home. Most of them feel fairly safe anyway, either they don't have challengers, or they are leading in polls.

In recent polls nearly 70% of the country believes assault weapons should be banned, despite this statistic Congress and President Bush allowed the national assault weapons ban to expire. But that wasn't good enough for the NRA, now the District of Columbia's laws are to be attacked.

Thus the second reason for the resolution, they want to exert control over the District of Columbia. Since D.C. is not a state, Congress can overide the D.C. local government and not face challenges in the court system of an issue of state rights vs federal authority. As most of the proponents of HR 3193 are Republicans who purport to favor state rights, they can sidestep the accusation that home rule is being overrun by the federal government. They can say that D.C. is not a state so they are not opposing a state law.

The third reason, I somehow think they do want to get shot going to work. Maybe it's some wierd logic, they could later argue "we need even MORE guns." If HR 3193 passes it will scrap every gun law in the District of Columbia, here is what the resolution will allow.

* For teenagers and adults to openly carry a loaded semiautomatic rifle, including an AK-47 semiautomatic assault rifle, on city streets without a permit [H.R. 3193, sections 7-8, repealing D.C. Code sections 7-2502.02, 7-2502.03, 7-2507.02]

* To store firearms, including semiautomatic assault weapons, unlocked and loaded in a home with children [H.R. 3193, section 7, repealing D.C. Code section 7-2507.02]

* To purchase and use a firearm, including a semiautomatic assault weapon, if you are legally blind [H.R. 3193, section 8, repealing D.C. Code section 7-2502.03]

* To refuse to report to police that firearms, including semiautomatic assault weapons, were stolen from your home [H.R. 3193, section 8, repealing D.C. Code section 7-2502.08]

* To shoot squirrels or other animals with a firearm, including a semiautomatic assault weapon, in your front yard [H.R. 3193, section 3, amending D.C. Code section 1-303.43]

* To purchase and possess loaded firearms, including semiautomatic assault weapons, even if a court has declared you to be a chronic alcoholic [H.R. 3193, section 8, repealing D.C. Code section 7-2502.03]

* To purchase and possess loaded firearms, including semiautomatic assault weapons, even if a court has declared that you have negligently killed someone with a gun [H.R. 3193, section 8, repealing D.C. Code section 7-2502.03]

This is more than just an issue for the citizens of the District of Columbia as Washington, D.C. is a very popular tourist destination, so this affects many Americans. If you care about allowing the District of Columbia to have the power to keep the laws on the books that they passed previously, if you believe in home rule, then e-mail your representative. If you think the above list of things that would be allowed is not what you would want to face should you visit Washington D.C. then call your representatitive.

The House of Representatives has decided they can wipe out the gun laws and are planning to do so today. But We the People have the right to have our say, e-mail your representative this morning, right now, please.

E-mail Congress, take action.

Read about HR 3193...

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

10 Reasons To Withdraw From Iraq

Erik Leaver lists in an article for The Nation the top 10 reasons to withdraw from Iraq. Here they are.

1) The Human Costs Keep Increasing
On September 7 the death toll of US soldiers reached 1,000. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has acknowledged that the insurgency is likely to turn even more violent. While the American death toll made headlines across the United States, the mounting number of Iraqi deaths, at least ten times greater, gets scant attention. The US military refuses to monitor or even estimate the number of Iraqi civilian casualties. As Gen. Tommy Franks described the Pentagon's approach earlier in Afghanistan, "We don't do body counts."

2) Iraqis Aren't Better Off
While the removal of the dictator Saddam was a welcome development for many Iraqis, the streets of Baghdad and other cities remain dangerous war zones. Clean water, electricity and even gasoline in this oil-rich country are all in even shorter supply than during the dark years of economic sanctions. Women face new restrictions and new dangers. Democracy, freedom and human rights appear out of reach. And Iraq remains occupied by 160,000 foreign troops, with all of the indignity that military occupation brings.

