Campaign Update II

Posted August 29, 2007 on 2:08 pm | In the category Election 2008, Politics, Press | by Jeff

It is hard to imagine a two-year campaign for the presidency that could be more tedious and less substantive than the one we are being given.  It is hard to know whether this is mostly due to the dismal candidates or to the American press that manages to find almost nothing of substance to report. We have had reports on John Edwards’ $400 haircut, Hillary Clinton’s showing a shadow of cleavage on the Senate floor, Barack Obama’s basketball days in Hawaii, Mitt Romney’s “golly gee whiz” vernacular, Rudy Giuliani’s kids’ likely voting, Bill Richardson’s politically incorrect comment that people are gay because of “choice”, Clinton’s letters to an old college boyfriend, etc.

When Romney “won” the so-called Ames, Iowa straw ballot he was applauded for having organized a successful “walking around money” campaign in which he literally bought the election.  The second place finisher, Mike Huckabee, was elevated to a serious campaigner by virtue of his “folksy humor” – sort of a Latter Day Will Rogers to Romney’s Latter Day Saint. But the fundamental fact is that Romney won by giving people the money to go and vote and then feeding them and Huckabee came in second because he was basically the only other serious candidate to show up.

The big news yesterday and today is that a Republican Senator was arrested for doing something distasteful in an airport men’s room. This on the second anniversary of the Katrina recovery fiasco, and on the day that President Bush is seeking an additional $50M to drag out his Iraq fiasco with not a glimmer of a long-term strategy.  As for the candidates, presumably the Republicans will take aim at the sinful Senator while supporting the President’s request for good money after bad and ignoring the victims of Katrina. The Democrats will continue to split hairs of difference among themselves and to cater to a variety of narrow interest groups.  President Bush will continue to seek out meetings of veterans groups to drum up support for his war and the rest of us will simply wait for the serious campaign to start…assuming it will.

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Public Diplomacy: Sow’s Ear to Silk Purse??

Posted August 16, 2007 on 12:09 pm | In the category Public Diplomacy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

The United States’ public diplomacy program is a shadow of its former self. The days of American libraries abroad, widespread student exchange programs, strong surrogate broadcasting programs, and support of cultural exchanges are long over and we are now reduced to sending athletes abroad and beaming trashy American rock into countries that are desperate for objective reporting and analysis.

Ice skater Michelle Kwan was the first of Secretary Rice’s athlete-ambassadors for public diplomacy and has now been followed by baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr.  Radio Farda continues its tragically misguided pop music broadcasts into Iran eschewing the hard news and analysis formerly broadcast by its predecessor, Radio Azadi.   The assumption seems to be that the attention span and interests of the reform-minded elites in countries like Iran and China are similar to the interests and tastes of the urban American teenager.

Selling America to the world is a near impossible task in the current environment. The Iraq invasion is a huge part of the problem, but torture as an intelligence tool, the Abu Ghraib scandal,  support of Israel during its disastrous bombing of Lebanon, ignoring the threat of global warming, walking away from multilateral treaties, trashing the UN, snatching people off the streets of some of our European allies for CIA-supported torture in foreign countries – the list is seemingly endless.

Making a silk purse of mutual international understanding and support out of the sow’s ear of the Bush foreign policy is a task way beyond world champion figure skaters and iron man baseball players.

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The Great White North looks at the Map

Posted August 13, 2007 on 2:07 am | In the category Canada, Environment, Russia, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Colleague Jeff has supplied a convincing overview of Canada’s difficult role in the Arctic. Canada likes to mythologize its great open spaces in the wild north, creating emblems ranging from lines in the national anthem – “the true north strong and free” – to films like “Nanook of the North” to art like the sandstone sculptures and Baker Lake prints that southerners pay plenty of loonies to own to Stan Roger’s great song “The Northwest Passage” to the Edmonton Eskimos football team. Norm Kwong, one of their legendary players and perhaps the only major (ethnically) Chinese football player in history, recalls once hearing an Edmonton matron in the audience for one of his interviews tell her neighbour, “See I told you they were real Eskimos”.