3) The War Is Bankrupting America
This year's federal budget deficit will reach a new record--$422 billion. The Bush Administration's combination of massive spending on the war and tax cuts for the wealthy means less money for social spending. The Administration's fiscal-year 2005 budget request proposes deep cuts in critical domestic programs. It also virtually freezes funding for domestic discretionary programs other than homeland security. Among the programs the Administration seeks to eliminate: grants for low-income schools and family literacy; Community Development Block Grants; Rural Housing and Economic Development; and Arts in Education grants.

4) Halliburton's War Profiteering
The US government's Iraq reconstruction process has cost both Iraqis and Americans. Instead of boosting Iraqi self-determination by granting contracts to experienced Iraqi businesses and working to lower the huge unemployment problem inside Iraq, the US government has favored US firms with strong political ties. Major contracts worth billions of dollars have been awarded with limited or no competition. American auditors and the media have documented numerous cases of fraud, waste and incompetence. The most egregious problems are attributed to Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's former firm and the largest recipient of Iraq-related contracts.

5) The "International Coalition" Is Fleeing
The "coalition," always more symbolically than militarily significant, is unraveling. While the impact is felt more at the political than military level, the Bush Administration's claim that it is "leading an international coalition" in Iraq is increasingly indefensible. Eight nations have now left the coalition and many other countries have reduced their contingents. Singapore has left only thirty-three soldiers in Iraq out of 191, and Moldova's forces have dwindled to twelve.

6) Recruitment for Al Qaeda Has Accelerated
The war against Iraq is leaving US citizens more vulnerable to terrorist attacks at home and abroad. According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the best-known and most authoritative source of information on global military capabilities and trends, the war in Iraq has accelerated recruitment for Al Qaeda and made the world less safe. It estimates worldwide Al Qaeda membership now at 18,000, with 1,000 active in Iraq. It states that the occupation has become the organization's "potent global recruitment pretext," has divided the United States and Britain from their allies and has weakened the war on terrorism.

7) The War Is Draining First Responders From Our Communities
Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 364,000 Reserve and National Guard troops have been called for military service. This spring alone, 35,000 new Guard troops were sent to Iraq. Their deployment puts a particularly heavy burden on their home communities, because many of them serve as "first responders," including police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel. A poll conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum found that 44 percent of police forces across the nation have lost officers as a result of deployment to Iraq.

8) Torture at Abu Ghraib
The Bush Administration claimed that the liberation of Iraqis from the inhumane rule of a dictator was a good-enough reason for taking military action against that country. Now investigations of the US military's torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib has stripped the United States of even that wobbly claim. The Bush Administration has tried to blame a "few bad apples" for the torture, but abuse has been widespread, with more than 300 allegations of abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq or Guantánamo. Many more may exist, in light of the fact that Army investigators revealed in early September at a Congressional hearing that as many as 100 detainees were hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross at the request of the CIA. This was part of a larger strategy by the government, described by Human Rights Watch as "decisions made by the Bush Administration to bend, ignore, or cast rules aside."

9) Many Americans Oppose the War
Polls conducted in August 2004 by the CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup and the Pew Research Center showed a great divide in the country: 51 percent believe that "the situation in Iraq was not worth going to war over" and 52 percent disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the war. Almost 60 percent believe that President Bush does not "have a clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion."

10) No "Sovereignty" Has Been Transferred
The US occupation of Iraq officially ended on June 28, in a secret ceremony in Baghdad. Officially, the Americans handed "full sovereignty" to the Iraqi Interim Government. This was sovereignty in name, not in deed. Not only do 160,000 troops remain to control the streets, but the "100 Orders" of former CPA head Paul Bremer remain to control the economy. Although many thought the "end" of the occupation would also mean the end of the orders, on his last day in Iraq, Bremer simply transferred authority for the orders to the undemocratically appointed interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, who has longtime ties to the CIA.

And I would simply add...
11) Iraq is a new version of Viet Nam.

Erik Leaver's article...

Should the War Bandwagon Reverse Gears?

Joseph L. Galloway the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national bestseller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young" in his last column has discussed the option of withdrawing from Iraq.

Now I've believed that this is the only good option for awhile. I believed that this war was wrong from the first days of the whisper campaign that eventually emerged as a media story back in 2002. There was plenty of evidence that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, at least as good as the evidence that the Bush Administration tried to foist onto the American public to claim Iraq did have WMDs. I was skeptical of the Bush evidence and as we can see in hindsite, there was no evidence. We as well know that Iraq had no real connections to Osami bin Laden either.

These were deceptions, and no good can come of a war based on false assumptions, untruths, and fictious facts. The Viet Nam War began with similar misinformation given to the American public, the Gulf of Tonkin deception. Our best bet is to admit we started a war on mistaken information and procede from there.

We had to finally admit Viet Nam was a mistake, we need to do the same with Iraq. The sooner the better, as this will save American lives. The earlier we decide a pull-out is the correct solution for our mistake the better.

Galloway points out that Iraq will have to figure itself out after we leave. Viet Nam had to do the same. Iraqis will die from warfare guaranteed as long as we stay, they may die as well from internal warfare once we leave. We may have to find ways to lessen a possible civil war within Iraq, working with allies or the United Nations or neighboring countries may be the answer if there is one.

The Bush Administration is certainly pinning their hopes on an election in Iraq to keep civil war from breaking out, but more than likely an election that doesn't include much of the Sunni population is apt to spur civil war. The Bush Administration has been trying to juggle factions ever since day one of the war. They don't want a Shi'ite elected majority that might evolve into a Islamic government akin to neighboring Iran. They haven't really wanted to support the Sunnis who were aligned with Saddam Hussein. The Kurds in the north have had a sense of autonomy since after the Gulf War and that has been blossoming since the removal of Saddam, but this doesn't please Turkey with their Kurdish population that has had seperatist ideals.

As bad as Hussein was, he did keep the factions from blowing apart at the seams. Now that we invaded, we are in the position of Saddam, how to keep the country from exploding into civil war. Staying or pulling out, it doesn't appear that it will make a bit of difference, internal warfare is probably inevitable. Iraq may be similar to us in the United States to Viet Nam, but to the Iraqis it is more similar to Yugoslavia. Iraq is facing the strong possibility of becoming several countries, with no peaceful way of becoming so.

We hear many people saying it now, that there are no good solutions to Iraq. Of course we should have had this debate back before the war, when those who were saying that we would end up trying to run a mess were ignored. In fact those who spent time actually studying Iraq and seeing the pitfalls were usually called unpatriotic for not jumping on the war bandwagon. Well the bandwagon is idling in Iraq, should it stay or should it go?

Monday, September 27, 2004

Mission Accomplished Redux

George Bush in an interview with Fox News to be aired on "The O'Reilly Factor" in the next three days declared that he would still have put on that flight suit and said "Mission Accomplished."

Let's focus on some of the facts of that day and what happened subsequently.

*The donning of the flight suit was just a political photo op gimmick, Bush did not land the plane.

*The aircraft carrier had to be purposely delayed from port to accommodate the photo op and the ship was close enough to use a helicopter rather than a fighter jet.

*The banner "Mission Accomplished" was not the idea of the military personnel on board as the White House first claimed. The White House later admitted that they had the banner made for the event.

*Our tax dollars paid for this staged event.

*Less than 150 U.S. troops had died prior to Bush calling the mission accomplished. Since then more than 900 have died.

*He never really explained what the mission was. Was it to find the weapons of mass destruction? Haven't found them. Was it to capture Saddam Hussein? That happened many months later. Was it to give Iraqis democracy? Still pending. Was it to secure Baghdad? Still not secure and who could forget the looting that we couldn't or didn't stop.