But what Canada, the world’s second largest country, hasn’t done is provide military support for its mythology, making it vulnerable to the aggressiveness of the first and third largest countries, which face it in the Arctic. Instead it has slugged it out with tiny Denmark (controlling gigantic Greenland) in a farcical struggle over miniscule Hans Island. The excuse for lack of muscle in the Arctic has been strictly economic in the past, but this may be changing because the tide of Canadian public opinion has swung for the Arctic, and that has the politicians’ ears. Almost twenty years ago Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney cancelled Liberal plans for ice breakers for the navy, something which both Norway and Denmark manage to finance, and the US and Russia have both ice breakers and nuclear submarines out on Arctic patrol. In its lead editorial today, the conservative Vancouver Province advised the government to lease ice breakers if they are too cheap to build them, but to get them before it is too late to the newly announced far north military base with deep water port on the northern tip of Baffin Island, and to the beefed-up existing bases. Canadians will soon see whether their government is serious when it says it will provide protection for Canadian values from sea to sea to sea.

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Canada Takes on Russia: Cold War II?

Posted August 10, 2007 on 3:42 pm | In the category Canada, Environment, Russia, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Bob and Doug McKenzie are on assignment in the Arctic, traveling with Prime Minister Harper who visited the Arctic to plant the Maple Leaf to lay claim to its rich mineral deposits for Canada. This trip was in response to Russian President Putin’s sneak attack last week with two miniature submarines planting the Russian flag somewhere beneath the North Pole. These moves are partially in response to global warming which is melting the Arctic ice cap in direct defiance to U.S. Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma who claims global warming is a fraudulent tool manufactured by the infidels (e.g. Democrats and non-Christians).

As described in the NY Times, the race for mineral rights in the Arctic looms as a possible Worldwide Cold War as the Danes race to the region to map their own claims that the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,240-mile underwater mountain range, is attached to the Danish territory of Greenland, making it a geological extension of the Arctic island.

Norway and the U.S. also make claims to rights in the area but the U.S. is apparently banking on winning the Iraq War sometime in the next century and stealing all of their oil to power the next generation of Hummers. Talk of moving Vice President Cheney’s office to the Arctic was squelched by White House sources, as “wishful thinking by the American people”.

The world watches these developments with anxious concern mixed with admiration for the audacity of Canada as it takes on the Russian Bear while the U.S. waits to move in after the dirty work is done.

In other news President George W. Bush refused to add 5 cents to the federal tax on gasoline saying it “would be premature”, and that “ we will cross that bridge when we have the funds to fix it.”

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Intelligence Services???

Posted August 8, 2007 on 4:56 pm | In the category Politics, Terrorism, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

As Congress rushed toward its August vacation it took the time to pass a far-reaching bill which allows the intelligence services to wiretap at will with no credible oversight. This is disturbing on a number of levels: it effectively ignores our constitutional rights to privacy; it eliminates effective judicial oversight of such operations; and assigns review to Alberto Gonzales, of all people. It is one more step on a slippery slope made dangerously so by the fear mongering of Bush.

But what is simply appalling is the bill’s provision of this kind of power to intelligence organizations that have consistently failed – in almost comic and cosmic ways – to fulfill their mission. Movies and books manage to suggest that our safety as a nation has depended on the brave, smart men and women who have run our agents, tortured enemy agents, analyzed secret messages, etc. Simply not true. The United States intelligence services have a record of almost blinding incompetence. With thanks to Tim Weiner’s book, “Legacy of Ashes” and reviews of same book by Evan Thomas and David Wise of the Washington Post, here is a list of some of the major (and sometimes entertaining) screw-ups of the CIA:

Failed to predict Soviet Union’s atomic bomb in 1949

In the 1950’s the CIA and British intelligence collaboration on Operation Gold, a tunnel into East Berlin that allowed listening to the Soviet Army headquarters in Berlin. It was a terrific coup except that the Soviets knew about the tunnel before it was completed via George Blake, a British intelligence officer working for the Soviets.

Also in the fifties, the CIA arranged for the overthrow of Guatemala’s elected government (named “Operation Success”) to protect the interests of United Fruit. Dictators’ death squads executed an estimated 200,000 Guatemalans in following years.

In 1953 the CIA and he British worked to remove the Prime Minister of Iran from Office to protect the interests of British and American oil companies. The Shah became the ruler, instituted a new secret police (the SAVAK) and pissed off enough of his countrymen to help produce the Islamic Revolution.

The CIA failed to predict the Islamic Revolution.

The CIA did not predict popular uprisings in Eastern Europe in the 1950’s

The CIA did not predict the invasion of S. Korea in 1953

The CIA-run1961 Bay of Pigs invasion was a classic example of incompetence.