I don't know why Bush would want to repeat his "Mission Accomplished" ham of an acting job. It could be just another tongue tied Bushism or maybe he just doesn't want to admit that the event was a dud in retrospect. He could have let the aircraft carrier return to port on time so that the troops could get some needed rest. He could have simply greeted the troops as they disembarked with some grateful handshakes.

No, Bush had to play the role of some John Wayne war hero. Yet Bush was not a war hero, he didn't choose to fight in Viet Nam when he easily could have. No, Bush must have some type of strange memory. He still thinks he was some type of hero riding shotgun, with his non-combat costume on and with a movie headline to greet him, "Mission Accomplished." Or so he still seems to think.

A HORSING Subsidy For The Rich

Yes, that is what I said, a horsing subsidy not a housing subsidy. Anyone who purchased or leased a horse after Sept. 12, 2001, can now write off $100,000 in horse-related expenses each year. Under the law, horse owners can deduct food, stabling, transportation, insurance, veterinary care, and even local and state taxes for the animal.

The tax deduction was originally meant for businesses such as ranchers and farmers who need horses for operations, much as a production plant writes off machinery depreciation. But under the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress this was made available to non-businesses, individuals. Naturally this was aimed at people of wealth that have horses as pleasure since most people of lesser means don't own horses.

The rest of us own cats and dogs as our main pet. You can bet we will never see any types of tax deduction for our pleasure animals. Wouldn't it be nice if the rest of us could write off the purchase of our dog, the vet bills, liscence, etc. Wouldn't cat owners love to deduct the cost of transporting their feline, any insurance, food costs, etc.?

This horse subsidy is as well antithetic to supposed Republican values. If you should buy a horse you shouldn't expect the government to essentially help with the upkeep. I guess this is just a horse of a different color, the color of money. If you have alot of money, you can afford a horse and you can expect the government to help you write off the stable boy cleaning up the crap.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Bush Hates the Working Poor

The effects of the Bush tax cuts has simply been an assault on the lower class in the United States. In a new series by the Detroit News they studied the results of the tax cuts and have concluded that the working poor have lost ground due to the Bush policies. Some highlights,

*A six-month Detroit News investigation showed that as a result of the withering government assistance, working poor and destitute Americans are increasingly likely to be placed on waiting lists for help, receive reduced services, or be denied service entirely.

*The News, after interviewing scores of people across the United States and examining thousands of pages of federal and state financial records, determined the loss of services cost many poor Americans more money than they saved from the tax cuts. In many cases, the poorest lost services and got no tax cut at all.

*The poorest 20 percent of workers, who earn on average $16,600 annually, will get a tax break of $250 this year, which is less than 2 percent of their income. That amounts to about 68 cents a day. By comparison, the richest 1 percent, with average incomes topping $1.1 million, will receive $78,460 in tax cuts this year. That is nearly 7 percent of their income.

*While most workers pay into Social Security all year, millionaires — who pay less than half a percent — would be finished paying it by the first four weeks of the year. For taxpayers who earn more than $87,900, it amounts to an estimated $85 billion break. Meanwhile, the Bush tax breaks for the richest 10 percent this year alone will total $148 billion.

*The number of Americans living in poverty has risen 10 percent since 2000, after falling in the late 1990s. Nearly 36 million Americans — one in eight — now live in poverty and tens of millions more are considered working poor. The economy has lost nearly a million jobs since it slid into recession in March 2001.

*America’s working poor — its secretaries, cooks, laborers, clerks and others — are finding it difficult to meet even basic needs.
For the poor, child care and housing can consume more than 80 percent of their income. And 45 million Americans, most of them low-income, have no health insurance. Housing in many cities is so unaffordable that although 39 percent of the homeless work, they can’t pay for even a substandard apartment, according to a 2003 survey by the country’s mayors.

*Nearly 6 percent of all U.S. workers earn minimum wage, $5.15 an hour. Based on a 40-hour workweek, the annual minimum wage of $10,700 places a single parent of two well below the poverty level. Minimum wage earners got very little under the Bush tax cuts. Key social program cuts have left them with fewer places to turn for help.

This is only a small part of the series from the Detroit News (a conservative editorial board). The stories of the individuals can be heartbreaking. Poor shut-ins unable to pay for the increased costs of energy to heat their homes at the same time government assistance is being cut. Working mothers unable to pay for child care as they work at low paying jobs at the same time they are told they can only get on a waiting list for child care help, if there is even a waiting list to be placed on. Older citizens dieing earlier because they can't afford medical care.

The thing that galls me the most is this idea that George Bush claims to be a compassionate conservative. How can he claim to care about most of the people in this country while cutting taxes for the rich. People that have no problem living day to day, having the best healthcare, who are well prepared for retirement, have their kids in the best schools were not in need of a tax cut, much less three rounds of tax cuts. These tax cuts have plunged the federal budget deep into the red, have forced the cutbacks of programs to help those in need at the same time that charities have had to cut back as well.

But the way the Bush gang want us to think it is gays getting married that is the major problem in this country. Compassion from these robbers of the poor is an unmitigated lie. They don't care one bit for the people who have died in fires as they live by candlelight because they can't afford to pay for electricity (this happens more than we realize). They don't give one iota for the older Americans who pass their final days stressed from heat or cold extremes to die due to electricity cutoffs.

Somebody please explain to me their compassionate logic. Don't tell me about trickle down economic theories. When the rich have been given all these tax cuts to buy what, another new foreign car? As the working poor struggle even more? While people die because they can't afford to live in our society? Is this some kind of religious thing? Are fundementalist Christians that back Republicans and Bush really so blind to what is happening to the poor? Is this that pull yourselves up by the bootstraps thing for people who can't afford the actual boots?

Oh sure we have to spend billions killing people in other countries while people in our own country suffer. We have to make life even easier for the top wealthy in this country because well, I guess they just aren't comfortable enough. We have to cut programs for the working poor and destitute because well, they just aren't suffering enough. I'm ashamed of the government policies being propagated by these ruthless leaders called the Bush Administration. They have no compassion whatsoever, oh pardon me, they are unmistakenly compassionate about making the rich more comfortable. I wonder if that is because everyone in the Bush Administration is rich?

Big Arms For the Iraqi Gendarmes

You have to wonder about the Iraqi police force. According to the article I link, an Oregon Guard military unit in Iraq discovered that an Iraqi police station was stashing a huge cache of weapons. One member of the Oregon unit explained,
"You don't know who to trust," said Staff Sgt. James Way, 33, of Portland.

Way was one of the soldiers who confiscated the store of weapons Tuesday. He echoed the feelings of several soldiers, who said they don't like the thought of Iraqi police -- supposedly their allies in the battle with insurgents -- being allowed to reclaim the rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. "If we give the cops (back) this stuff, it's going to be shot at us," he said.

"It's a lot of stuff." The cache, included more than 100 rocket-propelled grenades and three dozen launchers, nearly 100 mortar rounds, and hundreds of assault machine guns and other rifles.
It's curious how you would call this group of Iraqis a police unit, it sounds more like an army. Yet, these police are the same Iraqis that have not really been fully trained by Americans. It has been found that the progress of training Iraqis as police has been far behind what the Pentagon has been claiming.

This is one of the major problems in Iraq, the turnover of the protection of Iraq to Iraqis. It has been difficult to even protect applicants from being killed in car bombings as the resistance has been targeting recruiting lines. Iraqis want to become police mainly because there are very few jobs for the large mass of unemployed. They know the job is dangerous and fraught with ramifications of both being targeted by the resistance and hatred of many Iraqi civilains as being stooges for the American occupying force. Yet with a lack of job opportunities many take the risk.