The CIA’s ridiculous attempts at executing Castro with the help of the mafia in the early 60’s.

The CIA did not predict installation of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962

The CIA’s support of a coup by the Baath party in Iraq in 1963, which led to Saddam Hussein coming to power.

The large-scale American escalation in Vietnam facilitated by the intelligence community’s manufacture of evidence of the so-called Gulf of Tonkin attack in 1964.

Richard Helms doing the bidding of Richard Nixon and subsequent presidents in exaggerating the capabilities of the Soviet Union to further the presidents’ political needs.

The CIA did not predict the Arab-Israeli War in 1973

The CIA did not predict the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979

The CIA did not predict the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, largely because it had no credible Russian spies after the CIA mole Aldrich Ames had betrayed them all

In 1994, the Guatemalan military worked with the CIA to bug the bedroom of Marilyn McAfee, U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala. She was recorded cooing endearments to “Murphy” and subsequently accused by the CIA station chief of having a lesbian affair with her secretary. Alas, “Murphy” was her pet poodle.

The CIA did not predict India’s explosion of atomic bomb in 1998

The CIA did not predict the attack of 9/11.

George Tenet’s 2003 “slam dunk” on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

These are the people for whom we are giving away our constitutional rights. Where is George Smiley when we need him?

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Arms to the Poor: REDUX

Posted August 2, 2007 on 11:13 am | In the category Iran, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

It is possible to believe that the U.S. is no longer selling arms to Iran, but it turns out that would be a belief and not a fact. The AP reports in the Boston Globe today that the General Accounting Office has announced that the Pentagon has sold over 1400 parts for F-14 fighter jets to the public since announcing that they would no longer be sold. Turns out that Iran is the only country still flying that plane and has been desperate for parts to keep them in the air. The fact Iran’s F-14s planes originally came from the U.S. only enriches the irony.

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Arms to the Poor: From Krupp to Bush

Posted August 1, 2007 on 2:46 pm | In the category Economy, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

The military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned against is alive and well – even if their products are sometimes shoddy and ineffective. The arms business has become one of America’s great exports as it arms countries like India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. These days it is reminiscent of the Krupp family business which discovered that it was possible to sell arms to just about anyone in the 19th century, leading to their selling arms and defenses to both sides during World War I. And of course the company was instrumental in arming the German armies during WW II, making huge amounts of profit and paying little in labor since the government kindly supplied them with slave labor. I suppose it is something of a come down for the family now to be selling coffee grinders and espresso machines.

But not to worry, there are plenty of companies willing and able to take on the challenge of arming the world. And while it can be argued that everyone does it, the United States remains in first place in maintaining its post WW-II leadership in finding ways to arm countries or selected rebels around the world. The rationale for doing this is not always clear and is usually done for transitory reasons, and not infrequently with mixed consequences.

The U.S. government and arms manufacturers armed Iran under the Shah and of course saw those armaments fall into the hands of the revolution. Adding insult to injury, the Reagan administration provided arms to Iran as part of its Iran-Contra policy/scandal. (The income from these sales of weapons to Iran under Reagan were then used to provide arms to the Contras in Nicaragua). At around the same time the U.S. provided arms to Saddam Hussein in an effort to support its war against Iran. More recently the U.S. provided arms support to the forces of Osama bin Laden to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. The list goes on and the positive consequences have mostly fallen to the American companies that are heirs to the Krupp value system – and the politicians whose campaigns are funded by the arms manufacturers. In any case the arms provided to Iran, Saddam Hussein, and bin Laden have all been used against our national interest at one time or another.

Now we have the latest proposed handout to the arms companies. Having totally screwed up Iraq and most of the Gulf region with Bush’s fiasco, we are searching for ways to cut our losses and one way is to bribe Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain with upwards of $20 billion in sales to this group of gulf states and some $30B of new sales to Israel. All of this is in addition to whatever arms remain in Iraq after a war that is now estimated to cost over a trillion dollars. The hope and the wish seem to be that all these new weapons in the region will keep our Iraq adventure from becoming the beginning of a monstrous disaster in the region. Also that these countries will all work to keep Iran at bay.

One of the clever strategies of the family Krupp was to sell defensive armor to one side and then stronger weapons to the other and then the first side would need even stronger defensive armor, and the cycle would continue. With all of the new weapons around the world it is clear that the U.S. will need to improve its weaponry and defenses and so the Krupp strategy is alive and well and the cycle can continue.

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