The article explains more of the Oregon Guards concerns,
Although details are sketchy, military authorities have determined that Iraq's Ministry of Interior gave the weapons to the police station, which was supposed to distribute them to other police stations throughout Baghdad, said 1st Lt. Abe Gilman, 31, of Salem. But Gilman said the Iraqi government's reason for reversing an earlier policy that had prohibited the dissemination of such explosives "is totally unknown."

Gilman said, it is the job of U.S. soldiers to back up the Iraqi interim government's authority. "It's their country, and if the prime minister decides he wants to issue (Iraqi police) weapons of this sort, then we will support them anyway we can," he said.

But he concedes there are reasons to worry. The still-young Iraqi police force may not be experienced enough to withstand attacks from insurgents and prevent heavy weaponry from falling into the wrong hands. Insurgents in at least a few instances in the past have been able to overrun Iraqi police stations and seize control, Gilman said.

Then, there is the X factor that soldiers find the most worrisome -- that the Iraqi police force may include insurgents in its ranks. Although few U.S. soldiers will say so publicly, there's a widespread sense that the police force in some of Iraq's most violent areas employs at least some corrupt officers.

You've got to wonder what's up with the type of weapons the Iraqi government thinks is OK for the police. Who knows, maybe they want to have the police on their side for the upcoming (maybe?) elections. You could influence alot of voters with your police toting RPGs and motars.

Let's Debate the Debates

You may not be hearing much from John Kerry and George Bush in the next few days, they are studying. They both have essentially vanished from the public to prepare for the first of the three debates.

What I don't get is why it has taken so long to actually meet up face to face. We've known each party's choice for president since early spring. We knew Bush was to be the Republican nominee since probably the day he took office. Kerry had accumulated enough Democratic Party delegates by mid-March. Here it is more than six months later and finally we can compare the two on the same stage.

It's not like they haven't had the opportunity. Several times in their campaigns they've crossed paths in the same state, and at least twice they were at campaign events in the same city, same day, nearly same time. Oh, but the two parties will say that neither candidate was official until they had their respective conventions. That argument is nearly worthless, the primary season has rendered convention nominations as nothing more than a media event which could have happened long before.

There really is no reason why we haven't had a number of debates by now. Actually there is one reason, the two parties have stubbornly refused to adapt to modern times. The two parties have moved the primaries to much earlier in the year, yet keep their conventions dated to just a few months before the election. In fact the Republican Party moved their convention date even later than ever before (some have said that the reason was to schedule it closer to the anniversary of 9/11).

In my opinion we should have had debates begin by at least June and some of the third party candidates could have been included. Other candidates would have had a chance to be seen by the public and if they didn't start gaining some popularity measured by polls then they would be knocked out of future debates as they proceded closer to the election. It would be not unlike so many of our reality shows that start with many contestants and eliminate them as the show progresses.

But something like that is going to be hard to create as the committee that "sponsors" elections is made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans with no other party allowed to be on the committee. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is actually a 501c(3) organization formed by the two parties and funded mostly by donations from major corporations (Budweiser, 3com, US Airways, for instance). The two parties did this to take control of the presidential debates from The League of Women Voters, they did this in order to be able to collude on many aspects of the debates particularily the shunning of other parties.

Now the two parties get together and set the rules of the debates every four years. Before when The League of Women Voters ran the debates the rules were more non-partisan and if the candidates didn't like some of the rules they would threaten not to participate. You may not know this, but there is no law requiring presidential debates, so if the CPD wanted to they could opt not to stage any debates.

The CPD will set the formats, whether they sit or stand, who moderates, what questions are asked, etc. and cram only three debates into about two weeks. We could have had a debate season with much more vigor, with more candidates and more meetings if only the CPD could be trumped or disbanded. The chairmen of the debate commission, former Republican National Committee chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. and former Democratic National Committee chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. basically run the debate charade.

There has been established an alternative to the CPD called the Citizens Debate Commission which has support from all sides of the political spectrum. We won't see this new commission running the 2004 debates, but I urge anyone who wants to see a better debate system in the future to investigate the ideas of the Citizens Debate Commision at this